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Sri Lanka: A Military solution to conflict is NOT a solution

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As the year comes to a close, the war between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has intensified to levels not seen before it this decades-long conflict. Civilians, particularly the minority Tamil and Muslim communities, continue to bear the brunt of violence.

The escalating violence between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is destroying hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The ceasefire agreement that was signed in 2001 exists only on paper as both parties flagrantly violate its terms.  The government has pushed through with a military solution, wresting control of the Eastern provinces and pushing full steam ahead to a takeover in the North, territory that has been defacto administered by the LTTE.

Both the military and the LTTE show little to no regard for affected communities, often poor Tamil and Muslim villagers who must flee their homes to avoid being smack in the middle of fighting. Over 330, 000 people were displaced in 2007 alone. Humanitarian agencies are prevented from administering assistance and displaced families are coerced and even forced to return to their villages with no guarantees of safety or livelihood.

Civilians are specifically targeted: in the last two weeks of November 2007, 50 civilians were killed, many as a result of LTTE bombings in the capital of Colombo and the government’s aerial bombing of a LTTE radio station in the North. Extra-judicial killings are rampant, encouraged by revived emergency regulations that give unimpeded powers of arrest and detention to security forces. Anti-terrorism rhetoric was used as the government evicted hundreds of Tamils from Colombo in June.

The level of disappearances is abhorrent; perpetrators are able to act with impunity to the extent that disappearances have become an industry for bribe money, targeting the Tamil minority in particular. Humanitarian and media workers have not been spared. After the vicious massacre of 17 aid workers last year, the government’s attempts to investigate have been horribly flawed and stink of a cover up of security force culpability. Sri Lanka was added to the International Press Institute’s watchlist of countries whose press freedoms have been violated as at least 3 journalists have been known to be killed.

The Commission of Inquiry that was established has proven to be largely a farce, an attempt to stave off criticism from the international community and the call for a UN international monitoring mechanism. The National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was recently downgraded by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights due to its lack of independence. Now with “observer” status, they have had to forfeit their right to vote in international meetings. Given that all protection mechanisms in the country are extremely weak, the Commission of Inquiry cannot possibly address all the systemic problems plaguing Sri Lanka.