Refer Sri Lanka to International Criminal Court

sri lankan tamils missing persons

The Sri Lankan government’s failure to establish an accountability mechanism for violations of International law means that referral to the International Criminal Court or the creation of another international mechanism “would be fully warranted,” said the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council.

The primary reason for the call for referral to ICC is that the Sri Lankan state is permeated with entrenched and pervasive racism, thus there is no space for Tamils to obtain justice domestically. In addition, according to the report of the Panel of Experts appointed by the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and the reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the international crimes were committed by the state itself. An accused cannot be their own judge.

“The ICJ considers that the gravity and character of the crimes under international law committed in Sri Lanka, and the failure of the Government of Sri Lanka to meet its obligations and commitments to ensure justice for such crimes including as provided for in resolution 30/1, means that referral to the International Criminal Court or the creation of another international mechanism to facilitate criminal accountability would be fully warranted.”

It is also to be noted that Sri Lanka  so far to uphold accountability and dispense justice to the victims which is long delayed and has been remaining in cold storage since the Human Rights Resolutions of:-

1). 19/2 of 22 March 2012

2). 22/1 of 21 March 2013

3). 25/1 of 27 March 2014

4). 30/1 of 01 October 2015

5). 34/1 of 23 March 2017

6). 40/1 of 21 March 2019

7). 46/1 of 23 March 2021

The Sri Lankan legal system and judicial institutions have for decades demonstrated a chronic inability to address systemic and entrenched impunity for crimes under international law perpetrated by the military and security forces.

Almost thirteen years after Sri Lanka emerged from a period of conflict and massive human rights violations, the Government of Sri Lanka still has largely failed to implement its human rights obligations and commitments as reflected in Resolution 30/1. This failure particularly impacts women who were directly victimized by the war. Despite 80% of the displaced population being female and more than 23% of households now being led by women, issues of specific importance to women seldom get highlighted or addressed. Furthermore, although women were in the forefront in pursuing peace and demanding truth and accountability, they now appear to have been largely excluded from meaningfully participating in transitional justice processes.

Establishment of an international judicial mechanism is particularly urgent for women in conflictaffected areas, especially those in the Northern Province who still live in a highly militarized environment and are compelled to live among their perpetrators –members of the military who have been accused of war crimes including rape and other forms of sexual violence. There have been reports of sexual harassment and demands for sexual bribery by military personnel, even after the war. This vulnerability to violence, coercion and harassment impacts other aspects of their lives including their freedom of movement and to pursue a means of living. These circumstances hold back women from pursuing prosecution against perpetrators of sexual and gender based violence for fear of reprisal and stigma.

190 years after unification

One should not forget that, almost 190 years after the unification of the Tamil Kingdom [in 1833]with the other Kingdoms, the island’s worst riots against the Tamils took place, in which over 5,000 Tamils were killed. In July 1983, Tamils were forced to seek protection in western countries including Australia, Canada and USA. In fact, this was encouraged by the government in power without realizing the long term repercussions. During that time, the Sri Lanka government held the view that by reducing the Tamil population in the Island, they could suppress the Tamil Freedom Struggle. Eventually, this idea became counterproductive.

The people who sought protection in foreign countries came forward to help their kith and kin in their homeland and also to safeguard their language, culture and properties. This included support for the political ideology of the Freedom struggle. The Tamil diaspora became the prime saviors of the Tamils suffering from humanitarian disasters, caused by the various racist policies of the government – military oppression and an imposed economic embargo which created devastating conditions in the North East. Similar policies continue even today, maintained by the government which claims that Tamils in the North East are its citizens.

Several calls for referring Sri Lanka to the ICC have been made, from mothers of the disappeared in the North-East who have held numerous demonstrations calling for a referral, to Tamils across the diaspora with over 18,000 British residents signing a petition with that demand.

Though 13 years passed since the armed conflict ended, Sri Lanka is yet to set up an accountability mechanism to account for the crimes committed during a massive military offensive which massacred tens of thousands of Tamils.

Tamils all over the world request the United Nations, UNHRC and the International Community to:-

1) Refer Sri Lanka to the UN Security Council with recommendation to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court.

2) To ensure non-recurrence of mass atrocities, the victims should be allowed to find a permanent political resolution to the Tamil National Question that has plagued Sri Lanka since independence, manifest in lethal racial pogroms against Tamils in 1958, 1977 and 1983 and war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against Tamils during the 1983-2009 war and its aftermath. Specifically, victims should be empowered to participate in finding the political resolution via a referendum conducted under international auspice to determine the political future of the Tamils. A referendum is the appropriate mechanism not only because a lasting solution requires Tamil buy-in, but also because a referendum provides an important measure of remedial justice.

Kumarathasan Rasingam,  Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org.

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