29 April 2011
1. Global Centre for the Responsibility to protect – Open Statement on the Situation in Syria
2. Amnesty International – Security Council must refer Syria to the ICC
3. Human Rights Watch
a. Syria: World should impose sanctions on leadership
b. Syria: Arab states should push for end to killings
1. Human Rights Watch – AU: Press Libya to Obey African Court’s Order
2. Rachel Gerber – Des Moines Register: ‘R2P’ Involves More than Military Intervention
3. K. Kesavapany – The Strait Times: RtoP: A good norm in search of fairness
4. David Chandler – Spiked: There’s nothing good about the war in Libya
5. Simon Adams- Canberra Times: Never again let us fail our responsibility to protect
1. Panel of Experts find credible reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity
The Syrian government’s increasingly brutal response to protests, which began on March 15, have left hundreds of demonstrators dead and many more wounded, arbitrarily arrested, tortured and disappeared; acts which may rise to the level of crimes against humanity, one of the four crimes states committed themselves to protect populations from under the Responsibility to protect. As Human Rights Watch reported on 27 April, President Bashar al-Asad’s government has cut off communication and access to several cities, and has deployed troops and tanks to meet protests with deadly force. B. Lynn Pascoe. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, informed Security Council members on 27 April that sources in Syria are “consistently reporting the use of artillery fire against unarmed civilians; door-to-door arrest campaigns; the shooting of medical personnel who attempt to aid the wounded; raids against hospitals, clinics and mosques and the purposeful destruction of medical supplies and arrest of medical personnel.” The city of Dera’a has experienced siege-like conditions and the UN confirmed that electricity, communication systems and water had been cut off since Monday, April 25. Amnesty International reported on 25 April that government snipers have been deployed to the city specifically to target people trying to assist the wounded in the streets. As of April 28 approximately 200 members of Syria’s ruling Baath party were reported to have resigned in protest to the violent crackdown against civilians in pro-democracy demonstrations.
In a statement issued on 22 April, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the violence against civilians in Syria and called on the government to abide by its obligations to respect international human rights, including freedom of expression, assembly, and of the press. Furthermore, he reiterated the need for an independent investigation into the alleged crimes that have occurred. UN human rights Chief Navi Pillay echoed the Secretary-General in a statement on 25 April and reminded the government of Syria of its international legal obligation to protect peaceful demonstrators. She called for an immediate end to the use of violence, an independent investigation into the killings and for perpetrators to be brought to justice. European and American officials drafted and circulated a Resolution before the Security Council on April 26 which endorsed the call by Ban Ki-moon to open an investigation and would have implemented sanctions and an embargo; however the Resolution was not accepted as states such as Russia and China expressed the view that the current situation in Syria did not pose a threat to international peace and security. The Arab League has also been passive in its response to the violence, issuing a statement on 25 April that condemned the use of violence against protestors in Arab countries but did not single out Syria nor propose any measures to end human rights violations. On 29 April, the Human Rights Council condemned the crackdown and called for an investigation into human rights violations. On the same day, President Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions against Syrian officials responsible for human rights violations and on the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for providing material support for the suppression in Syria.
Civil society has called for a swift, decisive and unified response by international and regional bodies to end the targeting of civilians in Syria and bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. Human Rights Watch has issued releases calling on both the UN and Arab States to advocate for sanctions against leaders responsible for the bloodshed, and to establish an independent international inquiry into the government’s use of lethal force against protestors. Amnesty International declared that Syrian military assault against civilians must end and stated that the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court as human rights violations such as murder and torture appear to have been committed by members of the security forces as part of a widespread attack on the civilian population, which would amount to crimes against humanity. As the Global Centre for the Responsibility to protect stated in is April 26 Open Statement on the Situation in Syria, the risks to civilians are clear. It is crucial that, in keeping with the Responsibility to protect, UN Member States use all available leverage to encourage an end to the crackdown as action today will save lives, prevent the situation from deteriorating, and send a clear message to others contemplating a similar response to peaceful protests.
1. Open Statement on the Situation in Syria
Global Centre for the Responsibility to protect
26 April 2011
(…) The Syrian government must immediately cease attacks on unarmed civilians protesting peacefully. The government’s response to protests that began in mid-March has become increasingly violent with security forces carrying out a deadly crackdown in response to the 22 April “Great Friday” demonstrations. Hundreds are dead and thousands wounded with many more arbitrarily arrested, tortured and disappeared, acts which may rise to the level of crimes against humanity, one of the four crimes that states committed themselves to protect populations from in adopting theresponsibility to protect in 2005. Pursuant to this commitment, the Syrian government bears the primary responsibility to halt and avert the commission of atrocities, an obligation that it is currently failing to fulfill.
