The new draft of the counter terrorism policy in Sri Lanka further demonstrates the government’s willingness to disregard the civil liberties of its people. This, unfortunately, casts further doubt on the new administration’s ability to formulate a credible strategy for transitional justice.
Any strategy will also have to address the fresh evidence of the use of cluster munitions in 2009.
On 20 June 2016, the Guardian published fresh evidence on the use of cluster munitions during the civil war. Together Against Genocide (TAG) was the first to obtain photographs of used cluster munitions components, some of which we supplied to the Guardian.
This evidence builds upon the testimony of survivors from the former conflict zones in Sri Lanka. The report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) mentions their evidence at paragraph 751, 807 and 850.
De-mining agencies are required to submit their reports to the National Mine Action Centre; a Government department which until 2014 was supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
On 26 April 2012, Associated Press obtained an email written by Allan Poston, the UNDP’s technical adviser to the National Mine Action Centre. It said that unexploded cluster bomblets were discovered in the Puthukudiyiruppu area of northern Sri Lanka.
The BBC reported that military spokesman, Brig. Ruwan Wanigasuriya, responded saying that armed forces had "not used any bombs that fall into the category of cluster munitions".
The September 2015 UN HRC Resolution, Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, makes no mention of cluster munitions. The resolutions co-sponsors include Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
Sri Lanka and the United States are not signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which came into force on 1 August 2010. The treaty has been signed by 119 countries, and ratified by 100.
Countries that are not signatories are still bound by the customary prohibition on the use of indiscriminate weapons, specifically that:
An indiscriminate weapon is a weapon that cannot be directed at a military objective or whose effects cannot be limited, and the use of such inherently’ indiscriminate weapon is prohibited.
26 June 2016: Sri Lankan minister denies the allegation.
Health minister Rajitha Senaratne: “How do you know that the sites, as shown in the pictures, are in Sri Lanka? … How do you say that these bombs belong to the Sri Lanka army? What is the basis? … There could have been cluster bombs… How do you say whether they are from the army or the LTTE forces?”
28 June 2016: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for a probe into the allegations.
HC Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: “In light of recent reports on new evidence that has emerged on the use of cluster munitions towards the end of the conflict, following similar allegations in the OHCHR investigation report, the High Commissioner calls for an independent and impartial investigation to be carried out.”
4 July 2016: Chairman of the Missing Persons Commission says it is not illegal to use cluster bombs before 2010 and that none were used by the Government of Sri Lanka.
Maxwell Paranagama: “Therefore, if there had been a need for the Sri Lankan Army to use cluster munitions because of military necessity, it was not illegal at the time.
…The Paranagama Commission in dealing with its Second Mandate Report fully examined the available evidence and came to the conclusion that there was no credible evidence to suggest that the Sri Lankan Army used weapons of this kind. These, in military terms, are known as area weapons”.
8 July 2016: The Foreign Minister says he is prepared to investigate if cluster bombs were used.
In responding to questions by a journalist, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said he was disappointed that a person in the calibre of Maxwell Paranagama made such a statement and added that such a statement will not help the reconciliation process.
TAG Director Jan Jananayagam said:
“Foreign Minister Managala Samaraweera’s willingness to investigate the use of cluster bombs in Sri Lanka is a welcome step in the process of transitional justice.
“In the interest of transparency can Mr Samaraweera release the details of the cluster munitions that has been reported into him via the National Mine Action Centre?
“For genuine reconciliation it is critical that any investigation into the use of cluster munitions includes international participants and forensic experts who can act independently to the Government of Sri Lanka.