SRI LANKA: Civil society organisations deeply concerned by escalating political crisis in Vanni
4 February 2009 7:00 pm
The statement was signed on 29 January 2009 by a group of civil society organisations including Centre for Policy Alternatives, Citizen Committee for Displaced People, Home for Human Rights, INFORM Human Rights Documentation, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, Rights Now Collective for Democracy and Women & Media Collective, to record their deepest concerns for the rising political crisis in Vanni, located in the northern part of Sri Lanka.
The statement below was signed on 29 January 2009 by a group of civil society organisations including Centre for Policy Alternatives, Citizen Committee for Displaced People, Home for Human Rights, INFORM Human Rights Documentation, Mothers and Daughters of Lanka, Rights Now Collective for Democracy and Women & Media Collective, to record their deepest concerns for the rising political crisis in Vanni, located in the northern part of Sri Lanka.
Civil society organizations has appealed to the Government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE and the international community to take immediate steps to respond effectively to the "unfolding catastrophe" in Vanni.
In a press statement issued on 29 January by seven CSOs, there are very few independent reports regarding the situation, due to the denial of access to media and humanitarian agencies to the conflict zones. The groups said that the few reports that have reached the outside world since Monday, 26 January, point to the gravity of the situation.
An Urgent Appeal has been issued in the name of the Regional Director of Health Services in Mullaitivu, the area most recently captured by the Sri Lankan security forces, calling for the most basic of medical supplies to be sent to the region immediately.
The report highlights the killing of around 300 IDPs recently, injuries to many more and that others are not accounted for. Basic emergency medical care for the injured is not available due to the lack of essential drugs and services in Mullaitivu and surrounding areas where the fighting is heaviest.
Heavy fighting and travel restrictions imposed by the fighting forces prevent the health authorities from transferring the injured to hospitals outside the conflict zones.
The humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka has been highlighted by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Sir John Holmes, as well as by UN agencies in Sri Lanka, by the Jaffna Bishop Saundranayagam and by the ICRC.
All have raised concerns regarding the critical situation confronting the over 300,000 displaced persons presently trapped within the Vanni.
The ICRC in a press release on 27 January quoted Jacques de Maio, ICRC head of operations for South Asia in Geneva "People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded. "
The few thousand civilians who have managed to flee the Vanni are detained in camps in Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna under the guard of the security forces, reportedly for screening to ensure that LTTE cadre do not infiltrate the south of the country.
There are restrictions on the freedom of movement of those within these camps, and very limited access to extended family members and humanitarian workers, thus seriously compromising the 'civilian' aspect of these camps.
Recently there have also been individual reports of acts of violence and human rights abuse from within some of these camps. The continuing denial of access to the camps has been reinforced by their demarcation as high security zones, making any independent confirmation of this information impossible.
The high level of impunity and lack of credible and independent investigations into incidents of abduction, disappearance and extra-judicial killings in Vavuniya and Mannar over the past months deter any witnesses to such human rights abuses from coming forward to report or seek redress.
As the fighting intensifies over the coming days, and the civilians get trapped into smaller spaces, we are gravely concerned that the casualties will mount and that the overall humanitarian situation will deteriorate even further.
The group urged the Government immediately to:
* To permit an international mission of mercy immediate access to the Vanni in
order to enable an accurate assessment of the humanitarian and protection
needs of the people of the Vanni.
* To ensure urgent delivery of food and medicine to the Mullaitivu area and
allow for the passage of medical convoys.
*To ensure that the security forces respect areas which are demarcated as
They called on the LTTE:
* To allow civilians freedom of movement and respect their right to move out
of the conflict zones.
* To ensure its cadres respect areas which are demarcated as safe zones.
* To allow the passage of medical convoys.
The group called on the international community:
* To extend its cooperation to the Government of Sri Lanka in protecting civilians by preparing an international mission of mercy with immediate effect.
* To unreservedly impress upon the LTTE to permit civilians trapped within the conflict zone to leave the area.