The situation is deteriorating and the risk of further atrocities is significant. Over 350 individuals have allegedly been killed since the protests began, at least 120 since Friday alone. The security forces have shown no restraint, using live fire ammunition against unarmed protesters. In the southern city of Deraa they are relying on tanks and other heavy weaponry to respond to demonstrations. Reports have emerged from that city of the shelling of residential neighborhoods and the use of snipers targeting those trying to assist the wounded. Foreign reporters have been banned from entering the country and there are reports that telephone service has been cut in certain cities making it difficult to get information out and leading to fears about what the government plans to do hidden from the attention of the world.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other government officials have argued that the unrest is being instigated by “armed groups.” By characterizing unarmed civilians, including children, the elderly, medical professionals seeking to reach the wounded and those participating in funeral processions, as armed militants the threat of atrocities is dramatically heightened. In addition, recent statements have blamed a “conspiracy” of “Salafists,” adherents to the Salafi sect of Islam, for the protests and resulting violence, which suggests an attempt to stoke sectarian division and to portray the protesters as violent extremists. The government’s history of silencing opposition raises serious concerns that the regime is willing to do whatever is necessary to retain power. (…)
(…) The government must uphold its responsibility to protect and ensure that security forces stop targeting unarmed civilians and act in accordance with their obligations under international law. There must also be, as Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon demanded on 22 April, “an independent, transparent and effective investigation into the killings” with those responsible held accountable.
UN member states must speak with one voice in condemning the violence and calling on the Syrian government to halt attacks on civilians. The UN Security Council must, in their 26 April meeting, address the situation and consider the imposition of targeted economic sanctions and travel bans on those individuals known to be inciting, ordering or perpetrating atrocities against civilians. The European Union should similarly enact such sanctions. The UN Human Rights Council, which Syria seeks to join, should hold an emergency session to discuss the situation and issue a strong statement making clear that such violence is unacceptable. Regional actors must add their calls for restraint. (…)
See full statement.
2. Security Council must refer Syria to the ICC
26 April 2011
(…) The UN Security Council must refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Amnesty International said today, amid escalating government violence against protesters calling for reform.
The call comes as the Security Council considers its response to the brutal crackdown that has left some 400 people dead since mid-March.
“The Syrian government is clearly trying to shatter the will of those peacefully expressing dissent by shelling them, firing on them and locking them up,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. (…)
(…) “President al-Assad and those around him have to understand that their actions will have consequences, namely that if they gun down their own citizens the international community will hold them individually criminally responsible before the ICC or national courts of states exercising universal jurisdiction.”
The organization also called for the imposition of a comprehensive arms embargo on Syria and an assets freeze on President Bashar al-Assad and others involved in ordering or perpetrating serious human rights abuses.
Since protests began in March, unarmed Syrians gathering to call for greater freedom have routinely been attacked by security forces firing live ammunition directly into crowds of peaceful demonstrators.
(…) In a number of incidents, snipers have targeted wounded people lying in the streets and people trying to assist them, according to Amnesty International's sources.
The organization rejected claims by the Syrian government that many of the killings had been committed by anti-government armed groups, saying that it had seen no evidence to support such allegations. After the Syrian army deployed in Dera'a on 25 April, tanks were reportedly used to shell residential buildings where there was no evidence that the persons inside were armed.
Several hundred people have been arrested across the country, the vast majority held incommunicado and with their whereabouts unknown. Many of those who have been released have reported that they were tortured in detention. (…)
(…) The human rights violations by the Syrian authorities reported in the last few weeks include murder and torture and appear to have been committed by members of the security forces as part of a widespread - as well as systematic - attack on the civilian population. As such these violations would amount to crimes against humanity. (…)
See full press release.
3a. Syria: World should impose sanctions on leadership
Human Rights Watch
24 April 2011
(…) The United Nations should set up an international inquiry into the fatal shootings by Syria's security forces of peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said today after the killing of protesters in 14 separate towns on April 22, 2011. The inquiry should also examine other human rights violations committed since anti-government protests began in mid-March.
