SRI LANKA’S civil war reconciliation commission has blamed both Sinhalese and Tamil leaders for the violence that gripped the country for more than a quarter of a century, but it has refused to criticise the army for the violence at the end of the conflict, in which it is alleged civilians were targeted and up to 40,000 non-combatants killed.
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the government-backed tribunal that took evidence in thousands of interviews and dozens of public hearings across Sri Lanka, says both sides were to blame for the war.
“The conflict could have been avoided had the southern [Sinhalese] political leaders … acted in the national interest and … offer[ed] an acceptable solution to the Tamil people.
“Tamil political leaders were equally responsible for this conflict, which could have been avoided had the Tamil leaders refrained from promoting an armed campaign towards secession, acquiescing in the violence and the terrorist methods used by the [Tamil Tigers].”
The commission’s report, tabled in Parliament, has called for a national event to commemorate the war and an apology from both sides.
“Seeds of reconciliation can take root only if there is forgiveness and compassion.”
Human rights groups have labelled the report a whitewash, designed to shield the army and government figures from prosecution. They have called for an international war crimes probe.
The Sri Lankan government is expected to argue this report makes any international investigation unnecessary.
Sri Lanka’s civil war – between Sinhalese-dominated government forces and the separatist Tamil Tiger army, fighting for an autonomous northern homeland for the ethnic minority Tamil population – claimed up to 100,000 lives over 26 years.
It was ended by a fierce government offensive in 2009.
The LLRC report conceded civilians were killed by government troops – in contrast to the government line that the army pursued a “zero civilian casualty policy” and was engaged in a “humanitarian rescue operation” – but said the deaths of non-combatants was accidental.
“On consideration of all facts and circumstances before it, the commission concludes that the security forces had not deliberately targeted the civilians in the no-fire zones, although civilian casualties had in fact occurred in the course of crossfire.”
The report said isolated instances of civilian abuses by soldiers could only have resulted from soldiers not following orders. The report stands in contrast to a UN expert report released this year, which found “credible” evidence of war crimes on both sides and that civilians were deliberately targeted by government troops, particularly in the final months of the war, when it estimates up to 40,000 civilians were killed.
The UN report said that the government shelled no-fire zones, where it had encouraged civilians to shelter, as well as intentionally bombing hospitals, food distribution lines and Red Cross ships that were attempting to rescue the wounded.
It also said that the Tamil Tigers, a proscribed terrorist group formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, launched suicide attacks and forcibly recruited Tamils, including children as young as 14, to its dwindling ranks of fighters.