Despite generally high marks for its attempts at reconciliation by the Sirisena government in Sri Lanka from one of the world’s longest and bitterest civil wars, Tamil citizens continue to be abducted and tortured by security forces, according to a new report by the International Truth and Justice Project.
The report details the suffering of 20 victims who have allegedly been kidnaped during the past year during the presidency of Maithripala Sirisena, who promised a new era for the country on the ouster of the previous president, Mahendra Rajapaksa, who ended the civil war in brutal fashion in 2009 after 26 years of war, defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which had been fighting for a separate homeland in the north of the country. Up to 40,000 Tamils were said to have been massacred as the Sri Lankan army drove into Tamil territory to finish them off.
It is unsure whether the Sirisena government condones the attacks, or if the security forces are outside the government’s control. In dramatic fashion, Sirisena has vowed to pursue reconciliation efforts with the Tamil minority. The country’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said a political settlement with the minority Tamil community is a prerequisite.
“If you want a stable and secure country, we must have a political solution with Tamils and move forward,” Wickremesinghe said in an address in the Tamil-dominated Jaffna peninsula in October.
Nonetheless, according to the truth and justice NGO, the practice continues of “white vanning” – in which luckless victims are collected up by white vans and tortured or raped.
“The Sirisena government in Sri Lanka was elected one year ago, on 8 January 2015, on a promise of change,” according to the report, which outlined the country’s plan for a national consultation with victims, a Truth Commission, a Special Court, an Office of Missing Persons and a reparations body.
The US and other nations have continued to insist on UN investigations of military war crimes. However, neither the government nor the United Nations has completed any investigations to apprehend the guilty. A recent preliminary report of a UN investigative panel confirmed that the Sri Lankan troops deliberately targeted civilians, hospitals and aid workers, arbitrarily executed prisoners, and committed mass rape, all contrary to the Geneva Conventions, which were ratified by Sri Lanka.
“On paper the plan looks impressive but the reality on the ground in the former conflict areas tells a very different story,” the report said. “Human rights violations by the security forces continue with impunity and a predatory climate against Tamils prevails. Tamils with tenuous links to the LTTE or low-level cadres continue to be targeted, along with their families. Victims and witnesses rightfully fear that coming forward will endanger their lives and those of their families.”
Given the continued abductions and reprisals, according to the report, the chances of persuading witnesses to testify to a Truth Commission, let alone implicating members of the security forces in court, are slim indeed.