Challenges Ahead: Sri Lanka's mass atrocities and international justice

Detailing the difficulties faced by Tamil voters in the North-East during Sri Lanka's presidential election on January 8, the exiled journalist Nirmanusan Balasundaram, called for a strong international justice mechanism to be set up, stating that regardless of who wins the election, Tamils could not expect justice through a domestic process. "A gruelling battle is taking place in Sri Lanka between both leading presidential candidates despite certain factors which keep them united, such as ‘war victory’, denial of mass atrocities and rejection of an international investigation into such atrocities. Disturbingly all leading figures in the presidential debate are in competition with each other for self-proclamation and self-promotion in terms of credibility for the war victory, and complete denial of responsibility or acknowledgement of mass atrocities during the war," Mr Balasundaram wrote. "Regardless of which leading candidate is to win Sri Lanka’s seventh presidential election, victims and survivors of mass atrocities will find it difficult to expect justice or a genuine and credible domestic mechanism into these heinous crimes. Considering Sri Lanka’s political dynamics, the culture of impunity in Sri Lanka will remain unchanged regardless of the outcome of the election. The colour may change but the cage will remain the same," he added.

Sri Lanka's electoral dysfunction

All contesting parties in the presidential polls “have effectively shut Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities out of the upcoming election” said JS Tissainayagam on Wednesday. Writing in Foreign Policy , award winning journalist, JS Tissainayagam warned that the international community should demand that a dialogue with the Tamils and Muslims be pursued by whoever wins the Sri Lankan presidential elections. Highlighting that both the ruling party and common opposition had rejected international justice mechanisms, Tissainayagam added, “International justice aside, Sirisena and the joint opposition naively believe that Sri Lanka can achieve peace and political stability without satisfying the political aspirations of the Tamils and the Muslims.”

Topography of terror and exile

Where do we carry our dead when our soil is stolen and our oceans were turned into impenetrable walls and borders? Where do we take our grief when our kovil bells are forced into silence and our mourners made illegal? Where do we sing our songs of sorrow and resilience when our lips have been sealed? We carry them afar. We carry them in our suitcases across the sea. Five years after the end of war, a new monument for the thousands of dead Tamil civilians and combatants will be inaugurated. The sculpture will consist of a black granite pedestal, a yellow and red-coloured karththigai-poo, as...

Gendered Genocide: Sri Lanka’s War Against Tamils

The following address was delivered by Tasha Manoranjan, a graduate from Yale Law School, and founder and director of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), at the ' Feminisms, Structural Violence and Transitional Justice Conference ' held at York University, Toronto last month. "Tamil women have suffered disproportionately throughout Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic conflict. They have faced both the structural collapse of communities as well as the erosion of societal norms. In response, an increasing number of women joined the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) starting in the 1980s and throughout the years prior to 2009, and became an integral part of the armed resistance against the government.

Review: 'Sri Lanka's Secrets: How the Rajapaksa Regime Gets Away with Murder'

' Sri Lanka's Secrets: How the Rajapaksa Regime Gets Away with Murder ' by Trevor Grant, is a powerful book, containing many details that will inform, energise and enrage even those who are familiar with Sri Lanka, let alone those who are new to understanding the issues that continue to fester on this island. Trevor Grant’s contribution to the literature on Sri Lanka should be compulsory reading for everyone interested in Sri Lanka. His extensive research, access to individuals willing to talk, and ability to tie individual stories back to a bigger argument make this a very powerful book.

'Why Sri Lanka's detention of Balenderan Jayakumari is so sinister' - Callum Macrae

Documentary maker Callum Macrae says Sri Lanka has continued with its “particularly sinister” arrest and intimidation of possible witnesses to a United Nations investigation into mass atrocities in Sri Lanka – including of Tamil disappearances activist Balendran Jayakumari - in a piece in the Huffington Post. Macrae, director of the documenatary 'No Fire Zone', added that whilst the intimidation of witnesses continued, Sri Lanka was “carrying out an ongoing campaign whose aim is nothing less than to permanently change the ethnic make-up of the Tamil areas in the north and east.” He added that “through the use of major strategic land-grabs, systematic sexual violence, political repression, enforced disappearances and wholesale plantation by non-Tamil families and businesses they are assaulting Tamil identity and ethnically re-engineering the entire region.”

‘Legal Avenues to Prosecute a US Citizen for War Crimes—The Case of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’

Ryan Goodman, Professor of Law and Co-Chair of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law has called on the United States to prosecute Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for war crimes, highlighting various laws that the administration may be able to pursue charges against the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary. Writing in Just Security this week, Goodman stated that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a US citizen, could face charges under the War Crimes Act of 1996, as well as coming under investigation from other agencies for immigration fraud and possible tax evasion. Goodman added that the Justice Department could also consider pursuing civil liability, for charges such as “torture committed by a US citizen abroad of foreign nationals” and witness tampering. His piece is the second in a series arising out of a presentation he made to a US Congressional briefing earlier this year. See his full opinion piece here .

Review: 'This Land Belongs to the Army'

'This Land Belongs to the Army’ is a strong documentary about the manner in which the lands in the traditional Tamil homelands of the North-East of the island of Sri Lanka have been appropriated by the government and the military. Made by Indian journalist and filmmaker Maga Tamizh Prabhagaran, the documentary features first-hand testimony from victims and an exclusive discussion with a Sri Lankan Army soldier about the use of chemical and other bombs to support the logic that the land belongs to the Army and that the Tamils can “live in [the] country” only provided they do not “demand undue things”, to use the words of former military commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka,. Launched in January this year at the UK Houses of Parliament, the documentary has gone on to be broadcast around the world, as well as being selected for the 7th International Documentaries and Short Film Festival of Kerala taking place next month and the Mediteran Film Festival in Bosnia in August. It was also entered into the International Festival of Local Televisions in Slovakia earlier this month.

'Sri Lanka’s Scapegoat for its Own Terror'

Sri Lanka is using the mask of ‘counterterrorism’ to hide its own terror, whilst increasingly becoming a hub for international crime, said award-winning exiled Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam in a piece for Foreign Policy . Tissainayagam, a former a Nieman Fellow at Harvard Univeristy, said that by continuing to paint itself as a victim of terrorism, Sri Lanka “absolves itself of its own inaction if not outright compliance with exporting terrorism”. Whilst Sri Lanka may continue to claim the alleged revival of the LTTE as a reason for receiving international assistance, Tissainayagam argues that meanwhile, with government and military involvement, the island has become a hub for international crime.

‘Australia’s dangerously close relationship with Sri Lanka’

The Australian government’s “dangerously close relationship with Sri Lanka” has put it at odds with its allies and leaves it at risk of violating international human rights obligations, said Emily Howie, the director of advocacy and research at the Human Rights Law Centre in a piece published on Tuesday. Stating that Australia has “failed to live up to its own human rights standards” , Howie said the government has become “increasingly unwilling to criticise Sri Lanka on any account” , even though it is “well aware of the serious human rights situation in Sri Lankan and the brutal track record of its partners” . Howie went on to call the increased collaboration between the Sri Lanka and Australia, including Australian opposition to a UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka earlier this year, “counterproductive, short-sighted and extremely disappointing”.

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