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Sri Lanka – Human Rights

The Sri Lankan government has defeated the LTTE militarily after a 25 year civil conflict.  Some 280,000 Tamil refugees are currently being held against their will in military-controlled camps throughout the north, many in and around Vavuniya. Food, water, medicines, medical personnel and other basic supplies are in sort supply. We have received reports of disappearances from the camps, purportedly by Tamil paramilitary groups (from a breakaway LTTE faction) operating in the camps in coordination with the military. There are numerous human rights violations  associated with these camps. For more information on these and other recent developments, please see our page on Sri Lanka.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians were up-rooted due to military operations and massive bombardment in the Vanni (northern Sri Lanka). Unable to escape to the south due to the military incursion, they fled ever farther north. An estimated 350,000 civilians suffered severe scarcity of food, water, medicines and basic supplies in the so-called “No-Fire Zone” along the northeast coast for months while the Sri Lankan Army pressed in on a recalcitrant rebel force. People were unable to leave the zone, forced to remain by the LTTE  who effectively using them as a human shield. An estimated 20,000 people died from January to the end of May 2009. Thousands more were maimed by shelling.

Human rights abuses have been a serious problem in Sri Lanka for years. Disappearances, torture, and extra-judicial killings have had people, especially in Tamil areas, living in a constant state of fear. In 2006 and 2007, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances recorded more new “disappearance” cases from Sri Lanka than from any other country in the world. Those raising concerns about abuses risk being labeled subversive and harassed or worse.

Civil Society Organizations have been pressing for an independent monitoring presence from the UN Commission on Human Rights. With the end of the cease-fire, the Norwegian-led monitoring mission left the country. Despite international pressure, the Sri Lankan government has refused to agree to an independent UN presence. In September 2008, even UN relief and refugee agancies were forced to leave the north by order of the Sri Lanka government. The rationale given was that the government could not protect the aid workers. It now seems clear that the government wanted to remove any international observors from the north while it conducted its military campaign against the LTTE.

With the main highway to the Tamil north cut off by government forces since last year, many essential supplies have been scarce for some time in the northeast. Thousands of students and others in Tamil areas have disappeared, abducted by the LTTE insurgency or ‘disappeared’ by government forces. A claymore bomb blast on January 29, 2008 near the Madhu Shrine in northwestern Sri Lanka, killed or maimed scores of school children and their teachers as they rode by in a bus. The Madhu Shrine itself – for centuries, respected as a zone of peace – was over-run in the Spring of 2008 by government forces. The church property was damaged by shelling, and church officials were forced to leave for several weeks. Efforts to restore a peace zone have been ignored.

Oblates have been documenting disappearances – particularly of students. The disappearance of Fr. Jim Brown, a diocesan Catholic priest feared killed three years ago, has not yet been solved.

Learn More …

Madhu Shrine:

  • SRI LANKA: Appeal to protect the shrine of our lady of Madhu from all military presence and operations April 1, 2008 (Download pdf)

Human Rights Reports:

Of Interest …

Links …

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