Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war ended in a bloodbath in May 2009. Government forces decisively defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam at the cost of tens of thousands of civilian lives. According to credible allegations, the Sri Lankan military intentionally shelled hospitals as well as areas it had designated safe “No Fire Zones.” Further evidence supports claims of torture, sexual assault, and the extrajudicial execution of combatants. Yet 11 years after these atrocities, no justice has been served. Despite sustained demands from the Tamil community, Sri Lanka’s leaders have steadfastly refused to investigate these grisly events or prosecute their perpetrators.
“We will not betray you to the world,” then President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised Sri Lanka’s armed forces in 2011. True to his word, he spent the rest of his presidential term openly flouting international pressure for justice. Western officials celebrated in 2015 when a shock electoral result ousted Rajapaksa, hoping that a change in leadership would encourage the country to reckon with the crimes at the end of the civil war. It didn’t. Although the new government—led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe—promised the UN Human Rights Council that it would pursue truth and justice for mass atrocities, vet the security sector, and pass a number of legal reforms, ultimately it did almost none of this.