Government has failed to prosecute alleged war crimes such as torture, unlawful killings and enforced disappearances
By Shihar Aneez
COLOMBO, Feb 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Families whose loved ones disappeared during Sri Lanka’s civil war have called on the United Nations to pressure the government to speed up a war crimes probe after a senior minister said it would take more time to investigate alleged abuses.
Almost eight years have passed since the civil war pitting government forces against separatist Tamil rebels ended, but the government has failed to prosecute alleged war crimes such as torture, unlawful killings and enforced disappearances.
More than 100,000 are estimated to have died some 65,000 went missing during the 26-year conflict, which ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The United Nations and rights activists have accused the military of killing thousands of civilians, mostly Tamils, during the final weeks of the war and have urged justice for the families of those who disappeared.
But Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister on Tuesday said more time was needed – frustrating the families of victims.
“My brother was arrested by the army on June 12, 2009 just after the end of the war at midnight while he was working in a bakery,” said 27-year-old lawyer Sivasubramaniam Mahalukshmi from the northern city of Jaffna. His brother has not been seen since, he said.
“Giving more time to the government is not necessary… The U.N. should pressurise for an immediate solution to the problem of missing people.”
Leeladevi Anandanadrajah, 64, from the former Tamil Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi said her son was not in rebel ranks but surrendered to the army in May 2009. He has not been seen since.
“His wife, my daughter-in-law, is living with two children and waiting to see her husband. The children are expecting their father. Sometimes if the kids’ mentality get affected, they will turn violent,” she said.
“There is no more time is needed. The U.N. should investigate and find the truth.”
Ethnic minority Tamil politicians have complained of the government’s slow progress in addressing alleged war crimes.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s government in 2015 committed to allowing foreign judges to investigate allegations, but Sirisena later opposed their involvement.
His predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, rejected requests by the international community to probe war crime allegations and denied U.N. officials entry to the island nation.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told journalists on Tuesday the investigation would take more time, but offered reassurance Sri Lanka was committed to punishing perpetrators.
“I know there are lots of short-comings. I know we have not proceeded as fast as we ought to. Obviously, we need more time,” said Samaraweera.
“We are making haste slowly. But there will be no U-turns, but occasionally there could be a detour. But the destination remains the same.”
The Tamil Tigers were also accused of widespread wartime abuses, such as using child soldiers and targeting civilians with suicide bombers.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneex; additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo and Navaratnam Parameswaran in Jaffna. Editing by Nita Bhalla and Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)