The UN has criticized Sri Lanka in recent days due to their failure to investigate war atrocities. The government’s failure to do so reflects a fear of punishing their own soldiers for civil war-era crimes, a brutal conflict lasting from 1983 to 2009. The war had detrimental effects on the Sri Lankan people, economy, and environment, which left hundreds of thousands dead and the country devastated. It was an effort by people, who were ethnically Tamil, to create an independent Tamil state in the north of the island. The opposing side to the conflict are people who are ethnically Sinhalese. Although both sides suffered casualties, the accusations of war atrocities are being held against the primarily Sinhalese soldiers who dominate the military and the government.
The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al-Hussein, who has recently called for a council of international judges to investigate war crimes, has stated that “The consistent failure to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish serious crimes appears to reflect a broader reluctance or fear to take action against members of the security forces.” Zeid’s action has faced challenges from the Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, who states that he does not want interference from NGOs in the military nor does he want to be told how to run the government. Sirisena, who is part of the Sinhalese group in Sri Lanka, promised the Tamil minority that the Sinhalese soldiers would take responsibility for the war crimes, though he has not necessarily held up this promise.
The UN Human Rights Commissioners have been frustrated by the situation in Sri Lanka and have been accusatory of the government for quite some time. In 2009, Commissioner Pillay accused both sides of war atrocities. Other groups, such as Amnesty International have challenged the Sri Lankan government for suppressing freedom of speech and human rights activists. Obstacles that pose problems for Sri Lanka is the lack of governmental support for human rights. The lack of representational democracy also makes it difficult for the people to have a say in the government, which leads to the conflicts between the different ethnic groups. Even though the outright fighting between the Tamil and Sinhalese has halted, there is still the desire to create a Tamil homeland, which is an ideological force that will resonate with generations to come. By giving the Tamil people either a more powerful say in the government or granting them their own homeland will subside tensions and a lasting peace may be a more attainable goal.
The Sinhalese people make up roughly 82 percent of the population, while the Tamil are roughly nine percent, and the Sri Lankan Moor make up about seven percent. The Tamil separatist group is called the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Fighting for a homeland, Sri Lanka has been plagued by conflict since 1984. In 2002, a Norway-brokered peace agreement subsided the fighting, but the assassination of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister in 2005 rekindled the conflict for two more years. Due to reports after the war that accused both sides of war atrocities, government crackdowns on journalists have skyrocketed, and human rights groups are becoming increasingly invested in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
The failure of success from the UN and human rights organizations shows that there is work that needs to be done at the fundamental level of the government in Sri Lanka. Now that Zeid has resurfaced the issues of the war atrocities, hopefully, attention by big-name NGOs will positively manifest itself and bring Sri Lanka, as well as the ethnic groups within the country closer to establishing a lasting peace.
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