A gruesome video released last week by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka highlights the need for an investigation into possible war crimes and human rights violations that may have been committed during Sri Lanka’s final offensive against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE).
The video depicts disturbing and potentially incriminating footage: men dressed in what appear to be Sri Lankan military uniforms shoot two unarmed, naked, bound and blindfolded men sitting on the ground, with several other naked bodies in the background. Though the video’s authenticity has yet to be independently verified, Journalists for Democracy says the video was shot in January 2009, during the Sri Lankan army’s fierce battle against the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan government has refuted that Sri Lankan troops summarily executed Tamil prisoners and claims the video was staged by Tamil supporters who wish to discredit the Sri Lankan army.
Despite Sri Lanka’s dismissal of the footage, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions called for an international, independent investigation into the video’s legitimacy and any possible violations of international law, and has even suggested he would like to visit Sri Lanka to further probe the matter. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice has also expressed concern at the footage’s implications, and several human rights groups have denounced the abuses shown in the video and called for an investigation.
The international community is right to demand an independent inquiry: any possible war crimes and human rights violations committed by either side must be immediately investigated. Extra -judicial killings as depicted in the video are considered war crimes and forbidden by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949. Both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers have been accused of committing human rights atrocities during the 25-years-long civil war, by the U.S. government and international organizations alike, but an inquiry into the accusations has never been officiated.
Now is the time to change that. An independent investigation is a necessary step if the Sri Lankan government seriously intends to promote peace and reconciliation among its people since the war. If the Sri Lankan government is certain its troops would never commit such atrocities, it has nothing to lose by allowing the U.N. to explore the video’s possible incriminations. Yet if its past behavior of prohibiting international media and human rights organizations from observing the war – not to mention its refusal to allow them to enter the detention camps where it keeps the war’s refugees – says anything, it’s that the Sri Lankan government must be pressured to act accordingly. As the current president of the U.N. Security Council, the United States has the chance to propose an investigation be placed on the council’s agenda. We must act now.
Sri Lanka’s civil war devastated the country for 25 years. To move past the damage, justice must be offered. The international community must promptly investigate any possible war crimes and human rights atrocities.