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Sri Lanka: US War Crimes Report Details Extensive Abuses

Report Shows Need for International Investigation


A US State Department report
on possible violations of the laws of war in Sri Lanka made public on
October 22, 2009 shows the need for an independent international
investigation, Human Rights Watch said today. The report details
violations of the laws of war committed by both government forces and
the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from January
through May 2009.

"The US State Department report should dispel any doubts that
serious abuses were committed during the conflict's final months," said
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Given Sri Lanka's
complete failure to investigate possible war crimes, the only hope for
justice is an independent, international investigation."

The Office of War Crimes Issues of the State Department prepared the
report on possible war crimes committed during the final months of the
26-year-long civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE,
which ended in May with the LTTE's defeat. The report details alleged
incidents of LTTE child recruitment, government and LTTE attacks on
civilians and civilian objects, killings of captives or combatants by
government forces, enforced disappearances by government forces and
government-supported paramilitaries, and severe shortages of food,
medicine, and clean water for civilians trapped in the war zone.

The report was presented to Congress on October 21 and was released today on the US State Department website.

The report was mandated by the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act.
The act directed the secretary of state to submit a report "detailing
incidents during the recent conflict in Sri Lanka that may constitute
violations of international humanitarian law or crimes against
humanity, and, to the extent practicable, identifying the parties

The act further instructed the US government to withhold financial
support from Sri Lanka, except for basic human needs, unless the Sri
Lankan government respects the rights of internally displaced persons,
accounts for persons detained in the conflict, provides access to
affected areas and populations for humanitarian organizations and the
media, and implements policies to promote reconciliation and justice.

Human Rights Watch's own research into the fighting found that both
sides repeatedly violated the laws of war. The LTTE used civilians as
human shields, employed lethal force to prevent civilians from fleeing
to safety, and deployed their forces in densely populated civilian
areas. Government forces indiscriminately shelled densely populated
areas, including hospitals. Both parties' disregard for civilian life
resulted in thousands of civilian casualties. Because independent
observers, including the media and human rights organizations, were
denied access to the war zone, detailed information on violations of
the laws of war by both sides has been limited.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called upon the United Nations and
member nations of the Security Council and the Human Rights Council to
establish an independent international investigation into allegations
of laws-of-war violations. The Sri Lankan government has promised to
ensure accountability through domestic inquiries. For example, in a
joint May statement, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UN
secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, underlined the importance of an
accountability process for addressing violations of international law
and stated that "[t]he Government will take measures to address those
grievances." In the five months since the war ended, however, no
investigations have taken place.

"Concerned governments should use the US State Department report as
a clarion call for an international investigation," said Adams. "There
are no more excuses for inaction."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.