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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) > Seminar on Humanitarian Action in the 'Undeclared' War in Sri Lanka >

Human Rights, Humanitarian Law
& the tamil nation

Seminar on Humanitarian Action
in the 'Undeclared' War in Sri Lanka

Organised by Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) in association with the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples (LIDLIP) and International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and  Racism, (IMADR)

Centre for Just Peace & Democracy (CJPD)International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples IAMDR

on 22 September 2007 from 8.30 am to 6 pm at  
at World Council of Churches, 150, route de Ferney, Geneva

Media Release at Conclusion of Seminar, 2 October 2007

Welcome Speech by Mr. A.C. Tarcisius, CJPD

"..We are privileged to have Dr Bertrand G Ramcharan as our key-note speaker today.  He is an acknowledged scholar and leader on International Law; a Fellow of the LSE and Harvard, author of 25 books and numerous articles and Chancellor of the University of Guyana. He was once a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists. At the UN, he has served for over 3 decades and was once in charge of UN Peace Keeping Operations. Prof Ramcharan served as Director, International Conference on former Yugoslavia. At the UN, he was finally the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the level of UN – Under-Secretary General..."

Opening Speech by Ms. Verena Graf, LIDLIP

"Based on historical and socio-political evidence, LIDLIP and other organizations have always argued that the Sri Lankan Tamils fulfil all the criteria to qualify as a people. Not only a common culture, language and religion but also a typical traditional settlement area, a shared history and democratically expressed will characterize them as a nation. Moreover, they share the experience of a people that has been systematically and collectively discriminated against, even persecuted in independent Sri Lanka."

Setting the Scene: Humanitarian Action in the 'Undeclared' War - Mr. Kasinather Sivapalan Deputy President, Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR) and Local nominee to SLMM Trincomalee

Humanitarian Crisis & the 'Undeclared' War - Ms. Sunila Abeysekera Executive Director, INFORM

Humanitarian Crisis & the 'Undeclared' War - Mr. David Rampton Visiting Lecturer, SOAS 

David Rampton is a Visiting Lecturer at the Development Studies and Politics Departments, SOAS. He studied History and Politics (BA) and Political Studies (MSc) both at London, SOAS, and is currently engaged in doctoral research on the JVP and nationalism in Sri Lanka based at the Department of Politics, SOAS. His research interests include nationalism, political theory, political violence, politics and forced migration and South Asian (and specifically Sri Lankan) society and politics. He is the convenor and lecturer for the Global Refugee Crisis course. [see also President Rajapakse's Colonisation of East Tamil Eelam ]

Ground Realities: Challenges faced by Humanitarian Actors  - Rev. Fr. Jeyakumar Director, HUDEC-CARITAS

Ground Realities - Challenges faced by Humanitarian Actors - Mr. Jeevan Thiagarajah Executive Director, The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies

Obstacles Faced by the Humanitarian Community in Sri Lanka - Arjunan Ethirveerasingam, Media Relations, TRO (Colombo)

The Application of Humanitarian Law - Ms. Karen Parker Lawyer, International Education Development

Human Rights, Humanitarian Standards and the War in Sri Lanka - Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives

The Application of Humanitarian Law & Ways Forward -Rev. Fr. Alphonsus Bernard, Director, CEPAHRC

Preliminary Seminar Announcement, 20 September 2007

The seminar brought together local and international activists, UN agencies, Geneva-based ECOSOC NGOs and other actors involved in humanitarian work to discuss the present ground situation in Sri Lanka and explore ways to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population. In all forty-five people participated in the round table discussion.

l to r: Verena Graf, Secretary-General of LIDLIP delivering Opening Speech, Mr.A.C.Tarcius, Director CJPD and Professor B. G. Ramcharan who delivered the key note address.

Seminar Co-Chairs Ms. Nimalka Ferdando, President, IMADR and Mr. Prasanna Chandrakumar, Programme Coordinator, CJPD in the centre. [see also photo gallery at cjpdonline.org]

Media Release at Conclusion of Seminar, 2 October 2007 [also in PDF]

On 22 September 2007 the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) in collaboration with the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), Sri Lanka and International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples (LIDLIP), Switzerland hosted a seminar in Geneva, Switzerland on “Humanitarian Action in the Undeclared War in Sri Lanka”.

This seminar brought together local and international activists, UN agencies, Geneva-based ECOSOC NGOs and other actors involved in humanitarian work to discuss the present ground situation in Sri Lanka and explore ways
to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population. In all forty-five people participated in the round table discussion.

“The presenters and participants brought a range of micro and macro level perspectives to the issue and were able to illuminate some of the underlying structural factors that have caused the present humanitarian crisis” said Ms. Nimalka Ferdando, President, IMADR.

