Amnesty International demands “humanitarian” truce in Sri Lanka, fears “war crimes”

As fighting continues unabated in Sri Lanka, Amnesty International has called upon the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to immediately declare a temporary truce and create humanitarian corridors to allow more than a quarter million trapped civilians to escape the war zone and also let food, water and medical assistance reach those civilians who cannot leave.

The organization also demanded that the Sri Lankan government ensure that displaced people who have fled the conflict zone to transit centers do not face improper restriction on their movement and are kept safe.

While the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have been allowed limited access to the existing centres, the government has not allowed access to other humanitarian agencies.

“The most important issue right now is to focus on immediate unimpeded humanitarian assistance for those families trapped between the conflicting parties,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International researcher on Sri Lanka. “The government wants international assistance but not international standards.”

Approximately 300,000 people are now trapped in the Wanni region, in a small pocket of land between the conflicting parties. These are families who have been living without adequate shelter and without sufficient food for months now. Civilians are totally dependent on food from the outside. The last shipment of food went into the area on Jan. 29, but it is unclear whether it was fully distributed to all in need.

“The situation for civilians in the Wanni is unacceptable,” said Yolanda Foster. “People cannot move safely, even to collect the bodies of dead relatives, and the injured have no hospitals. A quarter of a million people are suffering without adequate food and shelter while shells rain down upon them. Most of those who have managed to escape the conflict have not received adequate hospital treatment.”

The last working hospital in the war zone has been closed. The hospital, in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, had to be evacuated on Feb. 3 after it was shelled. The hospital had been subjected to several attacks before the evacuation. At least nine people were killed and 20 injured when it sustained three direct hits on Feb. 1. The hospital was hit a fourth time on the evening of Feb. 2.

“If the hospital was deliberately targeted by either the government or the LTTE, it would constitute a war crime,” said Yolanda Foster. “If the hospital was struck in the course of a disproportionate or an indiscriminate attack by either party, this would also constitute a war crime . Amnesty International reiterates its call on both the Sri Lankan and LTTE forces to respect international humanitarian law.” (Amnesty International, Feb. 6)

See our last post on Sri Lanka.

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