01. The war in Sri Lanka ended tragically, amidst controversy. Many Sri Lankans and others around the world were relieved that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), renowned for its brutality, was defeated and that 27 years of armed conflict had come to an end. However, many people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere were deeply disturbed about the means used to achieve the victory by the country's armed forces. They had watched for months with increasing alarm, as hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians became trapped between two highly determined warring factions, unable to flee, as the LTTE was forced into a small corner of the Vanni, on the north-east coast of the country. The toll of civilian casualties, both killed and wounded, rose dramatically. Civilians were caught by shelling from the Government side, when they attempted to escape the area, many including women and children were shot by the LTTE. As the need for humanitarian assistance rose, it was increasingly restricted by the Government. Attempts to broker a political settlement-or even a sufficient respite in the fighting to enable the civilians to reach safety-foundred.
3. Only three days after the end of the war, the Secretary-General visited Sri Lanka and saw first-hand some of the areas in the conflict zone as well as a camp for persons displaced from the conflict area. At the conclusion of his visit, the Secretary-General issued a joint statement with the President of Sri Lanka. In it the Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process to address violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed during the military operations, and the President agreed to take measures to address those grievances. The establishment of the Panel of Experts is in follow-up by the Secretary-General to that joint commitment.
4. The Panel's mandate is to advise the Secretary-General on the implementation of the joint commitment with respect to the final stages of the war. In this report, the Panel assesses the nature and scope of the alleged violations of international law and the Sri Lankan Government's response. In particular, the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission is assessed in light of international standards and comparative experiences.
16. The Panel's programme of work was organized in two phases. In the first phase, the Panel gathered a variety of information regarding the armed conflict in Sri Lanka from individuals and institutions with expertise or experience related to its mandate. Some of this information came in written form, consisting of both public document -eg. governmental United Nations or reports of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)- and material conveyed confidentially to the panel. Other information was gathered through numerous meetings of the Panel and its secretariat. The panel met with officials of the United Nations and international organizations as well as representatives of Government and NGOs and individuals directly affected-by the events of the final stage of the war. In the second phase of its work, the panel drafted this report. The report was written in a manner that makes it suitable for publication.
17. In terms of outreach to the broader public, the Panel made a general invitation for written submissions from interested organizations and individuals. On 21 October 2010, the Panel's chief of staff wrote to the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to advise him of this decision, enclosing a copy of the notice and noting that it would be posted on the United Nations website. The English notice was posted on 27 October 2010 and Sinhala and Tamil versions were subsequently posted. The initial deadline of 15 December 2010 set for these submissions was subseqently extended to 31 December 2010. As of 31 December 2010, the Panel had received over 4,000 submissions from more than 2,300 senders.
63. In addition to its regular military operations, the Government employed clandestine operations to uncover LTTE safe houses, dismantle the LTTE network in the South and eliminate persons believed to be associate with the LTTE. A potent symbol of these operations was the "white van". White vans were used to abduct and often disappear critics of the Government or those suspected of links with the LTTE, and more generally, to instill fear in the population. An elite unit within the Special Task force (STF) of the police is implicated in running these white van operations. Those abducted were removed to secret locations, interrogated and tortured in a variety of ways, including through beatings forced nudity suffocation with plastic bags. partial drowing extraction of finger or toe nails, or administering electric shocks. Many were killed and their bodies disposed of secretly. Human rights workers, journalists , news paper editors and humanitarian workers accused of being "Tiger sympathizers" were also caught in the net. In the period between 2006 and the end of the war, 66 humanitarian workers either disappeared or killed.
64. The strategy also involved stricter controls on the media and the flow of information, imposing a media blackout and stifling critical views of the war effort. From 2006 Independent journalists were not allowed to travel to LTTE controlled areas and certain journalists were named as "Tiger sympathizers" on the Ministry of Defence website. More detailed guidelines on reporting on the war were established in 2008. Journalists who disobeyed those rules or who were otherwise critical of the Government were subject to arrest and/or severe levels of threat.
68. The LTTE mainly relied on forced recruitment in an attempt to maintain its forces. While previously that LTTE took one child per family for its forces, as the war progressed, the policy intensified and was enforced with brutality, often recruiting several children from the same family, including boys and girls as young as 14. Civilians were also enlisted by the LTTE into their war effort in other ways, using them for example to dig trenches and build fortifications, often exposing them to additional harm.
