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Defining moment

18 February 2014

UN Human Rights chief Navaneetham Pillays forthcoming report to the Human Rights Council, extracts of which appeared this weekend in a ri !ankan newspaper, makes a clear and unam"iguous call# for an international investigation into the mass atrocities of the final months of the islands civil war$ %he High Commissioners call will "e welcomed "y the diverse array of actors, "oth &local and international, who have "een steadfastly campaigning for five years for accounta"ility for the war crimes and crimes against humanity in which at least 70,000 people were systematically slaughtered in 2009 !n particular, it will be enthusiastically welcomed by the "amil people, for whom the mass #illings $ described by an earlier report by a %& panel of e'perts as amounting to (systematic targetting) and )persecution* of them $ constituted genocide by the +ri ,an#an state "he -igh .ommissioner*s forthcoming report represents a definiti/e moment in the protracted

and hard0fought struggle for accountability for the mass atrocities !t is definiti/e because its findings carry the imprimatur of the world*s ape' human rights institution, the office of the %&-1., and are the result of a careful and impartial e'amination of an e/er0growing body of e/idence by international e'perts led by the -igh .ommissioner 0 whose own e'pert credentials on internationally0led accountability for mass atrocities are impeccable !n short, its international standing is indisputable !n rationalising the call for an international in/estigation, the -igh .ommissioner ma#es clear that +ri ,an#a*s domestic mechanisms ha/e 2consistently failed to establish the truth and achie/e 3ustice 4 +he adds, 2this can no longer be e'plained as a function of time or technical capacity, but that it is fundamentally a 5uestion of political will 4 "his is to put it politely !n fact, the problem is much more profound "o the +ri ,an#an state, its strategy of unrestrained /iolence in defeating the "amil "igers and the "amil demand for self0rule 0 including the bombing of ci/ilian concentrations and hospitals, as well as the mass e'ecution of captured or surrendering combatants 0 is entirely 3ustified in defence of the ma3oritarian, +inhala nationalist state and social order which it has, since the war*s end, been aggressi/ely consolidating !n short, as its leaders and officials state time and time again, the +ri ,an#a state refuses to accept any wrongdoing whatsoe/er !n the aftermath of the war, e/en as the international community 6including its then closest allies the %+ and %7 $ who are now leading the international push for accountability8 called for +ri ,an#a to (win the peace* by addressing "amil (grie/ances* by negotiating a (political solution*, demilitarisation, and ethnic reconciliation, the triumphant +ri ,an#a state, supported by a now untrammelled ma3oritarian nationalism, did e'actly the opposite, intensifying its ma3oritarian and supremacist state and social order0building efforts !nternally, this has produced continuing human rights abuses and repression, further militarisation of life in "amil areas, and the wholesale marginalisation of the "amils in political, economic, cultural and social terms !t is these themes that are outlined in the -igh .ommissioner*s report albeit through the lens of the .ouncil)s mandate of human rights protection !nternationally, the +ri ,an#an state has responded to international pressure with defiance and aggression, on the one hand, and a series of e/asi/e mo/es on the other "he ,essons ,earned and 1econciliation .ommission 6,,1.8 or, more recently, smo#e about a "ruth and 1econciliation .ommission are intended to buy time, in which international attention would tire and wane "hat it has not is a testament to the indefatigable efforts of the di/erse coalition of international and local campaigners 0 who ha/e been long sub3ect to intense and hysterical attac#s by the .olombo go/ernment 1ecently, as international pressure for accountability has intensified, +ri ,an#a is attempting to shift the focus to its supposed efforts at (reconciliation* as an alternati/e to accountability 9ccording to :resident ;ahinda 1a3apa#sa*s secretary, ,alith <eeratunga, these are apparently two trac#s that will ne/er meet !n fact, howe/er, they are ine'tricably lin#ed <hile the +ri ,an#an state stands accused by the "amil people of heinous crimes against them, in both the

commission of these crimes and e/ading accountability for these, the state has been robustly supported by the +inhala ma3ority !t is notable that in the run up to the much anticipated ;arch session of the %&-1., +ri ,an#a*s main opposition %&: party has been lambasting the go/ernment not for the mass atrocities, or for refusing to permit an independent in/estigation into them, but for (allowing* +ri ,an#a to become sub3ect to international scrutiny !n other words, the lac# of (political will* is not a matter of the +ri ,an#an go/ernment*s recalcitrance alone, it is deeply embedded in the country*s polarised ethnic politics .onse5uently, 5uestions of ethnic reconciliation, a political solution, or lasting peace cannot arise in the absence of accountability "hus, the sta#es for the ;arch deliberations at the %&-1. are much wider than upholding international law and international norms 9s was the case in other parts of the world, it is only when it becomes clear 0 not only to :resident 1a3apa#sa*s go/ernment, but to the island*s broader political establishment and in particular, its /arious peoples 0 that +ri ,an#a*s emergent pariah status will not re/erse until those responsible for mass atrocities are identified and punished that such 5uestions, as well as the )rule of law), can become meaningful 9s such, the -igh .ommissioner*s report should ser/e as both a filip for the international campaign for accountability and, in particular, a spur for concerted international action !t is notable that while much of the international community is more closely engaging with this undeniably international issue, some countries continue to drag their feet or e/en resist in support of +ri ,an#a !t beho/es responsible states across the world to ta#e a clear and principled stand in =ene/a in resolute support of the -igh .ommissioner*s call for an international in/estigation into some of the worst mass atrocities of the 21st century