UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide Francis Deng made a statement on the 15th of May in which he called on UN and other agencies full and unfettered access to all civilians and detainees. According to the UN News centre, Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of Displaced Persons, who said the LTTE is preventing civilians from leaving the area and placing military installations close to them, while the Government, for its part, has been using heavy weapons such as mortars there in recent days. “This combination of factors must have resulted in unacceptably high numbers of civilian casualties.”
It appears that the International Community including the UN are voicing concern and are fully involved in bringing about a pause but the Government of Sri Lanka relentlessly pursues the military option. Prolonging the conflict is causing high number of causalities and untold misery to those tens of thousands of people trapped in this area. It is also becoming evident that the Government’s time limit for their ‘rescue’ operation continues to extend. …To read the UN News Centre reporting on 15th of May
15 May 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on the prevention of genocide today said that “it is not too late” for Sri Lanka’s Government forces and rebels to end their brutal conflict, underscoring the toll the clashes are taking on civilians.
There is still time for the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to halt their fighting and “pursue a reconciliatory and peaceful path with the ethnic Tamil population,” Francis Deng said in a statement.
“This polarizing conflict is identity-related with ethnicity and religion as deeply divisive factors,” he said. “It will not end with winners and losers and it cannot be ended solely through a military victory that may not be sustainable in the long-run unless legitimate grievances are addressed.”
Mr. Deng underscored that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to “excesses of conflict,” stressing that the Government is legally obligated to give them special protection. He called on authorities to allow the UN and other agencies “full and unfettered access to all civilians and detainees.”
The Special Advisor also called on the LTTE, for its part, to “immediately cease holding human shields and let civilians leave the conflict area,” a shrinking pocket of land on Sri Lanka’s northern coastline where the UN estimates that at least 50,000 people are still trapped.
Also expressing concern today was Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of Displaced Persons, who said the LTTE is preventing civilians from leaving the area and placing military installations close to them, while the Government, for its part, has been using heavy weapons such as mortars there in recent days. “This combination of factors must have resulted in unacceptably high numbers of civilian casualties.”
The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement that heavy fighting earlier this week precluded it from evacuating the wounded and sick from the conflict zone and from delivering food to civilians.
“I call on the LTTE to let the remaining civilians go and both sides to agree to humanitarian pauses for that purpose as well as to allow humanitarian access to bring in much-needed food and medicines and evacuate the wounded,” the Representative said.
Further, both sides are obligated to follow international humanitarian law, he emphasized. “Even if one party to the conflict is deliberately using civilians as human shields, the other party is still prohibited from carrying out attacks that are indiscriminate in their consequences or result in a disproportional loss of civilian life.”
Mr. Kälin also expressed his concern over the dire living conditions in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) who escaped the conflict, with the influx of an additional 110,000 people during the last 10 days of April posing further challenges for the Government and its humanitarian partners.
“Ensuring adequate humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons is first and foremost a Government responsibility, especially since the Government decided to intern them in camps, citing security concerns,” he said, adding that authorities continue to hold nearly 200,000 IDPs in temporary camps.
He also stressed the need to screen and register the displaced without delay and to restore the freedom of movement for the large number of them who are not security risks. “Prolonged internment of such persons would not only amount to arbitrary detention but it also aggravates the humanitarian situation needlessly.”
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it has started providing cooked meals at a Government screening point for thousands of people fleeing the fighting.
“For many, this will be the first hot meal they have had in days or perhaps much longer,” said Adnan Khan, WFP Representative in Sri Lanka, adding that 3,000 people arrived in Omanthai overnight.
IDPs must pass through screening points before they can move onto temporary transit centres in Vavuniya and Jaffna.
WFP, which is feeding nearly 200,000 people in northern Sri Lanka, is sending food supplies to Omanthai, where the agency, along with a local partner, are responsible for cooking and distributing food.
Since Tuesday, three attempts to deliver food by ship to the conflict zone have been unsuccessful due to the security situation, and the agency is appealing for an additional $42 million to meet the rapidly increasing needs of IDPs.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today reiterated that the loss of civilian life and the situation of those trapped in the conflict zone are unacceptable, deploring the use of heavy weapons and of civilians as human shields.
For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is helping with efforts to provide water for drinking and cooking to displaced Sri Lankans, while the World Health Organization (WHO) is providing medicines and other supplies to meet the medical needs of the displaced.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it believes that an independent commission of inquiry is needed given the conduct of this war and the number of civilians who have been killed.
In a telephone conversation with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday, Mr. Ban reiterated his concerns about the protection of civilians caught up in the conflict. He is also dispatching one of his top advisers, Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, to Sri Lanka to underscore his message and help to resolve the humanitarian situation.