Sri Lankan War Crimes
Canada boycotted the 2013 Commonwealth Summit
Article: Alec Salloum – News Writer
The 2013 Commonwealth Summit hosted in Colombo, Sri Lanka this year was met with apprehension from certain Commonwealth nations. The Summit garnered substantial attention because the host nation has been accused of committing atrocities against their minority Tamil population and of war crimes.
The Sri Lankan Civil War began in 1983, with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better known simply as the Tamil Tigers, who engaged in insurgency and militant opposition of the Sri Lankan government. The Tigers sought a sovereign Tamil state, in response to institutionalized discrimination and ethnic tensions with the majority Sinhalese. Tension existed since Sri Lankan independence in 1948, where initial policies favored the Sinhalese. They refused citizenship and rights of education and language of the Tamils.
The war broke out on Jul. 23, 1983, and hailed the coming of Black July. These were six days that saw as many as 3,000 Tamils killed, and further entrenched irreparable racial divisions and animosity in the tempestuous nation.
The war was fought until 2009, when the government forces decidedly beat the Tamil Tigers. This conflict resulted in approximately 100,000 deaths and displaced over a million people.
Some of the crimes, as dictated by the Geneva Convention, that were committed by Sri Lanka pertain to the conduct of the war. This often saw civilians being put needlessly in harm’s way, usually meaning government soldiers had lenient orders on who to fire on when in conflict.
The Tigers were also responsible for such acts, said UN reports. Their actions also included suicide bombings and using civilians as shields.
Some of the more troubling allegations are of the government targeting hospitals with artillery bombardments. Extra-judicial killings of Tamil citizens have also been recorded, and journalists and civilians have been detained without cause and murdered.
In response to these allegations and deplorable human rights conditions, three of the 53 Commonwealth nations boycotted the Commonwealth Summit. These nations are Canada, Mauritius and India. This Summit also marks the first time in 40 years that the head of the Commonwealth, Elizabeth II, did not attend the Summit – Prince Charles was sent in lieu. The absence of the Queen is not due to boycotting; merely that she has a delegated overseas travel to other royals due to her age.
In a press statement in October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper explained why Canada would not be attending the summit. He stated that, “Canada is deeply concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka. The absence of accountability for the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian standards during and after the civil war is unacceptable.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron is now calling for greater inquiry into the events surrounding the war and post-war periods. Cameron was quoted saying, “There needs to be proper inquiries into what happened at the end of the war. There needs to be proper human rights, democracy for the Tamil minority.”
The “proper” inquiry could reference the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commissions. This was a Sri Lankan appointed inquiry in the events of the civil, which failed to address international law.
As such, the Sri Lankan government is unwilling to accept a UN led international inquiry, stating that it is a sovereign nation that is not to be pushed around by its former colonial ruler.
The 2013 Commonwealth Summit, and the nations that engaged in boycotting it, have served as a spotlight on an era of atrocious actions and unjustifiable cruelty. Since this attention has been given to the region, one can only hope an inquiry will occur, and some justice can be given to the nation’s people.