SRI LANKA: President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the island nations president has admitted that 20,000 missing Tamils, who vanished during the Sri Lankan civil war, are dead.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa during Sri Lanka’s civil war was the defence secretary that led government troops to victory over the rebel Tamil soldiers. It was also his forces that are being accused of carrying out mass disappearances and executions.
The Sri Lanka conflict which ended in 2009 has been a hot topic globally over the treatment of Sri Lankan Tamils and this is the first time the government has admitted guilt. This comes at a time as Rajapaksa has announced legislation granting immunity to those who carried out abuses, according to local media reports.
President Rajapaksa made the announcement at a meeting with enjoys from the United Nations while in Colombo.
He said the admission would bring closure to families and he hoped Tamil politicians would not use it as an opportunity to cause unrest.
Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war began in 1983 and raged for 26 years, claiming an estimated 100,000 lives. The battle fought along ethnic and religious lines and ended with victory for the Buddhist Sinhalese-majority government at the expense of the Hindu Tamil-minority which was fighting for independence.
While atrocities were committed on both sides the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported how government troops carried out unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and gender-based violence en masse against Tamils.
Atrocities carried out by government forces in the final year of the conflict are considered some of the worst human rights abuses in history.
Mobile phone footage documented government soldiers systematically executing bound and blindfolded civilians. Heavy artillery was also repeatedly launched into a ‘no fire zone’ resulting in the deaths of up to 70,000 largely Tamil civilians, according to the UN.
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in September called upon Sri Lanka again to conduct a “credible” inquiry into human rights violations. Failing that, “the international community will have a duty to establish its own inquiry mechanisms.”
Human Rights Watch has documented the continued disappearance and torture of Tamil activists and journalists after the end of the conflict.
Local media reported today that Mr Rajapaksa is also set to introduce new laws which will grant immunity to members of the government accused of human rights abuses during the war. Tamil activists say they must be held accountable but Mr Rajapaksa says this will impede the post-Civil War peace process.
President Rajapaksa is considered a hero among the Buddhist Sinhalese-majority as his heavy-handed approach finally brought the war to an end. He was elected as the new Sri Lankan President on the back of this popularity surge in November.