Will There Be Accountability for War Crimes in Sri Lanka?

Ed. Note: This post is a collaboration with Daniel J. Gerstle, a New York-based humanitarian consultant and media producer. Daniel currently serves as Founding Editor of the creative crisis media site, HELO Magazine.

I’ve followed Daniel’s writing for a long while, and I am glad to announce that he’ll be joining our roster of regular contributors.

The Guardian posted an intriguing diplomatic cable from the Wikileaks archive in which the American Ambassador to Sri Lanka says very plainly that Sri Lankan government and military officials are responsible for a massacre of Tamil civilians. And, to make matters worse, the cable argues that there is very little chance of any sort of accountability mechanism for these alleged crimes:

There are no examples we know of a regime undertaking wholesale investigations of its own troops or senior officials for war crimes while that regime or government remained in power. In Sri Lanka this is further complicated by the fact that responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka.

The decades long war between the government of Sri Lanka, predominantly Sinhalese and led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a rebel group claiming to fight for the rights of the Tamil minority, climaxed in a bloody battle in May 2009 which left tens of thousands dead.

Over the past year, the Rajapaksa administration has portrayed the country as a re-united nation healing its wounds.   Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with the Tamil Parties Forum this week in a new effort to show his administration as opening doors to reconciliation between the predominantly Sinhalese government and the Tamil minorities.

To what extent will the Rajapaksa Administration sincerely reconcile not only with moderate Tamil parties around the country but also with Tamils who directly suffered bombardment and isolation in the war, and who continue to dream of secession? Is the war really over for the Tamil Tiger rebels?  And what about some sort of accountability for crimes that were committed against Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan military?

For sustainable peace in Sri Lanka, these outstanding questions will have to be resolved.