Sri Lanka: Call for humanitarian truce - Thousands of civilians under attack

Tens of thousands of people, trapped in ‘safe zones’ in the north eastern Wanni region of Sri Lanka are at increased risk from an escalation in attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, said Amnesty International.

As the fighting intensifies and the number of casualties increases, Amnesty International called for an immediate humanitarian truce to allow aid to reach trapped civilians and to ensure safe passage for all those wishing to leave.

The organisation also called on the United Nations and international donors to put pressure on Sri Lanka to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to camps for the displaced people in the region.

Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Programme Director, Sam Zarifi said:

“The deliberate firing on civilians by either side constitutes a war crime.

“We cannot stress enough the importance of an immediate pause to allow the displaced to leave before thousands more are killed. The UN and international donors must put pressure on both parties to end this major humanitarian catastrophe.”

Amnesty has received credible and consistent reports that the LTTE has forcibly displaced civilians and pushed them into areas under their control in the Wanni, where they are effectively held hostage and used as a buffer against the Sri Lankan armed forces – a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.

Most independent observers estimate there are between 150,000 and 200,000 civilians trapped by heavy fighting. The LTTE is also reported to have deliberately attacked civilians who have tried to escape from areas under their control.

The Sri Lankan government has intensified the suffering of the displaced people by cutting off international humanitarian assistance to a region where there are no longer any functioning hospitals.

Those people that risk their lives and flee face further ordeals when they enter government-controlled areas.

Amnesty International has received information that the government is using the screening process at checkpoints and in transitional “welfare villages” to discriminate against large groups of ethnic Tamils and to detain families for indefinite periods of time.

Reports show that the ‘welfare villages’ established by the authorities are overcrowded and have inadequate facilities. In camps in Vavuniya and Jaffna the displaced are held in de facto detention. There is also a continued military presence inside the camps, putting civilians at further risk.

Sam Zarifi continued:

“The Sri Lankan government’s attitude so far has been to seek international assistance while rejecting international standards or scrutiny.

“The United Nations and donor government must ensure Sri Lanka acts on its obligations and ends the discrimination and suffering of displaced people.”

To address the human rights crisis in the Wanni region, Amnesty International is calling on:
· The Tamil Tigers to allow all civilians to leave the conflict area, and to urge any parties that can exercise influence over the Tamil Tigers to do so
· The Sri Lankan government to ensure that civilians trapped in the conflict area receive sufficient humanitarian assistance, while those civilians who seek to leave have safe passage out of the conflict zone
· The Sri Lankan government to ensure that displaced people receive adequate shelter and assistance, and are allowed to resettle quickly and voluntarily, in conformity with international standards
· Sri Lanka’s international donors, including the UN, ensure that the assistance they provide is only used when international human rights law and standards are met, and cannot be used to support abusive government policies.

Notes to the Editor

Amnesty International has a briefing paper that documents the current human rights crisis in Sri Lanka. To request a copy, please contact the UK press office.

ENDS

Amnesty International UK media unit
Eulette Ewart, 020 7033 1552, eulette.ewart@amnesty.org.uk
Sarah Green, 020 7033 1549, sarah.green@amnesty.org.uk
Out of office hours: 07721 398 984

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