Abuse of Human Rights and Humanitarian Norms in Sri Lanka

SLDF Outraged by the Grave Abuse of Human Rights and Humanitarian Norms in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum (SLDF) expresses its outrage and dismay at the grave human rights situation facing Sri Lanka characterized by disappearances, extrajudicial killings, abductions, torture, and child recruitment. This human rights crisis is coupled with a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions, and Sri Lanka is degenerating into a situation of near anarchy.

Humanitarian access has been limited, particularly to the Jaffna peninsula with the lack of an agreement to allow the delivery essential supplies. There have been continued attacks on places of refuge and aid workers; the recent shelling of a refugee camp by security forces is no less than a war crime. The assassination of parliamentarian Nadarajah Raviraj in broad daylight in Colombo is telling of the climate of terror that has taken hold in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan State is rapidly losing its legitimacy with its minority communities.

Humanitarian access to the Jaffna peninsula has been constrained since active fighting began in Jaffna in August. Both the security forces and the LTTE have not shown any concern for the plight of the civilian population by pushing their military agendas. The debate during the Geneva talks on October 28th – 29th and since the end of talks have been around whether or not the A9 road should be opened or whether supplies should be sent by ship. SLDF calls on both parties to not politicize the issue of humanitarian access and calls for the opening of the A9 road for humanitarian convoys and the parallel guarantees for the ICRC and other aid agencies to safely transport essential supplies by ship to the beleaguered civilian population of Jaffna. The LTTE should agree to not tax goods being transported to Jaffna.

SLDF condemns in the strongest terms the recent shelling of the refugee camp in Kathiraveli,Vaharai, in eastern Sri Lanka and considers it to be a war crime in which scores of people were killed and many more were injured. This terrible crime should be investigated promptly and those responsible prosecuted. The LTTE has also continued to cynically manipulate the predicament of vulnerable populations such as Internally Displaced Peoples, and the LTTE’s presence in the vicinity of the refugee camp is unacceptable. SLDF calls on both parties to immediately halt attacks that place civilian communities at risk.

SLDF also condemns the assassination of TNA parliamentarian Raviraj. In recent months, MP Raviraj himself had been protesting against the emergence of abductions and disappearances. The onus of investigating the assassination of MP Raviraj, a fierce critic of the current government, rests on the government. There are strong allegations of state complicity in this assassination. The increasing cases of disappearances and torture linked to the security forces are a reminder of the culture of brutality of the dark years of the 1980s and are serious violations of international law and international covenants ratified by Sri Lanka. While SLDF has consistently condemned the political killings by all parties concerned, SLDF strongly believes that a large proportion of the current killings and disappearances can be stopped if the government has the political will to do so.

SLDF reiterates its condemnation of the recruitment of child soldiers by the LTTE and Karuna faction. With the undeclared war, child soldiers have been killed in combat and hundreds of others are at risk. SLDF calls on the international community to use the full force of international law and sanctions against this abominable practice, which when it comes to the use of the children under the age of fifteen is recognized as a war crime. The Sri Lankan State is also complicit through its support for the Karuna faction and unwillingness to hold the Karuna faction accountable.

Within a week of the announcement of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry with International Observers on some of the grave human rights violations during the last year, we are faced with these unpardonable attacks on the displaced population in Vaharai and the assassination of MP Raviraj. This only casts doubt on the sincerity of the government in wanting to genuinely deal with the problem of impunity in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour had expressed concern on 6 November 2006, that there are “several shortcomings in the national legal system that could potentially hamper the effectiveness of the Commission of Inquiry, particularly the absence of any legal tradition of establishing command responsibility for human rights violations.” Indeed, grave violations such as the attacks on IDPs in Vaharai and the assassination of MP Raviraj, calls for the prosecutions of the highest officials, if command responsibility is established.

SLDF while welcoming the Commission of Inquiry as a first step toward addressing past violations, is also concerned about its limitations in dealing with the daily ongoing human rights violations. SLDF believes many of these violations are indeed taking place with the complicity of the State. Furthermore, State policies have been increasingly dominated by militarist thinking to the detriment of civilian protection and the State’s duty to protect. SLDF has consistently called for international human rights monitoring to address the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka. SLDF calls on the international community, particularly the EU, India, Japan and the US, who were the primary supporters of the peace process, to pressure the Sri Lankan government to accept a UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission. The denials by the Sri Lankan State ring hollow given its refusal to accept an impartial international human rights monitoring mission, which can help provide some degree of accountability, protection, and justice.

[Full Text of Press Release by The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum (SLDF)]

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