The report of the Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to investigate the circumstances of the conclusion the Sri Lanka war has been made public today – full report here, BBC News article here. The report was disclosed to the Sri Lankan government a few weeks ago; regrettably and quite predictably, the government already dismissed it as incorrect and biased. As in many other cases of conflict and atrocities inspired by ethnic nationalism, several competing versions of reality have already emerged. While the government claims that it pursued a policy of zero civilian casualties, the Panel report paints a very different picture, finding widespread violations of international human rights and humanitarian law on both sides, but particularly on that of the government.
On the legal side of things, one of the appointed experts was the well-respected international lawyer Steve Ratner, professor of international law at the University of Michigan Law School. The report’s discussion of the applicable law and legal findings, at p. 52 et seq, seem to me to be more or less watertight. There are no flights of fancy here; even when broad or progressive, the legal findings are appropriately cautious when caution is warranted (e.g. as to whether non-state actors are bound by human rights, at para. 188).
The Panel has recommended that the Secretary-General establish an independent international investigative mechanism; he has refused to do so absent the consent of the Sri Lankan government or action by other member states. The Sri Lankan conflict has been overshadowed by other events and the international community has been remarkably passive with regard to the war crimes committed in its conclusion. Hopefully this report will not be the end of the matter.
(I would have quoted a number of paragraphs from the report, but whoever made that PDF disabled the copy and paste functions, which is really stupid beyond belief. I do hope somebody fixes that.)