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SRI LANKA: 6 ways to urgently address issues of internally displaced persons

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idps.jpgFORUM-ASIA expressed its grave concern over the lack of measures from the Sri Lankan government to protect and assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) due to recent security operations against the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) in north of Sri Lanka.

 Below is a letter that has been sent to the Sri Lankan government:

Dear Mr. President, 

Based on the information of government agents, the United Nations Inter Agency Standing Committee reports indicated that 221,660 people were displaced in the Killinochi and Mulativu districts that comprise the Vanni region.

We came to know that 51 lorries with 650 metric tones of food was sent to the region recently. But according to reports reaching us, this falls far short of requirements, particularly considering that no food convoys had reached the region since 5th September and that the number of lorries crossing the Omanthai checkpoint to Vanni has been reduced to about 20, from 70 per day since 2007.

We are also concerned about lack of health facilities and shelter materials in the area. The lack of fuel, with petrol reportedly being sold at exorbitant prices is also reported as negatively impacting on provision and distribution of essential materials and assistance to the affected population.

We are particularly concerned about the safety of the civilian population, who had made desperate pleas to the UN and other international agencies not to leave them, a request they were not able to comply with due to your government’s order for them to withdraw.

Ban on independent media in the conflict prone areas has also deprived Sri Lankans and the world of relevant and unbiased information about the unfolding tragedy. The people have no way to verify the claims of the state and the LTTE.

While we note that the LTTE has also violated international humanitarian norms by continuing its practice of forcible recruitment and restricting the movement of civilians, we recognize that those civilians are also reluctant to leave the Vanni region for government controlled areas, as there is no concrete commitment about their security. This is related to more than 700 people who had fled the Vanni region early this year and who had been forcibly confined in two camps in the Mannar district. There had also been frequent arrests of Tamil civilians hailing from the Vanni region purely based on their ethnicity and place of birth and residence.

While we recognize the human rights abuses committed by LTTE, we maintain that it is your government, a party to international covenants and conventions including International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and Convention on Rights of the Child that has the responsibility to uphold its civilians’ rights to food, right to live in dignity, right to health and right of children to education.

We also find your government’s order for people from the North and East who are presently living in the Western province, to register themselves with the police, discriminatory towards the minority communities in the country.

It is widely accepted that displacement makes civilians vulnerable to human rights abuses, exposes women to sexual violations including sexual harrassment and seriously affects the rights of children, especially in terms of their safety, livelihood and education.

Therefore, we propose the following steps and urge the your government to seriously address the escalating problems for IDPs in the country:

 • Ensure that the displaced persons have access to basic rights, particularly the right to receive adequate assistance and protection offered by the presence of UN and other international agencies.

• Ensure the strict adherance of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response.

• Ease all restrictions placed on humanitarian supplies and humanitarian actors entering the Vanni and take all measures to ensure their safety

• Declare designated areas in the Vanni as “safe zones” for civilians and facilitate the administration and monitoring of such facilities by international bodies such as the UN and International Committee of Red Cross

• Ensure journalists’easy access to the areas and committement to protect the journalists. • Respond positively to the request of Ms. Gay Mcdougall, UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues to visit Sri Lanka.

• Respond positively to the request of Ms. Gay Mcdougall, UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues to visit Sri Lanka.

Yours sincerely,

Yap Swee Seng

Acting Executive Director

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development

For more information, please contact:

1. Mr. Yap Swee Seng, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), at [email protected], or +60 12 2015272 2.

Mr. Saji Thomas, South Asia Program Manager, at [email protected], or +66-879895011