War Crimes in Sri Lanka

Like UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein of Jordan speaks on the UN Human Rights Office report on Sri Lanka
Tuesday, September 22, 2015 - 08:32

By Niklas Jakobsson

The Sri Lanka war crimes report, released last week by the United Nations, paints a picture of grave human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It’s a horrendous read. After having been delayed several months, the report was highly anticipated and generated a lot of talk on social media.

Around 250 pages long, the report touches on some serious allegations of war crimes, including unlawful killings, sexual and gender-based violence and much more.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, spoke at a news conference on the day of the report's release. He urged the government of Sri Lanka to set up a special war crimes court to try the alleged perpetrators. But it’s unclear whether Sri Lanka would favour that type of solution.

The government of Sri Lanka pre-empted the report by announcing its intention of setting up a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission to look into the atrocities that happened during the civil war.

But Sri Lanka’s intent to set up a truth commission received a mild reception. Instead of replicating a model used for a different type of atrocity, some experts are calling for more concrete justice mechanisms.

In its response, the Sri Lankan government praises the commission that wrote the report, but it also points out that it ‘represents a human rights investigation and not a criminal investigation’. It also speaks of the new mechanisms that are ‘envisaged’.

The report focuses on alleged war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels during the 26-year civil war. It all came to an end in a bloody standoff in 2009. The report itself is arguably long overdue. Another worrying factor is that it’s not binding on the Sri Lankan authorities, and they can themselves choose whichever accountability they see fit.

If anything, the report has brought the issues back into the international limelight. Now it’s a matter of ‘wait and see’ what, if anything, materialises.


  • What type of accountability measures do you think the Sri Lankan government should implement?
  • What were your main takeaways from the report?

Lead image: UN High Commission for Human Rights Zeid Raád Al Hussein speaks on the UN Human Rights Office report on Sri Lanka (Photo: Martial Trezzini/EPA) 

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