Sri Lankan Army committed war crimes: Government probe panel

The government-appointed probe panel has proposed to set up a separate war crimes division within the Sri Lankan legal system.

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:03 am IST

Published - October 21, 2015 02:42 pm IST - Colombo

Allegations that the Sri Lankan army committed war crimes during the bloody conflict with Tamil rebels are “credible”, a government probe panel has said and backed UNHRC’s recommendation that foreign judges should have a role in domestic inquiry.

“There are credible allegations which, if proved to the required standard, may show that some members of the armed forces committed acts during the final phase of the war that amounted to war crimes giving rise to individual criminal responsibility,” the probe panel commissioned by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa said a 178-page report.

The report by retired judge Maxwell Paranagama also called for an independent judicial investigation into war crimes allegations.

The report, dated August 2015, was tabled in parliament on Tuesday.

The panel proposed to set up a separate war crimes division within the Sri Lankan legal system.

Justice Paranagama said that there were evidence to suggest that footage obtained by the Channel 4 documentary No Fire Zone showing Sri Lankan soldiers executing Tamil prisoners was genuine.

“The Commission is of the view that the >material shown in Channel 4 — shorn of its theatrical and dramatic presentation and of the occasionally extravagant language used — does show, however, that there was material enough to justify a judge-led investigation,” the Paranagama commission said.

Sri Lanka’s military at the time had >dismissed the documentary as a fabrication.

On the allegation that Sri Lanka had executed surrendering top members of the LTTE at the end of war, the panel contended that despite some conflicting evidence, the underlying matrix is such that these alleged illegal killings, together with other such killings of those who surrendered, must be the subject of an independent judge-led investigation.

To that list for investigation, must be added the cases of all those who were hors de combat and allegedly perished while in the custody of the Sri Lanka army, the report said.

Backing the last month’s UN Human Rights Council report, the Paranagama panel recommended that international judges should have a role to ensure the credibility of any investigation into war crimes.

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in >his report last month had cited distrust in Sri Lanka’s judicial and criminal procedures prescribed a hybrid court to investigate allegations.

The proposed mechanism will include Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors and investigators.

In the event that Sri Lanka were to set up a purely domestic tribunal it is the view of this commission that foreign observers should be encouraged, Paranagama panel said.

It also rejected the UN estimated figure of 40,000 as the number of people killed during the final phase of the conflict.

The panel recommends the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with amnesties, a TRC without amnesties to prosecute under a domestic mechanism all those alleged to have committed war crimes and or crimes against humanity.

Mr. Rajapaksa oversaw the final push against Tamil Tiger rebels in 2009 and always denied his troops committed war crimes. He ordered the inquiry in 2013 under international pressure.

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