After welcome addresses by Mr. A.C. Tarcisus, Director, CJPD and Ms. Verena Graf, Secretary General, LIDLIP; the seminar was opened with a keynote address by Professor B. G. Ramcharan, Former Director of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, who stressed the need for a negotiated settlement to the prolonged armed conflict and shared insights from his experiences in the Former Yugoslavia.

Papers were presented by a range of speakers from Sri Lanka, the Tamil diaspora and the international community, these included Mr. Kasinather Sivapalan, Deputy President, Northeast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR) and Local nominee to SLMM Trincomalee; Ms. Sunila Abeysekera, Executive Director, INFORM; Mr. David Rampton,
Visiting Lecturer at the Development Studies and Politics Departments, SOAS; Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA); Ms. Karen Parker, J.D., International Educational
Development; Mr. Arjunan Ethirveerasingham, Media Relations, Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (Colombo) and Rev. Fr. Alphonsus Bernard, Director, CEPAHRC, Jaffna.

Additionally, papers were also submitted by Rev. Fr. Jeyakumar, Director, HUDEC-CARITAS Jaffna and Mr. Jeevan Thiagarajah, Executive Director, The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA).

Mr Rampton, focussing on the spectre of colonization in the east, said, "whilst the current landscape in the East is one of humanitarian crisis and endemic human rights abuses, the current focus on human rights issues, which whilst performing the essential task of exposing the authoritarianism and violence of the current regime, is insufficient to capture the cold calculations and reasoning in the intentions of the Sri Lankan State which has once again returned the logic of Sinhala colonisation."

Sunila Abeysekera noted that “every day three people are killed on average ... Overall, the present situation is one in which developing a clear vision regarding the future is extremely difficult. Political instability in the south combined with an increasingly authoritarian form of government and heightened reliance on the military and on a military resolution of the ethnic conflict dominate southern politics, while in the north and east the political and military hegemony of the LTTE is being challenged by the government and its security forces as well as by other political actors. The possibility of a return to negotiations and to a peace process becomes ever more distant."

Rev. Fr. Jeyakumar’s submission observed that “the war has socio-political consequences resulting in the loss of security, freedom of movement, and democratic rights. Threats of violence, abductions, extrajudicial killings and insecurity are commonplace. Data indicates there is a general fear psychosis and paranoia generated among the people. The phenomenon of disappearances has enormous social and cultural impacts as seen by the increase in the number of orphans and widows. Most victims are young fathers which leaves widows with the experience of economic burden and social stigma”.

Ms. Karen Parker, J.D., also reflected that “this war is not going to end until it’s discussed as a war, until the rules of war are put on the table.”  Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu called on both parties to the conflict to “get together to establish minimum commitments in upholding human rights“.

Additionally, Rev. Fr. Bernard contemplated that “For the Tamil people…this is not the first time that they have experienced it [the humanitarian crisis.] Acts of violence and human rights violations will be looked at from this perspective…in so far as they are symptomatic of an underlying genocidal process."

The meeting was co-chaired by Ms. Verena Graf, Secretary General, LIDLIP, Ms. Nimalka Ferdando, President, IMADR and Mr. Prasanna Chandrakumar, Programme Coordinator, CJPD.

“When organising this forum we were mindful of creating a space that would facilitate an exchange of views and experiences in an environment of openness and dialogue” said Ms. Graf.

“People who have very differing political views were able to put aside their differences to discuss the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately the current climate on the island does not permit
such exchanges to occur.” added Mr. Chandrakumar.

For further information please see website www.cjpdonline.org


Opening speech by Verena Graf of International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples [also in PDF]

"Based on historical and socio-political evidence, LIDLIP and other organizations have always argued that the Sri Lankan Tamils fulfil all the criteria to qualify as a people. Not only a common culture, language and religion but also a typical traditional settlement area, a shared history and democratically expressed will characterize them as a nation. Moreover, they share the experience of a people that has been systematically and collectively discriminated against, even persecuted in independent Sri Lanka."

Allow me to say a few words about LIDLIP, the organization I represent at the United Nations. It is a peoples’ rights organization, dealing with collective rights as distinguished from individual rights, therefore it stands for peoples, groups, communities, etc.

In fact, the International League for the Rights of Peoples (LIDLIP) has been engaged for almost three decades in international fora not least in the United Nations and especially in the Commission on Human Rights.

Today, it is in the Human Rights Council and other United Nations bodies, where we support the struggle of peoples around the world for liberation from oppression. Despite ups and downs, we have kept hope that at last rhetoric will be translated into action, collective human rights will prevail. Today, again, we witness outright regression. Military might has replaced justice, an unqualified fight against ‘terrorism’ the struggle for freedom, consideration of state security the advancement of human rights.

