Sri Lanka Establishes Commission of Inquiry into Civilian Killings Even as Violence Continues

Following the collapse of peace talks in Geneva at the end of October, clashes between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers have resumed. At least 45 civilians were killed in the east when army shells hit a camp for people displaced by the fighting. Independent monitors confirm many people were killed or injured. According to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, more than 3,000 civilians have been killed in violence since the beginning of 2006. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry to investigate the killings of hundreds of civilians by both sides. Initially, the commission is to look into cases that have occurred since August 2005, including the massacre of 17 NGO aid workers, the killing of 68 bus passengers in a landmine attack, and the assassination of foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The commission will be made up of prominent Sri Lankans and be supervised by an international panel, whose members are to be nominated by Australia, Britain, Canada, the European Union, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour welcomed the decision, but pointed to the absence of any legal tradition in the country of establishing command responsibility for human rights violations. She also stressed the need for a broader international mechanism to monitor and prevent human rights violations.