III.Nature and Scope of Alleged Violations
80. On 20 January 2009 the Government unilaterally declared a No Fire Zone (NFZ) Commander for the Vanni, Major Genaral Jayasuriya announced by notice that "the Army Headquarters has demarcated this safe zone as the Security forces are fully committed to provide maximum safety for civilians trapped or forcibly kept by the LTTE in the un-cleared areas of Mullaitivu. Maps of the NFZ and its coordinates were disseminated by the Government Agents (GAs). The LTTE did not accept the NFZ as binding. The rationale for the location of the NFZ which encompassed the LTTE's western and southern defensive lines, and the boundary of which along the A35 was only 800 meters north of the advancing SLA frontline, was not clear.
81. On or around 19 to 21 January, SLA shells hit Vallipuram hospital, located in the first NFZ, killing patients. Throughout the final stage of the war, virtually every hospital in the Vanni, whether permanent or makeshift, was hit by artillery. Particularly those which contained wounded LTTE were hit repeatedly.
84. In the early morning hours of 24 January, hundreds of shells rained down in the NFZ. Those with access to the United Nations bunker dove into it for protection, but most IDPs did not have bunkers and had nowhere to seek cover. People were screaming and crying out for help.
The United Nations security officer, a highly experienced military officer, and others present discerned that the shelling was coming from the south, from SLA positions. He made frantic calls to the head of United Nations Security in Colombo and the Vanni Force Commander at his headquarters in Vavniya as well as the joint operations headquarters in Colombo, demanding that the shelling stop,which sometimes resulted in a temporary adjustable of the shelling before it started again. "Heavy shelling continued over night, and shells continued to hit the United Nations hub and the distribution centre, Killing numerous civilians.
97. Increasingly LTTE forces, mounting their last defence, move onto the coastal strip in the second NFZ, particularly in the Mullivaikkal area, where the LTTE leadership had a complex network of bunkers and fortifications and where it ultimately made its final stand. The LTTE was no longer mobile and established a series of defensive earth bunds throughout the zone. Its positioning of mortars and other artillery among IDPS often led to retaliatory fire.
98. In spite of the futility of their military situation, the LTTE not only refused to surrender, but also continued to prevent civilians from leaving the area, ensuring their continued presence as a human buffer. It forced civilians to help build military installations and fortifications or undertake other forced labour. It also intensified its practice of forced recruitment including of children, to swell their dwindling ranks. As LTTE recruitment increased, parents actively resisted and families took increasingly desperate measures to protect their children from recruitment. They hid their children in secret locations or forced them into early arranged marriages. LTTE cadres would beat relatives or parents, sometimes severely, if they tried to resist the recruitment. All these approches many of them aimed at defending the LTTE and its leadership portrayed callousness to the desperate plight of civilians and a willingness to sacrifice their lives.
99. Nonetheless as the situation in the second NFZ worsened, growing numbers of civilians sought to escape LTTE - controlled areas. Civilians waded long distances though the lagoon or across mine-ridden territory, often in the dead of night. Inevitably people stepped on landmines and lost their limbs or were fatally injured. Beginning in February,the LTTE commenced a policy of shooting civilians who attempted to escape, and to this end, cadres took up positions where they could spot civilians who might try to break out.
|File photo: UN Chief Ban Ki-moon together with the then Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama addressing a news conference in Colombo after his visit to the north in May 2009
101. At the time, the Defence Secretary stated: "We are taking casualties to prevent civilians getting hurt. This is a factor we are very concernd about. Otherwise we could have used so much artillery and just moved on. The Government announced on 25 February, and again on 27 April that the SLA was no longer using heavy weapons in the second and third no fire zones. But what was happening on the ground indicated the opposite. Intensive artillery fire had been a core tactic in the SLA's military campaign from the outset. As victory neared, this tactics was not abandoned, but rather its use was intensified, even though the LTTE was now immobilized and surrounded in an area of high civilian density. The intensive shelling also caused many civilians to attempt to flee the area, meeting another of the Government objectives to put pressure on civilians to get out of the way despite government pronouncements. Satellite images in Annex 3 show that SLA artillery batteries were constantly adjusted to increasingly target the NFZs. The LTTE had fewer heavy wepons left and less space to fire them from.
