Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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A Conflict Without Winners

The Crisis in Sri Lanka

by Dr. Francis Deng, Guardian, UK,May 17, 2009

It is not too late for the government to put an end to an increasingly brutal and deadly conflict and pursue a reconciliatory and peaceful path with the ethnic Tamil population to avoid a future resurrection of ethnic-inspired hatred and violence. This polarizing conflict is identity-related with ethnicity and religion as deeply divisive factors. It will not end with winners and losers and it cannot be ended solely through a military victory that may not be sustainable in the long run unless legitimate grievances are addressed.

The standoff might be coming to an end, but a military victory will not be sustainable unless legitimate grievances are addressed

The situation in Sri Lanka is deeply worrying. Most urgent is the need to address the catastrophic conditions of civilians still remaining in a shrinking pocket of land on the northern coastline, designated a "safe zone" by the government, While some reports indicate these trapped civilians are being used as human shields by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels, both sides have been repeatedly reminded by the United Nations s secretary general to adhere to their obligations under international law. Even as the current stand-off might be coming to a conclusion, with the LTTE reportedly offering a ceasefire, there are also grave concerns about the long-term implications of this decades-old conflict on the ethnic Tamil community. The LTTE, who purports to represent the aspirations of the minority ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka for the last 25 years, has persistently waged a violent campaign against the majority Sinhalese government and civilians and often, against members of its own ethnic community.

This last week alone, more than a thousand civilians including dozens of children reportedly died in the safe zone. Since the start of the conflict in January 2009, seven thousand civilians are reported to have been killed and thousands more maimed by heavy shellings by the Sri Lankan military and shootings by LTTE fighters. Other atrocities have also been committed by the parties involved in the conflict. There are reports of Tamil men and women of military age being separated at processing centres, removed from IDP camps and who might be in the custody of the government but cannot be accounted for. The government's practice of selective registration and arbitrary arrests of Tamil men and women elsewhere in Sri Lanka for reasons of security without legislative safeguards is a serious form of discrimination. There have been reports of ethnic Tamil children being forcibly transferred to the custody of pro-government para-military groups, which would have grave consequences for the children's families and community. There have been disturbing reports and images of Tamil men and women suggesting torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The full extent of death, injury and destruction cannot be ascertained because of the government's refusal to allow independent media and monitoring in the conflict zone.

All parties must be urged to respect international human rights and humanitarian law obligations, particularly to prevent unlawful killings and accord protection to civilians and detainees. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to excesses of conflict and the Government has a legal obligation to give them special protection. The parties should be reminded that individuals can be held personally responsible for war crimes and other international crimes committed in the course of conflict and which attract universal jurisdiction. The government should allow the United Nations and other international humanitarian and aid organizations full and unfettered access to all civilians and detainees in places of detention and processing centres, including all sites for the internally displaced.

It is not too late for the government to put an end to an increasingly brutal and deadly conflict and pursue a reconciliatory and peaceful path with the ethnic Tamil population to avoid a future resurrection of ethnic-inspired hatred and violence. This polarizing conflict is identity-related with ethnicity and religion as deeply divisive factors. It will not end with winners and losers and it cannot be ended solely through a military victory that may not be sustainable in the long run unless legitimate grievances are addressed. The government and the LTTE must immediately alleviate the plight of civilians and the Government is urged to work with the international community to initiate a political process to create a national framework in which all Sri Lankans can co-exist as equal citizens.

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Sri Lanka: UN expert on genocide prevention calls for end to conflict

by UN News Centre

15 May 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide today said that “it is not too late” for Sri Lanka's Government forces and rebels to end their brutal conflict, underscoring the toll the clashes are taking on civilians.

There is still time for the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to halt their fighting and “pursue a reconciliatory and peaceful path with the ethnic Tamil population,” Francis Deng said in a statement.

“This polarizing conflict is identity-related with ethnicity and religion as deeply divisive factors,” he said. “It will not end with winners and losers and it cannot be ended solely through a military victory that may not be sustainable in the long-run unless legitimate grievances are addressed.”

Mr. Deng underscored that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to “excesses of conflict,” stressing that the Government is legally obligated to give them special protection. He called on authorities to allow the UN and other agencies “full and unfettered access to all civilians and detainees.”

The Special Advisor also called on the LTTE, for its part, to “immediately cease holding human shields and let civilians leave the conflict area,” a shrinking pocket of land on Sri Lanka's northern coastline where the UN estimates that at least 50,000 people are still trapped.

Also expressing concern today was Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General's Representative for the Human Rights of Displaced Persons, who said the LTTE is preventing civilians from leaving the area and placing military installations close to them, while the Government, for its part, has been using heavy weapons such as mortars there in recent days. “This combination of factors must have resulted in unacceptably high numbers of civilian casualties.”

The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement that heavy fighting earlier this week precluded it from evacuating the wounded and sick from the conflict zone and from delivering food to civilians.

“I call on the LTTE to let the remaining civilians go and both sides to agree to humanitarian pauses for that purpose as well as to allow humanitarian access to bring in much-needed food and medicines and evacuate the wounded,” the Representative said.

Further, both sides are obligated to follow international humanitarian law, he emphasized. “Even if one party to the conflict is deliberately using civilians as human shields, the other party is still prohibited from carrying out attacks that are indiscriminate in their consequences or result in a disproportional loss of civilian life.”

Mr. Kälin also expressed his concern over the dire living conditions in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) who escaped the conflict, with the influx of an additional 110,000 people during the last 10 days of April posing further challenges for the Government and its humanitarian partners.

“Ensuring adequate humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons is first and foremost a Government responsibility, especially since the Government decided to intern them in camps, citing security concerns,” he said, adding that authorities continue to hold nearly 200,000 IDPs in temporary camps.

He also stressed the need to screen and register the displaced without delay and to restore the freedom of movement for the large number of them who are not security risks. “Prolonged internment of such persons would not only amount to arbitrary detention but it also aggravates the humanitarian situation needlessly.”

Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it has started providing cooked meals at a Government screening point for thousands of people fleeing the fighting.

“For many, this will be the first hot meal they have had in days or perhaps much longer,” said Adnan Khan, WFP Representative in Sri Lanka, adding that 3,000 people arrived in Omanthai overnight.

IDPs must pass through screening points before they can move onto temporary transit centres in Vavuniya and Jaffna.

WFP, which is feeding nearly 200,000 people in northern Sri Lanka, is sending food supplies to Omanthai, where the agency, along with a local partner, are responsible for cooking and distributing food.

Since Tuesday, three attempts to deliver food by ship to the conflict zone have been unsuccessful due to the security situation, and the agency is appealing for an additional $42 million to meet the rapidly increasing needs of IDPs.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today reiterated that the loss of civilian life and the situation of those trapped in the conflict zone are unacceptable, deploring the use of heavy weapons and of civilians as human shields.

For its part, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is helping with efforts to provide water for drinking and cooking to displaced Sri Lankans, while the World Health Organization (WHO) is providing medicines and other supplies to meet the medical needs of the displaced.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it believes that an independent commission of inquiry is needed given the conduct of this war and the number of civilians who have been killed.

In a telephone conversation with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday, Mr. Ban reiterated his concerns about the protection of civilians caught up in the conflict. He is also dispatching one of his top advisers, Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, to Sri Lanka to underscore his message and help to resolve the humanitarian situation.