war-crime434There have been a few tentative steps on accountability for crimes allegedly committed by Sri Lankan troops and civilian officials during the war with the LTTE. Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa named a committee to make recommendations to him on the U.S. incidents report by April, and candidate Fonseka has discussed privately the formation of some form of ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission. Otherwise, accountability has not been a high-profile issue — including for Tamils in Sri Lanka. While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former LTTE-occupied areas. Indeed, while they wanted to keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil politicians with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them ‘vulnerable.’” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

Channel 4 ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’
 
The related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. The cable is classified as “SECRET” and analysed the issues relates to accountability and the Tamil perspective.  The cable was written on January 15, 2010 by the US Ambassador to Colombo, Patricia A. Butenis.

Placing a comment Butenis wrote; “Accountability is clearly an issue of importance for the ultimate political and moral health of Sri Lankan society. There is an obvious split, however, between the Tamil diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka on how and when to address the issue. While we understand the former would like to see the issue as an immediate top-priority issue, most Tamils in Sri Lanka appear to think it is both unrealistic and counter-productive to push the issue too aggressively now. While Tamil leaders are very vocal and committed to national reconciliation and creating a political system more equitable to all ethnic communities, they believe themselves vulnerable to political or even physical attack if they raise the issue of accountability publicly, and common Tamils appear focused on more immediate economic and social concerns. A few have suggested to us that while they cannot address the issue, they would like to see the international community push it. Such an approach, however, would seem to play into the super-heated campaign rhetoric of Rajapaksa and his allies that there is an international conspiracy against Sri Lanka and its ‘war heroes.’”

Read the cable below for further details;

Related posts to this cable;

WikiLeaks: Sampanthan Doesn’t Discuss ‘War Crimes’ Out Of Fear

WikiLeaks: ‘GoSL War Crimes Is The Most Difficult Issue On Our Bilateral Agenda’ – US

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S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000032 

SIPDIS 

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/15/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA WAR-CRIMES ACCOUNTABILITY: THE TAMIL
PERSPECTIVE 

REF: A. 09 COLOMBO 1180
     ¶B. COLOMBO 8 

COLOMBO 00000032  001.2 OF 003 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D) 

¶1. (S) SUMMARY: There have been a few tentative steps on
accountability for crimes allegedly committed by Sri Lankan
troops and civilian officials during the war with the LTTE.
President Rajapaksa named a committee to make recommendations
to him on the U.S. incidents report by April, and candidate
Fonseka has discussed privately the formation of some form of
"truth and reconciliation" commission.  Otherwise,
accountability has not been a high-profile issue -- including
for Tamils in Sri Lanka.  While Tamils have told us they
would like to see some form of accountability, they have been
pragmatic in what they can expect and have focused instead on
securing greater rights and freedoms, resolving the IDP
question, and improving economic prospects in the war-ravaged
and former LTTE-occupied areas.  Indeed, while they wanted to
keep the issue alive for possible future action, Tamil
politicians with whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and
elsewhere said now was not time and that pushing hard on the
issue would make them "vulnerable."  END SUMMARY. 

ACCOUNTABILITY AS A POLITICAL ISSUE
----------------------------------- 

¶2. (S) Accountability for alleged crimes committed by GSL
troops and officials during the war is the most difficult
issue on our bilateral agenda.  (NOTE: Both the State
Department Report to Congress on Incidents during the
Conflict and the widely read report by the University
Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) also detailed many
incidents of alleged crimes perpetrated by the LTTE.  Most of
the LTTE leadership was killed at the end of the war, leaving
few to be held responsible for those crimes.  The Government
of Sri Lanka (GSL) is holding thousands of mid- and
lower-level ex-LTTE combatants for future rehabilitation
and/or criminal prosecution.  It is unclear whether any such
prosecutions will meet international standards.  END NOTE.)
There have been some tentative steps on accountability on the
GSL side.  Soon after the appearance of the State Department
report, President Rajapaksa announced the formation of an
experts' committee to examine the report and to provide him
with recommendations on dealing with the allegations.  At the
end of the year, the president extended the deadline for the
committee's recommendations from December 31 until April.
For his part, General Fonseka has spoken publicly of the need
for a new deal with the Tamils and other minorities.
Privately, his campaign manager told the Ambassador that
Fonseka had ordered the opposition campaign to begin work
planning a "truth and reconciliation" commission (ref B). 

