For some victims, UN report on Sri Lanka crimes is their only memorial

23 September 2015 by Frances Harrison, London (UK)

I learned exactly how a friend of mine was executed from the forensic examination the UN report did of the photographs of his corpse. His hands were tied behind his back and he was shot multiple times from behind. At least I now know he wasn’t tortured before he died, and in the warped world of Sri Lanka, that’s some comfort. I cannot imagine what it is like for his wife to relive this again.

Inhabitants of the Menik Farm internally displaced person camp in Sri Lanka await a visit by the UN secretary-general in 2009 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)
Image caption: 
Inhabitants of the Menik Farm internally displaced person camp in Sri Lanka await a visit by the UN secretary-general in 2009 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

Nor can I imagine what it is like for the mother of a TV presenter for the opposition to see in black and white that her daughter was killed by gunshots to the head, execution-style, with skull pieces and protruding brain left visible. How does a mother cope with the conclusion in the report that her daughter’s body was desecrated, let alone know that the perpetrators are still a long way off from paying a price for their terrible crimes?

And these stories are repeated hundreds of times over because the UN could focus only on the emblematic cases though they are numerous. 

The 250-page UN report, released last week by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is filled with legal language and clinical descriptions of extreme brutality. But the 'Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL)' is also a graveyard of dead politicians, journalists, priests and combatants whom many of us knew personally. For some victims, this is the only memorial they have had in six long years.

Want to read more?

If you subscribe to a free membership, you can read this article and explore our full archive, dating back to 1997.

Subscribe now

Related articles

article
19 February 2007 by Laetitia Grotti

One year ago on January 6, 2006, the 17 members of Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) were closing up shop after submitting their final report to King Mohammed VI. The Moroccan truth commission had received a flood of compliments from the international community praising the recommendations in its report, especially those advocating legislative and constitutional reforms. One year later, however, the results have been rather mixed.

article
11 September 2006 by our correspondent in Arusha

After having tried high-ranking officers, ministers, businessmen, priests, journalists, local officials and militiamen, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) is in uncharted waters. On September 11, the most famous rwandese troubadour of his generation will stand trial for genocide. 

article
23 October 2006 by Christine Chaumeau

China is keeping a polite distance from international criminal justice. Beijing is hardly disinterested, but China does want to make sure that these new global mechanisms are not going to infringe upon its sovereignty by delving into particularly sensitive cases such as Tibet. 

article
United Nations Operation in Burundi disarms rebel forces in Mbanda in February 2005 (Photo: Flickr/UN Photo/Martine Perret)
03 June 2015 by Janet H. Anderson, The Hague (The Netherlands)

Over the last month, Burundi has hit the headlines as the president put himself forward to be elected for a controversial third term, resulting in street protests, thousands of refugees who fled instability and an attempted coup. Behind the issues of elections and constitutionalism are also those of justice following Burundi’s long-running civil war. The international community supported an intensive process of negotiation and the signing of the Arusha Accord in 2000. But in the decade and a half since, its provisions on justice have been debated though never fully implemented.

article
06 November 2006 by Pierre Hazan

France's attitude towards international criminal justice is marked by ambiguity. Paris subscribes to a vision of the world in which international humanitarian law is considered a way to curb violence against civilian populations, but at the same time it is wary of an unchecked judicial system that could end up prosecuting French soldiers engaged in areas where it has old and deep-rooted interests.