In the course of the years, I have myself got to know many Tamils, men and women, whole families, personalities, to mention just one: G.G. Ponnambalam, but also grass-roots people, that is to say Tamils of all walks of life; some I got the chance to meet only once, because time did not allow to meet again: they were assassinated.

LIDLIP has been aware of the situation in Sri Lanka, in particular of the Tamil armed struggle, since 1986 and has ever since taken up the issue in the human rights fora.

Based on historical and socio-political evidence, LIDLIP and other organizations have always argued that the Sri Lankan Tamils fulfil all the criteria to qualify as a people. Not only a common culture, language and religion but also a typical traditional settlement area, a shared history and democratically expressed will characterize them as a nation. Moreover, they share the experience of a people that has been systematically and collectively discriminated against, even persecuted in independent Sri Lanka.

Still today, and perhaps more than ever, it is important that NGOs take up this issue and spread information in the international field, in the United Nations, in the media, and wherever possible, precisely because there is often a blackout of news from Sri Lanka.

When it is not a blackout, it is often misinformation. Press freedom and freedom of expression are in danger in Sri Lanka; journalists are arrested, tortured, abducted, disappeared and killed. Misinformation is massively used internally and internationally by the government to distort the real picture of what is happening in conflict areas.

The major news we get here in Europe, are about the LTTE recruiting child soldiers, the harsh rule and warfare of the LTTE. But nobody acknowledges that there is a war, a war which is not recognized.

It is not sufficient that the Sri Lankan governmental delegation overwhelms Room XVII with its luxury colour printed folders to give a picture of the situation reigning in Sri Lanka and this to create opinion. It is not sufficient, because one part is missing; like any coin, there are two sides. Yes, there is a war, a unrecognized war. One of our organization’s specific approaches to situations, is to go to the root causes, to the origin of a conflict. But the topic of today’s seminar is another, therefore I shall not dwell on the deep reason of this ongoing conflict.

The Tamil people, not only suffered the tsunami, they still suffer the lack of aid, because it is the Sri Lankan Government that received foreign aid and decides on its distribution. It is the gatekeeper that at its discretion determines access and itinerary even of foreign dignitaries to the country, as the former UN Secretary General (Kofi Annan) had to witness when he was prevented from visiting the tsunami affected Northeast of Sri Lanka,

The media for instance hardly speak about the murdering of religious leaders and laymen; news has hardly spoken about the assassination of Joseph Pararajasingham, an elected member of Parliament (TNA) while attending Christmas eve mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Batticaloa in 2005, and many other human rights defenders.

The media rarely speak about the disastrous situation of the people suffering from lack of food, water and other essential items, of the hundreds of thousands of displaced people without shelter and access to health care. An ongoing humanitarian crisis which lasts and no longer arouses any emotion, also because unknown.

A ceasefire systematically disadvantages the non-state actor. The international community, including many human rights organizations, favour the state. Thus, despite being signatory to the two 1966 Conventions on Human Rights and having ratified the 4th Geneva Convention, successive governments of Sri Lanka are responsible for collective punishment of the Tamils, of having indiscriminately bombed schools, refugee camps, and churches, of having blocked food and medical supplies to the population in the Northeast.

The LTTE is criminalized as a terrorist organization, proscribed in several countries, whereas nobody accuses Sri Lanka of state terrorism. Therefore a basic and profound asymmetry has been established between the official government and the oppressed. The asymmetry between a government and a freedom movement proves particularly disadvantageous for cease fire agreements and negotiations because the official Government alone is treated as representing the State.

But enough talking of war and hardship, let us go for negotiations. We must push for negotiations and get the parties to the negotiation table. The international community must stand up for a just negotiated solution.

While it is true that it is primarily up to the Sri Lankans to find a route to a just peace, the international community can not absolve itself of a certain responsibility for the deterioration of the situation, even systemic impasse.

If the decision of the Sri Lankan Government to invite UN rapporteurs, the High Commissioner and other visitors is welcome, the peoples cannot wait until reports are drafted, published and adopted, they must live now, they wish to live in peace and all peoples have the right to live in peace.


Obstacles Faced by the Humanitarian Community in Sri Lanka - Arjunan Ethirveerasingam (TRO – Colombo) [also in PDF]

For the past three years I have worked in Colombo and the NorthEast for the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization. Earlier this year I was forced to leave the country due to the degrading security situation for Tamils in Colombo and the harassment of TRO by security forces and the police. TRO's bank accounts were frozen and the police removed all the computers and files from the office. All the offices in the Government controlled areas were raided, photographs taken of all the employees and our home addresses were recorded. The police and army also visited my home numerous times and we received numerous anonymous death threats.  

