Rights Coalition urges Obama to initiate War Crime investigations

[TamilNet, Thursday, 02 July 2009, 00:07 GMT]
A Coalition of six US-based Human Rights Organizations in a letter to U.S. President Obama wrote: "[t]o address abuses associated with the recent fighting [in Sri Lanka's north], there is an urgent need for an independent, international commission of inquiry into many credible allegations of laws of war violations, including possible war crimes, by both sides, as well as illegitimate detentions. Mr. President, we urge you to publicly call for an international commission of inquiry and to take necessary steps to achieve it. We also urge you to take steps for the full protection of internally displaced persons, including independent access to camps, former areas of conflict and to conflict-affected civilians by humanitarian and human rights organizations and the media."

The Coalition included the Carter Center, American Jewish Council through its Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), International League for Human Rights (ILHR), Freedom House (FH), and Amnesty International (AI) representatives signed the letter.

A. Frank Donaghue, CEO PHR
A. Frank Donaghue, CEO PHR
Robert Arsenault, President ILHR
Robert Arsenault, President ILHR
Felice D. Gaer, Director JBI
Felice D. Gaer, Director JBI
Karin Ryan, Director, HR Program, Carter Center
Karin Ryan, Director, HR Program, Carter Center
Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director FH
Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director FH
Larry Cox, Executive Director AI
Larry Cox, Executive Director AI
"Despite repeated warnings by several international organizations of impending mass killings of civilians and despite strong statements of concern by you and several other world leaders, more than 20,000 civilians are reported to have been killed. The Times of London and Le Monde have published investigations, based on reliable data, and suggested that most of the civilian deaths were caused as a result of shelling by the Sri Lankan government," the Coalition said in the letter.

The letter warned that "[t]he failure of the international community to take concrete action to protect civilians in Sri Lanka has given the green light to regimes around the world and has signaled that there is nothing that the international community will do when a government kills its own people under the cover of sovereignty."

On the 300,000 Tamil civilians still held in internment camps, the HR Organizations appealed to "urgently address the plight of those in de facto internment camps and to initiate action to hold accountable those responsible for the mass killings. There are reports that some in the camps have already died from starvation or malnutrition....there are consistent reports of widespread and serious human rights violations facing the displaced people, including enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment, forced recruitment by paramilitary groups and sexual violence."

Pointing out that "the Sri Lankan government’s record on investigating serious human rights abuses is poor and impunity has been a persistent problem," and that "[t]here have been serious ongoing violations of human rights and a backlog of cases of enforced disappearance and unlawful killings that run to tens of thousands," the letter drew attention to the the past failed efforts to address violations through the establishment of ad hoc mechanisms in Sri Lanka, such as presidential commissions of inquiry, the letter urged Obama to take steps to initiate an international inquiry into "allegations of laws of war violations, including possible war crimes, by both sides."

In the background of the failure of the United Nations to take any punitive action and realizing that effective leverage can only be exercised by the U.S., the letter said, "[i]t is now imperative that the United States assume the leadership necessary to mobilize the international community to protect the surviving civilians and to hold accountable those responsible for mass atrocities. Failure to do so would encourage governments to commit mass atrocities without fear of consequence. That is why your immediate action is important at this juncture," the letter said.

 

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