by Action Against Hunger, France, August 4, 2016
A decade after the killing of 17 Action Against Hunger staff in Sri Lanka, amid an increase in violence against aid workers, we demand greater protection for humanitarians
On 4 August 2006 17 Action Against Hunger staff were murdered on our premises in Muttur, Sri Lanka. They were assisting communities suffering the impact of the 2004 tsunami, as well as the ravages of war, when they were shot dead. A decade later, their killers have never been brought to justice and we have witnessed a frightening increase in the targeting of aid workers worldwide.
The brutal killing of our staff 10 years ago led to us withdrawing from Sri Lanka after 12 years assisting vulnerable families there. The murders did not just end the lives of 17 people, devastating their families and colleagues: those receiving assistance from our organisation were also negatively affected by what happened.
That is why we call today for the creation of a Special Rapporteur charged with monitoring the application of international humanitarian law worldwide. We cannot allow those who violate the law to do so with impunity.
A war crime
International humanitarian law considers attacks against aid workers a war crime. Such attacks are not inevitable consequences of armed conflict but emerge when parties disregard the laws of war. Humanitarian principles – humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence – are meant to guarantee free and secure access to isolated and vulnerable populations.
“In the face of such threats, humanitarian intervention sometimes seems impossible and the main victims are of course the populations who need the aid,” said Pauline Chetcuti, head of humanitarian advocacy at Action Against Hunger.
An attack on humanity
Action Against Hunger had been delivering aid to families affected by the 2004 tsunami and the ravages of civil war when, on 4 August 2006, 17 of its staff were shot dead on the organisation’s premises. They had been wearing Action Against Hunger T-shirts – clearly distinguising them as aid workers – when their attackers forced them to kneel and shot them.
Noone has ever been brought to justice for the killings. In an effort to uncover the truth, Action Against Hunger undertook its own investigation and released its own report – The truth about the assassination of 17 aid workers in Sri Lanka.
When national judicial proceedings failed, we requested an international enquiry into the murders. In September 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) released a report on the crimes during the civil war in Sri Lanka. The report confirmed our own findings on the Muttur case, criticising the role of the security forces and also highlighting the threats made against families and witnesses. The UNHRC asked for the creation of a Special Tribunal with international members.
The Sri Lankan government is today challenging these recommendations and instead wants to create an exclusively national tribunal on war crimes.
Remembering our fallen colleagues on this special anniversary
Action Against Hunger staff – including Veronique Andrieux, executive director of the organisation’s France headquarters – has travelled to Sri Lanka to honour the memory of the victims on the tenth anniversary of their deaths.
We continue to seek justice for
They are forever in our thoughts.