Today, 41 British MPs drawn from the three major parties at Westminster, have written to the British Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to add Britain’s support to calls for an independent, international inquiry into allegations of war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s 25 year civil conflict (letter is attached). The MPs are all Members or Supporters of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils.
This is a major issue of concern for British parliamentarians, and follows credible evidence provided by the US State Department, the European Commission and International Crisis Group, as well as the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, that war crimes could have taken place in Sri Lanka. The MPs believe it is important for the future prospects of peace and reconciliation on the island that these allegations are investigated in a robust and impartial fashion.
The timing of this letter is significant. It comes as the international community awaits publication of the report of the United Nations Advisory Panel, appointed by Ban Ki-Moon to advise him on the matter of war crimes accountability in Sri Lanka.
Vice Chair of the Group, Siobhain McDonagh MP, said:
“The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made welcome statements recently about the need for Sri Lanka to have a credible and independent way of addressing these allegations of violations human rights during the civil war. But this can only have credibility if it takes place under international auspices because serious concerns have been raised around the world about Sri Lanka’s previous efforts to investigate severe human rights abuses.
“If he supports the All Party Group in this way, the Prime Minister will be sending a powerful message to the United Nations Secretary General that Britain backs an independent, international war crimes inquiry. He would also send a powerful message to the people of Sri Lanka that Britain supports human rights, justice, reconciliation and peace on the island.”
The Full Text of the letter sent to the British Prime Minister and names of signatories are reproduced below:
Rt Hon David Cameron MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
Dear Prime Minister,
The need for an independent international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka
We are writing to urge you to use all the powers at your disposal to support calls for an independent international investigation into the alleged war crimes that occurred during Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war. As you know, members of the Congress of the United States have already written to the Secretary of State there to ask her to call for such an investigation, and we should like the British Government to put its full weight behind this proposal.
In October 2009, the European Commission published a report on human rights in Sri Lanka since the war. It said “During the period covered by the investigation, there has been a high rate of unlawful killings in Sri Lanka, including killings carried out by the security forces, persons for whom the State is responsible and the police.” It added: “Extra-judicial killings were widespread and included political killings designed to suppress and deter the exercise of civil and political rights… Unlawful killings perpetrated by soldiers, police and paramilitary groups with ties to the Government, have been a persistent problem.”
In the same month, the US State Department listed numerous crimes that they believed required further investigation, including intentional bombing of civilian and humanitarian organisations, the use of child soldiers, extrajudicial abuse and detention of unarmed civilians and former combatants, the killing of captives or combatants seeking to surrender, and individual disappearances.
There is, therefore, certainly enough evidence to conclude that war crimes could have taken place in Sri Lanka, particularly towards the end of the civil war there, and we believe they can only be investigated effectively if investigations are carried out independently.
Along with many colleagues around the world, we believe that only an independent investigation can inspire confidence and achieve reconciliation. This is because, as Congress members noted, Sri Lanka’s past efforts to investigate severe human rights abuses have not been successful and inspire no confidence that new internal investigations will be credible. These concerns are supported by numerous reputable institutions around the world.
The International Crisis Group argues “An international inquiry into alleged crimes is essential given the absence of political will or capacity for genuine domestic investigations, the need for an accounting to address the grievances that drive conflict in Sri Lanka, and the potential of other governments adopting the Sri Lankan model of counter-insurgency in their own internal conflicts.”
Amnesty International has pointed out that there have already been 9 commissions of enquiry formed by the Government of Sri Lanka since 1991 to investigate human rights issues including disappearances. Amnesty has said they have lacked credibility, delayed criminal investigations and have been subject to government interference, with several commission members resigning in protest.
A Report by Desmond Tutu and Lakhdar Brahimi, for The Elders, also describes a Sri Lankan commission as “not nearly enough” and that what is needed is an independent, international inquiry.
In line with the members of Congress who wrote to the Secretary of State, we believe it is in the international community’s best interests – and the best interests of the United Kingdom, as well as of Sri Lanka – to ensure a lasting peace in Sri Lanka after such a long period of ethnic conflict. However, we believe that peace can only be reached once the full truth is known and understood.
For all these reasons, we ask you to announce Britain’s support for a robust and independent international investigation that would clarify what occurred during the conflict and offer the best hope of a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.
Lee Scott (Chair)
Virendra Sharma (Vice Chair)
Siobhain McDonagh (Vice Chair)
Simon Hughes (Vice Chair)
(Press Release from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils)