Both the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Tamil Tigers reportedly committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights abuses during the war in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government has a poor record of effectively investigating violations by its forces, as documented by Amnesty International. An international investigation into the crimes and abuses committed by both sides during the war is needed if the victims are to receive justice. The U.S. government should publicly support such an international investigation as a first step toward achieving accountability in Sri Lanka for these crimes and abuses.
Response to Petition
By Michael H. Posner
The United States shares your concern about accountability for the alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law that occurred during Sri Lanka's recent conflict and is committed to working with the government of Sri Lanka, the United Nations, and the international community to implement a just and equitable reconciliation process for all Sri Lankans.
At the request of Congress, the Department of State prepared two reports in 2009 and 2010 on alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during Sri Lanka's recent conflict. These reports can be found at State.gov. As we noted in both reports, the United States takes these allegations very seriously. We believe individual accountability for such violations is a critical component of reconciliation, and meaningful steps in this regard will advance Sri Lanka's own efforts to heal after decades of conflict.
In the September 2011 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we made clear our view that Sri Lanka must adopt measures necessary to achieve national and ethnic reconciliation. We expressed the need for Sri Lanka to quickly and credibly address allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the war, regardless of which side committed them. We have highlighted the need for Sri Lanka to take concrete steps, such as providing to family members an account of those missing and detained as well as promptly issuing death certificates for those killed in the conflict. We will continue to urge the government of Sri Lanka to work constructively on these issues with the United Nations and the international community.
Finally, we hope the Government of Sri Lanka will address these reconciliation and accountability issues in a manner commensurate with its international obligations, and we will continue to reiterate to the government of Sri Lanka that, while domestic authorities have primary responsibility to ensure that those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are held accountable, international accountability mechanisms can become appropriate in circumstances in which a government is unable or unwilling to meet its obligations.
Thank you continued interest in Sri Lanka.
Michael H. Posner is Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the Department of State