The US and European Union should also impose sanctions on Syrian officials who bear responsibility for the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters and the arbitrary detention and torture of hundreds of protesters, as well as request an urgent briefing of the UN Security Council on the spiraling situation in the country, including shootings on April 22.
"After Friday's carnage, it is no longer enough to condemn the violence," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Faced with the Syrian authorities' ‘shoot to kill' strategy, the international community needs to impose sanctions on those ordering the shooting of protesters." (…)
See full statement.
3b. Syria: Arab States should push for end to killings
Human Rights Watch
27 April 2011
(…) Arab countries should join international efforts to establish an independent international inquiry into the Syrian government's use of lethal force against peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said today. Egypt and Tunisia should lead in advocating sanctions against those leaders responsible for the bloodshed, widespread arbitrary detention, and torture in Syria, Human Rights Watch said. (…)
(…) "The Arab League is no longer a closed shop of autocrats and abusers so its members should name names and take action against serial rights violators like Syria," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Egypt and Tunisia, which have embraced democratic reforms, should support travel bans and asset freezes against Syrian officials responsible for the worst abuses."
While Lebanon, currently the only Arab country on the UN Security Council, is particularly susceptible to Syrian pressure, it should not actively oppose international efforts to stop rights abuses by the Syrian government, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch also called on Egypt and Tunisia to take the lead in opposing Syria's election to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
"If Arab countries joined the emerging international outcry against the abuses of Bashar al-Asad's government, Syria would be more likely to listen and change course," said Stork.
Human Rights Watch also called on Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and a declared candidate in Egypt's upcoming presidential election, to speak out clearly against rights violations in Syria. (…)
See full statement
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been caught in the ongoing fighting in Misrata and the risk of crimes under the Responsibility to Protect framework remains as Gaddafi’s military advancements and shelling of the port city have threatened to cut off humanitarian access. CNN reported on April 27 that approximately 626,000 people have fled to neighboring countries since the start of the conflict and that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) believes that 1,500 migrants were trapped and in need of evacuation from Misrata. OCHA stated on April 26 that an additional 13,000 people remained at transit points and camps in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. As of April 27, ships arriving to evacuate the wounded and to deliver humanitarian supplies were unable to dock as a result of heavy bombardments on the port. OCHA stated that access to the current stocks of basic supplies in Misrata has also been jeopardized due to the violence. Basic necessities, such as water, electricity, and food, have also become increasingly difficult to access for civilians residing in the city and the International Committee for the Red Cross warned that this could cause the humanitarian crisis to deteriorate further. Although the European Union stated on April 18 that it had prepared a “concept of operations” for the deployment of troops to assist with the distribution of humanitarian aid, Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos remains wary of mixing aid and coercive measures and has therefore called for the EU to halt any preparations for military action.
The volatile humanitarian situation and threat to the safety and security of civilians indicates the importance of NATO’s presence and the need for the continued enforcement of the protection of civilians mandate established in Security Council Resolution 1973; however, as the crisis in Libya stretches on, numerous concerns have arisen regarding the application of RtoP. Although the swift action with a variety of measures should be commended, analysts continue to question why a similar rapidity of response has not been echoed in other crises, such as in Yemen or Syria. The motives of governments involved in Operation Unified Protector have been called into question as NATO actions have threatened to go beyond the scope of Security Council Resolution 1973’s mandate. Some commentators have pointed to the April 25 attack against Gaddafi’s compound, which resulted in accusations by the Libyan government of an assassination attempt. Such actions by NATO risk associating RtoP with regime change, which neither the norm nor Resolution 1973 advocate for. The use of coercive measures in Libya also risks associating RtoP with military intervention, overlooking the diplomatic, economic and political tools available to prevent mass atrocities. The articles and op-eds below provide further analysis into the issues and concerns regarding the implementation of RtoP in Libya as well as calls for additional measures to be taken to insure the protection of civilians from mass atrocity crimes.
1. AU: Press Libya to Obey African Court’s Order
Human Rights Watch
19 April 2011
(…) The African Union (AU) should put pressure on Libya to comply with the African Court's order to halt attacks on civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. The ruling, on March 25, 2011, was the first against a state by the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (the African Court).
The African Court, in response to an application from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights alleging serious and massive violations of human rights in Libya, ordered Libya to "immediately refrain from any action that would result in loss of life or violation of physical integrity of persons." It instructed Libya to report on the measures taken to implement the order within 15 days, but Libya has neither halted the attacks nor responded, Human Rights Watch said. (…)
(…) The AU's ongoing efforts at mediation in Libya are commendable, but do not lessen Libya's obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' rights and the protocol establishing the African Court, Human Rights Watch said.
