The home page of The Hague headquartered International Criminal Court displays maps of the countries it is currently investigating — the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Sudan. Will Sri Lanka be next?
It should, not only by virtue of the UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon yesterday indicating that there should be an investigation into possible war crimes committed in the war by the Sri Lankan government against the LTTE, the Tamil military arm, but because the involvement of ICC might clip the wings of arrogance that the Sri Lankan government is currently sporting.
Alongside other notable absentees such as Israel and the US, Sri Lanka does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, which was established in 2002 to try crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. But this does not mean that Sri Lankan politicians and military chiefs can avoid investigation as those responsible for the appalling tragedy and brutality of Darfur in southern Sudan have found out.
The UN Security Council has the power, which it exercised in relation to Darfur, to refer a case for investigation to the ICC even if the state that is to be subjected to investigation is not a party to the ICC’s jurisdiction.
That there is evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity on the part of the Sri Lankan government this year in its quest to crush the remains of the Tamil Tiger movement cannot be in question.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on May 8, “While doctors and nurses struggle to save lives in overcrowded and under-equipped facilities, Sri Lankan army attacks have hit one hospital after another.”
There is well documented evidence of the Sri Lankan army attacking civilians sheltering in safe zones and the LTTE has been accused of using civilians as human shields.
The ICC is the only body with the moral authority and legal gravitas to ensure that the victims of the bloody killing fields of Sri Lanka today are accorded justice.
There is another compelling reason for the UN Security Council to get the ICC involved in Sri Lanka. It might persuade the Sri Lankan government to enter into a peace process with the Tamil minority. Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa has been giving off mixed messages this week on what happens now that his government has routed the LTTE and in doing so created a humanitarian crisis for a million Tamils in refugee camps with immense structural damage to the Tamil areas of the country.
In the cases of Uganda and Darfur, ICC involvement can be said to have been a positive influence. In the case of the former, the International Crisis Group has documented how the threat of the ICC prosecuting the leadership of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda has helped to open up and advance serious negotiations with the country’s government. The Economist noted on May 9 that since the issuing of an arrest warrant by the ICC against Sudan’s dictator President Omar al-Bashir earlier this year, “Sudan’s prickly government is giving a little ground” and that fighting has lessened.
The promise of international criminal justice has so far been confined to African trouble spots, now is the time to extend its reach.
This is an extract from a speech to be delivered this evening at 5.30pm at the Australian Institute of International Affairs Dyason House 124 Jolimont Road, East Melbourne, Victoria.