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plight of the Wanni civilians

Human Rights Watch on the pathetic plight of the Wanni civilians

War wounds, pain and hardship

The tragic plight of civilians existing in thenorthern mainland known as Wanni continues to deteriorate. While charges and counter-charges fly, the day to day life of the ordinary people worsens.

The New York-based human rights watchdog – Human Rights Watch – has in a recent 45 page report titled War On The Civilians vividly documented the various abuses perpetrated against Wanni civilians by the Sri Lankan armed forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

It is a powerful expose of the actual situation which currently prevails. Though exigencies of space does not permitextensive reproduction, this column will, through relevant extracts focus on salient aspects of the report.

The report summary in fullis presented here first:


After 25 years, the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) may be nearing its conclusion. But for the quarter of a million civilians trapped or displaced by the fighting, the tragedy has intensified. Since the fall of the LTTE’s administrative centre, Killinochchi, in early January 2009, civilian casualties in the northern Wanni region have skyrocketed to more than 5,100, including at least a thousand deaths, based on a conservative tally by independent monitors analysed by Human Rights Watch.

More recent information places civilian casualties at 7,000, including 2,000 fatalities. Added to this are the dire hardship faced by the displaced – insufficient food, medical care, and shelter, whether in the combat zone or government-run “welfare villages.”

The Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE appear to be engaged in a perverse competition to demonstrate the greatest disregard for the civilian population. In the last two months alone, both sides have committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, the laws of war. While not all loss of civilian life is a laws-of-war violation, the failure of the government forces and the LTTE to meet their international legal obligations has undoubtedly accounted for the high death tolls.

Retreating from Sri Lankan Army (SLA) advances, the LTTE has forcibly taken along all civilians under its control. As the territory held by the LTTE has shrunk – now a short, narrow strip on the northeast coast of the island – the civilian population has been dangerously forced into a smaller and smaller space. In violation of the laws of war, the LTTE has refused to allow civilians to flee the fighting, repeatedly fired on those trying to reach government-held territory, and deployed forces near densely populated areas. The civilians who remain under LTTE control, including children, are subject to forced recruitment into LTTE forces and hazardous forced labour on the battlefield.


The LTTE’s grim practices are being exploited by the government to justify its own atrocities. High-level statements have indicated that the ethnic Tamil population trapped in the war zone can be presumed to be siding with the LTTE and treated as combatants, effectively sanctioning unlawful attacks. Sri Lankan forces have repeatedly and indiscriminately shelled areas crowded with civilians. This includes numerous reported bombardments of government-declared “safe zones” and the remaining hospitals in the region.

The plight of displaced persons has been exacerbated by the government’s decision in September 2008 to order most humanitarian agencies out of the Wanni. The government’s own efforts to bring in food, medical supplies, and other relief with a minimal United Nations role have been insufficient. Continuing fighting, lack of oversight, and the manipulation of aid delivery by government forces and the LTTE have all contributed to the deepening humanitarian crisis.

Displaced persons are increasingly escaping from the battle zone to what they hope is safety within government-controlled areas. Instead, they are finding government internment centres masquerading as “welfare villages.” While the government for security reasons should be screening new arrivals, it is instead secretly taking away LTTE suspects to arbitrary detention or possible enforced disappearances. Continue reading


March 9, 2009 Posted by | Hot News from Lanka | , , , | Leave a comment