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International Groups Examine Allegations of ‘Summary Executions’ in Sri Lanka

June 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez discusses allegations that Sri Lankan forces killed thousands of civilians toward the end of the country's civil war with Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the U.S. Jaliya Wickramasuriya and Mark Schneider of The International Crisis Group.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: Late today, we heard the response of Sri Lanka’s government from the island nation’s ambassador to the U.S., Jaliya Wickramasuriya.

We spoke with him here at the embassy in Washington.

JALIYA WICKRAMASURIYA, Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States: We believe that this video not authentic. This is produced as a piece of propaganda.

RAY SUAREZ: The documentary goes much further than the video and says that the government created a no-fire zone, asked Tamil civilians to enter it, and then made artillery strikes on these places, involving widespread killing of civilians.

JALIYA WICKRAMASURIYA: All this is propaganda.

A lot of people can say a lot of things. We like to see credible evidence for anything. For any war, anybody can say, you know, this person was killed by an army artillery or the LTTE artillery.

So, we need to see the evidence to believe that. So, in fact, as you know, what we did was, as a government, we rescued nearly 300,000 innocent civilians who were just taken by the LTTE, by this terrorist group, as human shields.

As a government, we started safe passages. And, also, we had to open up enough roads and take out these innocent civilians. In fact, we lost more than 6,000 soldiers by trying to do that. Our president has created a commission called Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. We do not want this bloody war come again. But we have suffered enough.

And we are Sri Lankans. As Sri Lankan people, we do not want these terrorists to come back. That is the very reason president of Sri Lanka appointed this very, very, very prestigious commission.

RAY SUAREZ: You can watch all the documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: on Channel 4′s Web site.

And for more on the international response to the allegations of mass killing, we go to Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group. He is in charge of advocacy with the U.S. government and international organizations.

And, Mark Schneider, does the information that the ICG has support Channel 4′s documentary?

MARK SCHNEIDER, International Crisis Group: It does, indeed.

And we issued a report a year ago that, in fact, found the tens of thousands of civilians that had been killed in the final months of the war, and specifically, as the documentary indicated, most of them had come into these areas that the government promised were going to be safe, so-called no-fire zones.

In fact, the government really turned them into free-fire zones, in which they shelled hospitals, food centers. And, in the end, actually, as people were leaving the area, after the war essentially was over, as you have seen from the documentary, there were summary executions of individuals. Some of those leaders who allegedly were seeking to surrender apparently also were killed.

And this comes to us now also from a special panel of experts that the United Nations secretary-general appointed to look into these questions.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you say you issued this report a year ago. Why do you think there was so little international interest in killing on this scale?

MARK SCHNEIDER: I think the reality is that all of us recognize that the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE, were a terrorist organization that had carried out horrendous acts themselves, suicide bombings, et cetera.

And what we basically said, though, is that this cannot justify a government and its armed forces carrying out essentially the same kinds of acts of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law. Unfortunately, there was no immediate venue for someone to carry out the investigation because the government refused to permit international human rights or other kinds of inquiries.

RAY SUAREZ: As you heard, the ambassador talked about the Lessons Learned Reconciliation Commission, a Sri Lankan investigation into the events in the final months of the war, and said, because of the existence of that commission, Sri Lanka will not cooperate with any further U.N. investigation.

MARK SCHNEIDER: Well, we hope that the United States government, that the United Kingdom and others will press the secretary-general, in fact, to form his own international commission of inquiry. That’s really the only hope we have.

The fact is, is that that Lessons Learned Commission is totally biased. The U.N. panel of experts said it fails to meet international standards. It’s chaired by the former — the former attorney general of this government. It has in that commission several members who are government representatives as well.

And so it fails basically in terms of finding the truth, and it fails also in the ability to actually bring charges against those it finds to be responsible. One other point I would make is that going up to the — those who are responsible at the top levels of the government, one has to ask the United States, the U.K. and others to investigate who among their citizens, dual citizens, had responsibilities for carrying out the war policy.

In this case, the former — the minister of defense and the adviser to the president, both brothers of the president, we have heard are dual citizens of the United States. One would hope that that would be investigated here.

RAY SUAREZ: Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group, thanks for joining us.

MARK SCHNEIDER: Thank you.