22 May 2009
The armed conflict in Sri Lanka appears to have come to an end but a humanitarian crisis continues to unfold in the country. Amnesty International welcomed the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Council to hold a special session on Tuesday to address the plight of more than a quarter of a million civilians—including some 80,000 children–now held in difficult conditions in de facto internment camps. “For the sake of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Sri Lanka, the Council should ensure that the Sri Lankan government takes immediate and concrete steps to address this crisis, beginning with providing immediate, unhindered access to international aid workers and monitors,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.
Most of these civilians suffered seriously under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who used them as human shields and as a source for forced recruitment (including of children) and involuntary labour.
The civilians who survived weeks under heavy combat reached the camps sometimes badly injured, malnourished, exhausted and traumatised.
The displaced civilians are suffering from widespread and serious human rights violations at the hands of government security forces and allied paramilitary forces, including enforced disappearance; extra-judicial executions; torture and other ill-treratment, and forced recruitment to paramilitary groups.
These concerns are aggravated by the fact that the Sri Lankan government has severely curtailed access to the camps by international humanitarian agencies, including from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Amnesty International has called on the Human Rights Council to demand that the Government of Sri Lanka immediately provide the UN and the ICRC full access to critical locations, notably at displaced peoples registration and screening points, all places of detention and camps for the displaced.
The Sri Lankan government should also provide international observers (aid workers, journalists and NGOs like Amnesty International) with free access to all relevant parts of the country to monitor the situation and provide a safeguard against human rights violations.
Amnesty International has also called on the Council to set up an international commission of inquiry into allegations of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the recent conflict, with a view to establishing the facts and making recommendations on how best to ensure accountability for abuses.
“The Council should note that the human rights issues in Sri Lanka are older, broader and more pervasive than those related to the current humanitarian crisis situation,” said Sam Zarifi. “The current catastrophe exists against a backdrop of pervasive human rights violations, weak institutional mechanisms to protect human rights, and a culture of impunity for perpetrators that has continued for years.”