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‘WAR CRIMES’ IN SRI LANKA - What the international experts say

Professor Michael Newton on civilians, hostages and artillery fire

This opinion focuses on the intentional use of artillery fire directed to respond to LTTE artillery fire emanating from within civilian areas. The LTTE refused to permit some 330,000 fellow Tamils to flee towards safer areas away from the zone of conflict, and used them as human shields to deter offensive operations by the Sri Lanka Army. The Government of Sri Lanka declared a no fire zone (NFZ) in order to protect the civilians. Aside from refusing to agree to the creation of such a safe zone, which itself constitutes prima facie evidence of its intent to use civilians as an extension of its military campaign, the LTTE embedded its heavy artillery within the NFZ and intentionally shelled Sri Lankan positions from the midst of the civilian population.

The use of the civilian population in that manner is roughly comparable to the war crime of perfidy because the LTTE sought to use the government's compliance with the laws and customs of warfare in order to gain an unwarranted military advantage. Civilians who would otherwise have spread out and sought shelter in other regions were prevented from doing so in order to dissuade the government from attacking lawful targets. Intentional efforts to use the presence of such civilians to shield military operations constitute a war crime in its own right. This opinion therefore also addresses the law regarding the use of force against military targets when one party to the conflict has attempted to ‘insulate’ those targets through manipulation of the laws and customs of warfare.


Port City Confusion and Uma Oya Cockup: Challenges to good governance

The latest news on the Port City and Uma Oya projects is that the government has "automatically stopped" the former, but only after some dithering, and "suspended" the latter until further review. While Port City has been all over the news, the Uma Oya project is another screw-up from the Old Regime that deserves no less scrutiny. The new government is still finding its way in clearing the old Rajapaksa decks and setting up its own stage for good governance. Or, is it? Ministers running around like headless chickens, and cackling at cross-purposes, is not an encouraging sign of good governance. The corruption of the Old Regime must be exposed and dealt with, but the new government must also demonstrate competence not only in dealing with the misdeeds of the Old Regime, but also in replacing them with good deeds of its own. People’s patience can end abruptly and their frustrations can flare up alarmingly, now that they have tasted the power to bring down what, until two months ago, was considered to be an irremovable government.


Weliweriya - Gampaha: Black Thursday 2013

Who deployed troops, clad in flak jackets (body armour) and armed with T-56 assault rifles to confront and disperse a crowd of protesters blocking a highway? Who was the ultimate decision-maker? The protesters were not armed, certainly not with lethal weapons. Therefore, no real harm could have come to soldiers in body armour. A ‘clash’ between lethally armed soldiers and protesters with stones and slippers is not a clash that warrants in any way, the use of lethal force.

The crucial question must then be posed: who gave the order for a military unit armed with deadly force to be deployed against an unarmed civic protest, in a situation where the normal law prevails and a state of Emergency has not been declared because it was manifestly not warranted? What was the chain of command responsibility? Why was the task not left to the riot police? The question of who gave the order to shoot and for what reasons is a secondary one.


Foreign interference in SL Muslim problem

From the very moment that the BBS became prominent in Sri Lanka, there has been speculation about sinister foreign forces operating behind it. There is certainly a Norwegian connection, about which no clarification has been forthcoming. Now the BBS leaders are in the US on a month-long visit, which is reportedly part of a programme to make their movement international. There seems to be big money and power behind the BBS. Most curious of all are the coincidences between what is happening here and in Burma.


US preoccupation with Sri Lanka

US preoccupation with Sri Lanka’s internal affairs is a cause for concern. Every incident has prompted a comment from the US. If the office of a newspaper is attacked, it is an attack on the independence of the media despite the fact that any number of possibilities not connected with media freedom exists for such attacks. While issues such as increase in electricity tariffs, transfers of judges and concerns over religious tensions have elicited comment, the following are repeated on a regular basis: progress on reconciliation; delays in implementing the National Plan of Action; delays in evolving a political solution; need for accountability, and the list goes on and on.

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