The United Nations has detailed horrific abuses committed in Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, including the disappearance of tens of thousands of people, and said the country needs international help to probe war crimes to enable reconciliation.
The report identified patterns of grave violations during and following the war “strongly indicating that war crimes and crimes against humanity” were committed by both sides in the conflict.
Among other things, it found that tens of thousands of Sri Lankans remained missing after decades of conflict, suggesting that disappearances had been part of a systematic policy.
“In particular, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a large number of individuals who surrendered during the final phase of the war were disappeared and remain unaccounted for,” the rights office said in a statement.
Many others not directly linked to the conflict had vanished after being snatched up by “white vans”, it said.
The conflict between the Sinhalese-dominated military and the Tamil Tiger insurgents had cost at least 100,000 lives by the time it ended in 2009.
Sri Lanka had been hoping to win UN backing for a domestic probe. Its new unity government has promised dramatic reforms to achieve accountability for alleged atrocities during the 26-year civil war.
But the international body urged the country to establish a “hybrid special court”, including international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, to probe abuses during and following the war.
“A purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises,” UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
The long-awaited report from Mr Zeid’s office concluded that “Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system is not yet ready or equipped” to conduct an independent and credible investigation.
“The levels of mistrust in state authorities and institutions by broad segments of Sri Lankan society should not be underestimated,” Mr Zeid warned.
Yesterday’s report looked specifically at the period between 2002 and 2011.
It also described widespread illegal killings by both sides and a deliberate policy by Sri Lankan security forces to use rape and sexual violence as torture against both women and men.
It found that children were often abducted by the separatists from their homes, schools, temples and checkpoints and sent to the front lines as soldiers, while a group linked to the government had also recruited children.