The application to the court from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights presented strong evidence of serious and widespread violations of human rights in Libya. These include the unlawful detention of opponents, indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators, and excessive use of heavy weapons and machine guns against the population. The Court ordered provisional measures based on a finding that the Libyan case was of extreme gravity and urgency.
"The African Union bears primary responsibility for ensuring enforcement by its member states of all decisions by the African Court," Bekele said. "The ongoing conflict in the country does not give Libya any excuses to continue human rights violations." (…)
See full press release.
2. ‘R2P’ Involves More Than Military Intervention
The Des Moines Register
23 April 2011
Rachel Gerber is program officer for genocide and mass atrocity prevention atthe Stanley Foundation.
(…) The speed with which the international community intervened to protect Libyans from atrocities committed by their own government was truly astounding. Consensus to act built momentum that strengthened United Nations peacekeeping mandates in the Ivory Coast, which recently resulted in a captive Laurent Gbagbo.
Yet, the responsibility to protect, or R2P, is a complex framework for mass atrocity prevention and response, and there is a danger in conflating its success with that of recent military engagements. (…)
(…) When preventive efforts fail, R2P insists the world take action. The use of military force, however, rests explicitly on the inadequacy of peaceful measures to protect populations under threat. Even coercive responses include non-military options such as economic sanctions, travel bans, asset freezes and other diplomatic maneuvers.
Force, once exercised, is difficult to manage. Uncertainties lead to inevitable miscalculations and unintended consequences. In many situations, geopolitical complexities lead even the most enthusiastic of "protectors" to conclude that military intervention will likely do more harm than good. (…)
(…) Many have been quick to criticize the apparent selectivity of a military response to the threat against Ivorian and Libyan civilians, given other cases in which nations have clearly failed to protect their people. If R2P were reduced to a simple doctrine of military intervention, such selectivity would be difficult to deny.
When you look at other ways R2P has been applied, however, the picture balances significantly. Large-scale ethnic violence was stemmed in Kenya in 2008 through mediation prompted by R2P principles. Key global players have invested greatly in the peaceful transition of an independent southern Sudan. Civilian-based stabilization support has sought to diffuse risk in post-atrocity Kyrgyzstan. These efforts may be imperfect, but each reflects acceptance by the international community of its obligation to protect civilians.
R2P's ultimate success should be judged not by the number of military responses mobilized to halt mass killing, but rather by the full range of efforts made by the international community to ensure that all nations earn and retain the consent of the governed. The concept as a whole encompasses so much more than intervention. (…)
See full article.
3. R2P: A good norm in search of fairness
The Straits Times
20 April 2011
The writer is director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He is also Singapore's Non-Resident Ambassador to Jordan. Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.
(…) The Libyan imbroglio raises a wider point about international intervention in a domestic conflict. As understood by the United Nations, the Responsibility to protect(R2P) is not a law but a norm on which states can act legitimately. (…)
But there are complications too in the R2P norm, as the Libyan crisis is revealing.
First, there is the question of legitimacy. In the Libyan case, the Arab League approved and the UN Security Council supported the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Libya. But critics argue that the real purpose of the intervention is regime change, which means the international coalition will continue with its military offensive till Col Gaddafi steps down.
This is true. The Libyan strongman had accepted an African Union peace plan that would have led to a ceasefire and the suspension of NATO air strikes. The rebels rejected the plan. The fighting continued. So does NATO intervention - till presumably, regime change takes place.
But does, and should, R2P entail regime change? In the aftermath of the Iraq War, this is a legitimate question to ask. In the Libyan case, the brutality of the state's initial response to the protest justified implementing R2P. But when the rebels rejected a solution that would have ended the horrors, wherein lies the purpose of continuing R2P?
Second, there is the issue of double standards. 'If Libya, then why not Yemen and Bahrain?' Mr. David Hillstrom asked in a Foreign Policy Journal article. 'The answer is obvious... Bahrain is an ally for the West and action against the regime there would result in the strengthening of the Shi'ite majority and shift power in the region towards Iran. Such is the moral bankruptcy of realpolitik.'
He has a point, though diluted by the fact that the state suppression of protests in Bahrain, Yemen and even Syria, while harsh, did not come close to the Libyan horrors. But the point is, like any other international norm, R2P is a political one - and politics, in a far-from-perfect world, will never be free of double standards.
