The Sri Lankan government won its long war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, but the legacy of unlawful detention practices established during the conflict continues. Constitutional provisions and other legal and procedural guarantees meant to protect individuals from wrongful incarceration and ensure fair prosecution of suspects have been supplanted in Sri Lanka by provisions of antiterrorism laws and emergency measures geared to serve perceived military expediency rather than protect human rights and the rule of law.
In the aftermath of the last phase of the war that ended in the military defeat of the LTTE, government leaders considered the “Sri Lankan Model” of overcoming terrorism to be one that the world could emulate. An international conference was held in Colombo that was attended by military strategists from around the world. The prestigious Wall Street Journal published in the United States went to the extent of arguing that there was a two-word response to those who claimed that terrorism could not be militarily vanquished. Those two words were “Sri Lanka.” But in a gradual shift over the past three years since the end phase of the war, Sri Lanka is looking to become an international example of internationally determined limits of civilian casualties in fighting internal wars in particular.
The allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the final phases of the conflict in Sri Lanka, made in the Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka released on April 25, must be thoroughly investigated. This is the first comprehensive UN report examining the events in the Vanni region between January and May of 2009 and it alleges that “tens of thousands of civilians” were killed. The Government of Sri Lanka, but also the relevant international bodies, cannot claim credibility if these findings are ignored.