My topic for this seminar is the "Current obstacles faced by humanitarian organization working in the NorthEast." To put this in context I will give a brief background to the current situation. 

At the time of the signing of the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in 2002, there was no institutional mechanism available to plan, coordinate and implement the necessary, and expected, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development. It was imperative that the initial focus of any "peace talks" would be the "humanitarian situation" in the NorthEast and the return of the 730,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).  

International humanitarian relief and developmental aid was to be channeled through the Government of Sri Lanka and its institutions despite the fact that the GoSL lacked adequate human resources, organizational structures and physical infrastructure to deliver the aid in the NorthEast.  

Additionally, the centralized nature of the Sri Lankan political bureaucracy meant that the majority of policy and funding decisions, as well as needed inspections, approvals and permit processes had to come from the central government in Colombo. This led to delays, inappropriate projects and misappropriation of funds due to endemic corruption. The politicization of aid and development also limited and delayed humanitarian relief and development.  

Local and International NGOs (LNGOs, INGOs) and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) struggled to fill the gap between the promises made by the international community and the GoSL and the ground realities because the funds for post-CFA development and reconstruction, and post-Tsunami reconstruction never materialized at the expected levels. LNGOs, INGOs, and CBOs faced structural and monetary problems due to constantly changing systems and institutional structures mandated by the GoSL and the International Community, such as SIRHN & P-TOMS, which were never funded or implemented. This resulted in severe limitations in the pace of reconstruction, rehabilitation and short and long term development which in the end negatively impacted the delivery of the "peace dividend" to the NorthEast.  

In the absence of the institutional mechanisms, local NGOs, such as TRO, sought to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population and provide immediate relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development.  

The plight of the IDPs and the civilian population has worsened over the last 20 months due to the resumption of hostilities. There are more IDPs now, approximately 850,000, than at the beginning of the CFA.

                A Breakdown of IDP figures:

  • There are approximately 350,000 pre-CFA conflict displaced

  • There have been 350,000 IDPs displaced in 2006-2007 due to the resumption of hostilities

  • And there are approximately 150,000 tsunami IDPs still in temporary shelters

The humanitarian situation, which is reaching crisis proportions, and the obstacles and difficulties faced by the humanitarian community, must be seen in the larger context of the attacks on Tamil civil society, the media and the Tamil community at large. The GoSL Security Forces and affiliated paramilitaries have participated in:

1.        Restricting the flow of humanitarian relief and access to IDPs

2.        Indiscriminate shelling and bombardment of IDP Camps, schools, and communities, which at times has seemed designed to displace the population prior to a military offensive and

3.        Attacks on and harassment of humanitarian aid workers & projects  

From the perspective of local NGOs and CBOs in the NorthEast, the initial rush of interest in development in the post-CFA and post-Tsunami periods led to an influx of numerous multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors, INGOs, UN Agencies, and other international organizations. Many of these actors attempted to institute their own "systems", "delivery mechanism", "visions" and "organizational cultures"; in essence they sought to dictate to the LNGOs and CBOs who had served the affected populations during the years of war when funds were scarce and international attention even scarcer. This led to a degree of tension when the local organizations attempted to assert their right to choose development that was in line with their guiding principles and the wishes of the beneficiaries. Organizations such as TRO, other LNGOs and CBOs, continued to function with the systems and structures that they had used prior to the CFA, which were based on their knowledge of the ground realities, local customs and culture, while attempting to absorb and adapt to the new partners' modus operandi

I will now move on to the obstacles currently faced by Humanitarian Organizations operating in the NorthEast

Due to the resumption of hostilities at the beginning of 2006, the amount of "development work" that can be performed in most areas of the NorthEast is severely limited. The current focus is providing emergency humanitarian relief and shelter to those who have been displaced. The GoSL has also severely restricted access for local and international humanitarian agencies, and in some cases has for extended periods enforced a complete embargo and ban, on humanitarian aid to parts of the NorthEast.  

Over the past 20 months, the GoSL has pursued a premeditated and deliberate policy of restricting and denying humanitarian aid and relief to the Tamil people of the NorthEast. The freezing of the TRO bank accounts in Sri Lanka is part of the GoSL's policy to restrict access, aid and relief to the affected populations. The freeze has been effective in severely limiting the amount of humanitarian relief reaching the war and tsunami affected communities.

