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SRI LANKA: UN Human Rights Council to discuss plight of IDPs

BANGKOK, 25 May 2009 (IRIN) - Human rights groups have welcomed a decision by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to address the condition of more than a quarter of a million conflict-displaced in Sri Lanka in a special session.

“This is an important opportunity to examine issues of accountability on both sides to the conflict and to ensure protection of displaced persons and their rights in the post-conflict transition,” Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IRIN, one day before the session was due in Geneva.

On 25 May, the watchdog group said government restrictions on humanitarian access to government camps and to the wounded in the conflict area had worsened the already serious conditions.

“For the sake of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Sri Lanka, the Council should ensure that the Sri Lankan government takes immediate and concrete steps to address this crisis, beginning with providing immediate, unhindered access to international aid workers and monitors,” Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director, added.

According to Amnesty: “The displaced civilians are suffering from widespread and serious human rights violations at the hands of government security forces and allied paramilitary forces, including enforced disappearance; extra-judicial executions; torture and other ill-treatment, and forced recruitment to paramilitary groups.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed after his weekend visit that the first priority was to help the government meet urgent humanitarian needs. "To do so effectively, I have told the President and Foreign Minister that the UN and other international humanitarian agencies need immediate and unimpeded access to the camps."

In addition, Ban said he urged the government to return people to their homes as soon as possible, and in this regard welcomed its announced plan to return 80 percent of displaced people by the end of the year.

The government was also urged to expedite screening and registration processes, and make it easier for families to reunite and to allow people more freedom of movement in and out of the camps.

More than 270,000 Tamil civilians have fled the fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and are now staying in more than 40 government camps across the island’s north, the UN reports.

Amnesty describes the camps as “de facto internment camps”, adding that "civilians who survived weeks under heavy combat reached the camps sometimes badly injured, malnourished, exhausted and traumatised".

But according to the government - which declared victory over the LTTE on 18 May - the camps are needed to separate non-combatant civilians from former LTTE soldiers, who have fought for an independent Tamil homeland for more than two decades.

President Mahinda Rajapakse's statement warned of "the likely presence of Tamil Tiger infiltrators among the large numbers who had come to the government areas".

The government describes the camps as "welfare villages" and says it wants to resettle all displaced civilians as soon as possible. It responded to Ban's appeal by saying that "as conditions improved, especially with regard to security, there would be no objections to such assistance".

Special session

This week's special session follows a request by Germany on behalf 17 members of the HRC, including Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Mauritius, the Netherlands, South Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Ukraine, the UK and Uruguay.

At least 16 members, or one-third of the council’s membership, are required to convey such a session.

“It is hoped that the holding of this special session will contribute towards the cause of peace,” Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, the HRC’s president, said.

“The Human Rights Council cannot be silent when innocent civilians are caught up in armed conflicts. The international community must strive to deliver justice to victims of human rights violations whenever they occur and ensure that those found guilty of such crimes are held accountable for their actions,” he added.

This will be the 11th special session of the council; others related to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Darfur, Myanmar, Democratic Republic of Congo, the global food and economic crises.

Meanwhile, HRW continues to receive many credible reports of violations of the laws of war by both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government forces, including the LTTE's use of civilians as human shields, and child soldiers, and the Sri Lankan government's indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas, including hospitals.

“These allegations demand an impartial investigation,” the group stated.

However, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said at a weekend press conference marking the visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "There is no question of war crimes, it is not an option that will arise. The Sri Lankan forces have followed a policy of zero civilian casualties and been mindful of that."

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

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Copyright © IRIN 2009
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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