Justice in Sri Lanka: Let them be heard

US Tamil Political Action Council

ID supports the US Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC), an advocacy organization seeking justice and accountability for the atrocities committed during the civil war in Sri Lanka. Looking forward, USTPAC is working for a just and effective political solution to the ethnic conflict.

Background

During the final stages of Sri Lanka’s brutal twenty-five year civil war that ended in 2009, the Tamil civilian population was hit devastatingly hard. They faced massive human rights violations by the Sri Lankan armed forces as the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) drew to a close.

A 2011 report by the UN Secretary-General Panel of Experts detailed “credible allegations” that both Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE perpetrated serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Report identified as many as 40,000 civilian deaths, mostly from indiscriminate government shelling.

Since the war’s end, the Tamil community and others have continued to face oppression and abuse at the hands of the security forces. Such abuse has included the retention of Tamil lands, military control over economic and civilian life in predominantly Tamil areas, harassment and surveillance, torture and sexual violence, and enforced disappearances of civilians, including journalists and human rights defenders.

 

 

The town of Mullaitivu, situated on Sri Lanka’s north-eastern coast, was the site of heavy fighting during the Sri Lankan civil war. Photo credit: Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai.

SCOPE OF ProJECT

The U.S. Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC) is a U.S.-based Tamil advocacy group. Their objectives are:

Since 2011, ID has advised USTPAC on diplomatic advocacy, political strategy and public diplomacy (including social media strategy) to achieve their objectives and enhance their engagement with key interlocutors both in the US and in the international community.

Much of the focus is on helping USTPAC advocate for the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to take action and ensure the government of Sri Lanka implements a credible transitional justice process and addresses the longstanding grievances of the Tamil people.

 

IMPACT

To date the HRC, has passed four successively strong resolutions. Notably, Resolution 25/1, adopted in March 2014, established an investigation into human rights violations during the war. The resulting report confirmed widespread atrocities committed by both sides and expressly stated that Sri Lanka’s institutions had neither the capacity nor the independence to implement the necessary security, judicial and political reforms without international participation.

In response, the HRC adopted resolution 30/1 in October 2015, calling on the government of Sri Lanka to establish a transitional justice program comprising:

The resolution also calls on the Sri Lankan government to reform the security sector reform to prevent further human rights violations by the security forces. It was co-sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka, meaning that the resolution’s provisions are direct commitments from the government to its people.

The adoption of these resolutions was a vindication of years of diplomatic advocacy by USTPAC in collaboration with the global Tamil community.

“USTPAC is deeply appreciative of all ID’s efforts. We feared the world would disregard our calls for justice after Sri Lanka’s civil war. ID helped us raise our voice at the UN Human Rights Council and propel action to address the war’s atrocities. With ID’s advice, we, with our partners, secured a UN report into crimes committed during and after the war. The report not only acknowledged the gravity of crimes that took place, but also put to rest the government’s fabricated narrative that it carried out humanitarian operations to save civilians. It vindicated seven years of diplomatic advocacy. ID has had an impact on us beyond merely helping craft political strategies or reports. ID helps us believe that justice will prevail.”

-Dr. Karunyan Arulanantham, President, USTPAC

Photo (top of page): Scene from No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, directed by Callum Macrae.