103. When the PTK hospital relocated to Putumattalan the Government stated that "there are now no hospitals functioning in uncleared areas in the Vanni. Nonetheless, the second NFZ had their makeshift hospital including Putumattalan, a small clinic at Valayanmadam and a hospital in Mullivaikal. All of their coordinates were known to the Government, and they were clearly marked with emblems. Government doctors continued providing their services there. Putumattalan hospital was severely overcrowded with hundreds of newly injured civilians. As the Government did not allow basic medical supplies into the Vanni, conditions in Pudumatalan hospital were so poor that a large number of amputations were performed without anesthetics, using butcher knives rather than scalpels, Sanitary pads and cotton clothes were used as bandages and intervenous drips were hung from the trees with several -injured patients lying on the ground under them. In spite of the significant efforts of the few available doctors many patients died due to lack of access to proper medical care and scores of bodies were deposited in front of the hospital each day
112. As the situation in the second NFZ worsened, large number of civilians tried to escape LTTE-controlled areas but the LTTE sought to prevent this with increasing brutality. Some LTTE cadres would let fleeing civilians through, but other opened fire on them with AK47s, killing men, women and childrens, alike. The IDPs, who attemped escape desperately tried to run away and to reach SLA lines, carrying their children or luggage or dropping them in their panic. Some were killed on the spot, others flailed in the shallow waters or incurred terrible injuries from stepping on landmines, small children and others drowned in the lagoon. While it is not known precisely how many people died this way. The number was significant and rose as the armed conflict progressed.
118. Due to the lack of space in the third NFZ civilians had nowhere to hide from the shelling which was coming in from all sides. Shells rained down everywhere and bullets whizzed through the air. Many died and were buried under their bunkers or shelters, without their deaths being recorderd. Black smoke and the stench of dead bodies filled the air. Some people begged food for their starving children or for help for the wounded or dying, The scene was described as reminiscent of hell.
120. On 15 March the LTTE began destorying their communications equipment. On 16 May a large explosion rocked the LTTE area, and a fire destoryed hundreds of IDP shelters. That same day, the 58th and 59th Divisions of the SLA linked on the coastiline, and Army Commander Lieutenant General Fonseka declared victory against the LTTE. The 53rd Division continued to make its way south, along the Nanthikadal lagoon. The remaining LTTE, including many of the top leaders and around 250 hard-core fighters, were locked into a small area of around 3 square kilometres at Vellamullivaikkal. The end was near; the circumstances surrounding the deaths of many of those leaders are the subject of controversy.
131. Despite its access to first-hand information regarding the size of the civilian population and its needs, the Government of Sri Lanka deliberately used greatly reduced estimates, as part of a strategy to limit the supplies going into the Vanni, thereby putting ever greater pressure on the civilian population. A senior Government official subsequently admitted that the estimates were reduced to this end. The low numbers also indicate that the Government conflated civilians with LTTE in the final stages of the war.
E. The number of civilian deaths
132. There is no authoritative figure for civilian deaths or injuries in the Vanni in the final phases of the war. Several factors make it very difficult to calculate a reliable casualty figure: (a) the number of persons in the conflict area remains uncertain, although it was likely to have been as many as 330,000: (b) the lack of an accurate count of the number of persons who emerged from the Vanni, due to the lack of transparency in the screening process; (c) lack of certainty on the numbers of LTTE combatants, complicated further by the increase in forced recruitment in the final phase; and (d) the fact that many civilians were buried where they fell, without their deaths being registered, in some cases, unobserved.
133. Some have developed estimates based on the statistics of the injured and dead collected by the doctors, which were collated by the hospitals and the District Disaster Management Unit. One estimate is that there were approximately 40,000 surgical procedures ad 5,000 amputations performed during the final phase. Depending on the ratio of injuries to deaths, estimated at various times to be 1:2 or 1:3, this could point to a much higher casualty figure. Others have put the estimated at 75,000 a figure obtained by subtracting the number of people who emerged from the conflict zone (approximately 290,000) from the estimate of the number thought to have been in the conflict zone (approximately 330,000 in the NFZ from January, plus approximately the 35,000, who emerged from the LTTE held areas before that time).
135. The number calculated by the United Nations Country Team provides a starting point, but is likely to be too low, for several reasons. First, it only accounts for the causalities that were actually observed by the network of observers who were operational in LTTE controlled areas. Many casualties may not have been observed at all. Second, after the United Nations stopped counting on 13 May, the number of civilian casualties likely grew rapidly. Due to the intensity of the shelling, many civilians were left where they died and were never registered, brought to a hospital or even buried. This means that, in reality, the total number could easily be several times that of the United Nations figure.
