Sri Lanka: Government and Tamil Tigers must open humanitarian corridors to let civilians out

Both sides denying civilians freedom of movement

Amnesty International is calling on the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers to immediately declare a temporary humanitarian truce and create humanitarian corridors.

This would allow more than a quarter of a million civilians trapped in the Wanni region to escape the ongoing war and also let food, water and medical assistance reach those who cannot leave the area.

Amnesty International is also demanding that the Sri Lankan government ensure that displaced people who have fled the conflict zone to transit centres are not subjected to restrictions on their movement or other human rights violations.

The Sri Lankan government is holding civilians who have fled Tamil Tiger held areas in so-called ‘welfare villages’ from where they are not permitted to leave to go to work, go to school or access healthcare unless at least one family member is left behind. This violates the international prohibition on hostage taking.

The ICRC and the UNHCR have also been denied meaningful access to these holding centres and Amnesty has received worrying reports that government forces are screening civilians who have fled the Tamil Tiger-held areas and detained several people in police custody. Amnesty believes that these people are vulnerable to serious human rights abuse given the history of disappearances and executions in government-held areas.

Amnesty International is also very concerned for the safety of civilians who remain in Tamil Tiger-held areas. The Tamil Tigers have prevented civilians from leaving the conflict zone by instituting a pass system to restrict freedom of movement. They have also forcibly recruited civilians, including Children's rights, to build bunkers and serve as troops.

Amnesty International Sri Lanka Researcher Yolanda Foster said:

“The situation for civilians in the Wanni is unacceptable. People cannot move safely, even to collect the bodies of dead relatives, and the injured have no hospitals.

“A quarter of a million people are suffering without adequate food and shelter while shells rain down on them.

"The most important issue right now is to focus on immediate unimpeded humanitarian assistance for those families trapped between the conflicting parties. The government wants international assistance but not international standards.”

The last shipment of food to reach the civilian population, which is totally dependent on outside aid, went in more than a week ago (29 January). Community based organisations fear that thousands of civilians are in critical danger in a rapidly deteriorating situation as the Sri Lankan armed forces attempt to regain all territory from the Tamil Tigers.

Amnesty International urges the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers to immediately:

* Declare a temporary truce in the fighting to allow for the evacuation of civilians along humanitarian corridors and the bringing in of humanitarian aid to those remaining;

* Ensure civilians in the conflict zone are given adequate information about the location of aid corridors and can reach those corridors in safety;

* Allow aid agencies to carry out their relief responsibilities; and allow international monitors full access to the area so that they can monitor the human rights situation and observe the implementation of the truce;

* Ensure that reception arrangements for displaced people fleeing the combat zone meet international standards;

* Ensure displaced people housed in transit centres in government-held areas have freedom of movement and are accessible to independent humanitarian aid and observers;

* Allow an interagency assessment team from the United Nations to investigate conditions on the ground; and permit the deployment of human rights monitors in the areas affected by the fighting.

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