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SAPA Statement: "Protect the Human Rights of Sri Lankan Civilians Now!"

7 March 2009

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03 March 2009

(Bangkok) Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacy (SAPA) Working Group on South Asia (WG SA), a coalition of Asian civil society groups and networks, express grave concern at the escalation of violence in northern Sri Lanka which has led to the country’s current human rights and humanitarian crisis. SAPA WG SA condemns the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) for their targeting of civilians and negligence of international humanitarian law.

In the region of Vanni, an estimated 350,000 Tamil civilians are trapped as a result of the ongoing conflict between Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) and the LTTE. The estimated figure of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) stands at over 300,000, with the intensifying conflict in the region. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), “people are caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded”.1

The LTTE has prevented civilians under its control from fleeing to government held areas, with the rebel group forcing civilians deeper in to the territory that they control including the local staff members of the UN and international humanitarian organizations. Restricting the movement of IDPs as well as forcing their movement against their will is a violation of their human rights.

“Safe zones” which are declared for displaced families, as well as a hospital and village, have been shelled by the Sri Lankan military according to reports. There have been individual reports of acts of violence and human rights abuses within the camps. Rather than providing a safe haven for the civilians, these “safe zones” are adding further misery to the plight of the civilian population.2 Displaced persons who move to government controlled areas live under conditions akin to concentration camps. In addition, the government has appropriated medical and food distribution as a weapon with which they force displaced people into government controlled areas.

There is also the deeper issue of impunity, which has been allowed to go on throughout Sri Lanka. The fear of reprisals against victims and witnesses, together with lack of effective investigations and prosecutions, has led to a circle of impunity that must be broken, with disturbing reports of torture, extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances throughout the country.34

SAPA WG SA demands the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to re-establish a ceasefire immediately and create independently monitored safe zones for civilians. All civilians must be protected under international humanitarian law without any compromise, and so all humanitarian personnel must be given safe and unrestricted access to the affected areas in order to distribute medical and food items. The Sri Lankan government should take urgent step to meet the genuine aspirations and demands of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

8 March 2009 marks the 1-year anniversary of the politically motivated detainment of J. S.Tissainayagam, a journalist who wrote about the situation in the eastern parts of Sri Lanka. He is being held without charge in the Terrorist Investigation Division detention center in Colombo for criticizing the government. SAPA WG SA demands the immediate and unconditional release of Tissainayagam. The government of Sri Lanka has systematically suppressed all forms of media freedom and freedom of expression not only through censorship but also through killing, detaining and disappearing prominent journalists who express dissent. This date also marks the second month anniversary of the assassination of the prominent journalist Lasantha Wickramathunga who wrote extensively about the civil war and human rights violations.

SAPA WG SA calls upon human rights groups and the people of Asia to stand in solidarity with brothers and sisters of Sri Lanka who are the tragic by-standers of a long and vicious fight and continue to be targeted on a daily basis. A peace vigil will be held at every Embassy and Consulate of Sri Lanka in prominent Asian cities on Monday 9 March 2009 in remembrance of those human rights defenders, journalists and aid workers who have been targeted and continue to be targeted for protecting the human rights and dignity of Sri Lankan civilians.

Contact Persons:

SAPA WG SA Co-convener:

Bijaya Gautam,
- Executive Director, Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC)
- Nepal
- SAPA WG SA Co-convener:

Syed Saiful Haque,
- Warbe Development Foundation (WARBE DF)
- Bangladesh

FORUM-ASIA Secretariat:

Saji Thomas,
- South Asia Programme Manager (FORUM-ASIA)
- Thailand