In 2009, during the final months of the decades-long struggle against the Tamil Tigers, it was alleged that the Sri Lankan forces killed as many as 40,000 civilians. The Tamil Tigers were a particularly brutal terrorist group that pioneered many techniques of inflicting indiscriminate violence and apparently tried to use large civilian populations as human shields during their final few months as the army closed in.
The Sri Lankans have never allowed a proper investigation of what went on as they wiped out the Tamil Tigers, apparently killing the human shields at the same time. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called on the Sri Lankan government to allow international forensic experts to resolve responsibility for the outstanding wartime crimes.
This demand would be sensitive for the Sri Lankans at any time since many of their senior officers would have been aware of or been part of the alleged actions. However, it is even more sensitive because the increasingly authoritarian government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has just dismissed chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake in a move that Pillay has said could jeopardise efforts to prosecute war crimes.
In the heat of the action, some killings may be forgiven. But the systematic murder of tens of thousands of people needs to be investigated. Sri Lanka faces increasing suspicion that its democratic structures are being weakened by its president and its refusal to allow the 40,000 deaths to be investigated is wrong and it also increases that suspicion.