Colombo [Sri Lanka]: President Maithripala Sirisena has named a general accused of grave human rights abuses in Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war as the country’s new army chief, an appointment sharply criticised as “deeply troubling” by the United Nations.
Major General Shavendra Silva, who on Monday was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general, was in charge of a Sri Lankan Army division that encircled the final stronghold of the Tamil Tiger rebels or the LTTE in the final stages of the war in 2009, Al Jazeera reported.
Silva’s 58th division has been accused of violating international human rights laws, including shelling a hospital. The Army chief, 55, has however denied such accusations.
“I am deeply troubled by the appointment of Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva as Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Michelle Bachelet said in a statement on Monday.
The United Nations has estimated that some 45,000 ethnic Tamil civilians might have been killed in the last months of the war, while other estimates put the number much higher.
In addition, the International Truth and Justice Project, a group seeking accountability for wartime abuses, said Silva’s appointment was “immensely damaging to the country”.
“After so much bloodshed Sri Lankans need to hold their leaders accountable in order to stop the repeated cycles of violence,” said Yasmin Sooka, executive director of the Project.
“Silva’s promotion, however, sends a message of total impunity,” Sooka added.
The group also noted that Silva’s appointment was made months before presidential elections are scheduled to take place in December.