Sri Lanka war probe lost in translation, say activists

Updated 02 October 2014

Sri Lanka war probe lost in translation, say activists

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s domestic probe into the disappearance of thousands of civilians during and after the island’s ethnic war is being undermined by serious translation errors, a group of activists said Thursday.
Testimony before the presidential Commission of Inquiry was marred by glaring mistakes in translating questions from English-speaking investigators to ethnic Tamil witnesses, the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said.
Sittings this week have been affected by errors that could undermine the quality of testimony before the commission, the CPA said, adding that witnesses were photographed by men said to be military intelligence officers.
When one witness was asked in English whether he knew where shells were fired from during fighting, the question was translated into Tamil as: “Can you tell us the camps you were at?” the CPA said.
The CPA, a private advocacy group, said that it had monitored public sittings of the commission from Sept. 27 to 30 and wanted the authorities to address their concerns.
“Lack of genuine steps at this juncture will severely undermine efforts to arrive at truth, justice, accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka,” the CPA said in a statement.
Sri Lanka widened the scope of the commission in July to probe war crimes by both the military as well as the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels. The move was in the wake of international pressure for accountability and the UN setting up an international team to probe Sri Lanka’s war record.
The COI is the latest probe initiated by Colombo after several of its own previous inquiries were widely condemned as whitewashes.
Set up in August last year, it has received over 19,470 complaints of missing people, but has so far only heard oral evidence in respect of 939 cases, according to its website.
About 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians are said to have been killed by government forces in the final months of fighting, a charge Colombo has long denied.
The 1972-2009 conflict claimed 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.


UN rights chief ‘troubled’ by new Sri Lanka army chief

Updated 32 min 13 sec ago

UN rights chief ‘troubled’ by new Sri Lanka army chief

  • Shavendra Silva, 55, was promoted by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army
  • A UN report said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.

GENEVA: UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday she is “deeply troubled” by Sri Lanka’s appointment of an accused war criminal as army chief, as global concern mounts over the nomination.
Major General Shavendra Silva, 55, was elevated to the army’s second-highest position of chief of staff in January before his latest promotion by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army.
“The promotion of Lt. General General Silva severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Silva, who commanded an army division in the long-running civil war with Tamil separatists, has been accused by the United Nations of war crimes during the conflict’s final stages.
“I am deeply troubled by the appointment ... despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” Bachelet said.
The US embassy in Colombo, along with civil society groups, have also criticized the appointment as a move likely to undermine reconciliation efforts.
Sri Lanka’s armed forces crushed the separatist rebels in 2009 in a no-holds barred offensive that ended a 37-year war which killed 100,000 people.
There were mass atrocities against civilians in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north toward the end of the conflict, with rights groups saying some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by government forces.
A UN report said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.