136. It is worth noting that the United Nations raised casualty figures in private entreaties with the Government, but never publicized its specific estimates. Government officials strongly refuted the figure provided by the United Nations, stating that the numbers were fabricated and that this was not the business of the United Nations. Publicly the United Nations referred to the "heavy toll" of the fighting of civilians, or that the casualty figures were "unacceptably high", but that the actual figure were not verifiable. The decision not to provides specific figure made the issue of civilian casualties less newsworthy. However this position was maintained by senior United Nations officials until 13 March 2009, when the High Commissioner for Human Rights publicly stated that 2,800 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,000 injured since 20 January, many of them inside the NFZs.
Pressure from the Government of Sri Lanka and fears of losing access may have resulted in a general under-reporting of violations by United Nations agencies. Some have criticized the failure of the United Nations to present figures publicly as events were unfolding citing it as excessively cautious in comparison with other conflict situations.
137. In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.
149. Authenticated footage and numerous photographs indicate that certain LTTE cadre were executed after being taken into custody by the SLA. Photographs available to the Panel show many dead bodies of cadre (or possibly civilians), some with their hands tied behind their back. On 25 August 2009, the UK-based Channel 4 News released video footage, which showed the summary execution by Sri Lankan soldiers of several prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs. The prisoners in the footage are naked and blindfolded. They are kicked and forced to cower in the mud before being shot in the head at close range. The film shows several other prisoners who appear to have been killed earlier. A second film of the same scene, also released by Channel 4, on 2 December 2010, pans out over the landscape showing the bodies of other naked and executed prisoners, male and female. Among them are a young boy and a woman; the woman has been identified as the well-known LTTE media anchor known as "Isaipriya". Notably, Isaipriya is listed on the Defence Ministry website as killed on 18 May 2009 in a "hostile operation" by the 53rd Division. The extended video shows the faces of some of the soldiers and shows persons filming the scene with cell phones.
151. The Government has not provided a public registration of persons at screening sites or Omanthai, neither did it allow international organizations to monitor the process. This makes it difficult to trace persons. During hearings by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a number of women gave accounts of how their husbands or relatives were taken from them when they first entered the Government-controlled area and that they have not been seen since and to date, the Government has not confirmed their whereabouts.
(c) Rape and sexual vilolence
152. Rape and sexual violence against Tamil women during the final stages of the armed conflict and, in its aftermath, are greatly under-reported. Cultural sensitivities and associated stigma often prevented victims from reporting such crimes, even to their relatives. Nonetheless, there are many indirect accounts reported by women of sexual violence and rape by members of Government forces and their Tamil-surrogate forces, during and in the aftermath of the final phases of the armed conflict.
G. Other allegations
168. In addition to the credible allegations discussed above, the Panel has been presented with a number of other allegations, about which it was unable to reach a conclusion regarding their credibility. Due to their potentially serious nature, these allegations should also be investigated.
1. Allegations of the use of cluster munitions or white phosphorus
169. There are allegations that the SLA used cluster bomb munitions or white phosphorus or other chemical substances against civilians, particularly around PTK and in the second NFZ. Accounts refer to large explosions, followed by numerous smaller explosions consistent with the sound of a cluster bomb. Some wounds in the various hospitals are alleged to have been caused by cluster munitions or white phosphorus. The Government of Sri Lanka denies the use of these weapons and, instead, accuses the LTTE of using white phosphorous.
2. The "White Flag" incident
170. Various reports have alleged that the political leadership of the LTTE and their dependants were executed when they surrendered to the SLA. In the very final days of the war, the head of the LTTE political wing, Nadesan, and the head of the Tiger Peace Secretariat, Pulidevan, were in regular communication with various interlocutors to negotiate surrender. They were reportedly with a group of around 300 civilians. The LTTE political leadership was initially reluctant to agree to an unconditional surrender,but as the SLA closed in on the Group in their final hideout, Nadesan and Pulidevan, and possibly Colonel Ramesh, were prepared to surrender unconditionally. This intention was communicated to officials of the United Nations and of the Goverments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as to representatives of the ICRC and others. It was also conveyed through intermediaries to Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa, former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and senior officers in the SLA.