Some of the obstacles & difficulties that aid organizations have faced:

  1. Attacks on Humanitarian Aid Workers and Organizations

The harassment and physical attacks on humanitarian aid workers, including the killing of 58 humanitarian workers, (Since delivering this speech the number has increased to 59 due to the killing of Rev. Fr. Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith, Manner Coordinator for the International Humanitarian Organisation Jesuit Refugee Service by a Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Unit on 26 September 2007 as alleged by local NGOs and civil society) almost all of whom are Tamils, without any investigation, arrests, prosecution or convictions has reinforced the prevailing culture of impunity that exists in Sri Lanka. (See Appendix I for the full list) Some of the major killings and attacks on humanitarian workers and organizations have been:

    1. The abduction, rape, and execution of 7 TRO humanitarian workers in January 2006 by paramilitary forces affiliated to the GoSL

    2. The Execution of 17 ACF humanitarian workers by GoSL armed forces (as alleged by the independent Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission);

    3. The 2 Sri Lanka Red Cross workers who were abducted in June 2007 in Colombo and later found dead

    4. There have also been attacks on the humanitarian community in general and specific organizations in particular via the state media, government representatives and Members of Parliament. UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Sri John Holmes was called a terrorist by a senior Sri Lankan Minister for having stated the obvious fact that Sri Lanka was a dangerous place for humanitarian workers.

  1. Access - The restriction of "access" to the NorthEast Tsunami and War affected IDPs by the GoSL is achieved through a variety of unnecessarily restrictive and excessive rules and regulations, "unpublicized restrictions", and an outright refusal by the government to allow humanitarian access and the flow of adequate humanitarian relief, especially food and medicine, to the worst affected areas.

    1. At times there has been an outright denial of access by the GoSL to civil society, NGOs, INGOs and the UN to areas and populations affected by the conflict

    2. Permits: The imposition of excessive and restrictive permit procedures & processes imposed by the GoSL on all humanitarian organizations operating in the NorthEast

    3. Restrictions and impediments imposed by the GoSL on access by local and international humanitarian organizations to areas controlled by the LTTE

    4. Restrictions on work and scope of humanitarian agencies aimed at limiting their ability to assist affected persons

  2. Embargos: In April 2006, the GoSL began restricting the transportation of construction materials (cement, iron bars, etc.) to the LTTE controlled Vanni. In August 2006 the GoSL enforced a complete ban on construction material to the Vanni. As a result, all tsunami reconstruction work, including permanent housing, has halted. Some international agencies are trying to complete projects by using construction items that are available at extremely high prices in the local market.

  3. Restricted Items There are restrictions on the transportation of a variety of materials and goods to LTTE controlled areas:

    1. Ministry of Defense (MoD) clearance is required for the transportation of all food, medicine and Non Food Relief Items (NFRI) – for the most part the quantities initially requested are slashed to a fraction of the required amount.

    2. Government imposed restrictions on the movement of essential items, such as fuel, medicines and food, to the LTTE-controlled north (Vanni) have persisted since August 2006. Prices of these basic and essential items have thus risen significantly.

    3. Fuel for Vanni: UN agencies and some INGOs are allowed a quota but this is usually slashed by as much as 50%. The UN must sign off on the INGO requests as the 21 agencies allowed to work in the Vanni are UN partners. No fuel is allowed for local NGOs and

                                                               i.      The current Fuel Allotment for the Vanni is only 50% of the usual (pre-August 2006) need.

  1. Unpublicized Restrictions: Refusal by GoSL checkpoint personnel throughout the NorthEast to allow access or transportation of building materials. The GoSL security force personnel at the checkpoint request a "permit" from " Colombo" to allow the material through, but when queries are made with the authorities in Colombo they deny that such permits are required

    1. There are also items which are arbitrarily banned at checkpoints by the soldiers or OIC

    2. Despite a policy decision to allow items approved by the Commissioner General of Essential Services (CGES) to be freely transported to the Vanni the policy is not being adhered to at the check point.

  2. Checkpoints: The GoSL has permanently closed the A9 at Muhamalai and the Omanthai checkpoint is frequently closed. An INGO staffer stated that: "…when crossing the Forward Defensive Lines (FDLs) the soldiers and police at the checkpoint usually question the agencies extensively, especially national workers, regarding their activities. At times the searching takes hours and the vehicles are searched inch by inch."
     

  3. Visas & Work permits: In early 2006 the GoSL instituted a "work permit" requirement for all "international staff" of NGOs (other than the UN & ICRC). This work permit was an additional procedure that was instituted by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) despite the fact that all these persons already had "work visas" issued by the GoSL. Very few work permits have been approved for the LTTE controlled areas forcing many INGOs to suspend work in these areas or drastically cut back the scope of their projects. As a result INGOs are not able to access some of the most severely affected IDPs. The GoSL has also denied work visas to some and the renewal of visas for international staff who they view as "troublesome"
     

  4. There has been Pressure on iNGOs to work in areas controlled by government and not in LTTE controlled areas despite the presence of IDPs and conflict & tsunami affected populations. There has been:

    1. Pressure to focus on or transfer projects to the so called "liberated" East and to the South. This is unofficial, subtle pressure for organizations to make interventions directly or through government departments and government sponsored CBOs like the Rural Development Societies.
       

