Geneva Council, an independent news organization with a focus on global human rights and justice, reports on the recent congressional call for accountability in Sri Lanka regarding human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.
In a letter made available to Foreign Policy, a bipartisan group of 12 members of Congress has urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take formal action. The letter emphasizes the need for Sri Lanka to be held accountable for its prolonged record of human rights abuses, including allegations of torture, military abuses, and other grave offenses against the country’s minority Tamil population. The Congress members, led by Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) and Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), have invoked Article 30 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture to underline the importance of addressing these issues.
The Congress members argue that Sri Lanka’s consistent failure to make substantial progress in addressing these concerns contradicts the United States’ commitment to human rights and democratic principles. They assert that ending impunity for perpetrators is essential.
Since the beginning of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 1983, the country has been plagued by sectarian violence between the majority ethnic Sinhalese and the minority ethnic Tamil population. This conflict involved the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a rebel group with the aim of establishing an independent Tamil state. Over the course of this three-decade conflict, which concluded in 2009, there were allegations of deadly attacks on civilians, sexual abuse of Tamil women and girls, and the forced disappearance of thousands of Tamil individuals. Many of those who disappeared remain unaccounted for, and the families of victims and witnesses continue to seek justice.
Despite various attempts by successive governments to establish independent commissions to investigate these allegations, none have yielded significant results, leaving the Tamil community without resolution.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, commented, “Witnesses and others who care about accountability don’t think that the government’s approach is right. They want real investigations that can hold people accountable.”
Geneva Council supports the Congress’s efforts to press the U.S. State Department to enforce the U.N. torture conventions through formal negotiations under the international statute. Should diplomatic approaches and arbitration prove ineffective, Congress is advocating for the Biden administration to consider taking the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, a measure taken by Canada and the Netherlands in addressing human rights issues in Syria.
A coalition of nine human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, has expressed concerns about Sri Lanka’s recent initiatives. They have cautioned that these actions may expose victims to renewed security threats and re-traumatization, with little realistic chance of achieving a different outcome.
Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asian Institute at the Wilson Center, noted, “The government needs donor support and support from the IMF. It wants to demonstrate its ability to stabilize its economic situation, but it’s not adequately addressing human rights concerns.”
Presently, Sri Lankan authorities continue to suppress activists, journalists, and non-governmental organizations. The northeastern region of the country, which is predominantly Tamil, remains heavily militarized, leading to residents being displaced from their land. Last summer, against a backdrop of severe economic challenges marked by food and fuel shortages and a 55 percent inflation rate, the country’s military cracked down on hundreds of peaceful protestors demonstrating against the government.
Geneva Council remains committed to providing impartial reporting on human rights issues and justice concerns worldwide. We encourage the international community to closely monitor these developments and to support efforts aimed at achieving justice and accountability for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.