171. Both President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Basil Rajapksa provided assurances that their surrender would be accepted. These were conveyed by intermediaries to the LTTE leaders, who were advised to raise a white flag and walk slowly towards the army, following a particular route indicated by Basil Rajapaksa. Requests by the LTTE for a third party to be present at the point of surrender were not granted. Around 6.30 a.m on 18 May 2009, Nadesan and Pulidevan left their hide-out to walk towards the area held by the 58th Division, accompanied by a large group, including their families. Colonel Ramesh followed behind them, with another group. Shortly afterwards, the BBC and other television stations reported that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been shot dead. Subsequently, the Government gave several different accounts of the incident. While there is little information on the circumstances of their death, the Panel believes that the LTTE leadership intended to surrender.
IV. Legal Evaluation of Allegations
247. The Panel believes that the credible allegations and violations point to the commission of the following war crimes by persons acting on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka.
(a) Serious violations of Common Article 3, including violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, including rape; outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment and failure to collect and care for the wounded and sick;
(b) International attacks on civilians.
(c) Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks on civilians;
(d) Attacks on medical and humanitarian objects, including humanitarian convoys and Red Cross - designated facilities.
(e) Starvation of the population and denial of humanitarian relief; and
(f) Enforced disappearances.
248. The Panel believes that the credible allegations and violations point to the commission of the following war crimes by persons on behalf of the LTTE:
(a) Serious violations of Common Article 3, including violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment (including forced labour) and torture; and taking of hostages; and
(b) Forciblr recruitment of children.
V. Sri Lanka's Approach to Accountability
306. In the case of the LLRC, at least three of its members have serious conflicts of interest that both directly compromise their ability to function with independence and impartiality, and undermine public perception of them as independent. The Chair of the Commission was Attorney-General from April 2007 to December 2008 and, accordingly, exercised the functions of chief law officer for the Government in respect of many issues directly before the LLRC. In addition, his influence over a previous commission of inquiry (Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Investigate and inquire into Serious Violations of Human Rights which are alleged to have Arisen in Sri Lanka since 1st August 2005), which demonstrated a serious conflict of interest, constituted a major point of public criticism by the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), set up to oversee the work of that commission. A second member was Sri Lanka's Permanent Representative to the United Nations during the final stages of the armed conflict, representing and defending the Government's views on the evolving military and humanitarian situation. A third member was first the legal advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then advisor on international legal affairs to the Ministry, during the period under examination by the Commission.
|Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) shakes hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon before their meeting in Moscow on Friday. AFP
307. Whatever their other qualifications may be, individuals subject to such conflicts of interest are entirely inappropriate as members of a body expected to investigate impartially and contribute to accountability for alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during a period in which they served as high-level officials of the Government. From any perspective, it would be virtually impossible to expect them to be capable of independently assessing the performance of the Government, in which they held pivotal positions, or of the President, who personally appointed them...
The history of previous commissions of inquiry in Sri Lanka shows a pattern of non-disclosure of findings and recommendations, undermining public confidence in the process, dramatically reducing the practical impact of the work undertaken and possibilities for follow-up, and making it impossible to assess whether the work of that commission responded to its mandate....
354. The independence of the Attorney-General's Department has been challenged at particular points in the country's history. It has recently been further weakened, an issue of particular relevance if that office should assume investigations into senior members of the Government or military for the final stages of the war. Following the 2010 elections, a gazette notification setting our each ministry's functions and responsibilities removed both the Attorney-General's Department and the Legal Draftsman's Department, whose primary task is drafting new laws, from the Ministry of Justice where they had been previously located. As newly "unlisted" departments, these departments now fall under direct presidential control by virtue of Article 44 (2) of the Constitution, and are understood to be now organizationally located in the Presidential Secretariat.
371. In recent years, the Supreme Court, at the head of Sri Lanka's judicial systems, has become increasingly politicized, with an assertive Chief Justice at the helm, pursuing a course that emphasizes the power of the State and an all-encompassing notion of sovereignty that overrides international obligations. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found a number of Supreme Court decisions to be in breach of Sri Lanka's obligations under the ICCPR, suggesting a shift away from earlier receptively to international legal standards. The dismissal process for judges, the Judicial Services Commission, chaired by Chief Justice, has alao been found to operate in breach of international law. Lastly, the recent enactment of the 18th Amendment has further weakened the independence of the senior judiciary, with the President acquiring broad powers to make direct appointments of senior judges following minimal consultation with a parliamentary committee.
373. In terms of past practice for this remedy, a recent study of 52 Supreme Court fundamental rights judgments between 2000 and 2006 on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment has shown judicial response to be troublingly inconsistent. Strong decisions in favour of the victim, awarding high levels of compensation and unequivocally condemning police abuse, represent a relatively small number of judgments....
