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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
Seminar on Humanitarian Action
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)
on 22 September 2007
from 8.30 am to 6 pm at
Release at Conclusion of Seminar, 2 October 2007 [also
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
“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,
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
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]
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.
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 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.
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:
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:
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:
i. The current Fuel Allotment for the Vanni is only 50% of the usual (pre-August 2006) need.
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.
Seminar Announcement by The International League for the Rights
and Liberation of Peoples (LIDLIP) [also in
PDF-English & in
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).