War Crimes in Sri Lanka

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Art. 57. Precautions in attack

1. In the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects…

2(b) an attack shall be cancelled or suspended if it becomes apparent… that the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated… —The Geneva Conventions, to which Sri Lanka is a party.

Overnight shelling killed 378 civilians in Sri Lanka, including 106 children, with a government doctor saying (according to the Boston Globe) that “many more were likely killed in the attack, but they were buried where they fell…” TamilNet puts the number of civilians killed in the barrage much higher, with over 1,200 bodies counted.  They say sources confirm “the use of cluster ammunition, multi-barrel rocket launchers and cannons…” as well as two bombing raids by the Sri Lanka Air Force.

Naturally the government blamed the shelling on the LTTE. However, a BBC reporter says, “health officials are convinced that the shells are coming from territory held by the Sri Lankan army.”

This follows yesterday’s shelling of a makeshift hospital, which killed 64 civilians, and yesterday’s arrest of three British journalists who repoorted on alleged government sexual abuse of refugees.  The journalists were charged with “tarnishing the image of the government security forces.”

To be fair, holding civilians hostage (as the LTTE is doing) is also prohibited by the Gene Conventions (See Article 28).  However, with the LTTE nearing military defeat, one must ask what kind of society Sri Lanka will find after the cessation of fighting.  Democracy has been dismantled, press protections are nonexistent, and so much carnage has been inflicted on Tamil civilians that real peace is a pipe dream.

More to the point, the roots of the conflict– poverty and disempowermnent of all three major ethnic groups, including the Sinhalese majority, by a small Sinhalese elite– has been made worse.