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Sri Lanka: Jaffna NGO meetings with UN Representative Marred by Military Presence

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FORUM-ASIA members, INFORM and Law and Society Trust, are concerned that visit by UN Under Secretary General on Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. John Holmes, to Sri Lanka has been marred by the heavy presence of the military.Ā  Their inability to meet freely with the UN representative demonstrates increasing threats to NGO workers.
As civil society organizations concerned about the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, we welcome the visit of UN Under Secretary General on Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. John Holmes to Sri Lanka. An objective ground assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka, carried out by a person of his standing, would have been a critical component of any future discussions on a return to peace in Sri Lanka.
Sadly, however, we have learned that Mr. Holmeā€™s attempt to meet with civil society representatives during his visit to Jaffna on August 7 was marred by the heavy presence of the military at the Public Library, Jaffna, where the meeting was held.

Our colleagues in Jaffna have also conveyed to us that on the day before Mr. Holmeā€™s visit to Jaffna, the military commander called for a meeting at Palaly military headquarters, at which NGOs and civil society representatives were instructed not to refer to human rights issues and to restrict themselves to issues of humanitarian assistance during their meeting with Mr. Holmes. The military told the NGO and civil society representatives present that they, the military, would brief Mr. Holmes about the human rights and security situation, while the Government Agent would brief Mr. Holmes about the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Humanitarian and human rights groups in Jaffna have expressed their serious reservations about this interference by the military and regret their inability to meet Mr. Holmes in a more private manner, which would have enabled them to freely share their views, perspectives and experiences with him.

We condemn this type of military interference in matters relating to civil society and NGO activity. This completely undermines existing practice in which visiting UN officials meet with civil society groups during country visits, insisting on privacy for such meetings, even going as far as declining invitations when these conditions are not met. Given the high levels of insecurity, that include killings and abductions,Ā faced by humanitarian agencies, human rights organizationsĀ and other civil society organisations we are also deeply concerned of the security implicationsĀ for the actors whoĀ were invited to the meetings.Ā Ā 

The steps taken by the military in Jaffna to restrict Mr. Holmesā€™ access to information can only reaffirm concerns in the international community that there is no transparency and accountability of the government and of the military when it comes to both human rights and humanitarian issues in the conflict-affected areas of Sri Lanka.

We trust that Mr. Holmes will reflect these concerns in his reports, on the basis that his ability to obtain an objective assessment of the ground situation in the country based on perspectives of various stakeholders including humanitarian agencies on the ground was negatively affected by this situation. Ā 

Centre for Policy Alternatives
Free Media Movement
INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
International Movement Against All Forms of Racial DiscriminationĀ 
Law & Society Trust
Rights Now
9th August 2007