Q+A: The U.N. report on the end of Sri Lanka's war

by Reuters
Tuesday, 26 April 2011 13:40 GMT

By C. Bryson Hull

COLOMBO, April 26 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's government has rejected a report that found "credible evidence" war crimes were committed during the final stages of its civil war that ended in May 2009, saying the panel that produced it was biased and overstepped its mandate.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commissioned the report, but has said he cannot unilaterally push for a probe into its findings. [ID:nN25230562]

(For main story, click on [ID:nL3E7FQ15N])

Here are some questions and answers about the report and its likely impact on the Indian Ocean island nation:

WHAT IS THE REPORT ABOUT?

It is the findings of a three-member panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on "issues of accountability" at the end of Sri Lanka's quarter-century war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009.

Western governments had urged Sri Lanka to call a ceasefire in the final months of the war to protect an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 civilians trapped in the war zone, many held as human shields by the increasingly desperate LTTE.

It focuses on what it says are tens of thousands of civilian deaths, which it blames primarily on the government, and concludes that war crimes and other human rights violations were likely committed and urges their investigation and prosecution.

The government calls the figures unsubstantiated and blames the panel for regurgitating allegations made by rights groups and members of the pro-LTTE Diaspora, both of which it says have axes to grind.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF THE WAR?

Sri Lanka did what was long considered by many to be impossible: it totally destroyed the LTTE, an ethnic minority Tamil separatist insurgent group that was on more than 30 nations' terrorism lists for its ruthless tactics.

Until al-Qaeda's emergence, no group had carried out more suicide bombings of civilian targets than the LTTE. It used child soldiers and forcibly trained everyone inside the roughly third of Sri Lanka it controlled in the island's north and east.

Though the war kicked off in earnest in 1983, and stopped and started over the ensuing decades, the government's July 2006-May 2009 offensive put a decisive end to the Tigers.

Having encircled the LTTE on three sides and with the ocean to their backs, government forces wiped the Tigers out systematically.

Although hotly contested, there is little doubt that many civilians died. The government denies intentionally targeting them and argues that many people considered civilians were in fact Tamil Tiger combatants.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

That's not clear. The panel itself is only advisory and therefore has no standing to push an investigation forward. Sri Lanka is not a signatory to the Rome Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, so the only place an investigation could proceed would be on the U.N. Security Council.

However, Sri Lanka has the firm backing of Russia and China, which it relied on to fend off Western pressure at the end of the war, both of whom have Security Council vetoes.

So Sri Lanka appears likely to be able to repeat its post-war feat of deflecting Western pressure for an investigation.

Right after the war, it defeated a Western-led attempt to condemn its prosecution of the war at the U.N. Human Rights Council by getting a resolution praising its victory passed instead. (Editing by Alex Richardson)

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