‘UN must protect civilians in Sri Lanka’ – Tutu, British academics

[TamilNet, Friday, 06 March 2009, 04:57 GMT]
Demanding that the UN protect civilians in Sri Lanka, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and several leading scholars at British universities have written an open letter to the British government urging it to press for a UN Security Council Resolution authorising a fact-finding mission to the island’s Northeast. “The deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation throughout the war-afflicted areas of northern and eastern Sri Lanka warrants immediate attention and action by the Security Council,” the letter, published in the Times newspaper, said.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The letter was signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dr Louise Arimatsu (LSE), Dr Chaloka Beyani (LSE), Professor Bill Bowring (Birkbeck), Professor Mathew Craven (SOAS), Professor Malgosia Fitzmaurice (Queen Mary), Professor Guy S. Goodwin-Gill (Oxford), Muthupandi Ganesan (barrister), Dr Krishna Kalaichelvan, Professor Mary Kaldor (LSE), Naomi Lumsdaine, John Mcnally, Dr Roger O’Keefe (Cambridge), Andrew Price (barrister), Professor Martin Shaw (Sussex), Mannan Thangarajah (barrister) and Professor Nigel White (Sheffield).

The full text of the letter, addressing the letter of The Times, follows:

Sir, We call upon the UK Government to press for an urgent Security Council resolution on the situation in northern Sri Lanka, with the view to dispatching a fact-finding mission there under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, in furtherance of the Security Council’s primary responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security.

We urge the UK Government, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to recognise the underlying importance of taking measures aimed at conflict prevention and resolution, and to draw its attention to its commitment under the Security Council resolutions 1265/1999 and 1296/2000 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict; resolution 1366/2001 on the role of the Security Council in the prevention of armed conflict; resolution 1325/2000 on women, peace and security; and resolution 1460/2003 on children in armed conflict.

The deteriorating humanitarian and human rights situation throughout the war-afflicted areas of northern and eastern Sri Lanka warrants immediate attention and action by the Security Council. An armed conflict entailing widespread and serious abuses continues in these areas. Calls for all sides to exercise restraint and respect international humanitarian and human rights law remain unheeded.

Accurate and timely information about the situation of civilians in these areas remain scarce because of government-imposed restrictions on independent observers, including the UN, most human rights organisations, journalists and others, from accessing the combat zones. A few remaining independent observers have placed the total civilian casualties at 7,000, with 2,000 fatalities, within a four-week period between January and February this year. The total number of civilians trapped by the fighting is conservatively put at a quarter of a million. The real figures are likely to be much higher. The alleged abuses are being carried out with total impunity and include serious and indiscriminate violations of international humanitarian law.

Humanitarian assistance and protection remain minimal owing to both targeted attacks and generalised insecurity. In the absence of concrete improvements in the security situation, each day adds to the toll of civilian deaths and injuries.

Security Council action is urgently needed to ensure an end to persistent abuses by all parties to the conflict, to protect the civilians still at risk of attacks and to help to improve conditions by demonstrating the United Nations’ continuing commitment to the wellbeing of civilians caught up in armed conflicts around the world.


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