Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Responsibility to Protect

'Responsibility to Protect' is an emerging international norm which sets forth that states have the primary responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, but that when states fail to protect its populations, the responsibility falls to the international community.

Tamil refugees fleeing Vaharai Jan 18, 2006 Gulf Times

Ethnic Tamil refugees who have fled the rebel-held village of Vaharai in eastern Batticaloa district, seen arriving at Reditenna, 210km northeast of Colombo, on Saturday.

For materials on the responsibility to protect, go to

See the Tamil Information Centre's March 1998 booklet The International Crime of Genocide: The Case of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka


Note that

  1. One third of the Tamil population are refugees
  2. One third of the Tamil population are IDPs
  3. Significantly larger numbers of Tamils have been killed in the war than Sinhalese
  4. Large numbers of Tamils have had their freedom of movement restricted for long periods
  5. Economic activity and infrastructure in the Tamil areas have been destroyed
  6. Tamils have been driven out of many areas, especially in the East, by force in strategic ethnic cleansing
  7. Government-sponsored colonization has changed the demographics of traditionally Tamil areas
  8. Systematic gerrymandering has diluted Tamil political power
  9. Tamil language has not been incorporated into government or other areas that affect Tamil people
  10. Tamils do not make up their portion of the population in government jobs, and their proportion has been decreasing
  11. Law & order in Tamil areas is in the hands of non-Tamil speaking outsiders
  12. Draconian security laws enforced against Tamils make them vulnerable to disappearance in custody, torture and prolonged detention without trial

And this list can go on and on.


2005 Guidance Note for the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Juan Mendez:



1.  This note aims to follow up on the results of the 26 July 2005 consultation, organized under the auspices of UNA-USA, on building partnerships between the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and civil society.  That meeting recognized that the appointment of a Special Adviser offers an opportunity for civil society organizations to provide information to the Special Adviser with the goal of devising early on preventive measures against genocide. 

2.  Genocide, within the terms of the 1948 Convention is understood as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.  Genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide are all punishable under the terms of the Convention (“acts of genocide”).

3.  Genocide often takes place during situations of armed conflict, although this need not be the case.  In the past, genocide has often been planned meticulously and deliberately.  Prior to undertaking genocidal action, its instigators have propagated messages of intolerance and hatred that served to set the grounds for violence; parts of the population have been identified as terrorists, secessionists or criminals that endanger national security and the well-being of a nation.  These campaigns have tended to classify, identify, symbolize and dehumanize a particular national, ethnic, racial or religious group prior to organizing a campaign of aggression against it.  The groups targeted for genocidal action are most often described as unpatriotic or on the margins of the social body.  Genocide involves the use of violence against members of a group for the mere fact of being part of the group (due to their religion, nationality, race or ethnicity), rather than for reasons having to do with their individual actions or behaviour. 

4.  All too often in our experience, the international community and the United Nations have been slow or have failed in their duties to protect human life and forestall ethnic cleansing and genocide.  Those failures are well known to us and, in the UN context, were the subject of detailed reports in the cases of Rwanda and Srebrenica.  It is important to ensure that the international community lives up to its commitment to do better, to speak loud and clear when faced with signs pointing towards the possibility of massive violations of human rights and international humanitarian law that could, if unchecked, lead to acts of genocide. 

5.  In April 2005, the UN Secretary-General outlined a five-point action plan to prevent genocide.  This plan foresees:

1)  Preventing armed conflict, which usually provides the context for genocide;

2)  Protecting civilians in armed conflict including through specific mandates for UN peacekeeping missions;

3)  Ending impunity through judicial action in both national and international courts;

4)  Gathering information for early warning and making recommendations to the Security Council on actions to prevent or halt genocide;

5)  “Swift and decisive action” along a continuum of steps, including military action.