¶3. (S) These tentative steps notwithstanding, accountability
has not been a high-profile issue in the presidential
election -- other than President Rajapaksa's promises
personally to stand up to any international power or body
that would try to prosecute Sri Lankan war heroes.  While
regrettable, the lack of attention to accountability is not
surprising.  There are no examples we know of a regime
undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or
senior officials for war crimes while that regime or
government remained in power.  In Sri Lanka this is further
complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the
alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and
military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his
brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka. 

THE TAMIL PERSPECTIVE
--------------------- 

COLOMBO 00000032  002.2 OF 003 

¶4. (S) For different reasons, of course, accountability also
has not been a top priority for most Tamils in Sri Lanka.
While Tamils have told us they would like to see some form of
accountability, they have been pragmatic in what they can
expect and have focused instead on securing greater rights
and freedoms, resolving the IDP question, and improving
economic prospects in the war-ravaged and former
LTTE-occupied areas.  Indeed, while they wanted to keep the
issue alive for possible future action, Tamil leaders with
whom we spoke in Colombo, Jaffna, and elsewhere said now was
not time and that pushing hard on the issue would make them
"vulnerable." 

¶5. (S) The one prominent Tamil who has spoken publicly on the
issue is Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, self-proclaimed
presidential candidate, and Prabhakaran relative M.K.
Sivajilingam.  Breaking from both the TNA mainstream and the
pro-government Tamil groups, he launched his campaign because
he believed neither the government nor the opposition was
adequately addressing Tamil issues.  Sivajilingam has focused
on creating a de-centralized federal structure in Sri Lanka
with separate prime ministers for the Sinhalese and Tamils,
but he also has spoken about accountability, demanding an
international inquiry to get justice for the deaths and
suffering of the Tamil people. 

¶6. (S) Other Tamil politicians have not made public
statements on accountability and are generally more pragmatic
in their thinking.  In our multiple recent discussions with
TNA leader R. Sampanthan, he said he believed accountability
was important and he welcomed the international community's
-- especially the diaspora's -- interest in the issue.  But
Sampanthan was realistic about the dim prospects for any Sri
Lankan government to take up the issue.  Granting that
governments in power do not investigate their own, Sampanthan
nevertheless said it was important to the health of the
nation to get the truth out.  While he believed the Tamil
community was "vulnerable" on the issue and said he would not
discuss "war crimes" per se in parliament for fear of
retaliation, Sampanthan would emphasize the importance of
people knowing the truth about what happened during the war.
We also have asked Sampanthan repeatedly for his ideas on an
accountability mechanism that would be credible to Tamils and
possible within the current political context, but he has not
been able to provide such a model. 

¶7. (S) Mano Ganesan, MP and leader of the ethnic Tamil
Democratic People's Front (DPF), is a Colombo-based Tamil who
counts as supporters many of the well-educated, long-term
Colombo and Western Province resident Tamils, and was an
early supporter of Fonseka.  The general made promises that
convinced him that if Fonseka were to win, ethnic
reconciliation issues would then be decided by parliament,
not the Executive President.  On accountability, Ganesan told
us that while the issue was significant -- and Fonseka could
even end up implicated -- accountability was a divisive issue
and the focus now had to be on uniting to rid the country of
the Rajapaksas. 

¶8. (S) TNA MP Pathmini Sithamparanathan told us in
mid-December that the true story of what happened in the
final weeks of the war would not go away and would come out
eventually, but she also said now was not the time for war
crimes-type investigations.  Finally, on a recent trip to
Jaffna, PolOff found that local politicians did not raise
accountability for events at the end of the war as an issue
of immediate concern, focusing instead on current
bread-and-butter issues, such as IDP releases, concerns about
Sinhala emigration to traditional Tamil regions, and 

COLOMBO 00000032  003.2 OF 003 

re-developing the local economy. 

COMMENT
------- 

¶9. (S) Accountability is clearly an issue of importance for
the ultimate political and moral health of Sri Lankan
society.  There is an obvious split, however, between the
Tamil diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka on how and when to
address the issue.  While we understand the former would like
to see the issue as an immediate top-priority issue, most
Tamils in Sri Lanka appear to think it is both unrealistic
and counter-productive to push the issue too aggressively
now.  While Tamil leaders are very vocal and committed to
national reconciliation and creating a political system more
equitable to all ethnic communities, they believe themselves
vulnerable to political or even physical attack if they raise
the issue of accountability publicly, and common Tamils
appear focused on more immediate economic and social
concerns.  A few have suggested to us that while they cannot
address the issue, they would like to see the international
community push it.  Such an approach, however, would seem to
play into the super-heated campaign rhetoric of Rajapaksa and
his allies that there is an international conspiracy against
Sri Lanka and its "war heroes."
BUTENIS

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