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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sri Lanka investigating civilian casualties from civil war

[JURIST] Sri Lankan Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa [official profile] stated on Thursday in a speech [press release and transcript] that the government has begun counting the number of civilian deaths from its 26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) [JURIST news archive]. The counting was initiated to counter several allegations of war crimes against the Sri Lankan military including those in an April UN report [text, PDF; JURIST report]. According to a census conducted with the Department of Census and Statistics [official website] that will be released in the near future, the number of civilian casualties are much smaller than those predicted by independent organizations. Rajapaksa continued in criticizing those who made the allegations against the Sri Lankan military:

If the extremely well trained Sri Lankan military suffered 6,000 deaths and 25,000 serious injuries, it should be evident the number of LTTE casualties should be comparable or higher. However, this consideration gets almost no attention when allegations are made about the number of dead and missing during the conflict. It is almost as if those who make allegations about the deaths in battle are under the impression that the Sri Lankan military was fighting phantoms. The manifest absurdity of this underscores the lack of perspective of those who make these claims.

The Secretary of Defence further stressed the professionalism of the Sri Lankan military minimizing the occurrence of crimes and its rapid response in dealing with such criminal acts.
The Sri Lankan government has faced various allegations of human rights violations and war crimes by civil rights organizations and the UN since the end of its civil war in 2009. This month, a former Sri Lankan army chief was sentenced [JURIST report] to an additional three years in prison for his comment to a local newspaper that the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa [BBC profile] ordered the killing of surrendering rebel leaders during the civil war and therefore, was in breach of Sri Lanka’s emergency laws effective at that time. He was found guilty [JURIST report] in August due to his involvement in politics while active on duty. Sri Lankan government was also subject to criticism for its failure to investigate [JURIST report] issues of torture for past human rights violations and to enforce laws against continued torture and ill-treatment by government officials against civilians. In October, a group of human rights organizations and lawmakers urged [JURIST report] the Australian government to start its investigations in Canberra against a former Sri Lankan Navy admiral for alleged war crimes violations during the civil war. During the same month, the Sri Lankan government announced [JURIST report] that it will adopt a National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights. In August, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon [official profile] sent a report [JURIST report] to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] accusing Sri Lankan military of having killed civilians during the civil war.


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