Report highlights UN failure in screening Sri Lankans for peacekeeping

The United Nations has come under criticism for allowing troops including a frontline commando from an elite police unit in Sri Lanka, alleged to have been involved in serious human rights violations, to be deployed among vulnerable communities.

Releasing their latest report “Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force” the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) says that it has credible evidence that this senior policeman serving as a UN peacekeeper had been involved in serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings.

The ITJP has prepared a confidential list of more than fifty names of Sri Lankan paramilitary police from the Special Task Force (STF), who should be barred from serving in UN peacekeeping missions.

Individuals named are either alleged perpetrators or were involved in frontline combat in the final stages of the war when the UN says system crimes were committed by security force units, including the STF.

ITJP says that the list is being shared with the UN Department of Peacekeeping (DPKO) and Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.

“One STF officer who appears currently to be observing in a UN peacekeeping mission in Africa is alleged to have ordered summary executions of Tamils in the East of Sri Lanka in 2006 - 7,” said ITJP’s Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka. “This shows the UN is still clearly failing in its obligation when it comes to the vetting of Sri Lankans for peacekeeping.”

Lt. Col. Wasantha Hewage

In February, the United Nations was alerted to stop a Sri Lankan military commander from going for a peacekeeping mission in the middle east.

Up until several rights watchdogs and Tamil organisations wrote to the head of UN peacekeeping urging to stop Lieutenant Colonel Rathnappuli Wasantha Kumara Hewage, he was scheduled for deployment to Lebanon on 18 February 2018.

Later, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has complained that troops were deployed to Lebanon without their clearance, in violation of an agreement reached in 2016 that would see the Commission vet all Sri Lankan peacekeepers for their human rights record.

However, there has been no transparency about what has happened subsequently to Lt. Col. Hewage’s bid to become a peacekeeper, says ITJP.

Insider witness

Their latest report released in London is the first to be based primarily on insider witnesses, which include several former Sinhala STF officers and Tamil paramilitaries.

One Sinhalese man had described his work in an STF “white van” abduction team in Colombo as “like a horror film”. Another interrogator active during the final years of the civil war in Colombo had said of his victims: “We would garrotte, strangle, stab or beat them to death”.

Witnesses speaking to ITJP had described the detention in STF camps of suspects who were then killed: “We tied their hands behind their backs, gagged them and covered their faces. There were villages around, so we had to gag them in order for them not to make loud sounds, crying for help… Once a suspect had been taken to an STF camp, they never got released, they would always be killed.”

Earlier, JDS released a joint report with ITJP, “Sri Lanka’s UN Peacekeepers: Let the Punishment Fit the Crime” that highlighted the lack of criminal accountability for more than 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers sent home in 2007 in connection with allegations of systematic child sexual exploitation in Haiti.

The ITJP calls for a better vetting system to “do no harm” to the troop receiving countries whose vulnerable civilians deserve to be protected from sexual predators and alleged war criminals.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.