Sri Lanka | Australian Greens

Sri Lanka

Senator Lee Rhiannon is actively campaigning to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers that took place in 2009.

In 2015 Sri Lanka signed Resolution 30-1 at the UN Human Rights Council, agreeing to set up a judicial mechanism to investigate allegations of war crimes with the participation of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors and investigators. Further, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) recommended that the Government of Sri Lanka accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

The UN Human Rights Council must hold Sri Lanka to full implementation of its promises to the Council and ensure the full implementation of the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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In July 2015, the International Truth & Justice Project (ITJP), published a report - Still Unfinished War: Sri Lanka's Survivors of Torture and Sexual Violence 2009-2015 which detailed more than 40 torture sites in Sri Lanka while naming over 60 rapists and torturers.

This evidence confirmed that systematic and widespread crimes against humanity, sexual violence and intimidation have not ceased with the change of government, now under Maithripala Sirisena. The appointment of accused war criminals to top military positions and diplomatic posts indicates that victims and survivors in Sri Lanka cannot expect justice from any domestic mechanism.

Even though Australia will continue to maintain its silence against Sri Lanka's atrocities, it is so crucial the international community does not drop its campaign for accountability and an independent international war crimes investigation.

For a PDF version of Lee's Tamil Justice booklet click here.

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Lee's work on Sri Lanka

Media coverage of the Sri Lanka campaign

Background to the Sri Lanka campaign

In May 2009, after 26 years of failed cease-fires and ongoing civil conflict, the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lankan Government declared it had defeated the Tamil Tigers or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after army forces captured the last patch of rebel held territory in the north east of the country. It is estimated that approximately 215,000 people have been killed in the country's civil war, with former Australian UN official in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, stating that upto 40,000 civilians died in the last few months.

At the end of the war, about 330,000 Tamils were imprisoned in government run internment camps. Allegations of sexual abuse, torture, extra judicial killings and abductions ran rife. As International aid agencies, media and the United Nations had been restricted access to the camps, verifying these allegations at the time were impossible.  In  May 2009, Britain's C4 was the first independent media to smuggle footage out of these camps. Shocking claims of 'shortages of food and water, dead bodies left where they have fallen, women separated from their families, and sexual abuse were aired.

Many households are now headed by women, who are extremely vulnerable under military rule.  Stories of forced colonisation of Tamil areas, rape camps, abduction of Tamils in white vans, violence against journalists, media suppression and sexual abuse by the military continue to grow. 

In March 2011 the much-awaited report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka was released. The Panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Even though report cited evidence of war crimes committed by both sides,  it found that most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling of shelling civilians in the 'no-fire zone' and of targeting hospitals. 

One of the recommendations of the panel was that the Secretary-General should immediately proceed to establish an independent international mechanism, whose mandate should include conducting investigations independently into the alleged violations.  

On 14th of June 2011  UK's Channel 4 presented an investigation  into the final weeks of the quarter-century-long civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the secessionist rebels, the Tamil Tigers. On the 4th of July, a part of it was aired in Australia by 4 Corners.

Sri Lanka's Killing Fields sent shockwaves through the international community. The allegations and the horrific images were impossible to ignore.

In response to this documentary Britain's PM David Cameron said: "The Sri Lankan government does need this to be investigated and the UN needs this to be investigated".

On 7 November 2013, as international leaders readied themselves for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka, Lee and New Zealand Greens MP Jan Logie headed there to discuss human rights, media freedom and the push factors that cause Tamils to seek asylum in Australia. They travelled widely and met a range of people, particularly members of parliament, members of provincial councils, religious leaders and community leaders. Read Lee's diary from the trip here.

There was much controversy surrounding the hosting of CHOGM in Sri Lanka.Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, Mauritius Prime Minister, Dr Navinchandra Ramgoolam, and Trinidad and Tobago's Prime Minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar boycotted the summit in protest of the Rajapakse regime's war crimes.

Australia's response towards the war, CHOGM and continuing atrociities has been to maintain it's silence about the Sri Lankan Government to suit it's domestice policy of 'stopping the boats'.