Suspected war criminal becomes Chief of Sri Lankan army

A major setback regarding reconciliation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils (Press Release)

The former parliament building of Sri Lanka in Colombo. Picture: Rathnayake via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

According to the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), the appointment of a war criminal as Chief of the Sri Lankan army is a serious setback regarding reconciliation between the hostile population groups. On Monday, Lieutenant-General Shavrendra Silva was appointed Supreme Commander of the armed forces, despite the fact that United Nations human rights experts are accusing him of serious war crimes. "Silva's appointment is a mockery of the many victims of the civil war in Sri Lanka, which – ten years after it ended – still has significant impact on the country. It is necessary to put an end to impunity, or there will be no lasting peace in Sri Lanka," stated Ulrich Delius, the STP's director, in Göttingen on Tuesday – emphasizing that the decision was a wrong signal at the wrong time, as it will only stir up new tensions and more mistrust between the Tamils ??and the Sinhalese.

The former commander of Sri Lanka's 58th Division of the Armed Forces is accused of being responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and for war crimes, especially in the final phase of the civil war (1983-2009). Thousands of people are said to have fallen victim to these crimes. His division had attacked hospitals with rockets, ignored designated civilian protection zones, and arbitrarily killed civilians. He is also accused of torture, as well as of the unlawful shooting of members of the insurgent "Tamil Tigers" after they had surrendered to the regular army. "This army chief belongs to the International Criminal Court – not in a leadership position in a state that claims to be overcoming the dramatic consequences of decades of civil war," Delius stated.

The controversial appointment is likely to damage the international reputation of the country in the long term, as it shows that – in the run-up to the presidential elections in December 2019 – Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-backed political leadership is not interested in making peace with the Tamils. The appointment was met with harsh criticism by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and by the US government. As a result of according UN regulations, Sri Lanka's soldiers can no longer to be recruited for new UN peacekeeping operations.

Header image: Kesara Rathnayake via Flickr