ACF: Moothoor massacre, a war crime

[TamilNet, Friday, 18 April 2008, 15:02 GMT]
Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger/ACF) in a press note to journalists released Thursday said, “[t]he Muttur slaughter can't be considered only as a "collateral damage" during the Muttur battle: our team has been specifically and deliberately targeted, their death has been organised execution style with bullets shot in their head. Everything was consciously and brutally planned: the victims were kneeling, unarmed and defenceless. The culprits of this massacre are the ones who were carrying the arms. We can assert that this massacre is a war crime in violation of the Geneva Conventions.”

Full text of the release follows:

WHY DID ACF LEAVE SRI LANKA ?

Paris, 17 April 2008. Action contre la Faim (ACF or Action against Hunger) took his decision to withdraw from Sri Lanka consequently to the declaration of the members of the IIGEP to quit the process of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI). Indeed the organization has always considered the presence of the international experts as an essential condition for the credibility of the process. Several times, during the presidential CoI, the IIGEP made suggestions regarding the improvement of the procedure, however, those suggestions have never been considered. Accordingly with all the objections raised by the IIGEP, ACF doubts that the international standards would be respected by the CoI.

The Organisation is aware of all the information originated from different sources (SLMM-UTHR-etc) regarding the Muttur case. However ACF has never given an opinion in merit, either expressing a judgement of culpability or taking decisions based on those allegations. The organisation considers that it is the duty of a court to investigate and prosecute suspects. Therefore ACF is not in a position to take any stand in relation to any information circulating outside a legal process. We are neither investigators nor a Human Rights organisation; we are just a victim who as such is claiming for a real and credible investigation process.

Founded in 1979, Action Against Hunger is an international, non-governmental, non-religious, non-profit making organisation with programmes in 43 countries worldwide. Its vocation is to save lives by fighting hunger, especially those of malnourished children, and to work with vulnerable populations to preserve and restore their livelihoods with dignity.

As a humanitarian agency, ACF is often working in dangerous areas but always taking all the security precautions. Nevertheless our organization has never had to deal with a crime such as the one happened in Muttur in 2006, August 4th. Furthermore, the massacre of so many NGO workers never happened in the history of humanitarian organisations.

About the question sometimes raised whether ACF is responsible or not regarding the security situation in Muttur at that time, ACF answered several times to these questions and faced unjustified critics. The organization also received the full support of various Sri Lankan and international institutions. We can one more time explain the taking decision process and facts surrounding the killing.

The July 31st 2006 a meeting was organized at the ACF office in Trincomalee with the national and expatriate staff members, to decide whether or not the team should go to Muttur. Given the situation apparently quiet they decided to move by ferry to Muttur. No indication at that time showed that a major crisis could erupt in Muttur.

The morning of August 1st the rest of the ACF team leaved Trincomalee moving to Muttur by boat with the idea to come back in the afternoon in Trincomalee. The fact that the ferry service was operational meant that there were no reasons, at that time, to be particularly worried. Officials from Muttur (District Secretary) took the same boat than part of our team that day. The same afternoon (the 1st) the Muttur battle broke out suddenly and every transport way was cut (the road blocked and the ferry suspended). The organisation informed of the Muttur team presence the UN, CHA, ICRC, the Police of Trincomale and the military authority through a SLA Colonel. During the following days of the crisis, ACF kept on asking the authorities to help us evacuate our team.

The August 2nd the ACF Trincomale office tried to organize with the ICRC a rescue boat to evacuate the workers isolated inside the ACF Muttur office. The ICRC could not get guarantees of security from all the fighting parties, so the mission was aborted.

The last contact between ACF and the team in Muttur was made by radio on the 4th, around 7:00 am. Unconfirmed information has however emerged since then to the effect that members of the team might have been seen alive during that day. ACF has again tried to organize an evacuation by land but the mission has aborted at an Army checkpoint, 10 km away from Muttur, even if the SLA had already been informed about the ACF workers presence.

Rumours from several sources started to circulate on the 5th to the effect that around 15 people had been executed on ACF compound in Muttur. Another team left Trincomalee on that day and went up to Thoppur where they met with the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) trying to get into Muttur. Both teams had to turn back as the SLA did not allow them to continue their road. Although at that time a group of journalists get the authorization to go into Muttur.

On the 6th, hopes to find the workers alive in Muttur were gone but ACF insisted on reaching the town in order to collect the bodies. Another road expedition was organized together with the ICRC. Then again, the convoy had to turn back after having been blocked by a mob in a village on the road. Afterward, some of the organization's staff members took the initiative to get on the ferry whose service was restored. The boat had however to turn back before reaching Muttur when shells felt in front of the boat just before docking. At the same time, the CHA succeeded to get through Muttur by road and went to ACF compound. They discovered the slain workers lying in front of the gate and gave ACF the confirmation that the staff had been executed. Considering the state of things in Muttur, their visit was brief but they took the initiative to take the first official pictures of the crime scene.

Ultimately, on the 7th, the collection of the bodies was organized from ACF base in Trincomalee with a team mostly comprising of ACF staff members. When they arrived in Muttur, they directly went to the police station and told the officers present that they were coming to collect the bodies.

Therefore, several attempts were conducted to rescue our ACF team and help them to go out of Muttur but without success because of the situation prevailing in Muttur (attacks) or because of several refusal of allowance by the Police. The position of the organisation has always been very careful, attentive and active in trying to rescue his team. When asked, all NGO and IO operating in the area told they would have taken the same decision (e.g. to ask the team to stay in the office and to increase visibility to identify the compound as an NGO compound and a non-warring party) considering that NGO/IO were never targeted and that humanitarian workers, as well as civilians, are protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The Muttur slaughter can't be considered only as a "collateral damage" during the Muttur battle: our team has been specifically and deliberately targeted, their death has been organised execution style with bullets shot in their head. Everything was consciously and brutally planned: the victims were kneeling, unarmed and defenceless. The culprits of this massacre are the ones who were carrying the arms. We can assert that this massacre is a war crime in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The overall aim of a humanitarian NGO is to help affected population particularly during crisis like natural disasters, wars or internal conflicts, in order to avoid humanitarian crises and massive displacements. ACF carries out its role in regions like Darfur and Chechnya, but no accident such as the one happened in Muttur has ever been reported.

Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger / ACF) was created in 1979 in France and represents a network of international headquarters in Paris, New York, London, Madrid, and Montreal with more than 5000 persons all over the world. The organization provides water, food, non-food items and nutritional support in emergency situations including natural disasters and conflicts, and follows up these activities with post-emergency rehabilitation. In 2006, the ACF international network has delivered aid to more than 4.7 millions of persons.

ACF has carried out humanitarian projects in Sri Lanka since 1997.

Lucile Grosjean
Press officer


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