Letter sended by Dominicans for Justice and Peace - Dominican Network (Order of Prachers) and several other International NGOs to the Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council about the situation in Sri Lanka:
5 May 2009
H.E. Dr. Martin I. Uhomoibhi
President of the UN Human Rights Council
cc. Members of the Human Rights Council
Sub: Appeal for a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the Human Rights Situation in Sri Lanka
The undersigned Non-Governmental Organizations across the globe call upon the UN Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the current human rights catastrophe in Sri Lanka, as a matter of urgent concern. We have observed the lack of an adequate response from the Council so far, and herewith repeat our heartfelt appeal to the Council to live up to its own mandate by responding promptly to human rights emergencies.
The human rights and humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka has been repeatedly highlighted by various top UN officials, including the Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), among others, and by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well as local, regional and international human rights groups. The press statements, reports and news articles which have been produced over the last few months, expressing serious concerns and warnings over the impending tragedy in Sri Lanka are too many to list here.
The UN estimates more than 6,400 people have been killed since the beginning of this year in the fighting between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and many thousands have been severely injured. Staff of the ICRC and international aid agencies, medical personnel and religious workers have been amongst those killed and injured. At the moment, over 50,000 people remain trapped in the tiny area of land controlled by the LTTE, in danger of death and injury from the ongoing fighting and suffering from a desperate shortage of medical supplies, food and water. As the Under-Secretary-General stated in his briefing to the UN Security Council last Thursday, despite the repeated appeals from the UN and from the diplomatic community, the Government of Sri Lanka continues to deny access of the UN humanitarian team to the conflict zone, which would assess the humanitarian situation and respond to the basic needs of food and medical supplies.
The dire conditions faced by around 170,000 people who fled from LTTE controlled areas to camps operated by the Government are also a matter of grave concern. In particular, restrictions on the freedom of movement of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) and family reunification issues should be addressed by the Government as a matter of priority.
The concerns of the international community regarding the human rights situation is not only limited to the current deterioration which has a specific impact on civilians affected directly by the conflict in northern Sri Lanka. Core problems of discrimination against minorities and impunity for human rights abuses, including by the security forces, have been allowed to go unchecked throughout the country in the past years. As the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances has indicated in its reports, Sri Lanka holds the largest number of cases of disappearances in the last two years; the majority of the victims were from the Tamil minority. Furthermore, since 2006, 18 journalists and media workers have been killed, and more than 70 aid workers including religious leaders working on human rights and humanitarian cause have been killed or disappeared. A series of threats and attacks have been made against human rights defenders, including lawyers and media persons who continue to be arrested and detained without charges. Thousands of Tamil civilians also remain detained without charges.
There is no doubt that the LTTE has also committed heinous crimes against the civilian population in breach of international humanitarian law, and this fact should continue to be condemned and responded to with appropriate action by the international community. However, the primary responsibility for protecting human rights at all times lies with the Government of Sri Lanka, and its military gains against the LTTE can never legitimize the great cost of civilian lives, harassment and terrorizing of the Tamil community, repression of democratic dissent, and the collapse of rule of law in the county.
Lastly, we would like to call for the attention of the Human Rights Council to its own resolution A/HRC/RES/9/9 entitled “Protection of the human rights of civilians in armed conflict”, which was adopted by consensus on 21 September 2008. In the resolution, the Human Rights Council stressed its role and responsibility, pursuant to its mandate, to monitor the implementation of human rights in situations of armed conflict. On this front, we strongly urge the Human Rights Council to uphold its mandate with urgent and concrete actions, that is, hold a special session on Sri Lanka, include the human rights situation of Sri Lanka into its agenda on a regular basis and immediately send an international mission to assess the needs of those civilians in the conflict affected areas with any unhindered access.
Thank you very much for your attention to this appeal.
fr. Olivier Poquillon o.p.
Permanent Delegate of the Dominican Order to the United Nations
Director, Dominicans for Justice and Peace - Dominican Network (Order of Preachers)