Ever since the final stages of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009, issues of the criminal accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and the ongoing sexualized violence against women have been a priority for ECCHR. According to a United Nations report, more than 70,000 civilians lost their lives during the Sri Lankan army’s final offensive against the rebel Tamil Tigers (LTTE) lasting from the end of 2008 until May 2009. Women and girls were repeatedly subjected to sexualized violence in the course and aftermath of the war.
In May 2015, the new Sri Lankan government appointed Major General Jagath Dias as Army Chief of Staff, one of the most important military posts. From late 2009 to 2011, Dias served as Deputy Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Germany, Switzerland and the Vatican. He was recalled from his post in the wake of allegations that he was responsible for war crimes committed in the final stages of the civil war. ECCHR documented allegations against Dias in a comprehensive dossier in 2011. As commander of the 57th division General Dias is said to have been responsible for attacks on civilians in protected zones as well as for the bombing of hospitals, places of worship and humanitarian facilities.
To date no one has been held accountable for the civilian deaths and the suspected crimes against international law in Sri Lanka. On taking office in January 2015, President Sirisena announced plans to address the grave war crimes, stating that with the help of the international community he wished to establish an independent national judicial mechanism. Just three months later, in April 2015, he reneged on his promise. He made it clear that the mechanism would not have any power to prosecute but instead be of truth-seeking nature only. For this, he said, Sri Lanka would not need any international help.
ECCHR calls for greater care to be taken in future with the accreditation of Sri Lankan diplomats. When visas are being issued to diplomatic embassy staff serious efforts must be made to investigate claims that the individual may be linked to war crimes. If necessary, these efforts must include independent preliminary investigations by the relevant prosecution authorities.