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Sri Lanka: Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council - Urgent Appeal to Indian Govt. and members of Parliament

by Henri Tiphagne, 24 May 2009

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May 24, 2009

Dear Colleagues and Fellow Women and Men Human Rights Defenders,

I am sending you attached below a very urgent appeal that is to call upon the Government of India as well as all political parties within the country and their newly elected Members of Parliament to take a position during the upcoming Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council that is to be held in early next week on 26th May, 2009. Many of you were party to the world wide appeal that was sent by Forum Asia as a result of which this appeal for a Special Session was finalized and is to be soon convened.

The appeal specifically requests the Government of India to stand independently and raise the issue that will bolster its image in the world wide community rather than what it has actually been doing. I would greatly appreciate your immediate action although today is a Sunday and kindly request you to pass this on to as many colleagues as possible so that this reaches he corridors of power as early as possible.

Kindly do make it a point to send us copies of your communications for passing it on to our colleagues from Forum Asia in Geneva.

With kind regards and best wishes and in solidarity,

Henri Tiphagne

People’s Watch

Urgent Appeal to the newly elected Government in India

24th May 2009

Hon’ble Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh,
- Hon’ble Chairperson of the UPA, Ms. Sonia Gandhi,
- Hon’ble Mr. S.M. Krishna, External Affairs Minister,
- Hon’ble General Secretary of the AICC, Mr. Rahul Gandhi,
- All leaders of National and Regional Political parties and
- All the newly elected Members of the Indian Parliament,

As human rights defenders concerned about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, we are gravely concerned that the government of India has extended its support to the government of Sri Lanka at the Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council convened on May 26, 2009 to discuss the emerging humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

The decision of the President of the Human rights Council to call this Special Session was based on a call by 17 members of the Council: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uruguay. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden signed on to the call as Observer States of the Council.

The ’conclusion’ of the military offensive in the north of the island has sharpened concerns around the world with regard to the protection of civilians in the context of the conflict. The present situation calls for urgent and immediate responses to the humanitarian needs of the over 300,000 people who have been displaced as a consequence of the recent fighting, as well as for protection of their human rights.

The continuing denial of access to the most recent zones of conflict to international humanitarian agencies places the lives of those civilians who remain trapped within these areas at risk. According to available information, there are still civilians stranded in the conflict-affected areas and monitored evacuation is essential.

Restrictions imposed on media and on civil society actors with regard to travel to the conflict-affected areas and to the IDP camps housing the most recently displaced means that independent investigation into allegations of gross violations of human rights and of war crimes remains impossible. Conditions within the camps remain far below acceptable standards, with shortages of essential items. The conditions in which IDPs are reaching the camps, with infected wounds, dehydration and malnutrition being rampant among them, call for specialized and emergency care. On April 27, Vavuniya Magistrate Alexraja registered the deaths of 14 elderly persons in one camp (Chettikulam) on one day alone, which he attributed to malnutrition. Restriction of access to humanitarian agencies, the provision of security by the military and the presence of armed paramilitaries within the camps all lead to an environment of fear and anxiety and heighten concerns regarding the safety and security of the IDPs.

While we appreciate the security concerns voiced by the government, we reiterate that these considerations cannot be allowed to lead to human rights abuses such as abduction, disappearance, arbitrary detention and summary execution.

For example, on Wednesday May 20, there were reports of the removal of over 500 boys between the ages of 11 and 17 from the IDP camp at Manik Farm to the camp at Nellikulam Technical College, causing great anxiety to their parents and family members.

The continuing intimidation of human rights defenders, media persons and critics of the military resolution of the conflict and the labeling of them as being ’anti-national’ stifles the expression of concerns regarding the humanitarian crisis in the north.

The prolonged detention of the 3 doctors from the Vanni - Thangamuttu Sathyamoorhty, Thurairaja Varatharajan and V. Sanmugaraja - who are accused of providing information regarding the situation inside the conflict zone as well as the expulsion of journalists constitute violations of the freedom of expression and opinion that have dire consequences especially in a context in which transparency and accountability become of paramount importance. The Resolution tabled for the Special Session on May 26 by the government of Sri Lanka with the support of the government of India and several other governments that are members of the Human Rights Council seeks to underplay the critical situation and instead focuses on calling on the international community to extend financial assistance to the government.

Despite all reports from the UN and other international agencies regarding the poor conditions in the camps, the lack of security of IDPs and the denial of access to the camps to humanitarian agencies, the Resolution ’Commends the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the IDPs and ’Welcomes the continued cooperation between the Government of Sri Lanka and relevant UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations’.

