During their decade-long civil war, Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) appeared to be competing in a contest to demonstrate the greatest disregard for civilians. This Human Rights Watch publication recounts human rights abuses of civilians in the Vanni region perpetrated by both Sri Lankan parties and calls for an end to using civilians for political and military purposes. Sri Lankan forces should immediately begin to adhere to the laws of war regarding civilians, and international parties should seek United Nations’ ajudication on Sri Lankan human rights violations.
After 25 years, armed conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE may be nearing its conclusion. But the tragedy has intensified for a quarter of a million trapped or displaced civilians. In early 2009, civilian casualties have skyrocketed to more than 5,000 deaths. Displaced civilians face dire hardships of insufficient food, medical care and shelter, whether they are in the combat zone or government-run ‘welfare villages’.
In January-February 2009, both sides have committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law. The failure of government forces and the LTTE to meet their international legal obligations has undoubtedly accounted for the high death tolls.
The following human rights violations are currently being perpetrated in the Vanni region:
- When retreating, the LTTE forcibly takes along all civilians under its control. Civilians are dangerously forced into a smaller and smaller space.
- The LTTE has refused to allow civilians to flee the fighting and repeatedly fired on those trying to reach government-held territory. Civilians who remain under LTTE control are subject to forced recruitment into LTTE forces and forced labour on the battlefield.
- LTTE’s practices are exploited by the Government to justify its own atrocities, which include treating Tamil civilians as combatants and shelling areas crowded with civilians.
- The Government has ordered most humanitarian agencies out of the Vanni region, leaving displaced persons without help. Government efforts to provide food, medical supplies and other relief have been insufficient.
- Displaced persons escaping from the battle zone find government internment centres masquerading as “welfare centres” that arbitrarily detain LTTE suspects.
- All displaced persons crossing to the government side are sent to internment centres which are actually military-controlled camps that deny liberty and freedom of movement.
The following recommendations would address the most egregious of these human rights violations:
- The Sir Lankan Government should cease all attacks violating the laws of war and create humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to travel away from the fighting.
- LTTE should stop preventing civilians from leaving their zones and end all deliberate attacks on civilians. It should also create humanitarian corridors.
- Involved foreign governments should seek a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on all Sri Lankan human rights violations.
- The Human Rights Council should insist that the Sri Lankan Government adhere to international legal obligations on human rights and humanitarian issues.