Washington Babylon — October 23, 2009, 12:49 pm

Sri Lanka, Lobbyists and War Crimes

In May, I wrote about how beltway lobbyists, led by Patton Boggs were cashing in big time on the war in Sri Lanka. The lobbying firm, I noted, was being paid $35,000 per month by that country’s government to, at least in part, sanitize its role in the violence. “It’s hard to know who bears more responsibility for the bloodshed in Sri Lanka, the government or the Tamil Tigers, but it’s clear that huge numbers of civilians are being killed in the crossfire,” I wrote.

This prompted an angry reply from the embassy of Sri Lanka, which basically said that reports of government atrocities were exaggerated by doctors who were either under the influence of or biased towards the Tigers. It will be interesting to see how the embassy and Patton Boggs spin the release of a new U.S. report:

The State Department’s top war crimes official called on Sri Lanka on Thursday to conduct a “genuine” investigation into allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan troops and Tamil rebels during the bloody final months of the country’s 25-year-long civil war. The appeal by Stephen Rapp, the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues, came hours after his office presented Congress with a detailed account of alleged atrocities during the conflict that suggests both sides may have violated international law and committed crimes against humanity.

The report listed numerous allegations against the Tigers, including that they “forcibly recruited children as young as 11 to fight, killing relatives who objected, and “regularly fired on civilians attempting to flee the war zone.” But it also cited numerous allegations against government forces, such as “government shelling of civilian populations, hospitals, churches and schools in rebel-controlled territory, often in areas designated by authorities as no-fire zones. The U.S. Embassy reported several cases in which large numbers of civilians were reportedly killed in shelling,” including nine in the bombardment of a hospital.

Who will the government and the country’s lobbyists blame now that the doctors can no longer serve as scapegoats? According to the Washington Post, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry has already released a statement “saying that the allegations contained in the report ‘appear to be unsubstantiated and devoid of corroborative evidence.’ It said that Sri Lankan security forces had been ‘engaged in a humanitarian mission’ aimed at freeing captive civilians from the ‘clutches’ of the separatist group.”

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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