Populations at Risk Previously Studied Situations

Sri Lanka

From January through May 2009, the government of Sri Lanka intensified efforts to militarily eliminate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelaam (LTTE) who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1983.
As hostilities escalated in Sri Lanka's northeast, civilians in the conflict zone, trapped between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government's armed forces, were at daily risk of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by both sides. The LTTE placed armed fighters amongst civilians, shot at those who tried to flee, and relied on forced conscription. The armed forces used heavy artillery and aerial bombardment in densely populated areas with reckless disregard for human suffering. The civilian death toll is estimated at 40,000 people.

During the period of January through May 2009, both parties violated international humanitarian and human rights law. Through its conduct during the hostilities the Sri Lankan government manifestly failed to in its Responsibility to Protect. UN member states also failed to uphold the commitment they made at the 2005 World Summit to take action in a timely and decisive manner to prevent atrocities and protect civilians. Many states argued that R2P did not apply to the situation in Sri Lanka. Instead, in the face of evidence of imminent and occurring mass atrocities, key states — including members of the UN Security Council — argued that the situation was an internal matter.

As a result the Security Council never put Sri Lanka on its formal agenda. The LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka never heeded the calls made by the UN or member states to respect international humanitarian and human rights law, or the Responsibility to Protect. Since 2009, calls for accountability remain unanswered.

Last Updated: 1 January 2013