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Sri Lanka: Government and Tamil Tigers must heed demands from UN security council

The Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must immediately heed demands by the United Nations Security Council and similar calls made by US President Barack Obama and allow tens of thousands of civilians to leave the ‘No Fire Zone’, Amnesty International said today.

US President Barack Obama warned that “without urgent action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe”. He condemned the LTTE’s use of civilians as ‘human shields’ and urged the Sri Lankan government to stop the ‘indiscriminate shelling’ in the area and asked for access by humanitarian agencies to the civilians who are trapped between the warring parties and those displaced people within Sri Lanka so that they can receive additional support needed

Amnesty International welcomed the Security Council’s statement as a first step in addressing the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Sri Lanka but called for an end to the use of heavy calibre weapons and for the UN, the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian organisations to be allowed immediate access to the 50,000 civilians, or more, trapped in the ‘No Fire Zone’ on the island’s north east coast.

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

“The Security Council must now ensure that its demands are promptly implemented, that the situation in Sri Lanka is formally put on the Council’s agenda and kept under close review.

“It also needs to address accountability for the grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law by both parties in future.”

Amnesty International welcomed separate statements from the Security Council and President Obama condemning the LTTE for its use of civilians as human shields and calling on the government to take urgent action to ensure the safety of civilians. The Security Council told the Sri Lankan government to fulfil its commitment not to use heavy calibre weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians - a promise it has broken in recent weeks - causing the death of many civilians.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Irene Khan, wrote on 12 May to the Security Council calling for immediate action to address the appalling situation in the ‘No Fire Zone’. She expressed grave concern about the large numbers of civilians being killed, including many Children's rights, and warned of growing evidence that the government and the LTTE are committing serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Amnesty International also urged the Security Council to stress individual responsibility for crimes under international law and to ensure the creation of a commission of inquiry, as a first step towards establishing accountability for alleged breaches of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Amnesty International called on the UN Security Council to ensure that attacks on civilians by the Sri Lankan army or the LTTE be stopped; that the LTTE allow all civilians to leave the conflict area; and that the Sri Lankan government stop using heavy artillery in a very densely populated area and provide immediate access to international monitors and humanitarian agencies.

Amnesty has repeatedly condemned both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military for serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. The LTTE have forcibly trapped civilians in the conflict zone as human shields against government forces. The Sri Lankan military has in the past used heavy artillery, which is indiscriminate under the circumstances, causing civilian deaths and injuries.

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