India’s accountability in Sri Lanka conflict: Govt. can ask India to prosecute those responsible coming under its purview -HRW



Meenakshi Ganguly

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) Meenakshi Ganguly says Sri Lanka could request foreign governments to prosecute those responsible for human rights violations coming under the purview of relevant jurisdictions.

Stressing the responsibility on the part of Sri Lanka to indict the accused, Ganguly said Sri Lanka could ask foreign governments to take appropriate action in relevant jurisdictions. Other countries could also indict people as a matter of universal jurisdiction, but most crucially, it is the obligation of the Sri Lanka government to prosecute, the top HRW spokesperson said.

Ganguly, who has been with the HRW since 2004, said so in response to The Island queries regarding the accountability on the part of India for atrocities perpetrated by the Indian military during its deployment in Sri Lanka.

The former correspondent for Time Magazine and Press Trust of India sent us the following response to several specific questions pertaining to accountability issues: The Sri Lankan government has obligations under international law to investigate and appropriately prosecute all individuals responsible for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian laws that are committed within the country.

For various reasons, such as being outside of the government’s jurisdiction, not everyone who is responsible for such crimes will be able to receive justice in Sri Lanka. But the fact that everyone cannot be prosecuted does not remove the obligation of Sri Lanka to prosecute those who are within the jurisdiction of the country.

The UN declaration of human rights provides that ‘everyone has the right to an effective remedy.’ The human rights committee has further detailed state obligations on the right to a remedy under international law.

The inability to prosecute everyone who should face justice is no reason for the Sri Lanka government to do nothing.The Sri Lankan authorities can also request states to provide these remedies in relevant jurisdictions. Other countries can also prosecute people as a matter of universal jurisdiction, but most crucially, it is the obligation of the Sri Lanka government to prosecute.”

The Island submitted the following questions: (1) How do you (HRW) propose to deal with human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian Army during its deployment in Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka (July 1987-March 1990)?

(2) Do you believe a separate inquiry with the assistance/involvement of India is required to identify those who suffered in the hands of the Indian Army in Sri Lanka and the loved ones of LTTE cadres killed/disappeared during July 1987-March 1990?

(3) [A]Quite a number of ex-LTTE cadres as well as other members of Tamil groups sponsored by India are now living in Europe, America, Canada, Australia, Middle East and India. How do you propose to investigate them as some countries have granted them citizenship?

[B] Do you believe special inquiry is needed to deal with those who are living in India?

(4) Some members of those groups now serve as MPs. How do you expect the government to deal with parliamentarians? (One of them was recently accused of conspiring with Sri Lankan military intelligence to facilitate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory at 2019 presidential poll)

(5) And finally, [A] Do you believe the TNA should be investigated for its links with the LTTE as the former (TNA) recognized internationally proscribed group as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people? [B] Have you received representations from human rights defenders as regards the need for a no holds barred investigation to identify all perpetrators, including the Indian military, Indian intelligence services and those Sri Lankans living overseas under different names?

The above issues were raised in the wake of HRW slamming the government here over claims of continuing abuses. In a new report released in Geneva on Sept. 18, 2023, New York headquartered HRW alleged that such actions undermined the purported goals of its newly proposed truth and reconciliation commission. Victims of past violations, their families, and human rights defenders have rejected the government’s initiative because the government has not consulted them, ignored evidence gathered by past commissions, and exposed them to fresh security force abuses.

The 39-page report, “‘If We Raise Our Voice They Arrest Us’: Sri Lanka’s Proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” documented what HRW called abusive security force surveillance and intimidation of activists and campaigners from minority Tamil families of those who “disappeared” during the conflict. The HRW alleged the government used draconian counterterrorism laws to silence dissenting voices, including those calling for truth and accountability, while government-backed land grabs target Tamil and Muslim communities and their places of worship, the report claimed.