396. International law as well as its domestic law requires Sri Lanka to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, including those described in this report. The experiences of other countries, including other instances where an insurgency was militarily defeated, provide important comparative guides for how effective transitional justice mechanisms can be shaped to achieve accountability in terms of truth, justice and reparations in a context such as Sri Lanka.
VI. Further Obstacles to Accountability
400. Fear and silence are the enemies of accountability. It is exceedingly difficult for a nation to deal with grave human rights violations of the past and more so if violations continue into the present. A process to achieve accountability needs independent institutions and an environment that permits an open discussion of what happened and of the grievances that led to and fed the armed conflict. Nowhere has it been easy to move from open belligerence to a frank dialogue among citizens with deeply divergent views. But that is what is required. The Panel observes with concern that there are a number of contemporary issues in Sri Lanka, which left unaddressed, will not only continue to impede accountability measures, but will also undermine possibilities for reconciliation and sustainable peace. This section outlines briefly some of these concerns.
A. Triumphalism and denial
401. The defeat of the LTTE by military means following almost thirty years of armed conflict understandably engendered a sense of relief in the Government and among many citizens of Sri Lanka, including Tamils who suffered due to LTTE's destructive strategies and members of other communities. However, the Government has used its military success to create a discourse of triumphalism, which celebrates its claim to having developed the means and will to defeat "terrorism". It is a discourse couched in terms of Sinhala majoritarianism that presents the defeat of the LTTE as the defeat of all Tamil legitimate political aspirations.
403. This report makes clear that the Panel's view of the events leading up to the defeat of the LTTE and in the immediate aftermath is fundamentally different from that of the Government. By denying that tens of thousands of lives were lost in the Vanni, the Government sends the message that the lives of those Sri Lankans killed there, mostly Tamils, were of no value to the society. By denying that its military operations resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths, and intimidating and threatening those who challenge that view, the Government is effectively closing off the opportunity to open a serious, national dialogue on the recent past and the needs of the future. While recognizing that extremism and triumphalism are potent constraints, it is clear to the Panel that, in the future, Sri Lankans need to dismantle these barriers and begin a candid examination of the past.
412. Finally, the restoration of a thriving civil society is key to Sri Lanka's transition and the effectiveness of an accountability process. Policies such as placing the registration of NGOs under the auspices of the Ministry of Defence are inappropriate. Further, it is disturbing to read reports of human rights organizations being investigated by the CID. Pressures on human rights defenders are also of concern; they should have unrestricted freedom of movement throughout the country to be able to monitor and report on human rights issues.
D. Media restrictions
413. A free press is a vital component of a society that respects human rights and is among the conditions required for sustainable peace. While Sri Lanka has a proud journalistic tradition, press freedom was circumscribed during the conflict, especially in the latter stages. While independent media continue to operate, they still face restrictions and intimidation. Many journalists who fled the country during the war because of violence and threats are still fearful and believe that it is not safe to return. Within the country, there is very limited tolerance of views critical of the Government or sympathetic to Tamil grievances.
E.The Tamil diaspora
417. It is to be expected that the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, large parts of which provided vital moral and material support to the LTTE over decades, continues to harbour grievances about the plight of Tamils and to protest the actions of the Government during the last stages of the conflict. However, significant elements of the disaspora create a further obstacle to sustainable peace when they fail to acknowledge rights violations committed by the LTTE and its role in the humanitarian disaster in the Vanni.
419. The LTTE engaged in mafia style tactics abroad, especially among expatriate Tamil communities, to generate funds for their cause. Significant parts of the Tamil diaspora, who were supportive of the LTTE, played an instrumental role in fuelling the conflict in this way. It is reported that former front organizations for the LTTE continue to operate through private business and to control some of the temple incomes. Activities of these organizations should be monitored. In addition, funds acquired by the LTTE from the diaspora and elsewhere, and which still exist, should be secured for the purpose of making reparations to those in the Sri Lankan Tamil community who were victims in the conflict.
420. Memories of the Tamil diaspora, through their unconditional support of the LTTE and their extreme Tamil nationalism, have effectively promoted divisions within the Sri Lankan Tamil community and, ironically, reinforced Sinhalese nationalism. A stable future in Sri Lanka demands that of all of its ethnic communities, including those living abroad, recognize and respect the rights and interests of others with whom they share a common home land. The diasporas, which is large, well educated and has considerable resources, has the potential to play a far more constructive role in Sri Lanka 's future.