But having said that, the international community should make R2P less open to manipulation by powerful countries. Mr. Hillstrom argued correctly that if the UN wishes to make R2P a legally binding principle, it should initiate broader discussions that lead to a consensus codified in a written legal document. 'The framework for such a process is not in place and without such a framework all future decisions will similarly be ad hoc,' he wrote. 'This is not a prescription for international justice.'
What is needed, then, is consistency in the application of R2P - a benchmark for judging both the actions of states against their citizens, and the actions of powerful states against others. At present, it is a good norm in search of fairness.
See full article.
4. There’s nothing good about the war in Libya
19 April 2011
David Chandler is Professor of International Relations at the University of Westminster, London. He is the editor of the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding and has written widely in this area.
(…)We can never return to the 1990s world of humanitarian intervention. This isn’t because of the ‘bad wars’ of the war on terror. Rather, well before 9/11, the retreat from the conceptual conflict between intervention and sovereignty had already begun with the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty establishing the conception of theResponsibility to protect (R2P) in the year 2000. In this, the commission suggested that the ‘clash of rights’ – those of intervention and of sovereignty – had been a product of misunderstanding. (…)
The conceptual development of the R2P enabled a ‘Third Way’ approach to international regulation, between non-intervention (and the respect for state sovereignty) and international intervention (and the assumption of international sovereign responsibility). Instead, the line between external intervention and domestic sovereignty was blurred through the focus on the ethical (rather than legal) responsibility to protect, which denied any clash between the legal and political rights of intervention and sovereignty.
Proof of this third-way approach was the rise and rise of international statebuilding. That is, international intervention was now seen as necessary to build or to construct sovereign capacities. In a world in which intervention was now premised on the need to build sovereignty – to state-build – intervention and sovereignty had become synonyms rather than antonyms.
In today’s world, the bombing of Libya cannot readily be grasped in the traditional terms of the state interests of Realpolitik or of an emerging global cosmopolitanism of human security. It now seems clear that the 1990s were the highpoint of the discipline of international relations, with the political stakes of humanitarian intervention understood as posing the choice between two liberal worlds: the political and legal ordering either of the international or the global. In 2011, the debate over the ‘humanitarian’ bombing of Libya demonstrates that we have moved beyond the liberal political binaries of the international and the global.
This is humanitarian intervention but without the political or legal framework of meaning of the 1990s. The claim of the interveners does not derive from any global ethical assumption of duty or right (in fact, the bombing campaign has the state-based international legal sanction of the UN Security Council). More importantly, the Libya campaign does not present the ‘humanitarian’ bombing as an undermining or rolling back of state sovereignty. Instead it is posed in the post-humanitarian language of capacity-building and good governance, allegedly strengthening the Libyan state through enabling the forces of democracy (anyway, those supporting the disparate opposition forces) to strengthen their influence.
The ‘good wars’ of humanitarian intervention versus state sovereignty of the 1990s ended in the international protectorates, still ongoing in Bosnia and Kosovo. NATO action in Libya may involve dropping ‘humanitarian’ bombs but, unlike in Kosovo or Bosnia, there will be no assumption of Western responsibility for their outcome. In this respect, the bombing campaign much more resembles those of Afghanistan and Iraq, where there was similarly little strategic concern with what happened afterwards. While there is no chance of Libya becoming a Kosovo-style ‘good war’, there is every possibility that international powers will be drawn into the sort of mess that was created by the ‘bad wars’ of Afghanistan and Iraq.
See full article
5. Never again let us fail our responsibility to protect
19 April 2011
The Armenian massacre began on the eve of Anzac Day.
A line of blood connects us to 1915. Anzac Day not only represents the most hallowed day in Australia's military history, it coincides with one of the most harrowing events of the 20thcentury. As the Allies readied themselves to storm Gallipoli, leading politicians within the Ottoman Empire were preparing to eliminate Armenian Christians, whom they considered treasonous vermin. (…)
(…)Regrettably, the reality of the second half of the 20th century is not how much we did to make ''Never again'' a reality, but how little. From the killing fields of Cambodia to East Timor, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo, mass atrocity crimes were generally met with international diplomatic passivity. The United Nations proved incompetent or impotent in the face of monstrous human rights challenges.
Nor did the new millennium start much better. The barren wastelands of Darfur provided a fresh stain upon our collective conscience.
