Impunity reigns, rights record seriously deteriorates- HRW
[TamilNet, Tuesday, 07 August 2007, 02:31 GMT]
Qualifying the report as focusing primarily on abuses by the Sri Lankan government, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based rights organization, in a hard-hitting report released Monday said "the government's respect for international law has sharply declined, with it often appearing indifferent to the impact on civilians in the north and east...the main areas of concern [are], from violations of the laws of war and extrajudicial killings to unlawful restrictions on the media and nongovernmental organizations and the widespread impunity enjoyed by state security forces...Sri Lanka's defense establishment is particularly responsible for abuses."
The report uses "victim and eyewitness accounts to document indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the forced return of internally displaced persons, and the spate of arrests and “disappearances” by government forces and allied groups," Rights officials said in the HRW website.
"Case studies reveal how the rights to freedom of expression and association are increasingly under threat from a government intolerant of criticism and dissent. Ethnic Tamils have suffered the brunt of abuses, but members of the Muslim and majority Sinhalese populations have also been victims of government rights violations," the summary of the report said.
On the Sri Lanka Army offensive in Vaakarai, the HRW said, "In one of the most deadly incidents of recent years, government shelling in the eastern Vaharai area on November 8, 2006, hit school grounds that were housing thousands of displaced civilians, killing 62 and wounding 47. Government forces failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians and may have purposely targeted the school. Based on interviews with a dozen witnesses and other information, Human Rights Watch found no evidence to support government claims that the LTTE had fired that morning at government forces from the vicinity of the school or had used civilians as “human shields” to protect themselves from attack."
Describing the dire situation of the internally displaced the report said, "Both the LTTE and the government have failed adequately to provide for the needs of the displaced."
On arbitrary arrests and detention, the Rights group criticized the "overbroad and vaguely worded regulations allow for the detention of any person “acting in any manner prejudicial to the national security or to the maintenance of public order, or to the maintenance of essential services,”" and said, "the Rajapaksa government has detained an undetermined number of people reaching into the hundreds under the regulations."
"The government has increasingly sought to silence those who question or criticize its approach to the armed conflict or its human rights record," the report said, adding "Commission of Inquiry seems more an effort to stave off domestic and international criticism than a sincere attempt to promote accountability and deter future abuse."
The HRW urged the International Actors to respond urgently to the crisis and to "Establish a human rights monitoring mission under United Nations auspices to investigate abuses by all parties, report publicly on abuses to enable prosecutions, and facilitate efforts to improve human rights at the local level," among other recommendations.