  5. Corruption – Beneficiaries forced to pay bribes to government officials in order to be included on the government beneficiary list and thus be eligible for assistance.
     

  6. Government Responsibility: There is a lack of information and transparency regarding the humanitarian policies of the government. A large number of Ministries and government departments are responsible for IDPs and humanitarian response and at times it is unclear to the humanitarian community and the government officials themselves, where certain responsibilities lie.
     

  7. Militarization of the Administration of the "East"

    1. The GoSL has declared large portions of Sampoor and Muthur to be High Security Zones (HSZ) and are not allowing the IDPs to return to their homes and farms. There are plans to turn the area into an "Economic Development Zone".

    2. In order to work in the East NGOs and INGOs have to get permission from respective Government Agents and the military commanders.

    3. Development and reconstructions is now coordinated and controlled by the military.

    4. The Increased militarization of the East has created an environment which is conducive to military oversight and control of civil society and NGOs… Increased militarization of the region is evident in the form of military checkpoints and the active engagement of the military in the return, resettlement and rehabilitation processes.

    5. The GoSL has appointed military personnel to high posts in the Provincial Council of the Eastern Province. The Governor is a retired military officer.

    6. This military oversight of INGO activities has created a militarized civil administration in the East"

    7. An example is the Directive sent out by Major General Parakrama Pannipitiya, Security Forces Commander (East) to officials and senior security officials in the East, which states that police & armed forces should supervise the development of the East and that it is mandatory to include a member of the armed forces and the police in the committee. Additionally, the police should be the ones to name the members of the committee to be chosen from the community.

    8. Due to this high level of military influence and participation at all levels of humanitarian relief and development the sense of fear and intimidation felt by the humanitarian community and beneficiaries is very high. Additionally, due to the "…inclusion of military commanders in the reconstruction of the East, NGOs and community based organizations (CBOs) are extremely reluctant to voice their opinions freely, particularly during meetings with government officials."

II.             Example of denial of access: Vaharai

During the offensive to capture Vaharai the GoSL closed the A15 highway denying access to civilians in desperate need of humanitarian relief. Convoys were only allowed to proceed under special circumstances and even when allowed in did not carry adequate quantities of supplies to meet the needs of the population.  

In violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) denied humanitarian agencies, the UN and ICRC, access to the 45,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). The GoSL enforced an embargo on the transportation of food, medicine, shelter, and non-food relief items (NFRI) to the area for over two months.  

Throughout the crisis the GoSL restricted the transportation of food, medicine and all other humanitarian relief to the area and allowed only token convoys of relief on an ad hoc basis restricting the amount allowed per convoy to approximately 60% of the required amount.  

The restriction on the freedom of movement of international humanitarian personnel, and the ensuing denial of access to IDPs on the pretext of " security" in situations of armed conflict, in which the suspension is used for military and political objectives, and on a discriminatory basis is a violation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).  

III.           Attacks on TRO

There have been 19 major attacks, and numerous minor attacks, on TRO aid workers, offices or projects over the past two years. The most recent of these occurred on Thursday 20 September 2007 when the Sri Lanka Air Force bombed the TRO Mullaitivu District Office injuring 6 civilians and severely damaging the buildings.

These attacks have forced TRO to take extra security measures to ensure the safety and security of staff and beneficiaries. TRO aid workers in GoSL controlled areas have been intimidated, threatened, harassed, assaulted, and "disappeared" by the GoSL security forces and paramilitary forces. TRO projects, IDP camps and TRO Children's Homes have been bombed and shelled by the GoSL and hand grenades have been thrown into the Batticaloa and Jaffna offices with the latter also being burnt to the ground. These attacks and the attackers have sought to intimidate TRO staff and restrict the delivery of humanitarian relief and development to the war and tsunami affected communities of the NorthEast.

a.        Abduction of TRO Staff

In January 2006 seven (7) TRO humanitarian aid workers were abducted by armed paramilitary gunmen affiliated to the GoSL. The abductions occurred on the 29 th and 30th of January in the GoSL controlled Wellikanda area in the vicinity of SL Army roadblocks/checkpoints. One of the abducted Mr Ganeshalingam, was a member of TRO's Board of Governors and was Secretary of the Pre School Education Development Center (PSEDC). He and his driver were abducted on the 30 th January while traveling from Batticaloa to Kilinochchi during a tour of Pre Schools in the East. The previous day the Batticaloa Chief Accountant, Ms Premini (25), and her team of accountants were traveling from Batticaloa to Vavuniya for in service training when they were abducted.  

