RELATIVE peace may have been established in Sri Lanka, but questions are being raised about the costs involved. A resolution is to be tabled at the forthcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva following a preliminary investigation by the UN which found that Sri Lanka’s “conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law”. Survivors’ accounts and video footage that have emerged since the war ended indicate that during the first half of 2009 the Sri Lankan military bombed and shelled indiscriminately. Hundreds of thousands of civilians who were trapped in a small enclave in the north of the island were killed. Up to 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed in five months alone. Crimes against humanity were committed by the Tamil Tiger rebels too, who refused to let civilians flee the war zone and used their own people as human shields. After the war ended, 280,000 survivors were detained in a giant refugee camp, with 11,000 suspected rebels being locked up in the world’s largest mass detention without trial. Tamils claim that summary executions, torture and gang rape continued for months beyond the war.

While Sri Lanka has held its own inquiry, it has been criticised for focusing only on the excesses committed by the rebels and not on the military’s role. But accountability is a requirement under international law, and those guilty of perpetrating rights abuse during times of war must be brought to justice for the sake of setting strong precedents no less than for the sake of the survivors. Many states, including Pakistan, have considered the quelling of armed insurgencies inevitable for the survival of the country. How peace is achieved, however, is of critical importance. In no case can the abuse of human rights or the committing of war crimes be tolerated.

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