This is precisely why the recent international willingness to act with regard to Libya and the Ivory Coast is so remarkable. Gaddafi and his ilk were not preparing genocide, but they had shown a terrifying determination to bomb protestors and commit mass atrocities. The Libyan regime had additionally promised ''no mercy'' as its troops prepared to wipe out the opposition city of Benghazi. Meanwhile in the Ivory Coast, President Gbagbo's rejection of unfavourable election results, combined with his willingness to reignite civil war and to incite ethnic massacres, necessitated his removal. The Ivory Coast was in danger of developing into a slow motion re-run of Rwanda, with the world once against cast as passive spectator.
As imperfect as the UN Security Council's Libyan ''No Fly Zone'' and belated attempt to pull the Ivory Coast back from the brink are, they represent an important turning point. The new willingness to act, rather than just talk, in protection of people facing mass atrocities is not only due to leadership from Washington, London and Paris, or because of global hostility to Gaddafi or Gbagbo. The new willingness to act is partly because of an important shift in the world of ideas.
In 2001 an international committee developed the concept of ''the Responsibility to protect'' (or ''R2P''). The basis of R2Pis that all humans, regardless of where they live, have a right to be protected from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. The R2P falls, first and foremost, upon a people's sovereign government. However, if that government proves unable or unwilling to exercise its responsibility, the world community is obliged to act.
R2P was unanimously adopted at the UN's World Summit in 2005. Crucially, R2P formed the basis of the recent UN Security Council resolutions on Libya and the Ivory Coast. It was also invoked by President Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Kevin Rudd and others in support of action in Libya and the Ivory Coast.
Genocide does not begin with gas chambers and mass graves. It develops incrementally - through hate campaigns, arrest and deportation, and incitement to massacre. Central to R2P is the idea that never again can a Rwanda or Srebrenica be allowed to occur as the world community sits on its hands. The Responsibility to protect demands an end to amnesia, impunity and inaction. (…)
See full article
1. Panel of Experts find credible reports of war crimes and crimes against humanity
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released this week the report of the Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka commissioned in 2010 on the violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in the final stages of the conflict between the Government of Sri Lanka (SLG) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) (September 2008 and May 2009).
The Panel concluded that “a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law were committed by the and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.Despite the government’s claim that it conducted a ‘humanitarian rescue operation’ with a policy of “zero civilian casualties”, the SLG was found responsible for the killing of civilians including through shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects in three consecutive No Fire Zones, the denial of humanitarian assistance, forced displacement and torture. The LTTE was found responsible for using civilians as a human buffer, killing civilians attempting to flee, firing artillery in proximity to civilians and firing from civilian installations, forcibly recruiting children, forced labor, and indiscriminate suicide attacks. The Panel has estimated the number of civilians deaths to as many as 40,000, and the number of displaced persons at 290,000.
While the government has put in place measures to address accountability, the Panel found them deeply flawed, not meeting international standards for independence and impartiality, and thus far, ineffective. The Panel recommended that the SLG immediately commence genuine investigations into violations committed by both sides and that the SG establish an independent international mechanism to monitor the domestic accountability process, conduct independent investigations into alleged violations. Ban Ki-moon responded on 25 April by indicating that he would only initiate this process with host country consent or a decision from Member States through an appropriate intergovernmental forum. Human Rights Watch urged for the establishment of the mechanism, saying that “Ban’s statements should not place an unnecessary obstacle to establishing a justice mechanism”.
The UN response to the conflict was also criticized by the Panel. The report concluded that “during the final stages of the war, the UN political organs and bodies failed to take actions that might have protected civilians” including its failure to publicize casualty figures. The Panel recommended for the UN Secretary-General to conduct a comprehensive review of the UN during the war and its aftermath. A statement by the spokesperson for Secretary General indicated that he would enact this recommendation.
The Sri Lankan government rejected the report, calling it “biased, baseless, and unilateral”. Its findings nonetheless confirm initial assessments made that crimes against humanity were committed in Sri Lanka with a clear failure from both sides to protect civilians. The RtoP framework clearly stipulates the obligation of each state to protect populations, also pointing to the need for the international community to take timely and decisive measures when the State fails to do so.
- See the Panel of Experts report
- See Human Rights Watch –Sri Lanka: UN Chief Should Establish International Inquiry
Thanks to Megan Schmidt and Eliana Horn for compiling this listserv