We urge the government of India to consider the humanitarian implications of allowing the government of Sri Lanka to avoid any reaffirmation of its obligations to treat the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, and in particular those who have been most affected by the recent conflict, as full citizens. The Special Session on the 26th May should not be perceived either as a mechanism for negative criticisms of the government of Sri Lanka or as an arena in which the government of Sri Lanka can be permitted to evade its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law. Rather it should provide a forum for all governments including the government of India to enter into a dialogue with the government of Sri Lanka regarding the following:

  • Cooperation with the UN and other international and national humanitarian agencies to ensure unrestricted access to the IDP camps for the recently displaced, and to facilitate provision of the immediate physical, medical and psychological needs of the IDPs, in keeping with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and respecting the freedom of movement and expression of the IDP communities;
  • Special attention to IDP groups with special needs and vulnerable sectors of the IDP community such as the elderly, pregnant and lactating women, infants and children without adult accompaniment;
  • Respect for international humanitarian norms and cooperation with international agencies to ensure the safe evacuation of all remaining
    civilians, former combatants who are hors de combat and the wounded from the recent conflict zones;
  • Creation of a centralized data base of all those detained by the state during the past months, including those LTTE cadre and members of their families who have surrendered to the security forces, and to ensure access to these detainees by the ICRC. Family members of all detained persons should be informed as to the whereabouts of their detained relatives and special arrangements should be made for the security and care of detained women and children;
  • Creation of a central list of all places of detention being presently utilized by the security forces and intelligence agencies and
    ensure access to these detention sites and to the detainees by the ICRC;
  • Creation of a centralized data base of all those IDPs presently living in camps and receiving medical treatment in hospitals in order to facilitate family reunification and ensure that international and national humanitarian agencies have access to this information. The Special Session could also propose to the government of Sri Lanka some issues that require medium and long-term attention:

* the need to gather a team of local and international forensic experts accompanied by independent observers to travel to the conflict zones of the Vanni to investigate allegations of war crimes attacks on civilians and on wounded combatants and surrendees.

* the need to engage in a multi-partisan process to ensure equitable and just processes of reconstruction and rehabilitation;

* the need for a consultative and participatory process that includes civil society as well as national and international agencies to facilitate resettlement in a manner that guarantees re-integration of communities and reconstruction of livelihoods in a framework that respects human rights and human dignity;

* consensus on the part of the government of Sri Lanka regarding modalities for demobilisation of LTTE cadres to ensure international verification of laying down of weapons and the protection of former combatants who have surrendered as governed by the Rules of War and Geneva Conventions.

It is in particular imperative that the Session addresses issues of access of humanitarian agencies to the IDP camps, which is imperative for ensuring the treatment of IDPs in keeping with international standards. The establishing of data bases on IDPs, surrendees and detainees is critical to combat the allegations that there have been disappearances while IDPs were fleeing the fighting in the past two months right up to the present.

Access of independent observers - journalists, humanitarian actors, human rights defenders - to the conflict-affected areas can help in gathering accurate documentation regarding the situation on the ground in the past weeks of the conflict and help the government of Sri Lanka and the international community to resolve the spate of allegations and counter-allegations regarding human rights violations and war crimes.

As Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor, India bears a special responsibility towards all peace loving citizens of Sri Lanka, of India and of the world to ensure that this Special Session leads to an improvement of the conditions on the ground for all those affected by the recent conflict and prepares the ground for a long-term political solution.

This is to be sent by each one of you urgently to: (Kindly do mark a copy to me henri at pwtn.org for our records to be sent to Forum Asia in Geneva)

  1. Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India (manmohan at sansad.nic.in )
  2. Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of the UPA and the President of the Congress Party, (soniagandhi at sansad.nic.in)
  3. Mr. S.M. Krishna , the Hon’ble Minister of External Affairs (diream at mea.gov.in, pseam at mea.gov.in)
  4. Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the General Secretary of the Congress Party (office at rahulgandhi.in)
  5. The Presidents, Chairpersons and General Secretary of all National and Regional Political Parties
  6. All the newly elected Members of Parliament

SEE ALSO:

Civil society organisations worldwide call on the UN Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the current human rights situation in Sri Lanka
Text of letter written by FORUM-ASIA, sent to the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 6 May with 90 signatories, and on 13 with 130 signatories