6.  As a key element of this plan, on 12 July 2004, the Secretary-General appointed Mr. Juan E. Méndez his Special Adviser for the prevention of genocide and, in a letter to the Security Council, attached, outlined the functions of the Special Adviser as follows:

1)  Collecting existing information, in particular from within the UN system, on massive and serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law of ethnic and racial origin that, if not prevented or halted, might lead to genocide;

2)  Act as an early-warning mechanism to the Secretary-General, and, through him to the Security Council, by bringing to the latter’s attention potential situations that could result in genocide;

3)  Make recommendations to the Security Council through the Secretary-General, on actions to prevent or halt genocide; and

4)  Liaise with the UN system on activities for the prevention of genocide and work to enhance the UN capacity to analyze and manage information relating to genocide and related crimes.

7.  In addition to the information that the Special Adviser receives from within the UN system, it is crucial for his office to obtain warning signs from farther a field.  Therefore, it would be useful if civil society organizations transmitted to the Office of the Special Adviser warning signs of growing ethnic unrest, displays of group hatred, discrimination or the ethnic, racial, national or religious dimension of human rights violations.  Though it is difficult to provide an exhaustive list of warning signs indicating the development of a situation where genocide is a risk, the elements listed below can constitute warning signs of a situation requiring careful monitoring.  This list is inspired in the existing literature on genocide studies and prevention and from the practice of the Office of the Special Adviser over the past months.

1. The existence of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group(s) at risk

Warning signs could be (a) pattern of discrimination with the purpose or effect of impairing the enjoyment of certain human rights; (b) exclusionary ideologies that purport to justify discrimination; (c) specific identification of groups and their association with a specific political identity or opinion (including possible compulsory identification or registering of group membership in a way that could potentially lead to the group being targeted in the future); and (d) demonization of groups in political or social discourse  

2.  Violations of human rights and humanitarian law, which may become massive or serious

(a) Armed conflict in which violations of international humanitarian law disproportionately affect a specific group (e.g. intentional massacre of unarmed civilians, civilian targeting during military campaigns, one-sided physical brutality).  (b) Violations of civil and political rights affecting a specific group (e.g. murder—particularly directed against community leaders, torture, mutilation, rape and sexual violence, abduction, population movement/ ethnic cleansing, expropriation, destruction of property, looting, lack of freedom of speech/ press/ assembly/ religion).  (c) Violations of economic, social and cultural rights (e.g. destruction of subsistence food supply, denial of water or medical attention, man-made famine, redirection of aid supplies).  (d) Instances of discrimination (e.g. access to work and resources, political marginalization, restricted movement, education). (e) A climate of impunity in which these events unfold.

3.  Additional warning signs

(a) Lack of institutional framework for citizens to seek justice, redress and demand accountability; (b) concentration of power (economic/political) in one or few groups to the detriment of others; (c) existence of and support to militias that could carry out attacks against groups by proxy; (d) perceived or real external support to groups that could become targets due to being seen as “collaborators” with external enemies; (e) withdrawal of rights associated with citizenship from specific groups; (f) hate speech, incitement to violence, or humiliation of a group in the media; (g) forced relocations, segregation, isolation, or concentration of a group.

4. A history of genocide or discrimination

A history of violence against a group may presage renewed episodes of repression or counter-movements against prior oppressors.  Important elements that may indicate the weight of past experience are (a) a history of vilification or dehumanization of a group; (b) the use of symbols, flags or markings to conjure previous abuse; (c) denial of past atrocities and genocides; and (d) celebration of instances of perceived or actual abuse of a group.

8.  This list of warning signs is by no means exhaustive.  Taken independently, each of the warning sings noted above may be of concern, but not necessarily in and of itself indicative of a genocidal situation.  The predictive value of these elements is most often a function of their interplay and aggregate in a given situation.  Nonetheless, when a number of these warning signs are present, it would be reasonable for the Special Adviser to monitor the situation and give consideration to specific preventive measures.  This list of warning signs is presented as guidance and Civil Society organizations should feel free to transmit information on situations that may not neatly fit these categories.

9.  Reports containing warning signs, analyses of specific situations in which there is evidence of warning signs or specific concerns may be transmitted to the Office of the Special Adviser at the following email addresses:,,, and  The mailing address for the Office of the Special Adviser is:  Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide is: Chrysler Building Room 5160; 405 Lexington Avenue; New York, NY 100174.  The telephone contact number is 212-457-1289. 


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