Sri Lankan civil war: Government officials still unpunished

Sri Lanka – Armed conflict – War crimes

Countless people were killed, injured and raped during the decades-long Sri Lankan civil war. More than 70,000 civilians lost their lives during the Sri Lankan army’s final offensive against the rebel Tamil Tigers (LTTE) from the end of 2008 to May 2009, according to United Nations reports. Sexual and gender-based violence and arbitrary arrests by the police and military were and continue to be widespread. But no one has been held accountable for these civilian deaths. Suspected perpetrators remain in power or hold influential positions.

Since the final stage of the Sri Lankan civil war, ECCHR has been working to ensure that high-ranking military personnel and (former) members of the Sri Lankan government and security forces are prosecuted for their role in war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual violence. ECCHR in an international network cooperates with civil society organizations, local partners, and survivors and their families.


ECCHR uses various legal tools and methods to counter impunity in Sri Lanka. The principle of universal jurisdiction, for example, allows national law enforcement agencies in third countries to investigate these crimes. ECCHR supports witnesses living in Germany and filed criminal complaints with the German federal prosecutor in 2012 and 2017. The prosecutor took initial steps to look into these crimes. It is now time for Germany to intensify its investigation and take action against impunity for international crimes in Sri Lanka.

Securing international arrest warrants for high-ranking suspects is another priority – for example for Jagath Dias, former commander of the notorious Sri Lanka Army 57 Division. When Dias came as a diplomat to Berlin in 2010, ECCHR intervened with the German Foreign Office and wrote a dossier about the war crimes he allegedly committed as a military officer. His diplomatic status protected him from criminal proceedings, but he was forced to leave Germany early.

In March 2014, the United Nations set up a Commission of Experts (UN OISL) that, with ECCHR’s support, comprehensively investigated international crimes committed in Sri Lanka.


From 1983 to 2009, Sri Lanka lived through a brutal civil war between the government and the LTTE. Violence increased dramatically during the final years of the war. According to the UN, the Sri Lankan army is said to have deliberately attacked civilian hospitals and food supplies, and there were repeated reports of torture, sexual violence and disappearances. Persecution of political opponents and minorities have not stopped.


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A dossier is a collection of documents that can be submitted to a court or other authority.

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War crimes

Attacks directed against civilians; torture of detainees; sexual slavery – when committed within the context of armed conflict, these and other grave crimes amount to war crimes as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. While the system of international criminal justice makes it possible to prosecute war crimes, in many cases those responsible are not held to account.

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