At the time of the abductions GoSL representatives at all levels - from the Sri Lanka Foreign Minister to the Inspector General of the Police made statements that the abductions were a hoax staged by TRO. TRO officials and family members of the abducted in the East and Colombo encountered resistance when trying to file police reports and convince the police to investigate the abductions. The witnesses, two preschool teachers in their early 20's who were abducted while traveling with Mr. Ganeshalingam and were then released, also faced difficulties when trying to make police reports at the Batticaloa Police station. In fact, they were held overnight in the Batticaloa Police Station Jail when they appeared to make their statements. They also had to journey to Colombo to have the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission (SL-HRC) record their statements.  

TRO officials in Colombo attempted to raise the profile of the case through meetings with the Diplomatic missions, the UN, ICRC, INGOs, the media, and GoSL representatives including Mahinda Samarasinghe (Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights), the Police, the CID and the SL-HRC.  

None of the investigative bodies of the GoSL ever produced any arrests, convictions, or information on the fate of the 7 humanitarian workers. The SL-HRC investigators who "investigated" the abductions prepared a report and submitted it to the Commissioner, Rathika Coomaraswamy. This report was never released and soon after receiving the report Ms. Coomaraswamy left the island to take up her position with the United Nations.  

Twenty months after their abductions these 7 humanitarian aid workers remain "disappeared". Reports in the media state that a few days after being abducted the 7 were tortured and executed. The reports also stated that Premini was raped for several hours before being brutally hacked to death with a machete. Mr. Ganeshalingam and Premini were co-workers that had stay in my house while in Colombo.  

b.        Shelling of TRO IDP Camps

Another recent atrocity was the shelling by GoSL forces of clearly designated and registered (with the GoSL) TRO IDP camps in the Vaharai area. On 8 November 2006 Sri Lanka Army (SLA) artillery shells fell in and around a school in Kathiravelli, Vaharai being used as an IDP camp for over 5,000 persons.  At the time the GoSL claimed that the LTTE had fired artillery from the area, a fact that Human Rights Watch contradicts in their report "Return to War: Human Rights Under Siege":  

"Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with 12 witnesses to the attack. All said that the shells landed without warning and that, while the LTTE was frequently milling about the area, no LTTE fighters were located in or adjacent to the IDP camp at the time of the attack or directly before… In total, 62 people died. According to hospital records obtained by Human Rights Watch, 47 people, ranging in age from one to 74 years old, suffered injuries. Twenty-three of these victims were under 18. Twenty-one were women and 26 were men."  

"Human Rights Watch spoke with three international organizations with direct knowledge of the Vaharai area and the Kathirivelli incident, and none of them had any direct knowledge, or had heard credible reports, of the LTTE using civilians as "human shields.""  

"In addition, the location of the displaced persons camp was known to the government and should have been known to local army commanders."  

TRO's Sonobo Children's Home was also damaged and 12 children were injured during this shelling.  

On 10 December 2006 a similar incident occurred when the GoSL shelled 3 TRO IDP camps in the Vaharai area; 40 IDPs were killed and 100 injured in this incident.  

c.        Claymore Mine Attack

On 24 March 2007, , the TRO Director of Disaster Management, was killed while traveling in a clearly marked TRO vehicle when a Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) triggered a Claymore mine. The Disaster Management Team was coordinating the humanitarian assistance for IDPs displaced by recent SL Army offensives. Three others were severely injured during the attack.  

d.        Attacks on TRO Batticaloa Office and other TRO Projects

The TRO Batticaloa office has been attacked 3 times on: 7 August 2003, 13 June 2005, and 27-28 September 2005 by paramilitaries with grenades and machine guns. A TRO Security Guard was killed during the 27-28 September attack and 2 Staffers injured & 5 vehicles destroyed during 13 June attack. TRO closed the Batticaloa Office soon after the September attack due to the inability of the GoSL security forces to stop attacks and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers.

In August 2006, the Vadamarachchi East TRO Boatyard and the Eachchilampattu TRO Boatyard were both destroyed by the Sri Lanka Air Force. The boatyards were constructed to build "day-trip" boats for local fishermen and provide a local place to repair the boats (the only other facilities were in the South).  

Post tsunami permanent housing and pre schools that TRO constructed throughout the NorthEast have also been either completely destroyed or damaged.

