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Sri Lanka’s conduct of war “serious challenge to International Order”


In an interview with Radio Australia, Gordon Weiss, a former UN spokesperson who accused Sri Lankan Government earlier of killing 10,000 to 40,000 Tamil civilians by discriminate shelling during the final stages of war, said that the real impact of the UN-panel’s report “really in its absolute clarity that grave crimes were committed and that there must be an international judicial inquiry into it,” and adds that he believes these “investigations will lead to a war crimes process.”

Full text of ABC interview follows:

PDF IconAudio: Weiss interview with ABC 

WEISS: Well, the claims are extremely severe. The panel characterised what happened in Sri Lanka as a grave assault on the entire system of international law and security, so it regards the sheer magnitude of those crimes as a serious challenge to international order.

WILSON: Are the contents of this report more damaging than earlier claims we’ve heard directed at either the Sri Lankan government or the Tamil Tigers?

WEISS: Well, I’ve been saying since January, last year that between 10,000 and 40,000 people were probably killed in this later stage of the war and the panel has come out and said that indeed tens-of-thousands of people, it believes, died during this phase. The real impact of this report is really in its absolute clarity that grave crimes were committed and that there must be an international judicial inquiry into it.

WILSON: The report includes claims that the Red Cross and the United Nations were attacked during the conflict. Based on your time in the country, do you believe them to be credible claims?

WEISS: Absolutely, I believe that government forces for whatever reason shelled UN positions and also shelled dangerously close to international Red Cross positions and importantly the report has said that the government systematically shelled hospitals and medical points that were being used to treat civilians inside the siege zone and it says that the government systematically deprived more than 300,000 civilians were trapped inside this siege of humanitarian aid.

WILSON: They’re serious allegations, but how credible can or how comprehensive can the report be, given that the panel did not travel to Sri Lanka and didn’t have access to things like Sri Lankan government documents and officials?

WEISS: Well, the panel was not allowed to travel to Sri Lanka, but that’s simply an indictment of the government of Sri Lanka. What they did have access to was huge numbers of people who had come out of the siege zone and were able to get overseas, as well Sri Lankan army officers and troops who were unhappy with what had happened during the siege and who were very willing to reveal what they knew.

WILSON: Do you think the report would be terribly different if the panel did have access to Sri Lankan officials and documents?

WEISS: Not substantially, because I think that if the panel had travelled to Sri Lanka, what they would have heard from the government is what we’re hearing now, which is that the government’s victory of the Tamil Tigers was bloodless, that it’s forces were not responsible for any civilian deaths and that nothing untoward happened at all in early 2009.

WILSON: How damning do you see this report as being of Tamil Tiger fighters?

WEISS: Oh, it’s damning of the Tamil Tiger fighters and I’ve been very clear about that all along and this report is very clear. The Tamil Tigers held essentially hundreds-of-thousands of people hostage. As the siege intensified, they refused to let people go and as people tried to escape, they shot them. They were also guilty of the mass conscription of people and certainly in my book, I detail what I believe is the case and that is that the Tamil Tigers are responsible for the deaths of thousands of teenagers, who were forcibly conscripted.

WILSON: What do you make of the Sri Lankan government response so far? We’ve seen the government already calling for protests in reaction to this. What do you make of that and what do you expect you’ll continue to see from the Sri Lankan government?

WEISS: I think the Sri Lankan government response is utterly predictable. I would characterise their response a blow hard response. They will do what they have typically done all along when it comes to these allegations, which is deny, obscure, continue to take the line that nothing very much happened at all and their victory was bloodless.

WILSON: So what do you think will actually eventuate from the report? It’s called for an independent investigation. Do you think that’s likely?

WEISS: I think that the panel wrote this report, then produced this very comprehensive investigation in order to make sure that they’re could be no doubt left that mass crimes were committed in Sri Lanka. This is going to make it very difficult for the UN not to take action. It’s going to make it very difficult for any member of the United Nations, and in particular, I’m thinking of India, China, Russia to obscure or obstruct a serious and credible international investigation into what happened in the tail end of this long civil war.

WILSON: And what do you see as ultimately being the potential consequences?

WEISS: I believe that there will be a war crimes process ultimately. I think that the next step is that there will be a more full Goldstone type report. The Sri Lankan government, I imagine will not cooperate. They will pretend to cooperate and there’s a very long history of Sri Lankan government commissions of inquiries that lead nowhere and it was one of the very specific points that was made by the panel, which is that the history of the commission of inquiries and judicial investigations conducted within Sri Lanka have come to nothing. So it’s important to have international investigations and I believe those international investigations will led to a war crimes process.


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