Sri Lanka forces 'slaughtering' civilians – HRW

[TamilNet, Friday, 20 February 2009, 23:07 GMT]
The Sri Lankan government should immediately cease its indiscriminate artillery attacks on civilians in the northern Vanni region and its policy of detaining displaced persons in internment camps, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Friday. "Sri Lankan forces are shelling hospitals and so-called safe zones and slaughtering the civilians there," James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Sri Lankan forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas crowded with displaced persons. This includes numerous reported bombardments of government-declared "safe zones" and of the remaining hospitals in the region,” HRW said. “The plight of the region's civilians has been made worse by the government's decision in September 2008 to order most humanitarian agencies out of the Vanni.”

HRW also condemned the LTTE for not allowing civilians to flee the areas being bombarded by the Sri Lankan military.

“The Sri Lankan government has indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks,” HRW said.

The HRW report says Sri Lankan government forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas crowded with Tamil civilians and casualties have skyrocketed in the past two months with two thousand deaths.

Noting that civilian casualties “have risen dramatically since the LTTE retreated to a roughly 100-square-kilometer area in northeastern Mullaitivu district, HRW said Sri Lankan military attacks on civilians include “numerous reported bombardments of government-declared "safe zones" and the remaining hospitals in region.”

“During a three-week period from January 20 to February 13, 2009, independent observers in the Vanni collected information on 5,150 civilian casualties-1,123 deaths and 4,027 injuries-from the current fighting. This number was derived from a compilation of reports that recorded individual casualties, the date and place of the attack, and the nature of the attack,: HRW said.

Newly obtained information places total civilian casualties at 7,000, with 2,000 deaths, HRW said, adding “information from other sources supports these findings.”

“Added to this are the dire hardships faced by the displaced-insufficient food, medical care, and shelter, whether in the combat zone or government-run ‘welfare villages’,” HRW said.

"All civilians who manage to escape the Tamil Tigers are held by the government in squalid military-controlled camps and hospitals with little access to the outside world," said Ross. "The government seems to be trying its best to keep its role in their ordeal away from public scrutiny."

The HRW report states “the Sri Lankan government … has kept displaced persons who could describe the artillery bombardments locked up in camps and hospitals. It has traded the well-being of tens of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens for protection from international scrutiny. With civilian casualties mounting, it has sought to bury its abuses.”

“Displaced persons are increasingly escaping from the battle zone to what they hope is safety within government-controlled areas. Instead, they are finding government internment centers masquerading as "welfare villages." While the government for security reasons should be screening new arrivals, it is instead secretly taking away LTTE suspects to arbitrary detention or possible enforced disappearances.”

“All displaced persons crossing to the government side are sent to internment centers in Vavuniya and nearby locations. … These are military-controlled, barbed-wire camps in which those sent there, including entire families, are denied their liberty and freedom of movement. Humanitarian agencies have tenuous access, but do so at the risk of supporting a long-term detention program for civilians,” HRW said.

“The hospital in Vavuniya mirrors the town's internment camps. When Human Rights Watch visited, it lacked even the most basic necessities: many of the hospital beds had no bed sheets, blankets, or pillows. And despite the obvious lack of capacity to handle all of the wounded and attend to their needs, the hospital personnel reportedly were instructed by the authorities not to ask for any assistance from international agencies, and very few agencies have been allowed access to the hospital. Relatives have had difficulty seeing patients, and some have later been visited by the security forces.”

“The Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE appear to be engaged in a perverse competition to demonstrate the greatest disregard for the civilian population. In the last two months alone, both sides have committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, the laws of war,” HRW said.

 

Latest 15 Reports
 
Find this article at:
http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=28479