Appendix I  

Abductions and killings of humanitarian workers in 2005-2007

Source: Law & Society Trust ( Sri Lanka) & TRO [1]

 

Date

Place, District

Organization

Names

Age

Type of attack

1
 
28-Sep-05
 
Batticaloa
 
Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO)
 
Thambyappa Vellaiuthapillai
 
70
 
Machine gun and grenade attack on TRO Batticaloa Office
 
2
 
11-Jan-06
 
Point Pedro, Jaffna
 
Danish Demining Group (DDG)
 
T. Tharmasiri
 
28
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
3
 
N. Kandeepan
 
30
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
4
 
29-Jan-06
 
Welikanda / Batticaloa
 
Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO)
 
Kasinathar  Ganeshalingam
 
52
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
5
 
Kathirkamar Thangarasa
 
43
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
6
 
30-Jan-06
 
Thanushkodi Premini
 
25
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
7
 
Shanmuganathan Sujendran
 
 
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
8
 
Thambiraja Vasantharajan
 
 
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
9
 
Kailasapillai Ravindran
 
25
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
10
 
Arulthavarasa Satheesharan
 
 
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
11
 
04-Feb-06
 
Jaffna
 
HALO Trust
 
Gunaratnam Logithas
 
23
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
12
 
17-Feb-06
 
Batticaloa
 
Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
 
Parameswaran
 
 
 
Abducted  - presumed dead
 
13
 
09-Apr-06
 
Jaffna
 
HUDEC – Caritas Jaffna
 
Shanmugaratnam Pathmanathan
 
55
 
Killed – Claymore, suspected to have targeted a SLA convoy
 
14
 
HUDEC – Caritas Jaffna
 
Chelvendra Pradeepkumar
 
29
 
Killed – Claymore, suspected to have targeted a SLA convoy
 
15
 
16-May-06
 
Vavuniya
 
Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)
 
Jeyaruban Gnanapragasam
 
 
 
Killed
 
16
 
26-May-06
 
Kalviyankadu, Batticaloa
 
North East Irrigated Agriculture Project (NEIAP)
 
Ratnam Ratnaraja
 
48
 
Killed
 
17
 
02-Jul-06
 
Valachenai, Batticaloa
 
Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO)
 
Krishnapillai Kamalanathan
 
26
 
Abducted & released
 
18
 
08-Jul-06
 
Polikandy, Vadamaradchy, Jaffna
 
Mason in a Tsunami Housing Scheme funded by FORUT
 
Rasiah Muraleeswaran
 
42
 
Killed
 
19
 
05-Aug-06
 
Mutur, Trincomalee
 
Action Contra La Faim (ACF)
 
Kokilavathani
 
29
 
Killed
 
20
 
Romila
 
25
 
Killed
 
21
 
Kavitha
 
27
 
Killed
 
22
 
Kovarthani
 
28
 
Killed
 
23
 
A.L.Mohammed Jawffar
 
31
 
Killed
 
24
 
Sritharan
 
36
 
Killed
 
25
 
Kodeeswaran
 
31
 
Killed
 
26
 
Jaseelan
 
27
 
Killed
 
27
 
Ganesh
 
 
[1] Numbers 2-58 are listed in the "Working document on humanitarian workers and religious leaders killed, disappeared and abducted – 1 st Jan 2006 – 22 Aug 2007; Compiled by Law & Society Trust. Number 1: details provided by TRO due to the fact that the individual was killed in 2005.
Seminar Announcement by The International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples (LIDLIP) [also in PDF-English & in PDF-French]

The objective of the Seminar, organized in partnership with the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) and International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and  Racism, (IMADR) is to assemble actors and experts active in the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, a consequence of the conflict between the Governement of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
 
In February 2002, a cease fire was agreed among the two principal protagonists of the conflict in order to maintain peace negotiations after 20 years of war. If during the first 4 years, the cease fire was maintained despite violations of the accord by both sides, since 18 months, Sri Lanka wages in a new war situation, a war not officially “declared”.
 
This return to violence causes numerous humanitarian consequences for the population such as hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons, an economic crisis in the Jaffna peninsula because of its isolation, the hindering of the action of non governmental organization because of the risk their actors encounter (in January 2006, seven staff members of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) were killed and more recently, in August 2006, 17 members of the French organization Action Contre la Faim were found dead. The dramatic humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka is for most of the time forgotten by the Western media, that is a reason for the holding of the Seminar in Geneva on the question.
 
Local and international NGOs, UN agencies and other actors involved in the present humanitarian action in Sri Lanka will attend the Seminar in order to draw attention on the situation and discuss solutions for the population.
 
The presence during the Seminar of numerous representatives of organizations in Sri Lanka will give opportunity to have first-hand information of the contents of the conflict in Sri Lanka and its humanitarian consequences for the local population. We might to suggest, among others, to interview Mr. Sivapalan, an eminent Tamil lawyer originally form Trincomalee in Sri Lanka. 
 
For more information and requests for interviews:
Mathieu Crettenand
International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples (LIDLIP)
Rue des Savoises 15 1205 GENEVA
Email : lidlip@bluewin.ch
Tel/Fax: 022 320 22 43
Natel : 079 277 41 65

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