What are they running from?
Published Friday, August 13, 2010 9:24PM PDT
It will be months -- or possibly years -- before Canadians know whether the migrants onboard the MV Sun Sea have legitimate claims as refugees. In the meantime, CTVBC.CA takes a look at what they've left behind in Sri Lanka.
The 25-year-long civil war between the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers may be over, but Sri Lanka is still in turmoil as lingering hostilities and ethnic distrust permeate the country.
A brutal end to a bloody war
Since the war ended in May of last year, the government has been haunted by allegations of massive human rights violations and war crimes committed by both sides during the final months of battle.
The United Nations estimates that at least 7,000 civilians were killed in the last five months of the war.
In October, the U.S. State Department produced a report detailing allegations of human rights abuses and possible war crimes committed by both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government in the war's final months.
Some of the approximately 300 reports compiled by the State Department include allegations that government forces:
- Attacked hospitals and other civilian institutions
- Executed prisoners of war
- Killed rebel soldiers who were trying to surrender
- Secretly abducted and killed Tamil civilians, particularly children and young men
- Failed to provide adequate food, water and medical supplies to people displaced by fighting
On the other side of the war, the State Department report says that the Tamil Tigers:
- Recruited child soldiers
- Used civilians as human shields
No accountability for violations, rights group says
According to Human Rights Watch, "the Sri Lankan government has failed to undertake any meaningful investigation of violations of the laws of war."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon formed an expert panel last month to advise him on how to deal with allegations of human rights abuses committed by both sides in the civil war.
The government has vehemently opposed the panel's formation.
In early July, a government minister led hundreds of protesters to surround and block entrances to the UN compound in the capital city of Colombo. The government-led protests shut down all UN activities in Colombo for days.
Earlier this week, a group of 57 American lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, asking her to push the Sri Lankan government for an independent, international body to investigate war crimes allegations.
Sri Lankan government officials have said they would rebuff pressure from the U.S. to form an independent body.
The government has formed its own commission to investigate human rights abuses, but the U.S. politicians say that panel lacks "needed credibility."
Human Rights Watch has also described the so-called Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as falling "far short of minimum standards."
Hundreds of thousands haven't returned home
The intense five months of fighting that ended the civil war forced 280,000 people in northern Sri Lanka to flee their homes, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
The fighting has ended, but that doesn't mean that these people -- refugees inside their own country -- will be able to return home. According to the UNHCR, many of their home villages and much of their farmland is "riddled with mines and unexploded ordnance."
As of January, the UNHCR estimates that 434,900 Sri Lankans continued to be displaced from their homes. The Switzerland-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre put the number in July at 320,000.
Allegations of forced ‘rehabilitation'
Human Rights Watch says that 11,000 ethnic Tamils are being held in detention on unspecified charges -- the government says they are Tamil Tigers or Tamil Tiger supporters who need to be "rehabilitated".
The international rights group claims that those in detention have been denied access to lawyers and their families and have not been told why they were arrested.
Possible stifling of political opposition
On Friday, the country's former army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka was dishonourably discharged by a military court, in what some analysts have described as political meddling by the country's President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Fonseka was arrested just weeks after he ran unsuccessfully against Rajapaksa in a presidential election, and is awaiting trial on corruption charges.
He was initially accused of plotting to assassinate Rajapaksa, and supporters believe Fonseka is being persecuted for daring to challenge the president at the polls.
With files from The Associated Press