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Sri Lanka Tamil Killings 'Ordered from the Top'
by Jonathan Miller, Channel 4 News, UK, May 18, 2010
Exclusive: a senior Sri Lankan army commander and frontline soldier tell Channel 4 News that point-blank executions of Tamils at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war were carried out under orders.
In August 2009 Channel 4 News obtained video evidence, later authenticated by the United Nations, purporting to show point-blank executions of Tamils by uniformed Sri Lankan soldiers.
Now a senior army commander and a frontline soldier have told Channel 4 News that such killings were indeed ordered from the top.
One frontline soldier said: "Yes, our commander ordered us to kill everyone. We killed everyone."
And a senior Sri Lankan army commander said: "Definitely, the order would have been to kill everybody and finish them off.
"I don't think we wanted to keep any hardcore elements, so they were done away with. It is clear that such orders were, in fact, received from the top."
Despite allegations of war crimes, Sri Lanka's government has managed to avoid an independent inquiry. But the evidence continues to mount.
'Body blows to humanitarian law'
International lawyers, human rights and conflict prevention groups are alarmed, accusing the Colombo government of riding roughshod over international law.
Last night Louise Arbour, a former chief prosecutor in international war crimes trials, told an audience at Chatham House – the foreign policy think tank – that "the [Sri Lankan] government's refusal to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants" and the "sheer magnitude of civilian death and suffering" dealt what she called "the most serious of body blows to international humanitarian law".
Now, the International Crisis Group, of which Ms Arbour is the president, has joined forces with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to demand an independent international investigation into what they brand "massive human rights violations" and "repeated violations of international law" – by both sides.
The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly rejected the charges of civilian deaths as grossly exaggerated and has denied that any of its security forces have committed war crimes or violated international humanitarian law.
Ms Arbour appeared live on Channel 4 News to outline options available to the international community to prevent the "Sri Lanka option" gaining currency. A new ICG report entitled War Crimes in Sri Lanka defines this option as "unrestrained military action, refusal to negotiate, disregard for humanitarian issues, keeping out international observers including press and humanitarian workers".
Ms Arbour also responded to dramatic new evidence contained in a film broadcast by Channel 4 News. The fresh evidence, detailing extremely serious allegations of possible war crimes, has been gathered in an extended undercover investigation in Sri Lanka. Testimony from soldiers interviewed by Channel 4 News corroborates persistent allegations aired by this programme since the end of the war a year ago.
Chief among these: the accusation that Sri Lankan soldiers were responsible for extrajudicial executions - as graphically illustrated by the disturbing video we aired last August. The video – long dismissed as a fake by the government in Colombo – was authenticated by the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions in January this year.
The clamour from international rights groups for an impartial investigation into alleged atrocities contrasts sharply with the failure of the UN to demand accountability from the Sri Lankan government. Last year, the Sri Lankan president promised the UN Secretary General that he would look into the question of accountability.
On Monday President Mahinda Rajapaksa named an eight-member panel to glean lessons learned from the war. But members of the group say they have no legal power to investigate alleged abuses. "If this is 'it'," Louise Arbour said last night, "there's no reason to expect from the government's past record that it's got any intention to investigate or put in place an appropriate accountability mechanism."
The UN Human Rights Council seems to provide little hope of investigating war crimes, having congratulated the Sri Lankan government on its victory, within days of the war ending.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council holds out no hope at all. The Sri Lankan issue has failed to force its way onto the UNSC agenda – and were it to do so, China and Russia would likely stand in the way of any unlikely referral to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
The secretary general has also so far failed to appoint international experts to investigate – as he's previously promised he might.
Amnesty and the ICG have taken the UN to task for its failure to act decisively to push for accountability. Crisis Group went so far as to recommend that the UN should open an inquiry into its own conduct in Sri Lanka. Last night Louise Arbour – herself a former UN human rights commissioner – talked of the UN's "silence – verging on complicity" with the Rajapaksa regime.
A statement from the Sri Lankan high commission
In January 2009, as the final chapter opened in the 30-year-long Sri Lankan civil war, I was in Gaza, picking over the humanitarian disaster left after Israel's three-week war there. Between 1,200 and 1,400 civilians were killed during the aerial bombardments and subsequent ground offensive. In the final weeks of the Sri Lankan government offensive on the "no-fire zone", Ms Arbour believes a figure of 30,000 civilian deaths "is not implausible".
Within months of the Gaza conflict, the UN Human Rights Council had dispatched Judge Richard Goldstone to investigate possible war crimes. He produced a damning report.
There has been no investigation in Sri Lanka. Local journalists who've raised their heads above the parapet have been jailed or disappeared or killed. The UN has done nothing concrete in moving towards an impartial inquiry. There has been no Goldstone in Colombo. Even the UN rapporteur for extrajudicial executions has been denied a visa for the past four years.
You can kind of see why the "Sri Lankan Option" might just catch on.
Channel 4 News
Channel 4 News reports on the end of Sri Lanka's civil war