IC urged to act on humanitarian grounds to safeguard civilians

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 21 January 2009, 12:45 GMT]
Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has cornered civilians in overcrowded areas in the suburbs of Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK) town, according to sources in Vanni. While artillery shells exploding in densely populated makeshift settlements have caused several civilian casualties, civilians are fleeing from indiscriminate bombardment from air and ground are forced to seek shelters throughout the day, civil sources from Vanni said. IDPs' representatives express fear that those who fall into the hands of SLA units are likely to be forcibly transported under close military supervision to detention centre style camps at locations isolated from mainstream communities, as evidenced in Mannaar and in areas north of the recently SLA-occupied Elephant Pass.

Artillery barrage kills several civilians
There is no international presence of rights groups or NGOs. Unconfirmed reports said the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence had instructed the ICRC to relocate from PTK, causing panic among the civilians in the town recently.

Following recent aerial bombing of the Vaddakkachchi and Murasumoaddai areas, many fearing capture and torture by the advancing SLA forces had fled into the jungles. A group of around 100 such refugees were captured and transferred by the military with no legal processing to an isolated location in Va'n'naamoaddai along the A14 between Mannaar and Mathavaachchi.

According to local authorities, hundreds of residents have been forcibly moved from Vadamaaraadchi East and areas around the A9 to Mirusuvil High Security zone away from legal scrutiny with only limited access to Chaavakachcheari District Secretariat Officers.

Whilst some of the displaced have been handed over to local Police and processed by the judiciary, increasing numbers of local villagers are being evicted from their homes, as the SLA embarks on a ground clearing mission and are being moved to hastily set up military detention centres, without any judicial protection nor ICRC supervision.

Displacing civilians in Vanni

Many of these locations including the heavily bombed and damaged Mirusuvil Church are considered inadequate facilities for the rising numbers with severe congestion and lack of adequate sanitation.

Local DS authorities have been struggling to cope with provision of food for the escalating numbers.

Despite repeated letters from TNA Parliamentarian for the Vanni District Sivasakthy Anandan to SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa and calls by New York based 'Human Rights Watch', the nearly 400 residents of the "welfare centre" (a detention camp) in Ka'l'imoaddai in Naanaaddaan, Mannaar are still living under severe hardship and restrictions on freedom of movement, isolated from surrounding communities for over 11 months.

Brad Adams, Asia Director for 'Human Rights Watch' reports that "Since March 2008, all Tamil civilians fleeing the Vanni, as well as Tamil refugees returning from India by boat, have been detained on the assumption that they are a security threat. Approximately 1,000 civilians are being indefinitely detained under military guard at 'welfare centers' in Mannar and Vavuniya districts. The government's policy violates the basic rights of displaced persons. Conditions in the camps are sub-standard, with inadequate shelter, a lack of sanitation facilities, and limited humanitarian assistance".

"The government's 'welfare centers' for civilians fleeing the Vanni are just badly disguised prisons," said Adams. "To add insult to injury, people who manage to flee the fighting end up being held indefinitely in army-run prison camps."

Reports from Kodikaamam and Point Pedro reveal that SLA is establishing several new detention centres. The local judiciary is concerned that detainees could face long term incarceration and denial of their fundamental rights under Article II of the Geneva Convention.

Tamil parliamentarians, judiciary and doctors on the ground have repeatedly raised serious concerns for the failure of adherence to the above article relating to the 'Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) Adopted on 8 June 1977 by the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law applicable in Armed Conflicts'.

The ICRC has 'a permanent mandate founded in international law, a worldwide mission to help victims of conflicts and internal violence, whoever they are'. The ICRC's role 'to provide protection and assistance to victims of conflict,' are mandated by the international community of States and are founded on international law, specifically the Geneva Conventions, which are among the most widely ratified treaties in the world'.

In the absence of international monitors and aid organisations in Sri Lanka's conflict areas, the International Community should have pressurised Colombo to allow ICRC to fulfill its mandate by ensuring that the innocent victims of its armed conflict at least have the protection and basic human rights afforded to them through the Geneva convention.

The Co-chairs (USA, European Union, Norway and Japan), who formally "represent" the International Community in the Sri Lankan "Process" have been lulled into complacency and indifference by the carefully planned and executed window dressing of the Sri Lankan government and it's military establishment, said a TNA Parliamentarian disappointed with no open statement from the IC and the Co-Chairs group.

Selvarajah Gajendran
TNA Jaffna MP Mr. Selvarajah Kajendren
"There are many civilians who have chosen to flee towards LTTE held areas. They had several opportunities to stay behind, but they didn't choose the option," TNA Parliamentarian S. Gajendran said.

"We have now witnessed a mass exodus from Tharmapuram that lasted for more than 3 days. During that time, there was no LTTE fighters to control or direct civilian movement. This exodus came as amusement for the outside forces that attempt to allege that the civilians were being held against their will by the LTTE."

In December 08, the Rajapaksa regime wasted no time in showing off the newly captured areas of the Vanni and show casing supposedly "surrendered" LTTE cadres and the so called "welfare centres" to defence force attachees representing the co-chair countries and neighbouring India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives.

Displacing civilians in Vanni
SLAF bombs  Mullaiththeevu

"The silence of the Co-chairs representing the international community in the current crisis is a sinister reminder of their tacit approval to Colombo's war on the Tamil people and an abrogation of their own responsibility as co-chairs, to the immediate safety and interests of the Tamil people," says a representative of Vanni People's Welfare Organisation (VPWO) adding that there were children and adults who have never seen SLA soldiers in their lifetime.

"These are civilians who steadfastly supported the liberation struggle and they know how they would be treated by the hostile Sri Lankan forces. They had to face the indiscriminate bombardment or be always on the move as IDPs with their belongings amid the psychological operations (psy-ops) messages distributed from helicopters on a daily basis by the Sri Lanka Army," the VPWO representative says.

"But, my question is why there is no international mechanism to ensure the safety, security and a dignified life, without being subjected to military despotism by the Sri Lankan military," he asks.

"Unless there is any 'miraculous initiative' by the IC to ensure the safety of the civilians who have become victims of their geo-political game, those who end up in the hands of the invading military are going to face a slow genocide."

"This is not a matter of who is to be blamed, but a matter of grave humanitarian concern," he adds.



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