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SRI LANKA – Civil society calls for Special Session at the Human Rights Council

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Civil society organisations worldwide call on the United Nations
Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the current human
rights situation in Sri Lanka, "as a matter of urgent concern".

society organisations worldwide called on the United Nations Human Rights
Council to hold a Special Session on the current human rights situation in Sri
Lanka, "as a matter of urgent concern". Below is a letter written by
FORUM-ASIA, sent to the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council on
6 May with 90 signatories, and on 13 with 130.

The undersigned 130 non-governmental organisations across the globe call upon
the UN Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the current human
rights catastrophe in Sri Lanka, as a matter of urgent concern. We have
observed the lack of an adequate response from the Council so far, and herewith
repeat our heartfelt appeal to the Council to live up to its own mandate by
responding promptly to human rights emergencies. 

The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka has been repeatedly
highlighted by various top UN officials, including the Secretary-General, the
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the High Commissioner for
Human Rights, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights
of internally displaced persons (IDPs), among others, and by the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well as local, regional and international
human rights groups. The press statements, reports and news articles which have
been produced over the last few months, expressing serious concerns and
warnings over the impending tragedy in Sri Lanka are too many to list

The UN estimates more than 6,400 people have been killed since the beginning of
this year in the fighting between the Government of Sri Lanka and the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and many thousands have been severely
injured. Staff of the ICRC and international aid agencies, medical personnel
and religious workers have been amongst those killed and injured. At the
moment, over 50,000 people remain trapped in the tiny area of land controlled
by the LTTE, in danger of death and injury from the ongoing fighting and
suffering from a desperate shortage of medical supplies, food and water. As the
Under-Secretary-General stated in his briefing to the UN Security Council last
Thursday, despite the repeated appeals from the UN and from the diplomatic
community, the Government of Sri Lanka continues to deny access to the UN
humanitarian team into the conflict zone, in order to assess the humanitarian
situation and respond to the basic needs of food and medical supplies. 

The dire conditions faced by around 170,000 people who fled from LTTE
controlled areas to camps operated by the Government are also a matter of grave
concern. In particular, restrictions on the freedom of movement of these
internally displaced persons (IDPs) and family reunification issues should be
addressed by the Government as a matter of priority. 

The concerns of the international community regarding the human rights
situation is not only limited to the current deterioration which has a specific
impact on civilians affected directly by the conflict in northern Sri Lanka.
Core problems of discrimination against minorities and impunity for human
rights abuses, including by the security forces, have been allowed to go
unchecked throughout the country in the past years. As the UN Working Group on
Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances has indicated in its reports, Sri Lanka
holds the largest number of cases of disappearances in the last two years; the
majority of the victims were from the Tamil minority. Furthermore, since 2006,
18 journalists and media workers have been killed, and more than 70 aid workers
including religious leaders working on human rights and humanitarian cause have
been killed or disappeared. A series of threats and attacks have been made against
human rights defenders, including lawyers and media persons who continue to be
arrested and detained without charges. Thousands of Tamil civilians also remain
detained without charges. 

There is no doubt that the LTTE has also committed heinous crimes against the
civilian population in breach of international humanitarian law, and this fact
should continue to be condemned and responded to with appropriate action by the
international community. However, the primary responsibility for protecting
human rights at all times lies with the Government of Sri Lanka, and its
military gains against the LTTE do not legitimize the great cost of civilian
lives, harassment of the Tamil community, repression of democratic dissent, and
the collapse of rule of law in the country. 

Lastly, we would like to call for the attention of the Human Rights Council to
its own resolution A/HRC/RES/9/9 entitled "Protection of the human rights
of civilians in armed conflict", which was adopted by consensus on 21
September 2008. In the resolution, the Human Rights Council stressed its role
and responsibility, pursuant to its mandate, to monitor the implementation of
human rights in situations of armed conflict. On this front, we strongly urge
the Human Rights Council to uphold its mandate with urgent and concrete
actions, that is, to hold a special session on Sri Lanka, include the human
rights situation of Sri Lanka into its agenda on a regular basis and
immediately send an international mission to assess the needs of those
civilians in the conflict affected areas with any unhindered access. 

Thank you very much for your attention to this appeal.

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