29 April 2009Download / read as PDF
For Immediate Release: SLDF calls on the Government to immediately halt all offensive action and indiscriminate fire within the “No Fire Zone”.
SLDF calls upon the LTTE to lay down its arms and surrender.
SLDF calls upon the UN and ICRC to negotiate a mechanism with the Government for the surrender of LTTE cadres.
SLDF is extremely concerned about the catastrophe unfolding in the “No Fire Zone”, where the UN and ICRC estimate that up to 50,000 civilians remain trapped in perilous conditions. Taking into consideration the urgent humanitarian crisis, we call upon the Government to halt its offensive and cooperate with UN officials so that they may inspect the “No Fire Zone”, assess the situation, and safely evacuate civilians.
SLDF is shocked at the already high number of civilian deaths and casualties, particularly amongst children. News reports of evacuees reveal the extent of suffering caused by indiscriminate fire from both forces. This suffering is needlessly exacerbated through the absence of prompt and sufficient medical care. There are several reports of people dying en route to hospitals and camps. The plight of the fleeing civilians suffering dehydration, starvation, disease, and loss of limbs is nothing short of a scandal. Moreover, it is unacceptable that civilians who escaped from the LTTE are subject to internment and held under inhumane conditions.
The Government recently announced that the military will now stop “…the use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties”. This announcement implicitly admits that the armed forces have, in fact, been launching heavy artillery and air-strikes in a narrow strip of land packed with civilians that it declared to be a “No Fire Zone”. This strongly indicates the commission of war crimes. Furthermore, reports suggest that the security forces continue to use heavy weapons in this densely packed strip of land. Despite mounting international pressure, the GOSL is adamant to continue its offensive without taking into account civilian casualties. SLDF is gravely disappointed by the government’s refusal to allow the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs to visit the “No Fire Zone”. The Government’s continued refusal to allow UN officials to visit the “No Fire Zone” suggests that the Government is not adhering to its own claims: instead, there is every indication that the Government continues to indiscriminately fire into the “No Fire Zone” with callous disregard for the plight of civilians trapped there.
To the Government of Sri Lanka
The civilians who are still trapped in the “No Fire Zone” were taken there forcibly by the LTTE as a deliberate strategy. We remind the Government that these civilians are citizens of Sri Lanka, and are entitled to the same rights and protections, including the right to life, as all other Sri Lankans. Neither the LTTE’s refusal to surrender, nor its firing from among civilians, grants the Government justification to massacre its own citizens. The safety of civilians should not, under any circumstances, be sacrificed for military expediency. We reiterate that a military victory won over mass casualties is unlikely to pave the way for lasting peace or create conditions conducive for a political solution.
SLDF urgently calls on the GOSL to:
• halt the military offensive;
• cooperate and facilitate a UN inspection of the ’No Fire Zone’ to assess the situation, and plan for the safe evacuation of civilians;
• immediately allow food, water, and other medical supplies to reach the people trapped in the “No Fire Zone”;
• immediately grant full access to the UN and other international and local NGOs working on relief and rehabilitation efforts to care for IDPs;
• guarantee that LTTE members who surrender or who are captured, are treated humanely and according to the laws of war. The GOSL should seek the help of the UN and the ICRC to set up a mechanism by which members of the LTTE can surrender under international oversight. Execution of summary justice and extra-judicial punishments will be a breach of International Humanitarian Law;
• set up a programme of rehabilitation for (LTTE) child soldiers;
• immediately de-militarise the internment camps holding IDPs, grant full access to the UN and ICRC, and involve them in the screening process of new arrivals; and
• immediately release those civilians found not to have had significant connections with the LTTE, and those who may have been compelled into providing non-combatant support to the LTTE, and grant them full freedom of movement.
To the LTTE
SLDF expresses its unreserved condemnation of the LTTE for continuing hostilities within the “No Fire Zone”, where tens of thousands of men, women, and children continue to be trapped, and for holding civilians as human shields and killing them when they attempt to flee. We reiterate that holding civilians against their will, and intentionally placing them at risk constitutes a war crime. The LTTE should accept defeat and acknowledge that its continued stand off endangers the lives of innocent Tamils, who have already suffered immeasurably throughout the last 25 years of war.
SLDF calls on the LTTE to:
• lay down its arms and heed the UN Security Council’s call to surrender;
• allow its members who wish to surrender to do so;
• stop recruiting children and civilians to maintain its defences; and
• allow civilians who want to leave the area held under its control to do so.
To the United Nations, ICRC, and international community:
The UN Security Council should hold a more substantial discussion on Sri Lanka, and take more comprehensive and concerted action, instead of dismissing a grave humanitarian crisis, the commission of serious war crimes, and the slaughter of civilians as internal matters. Rather, the UN should impress upon both sides that war crimes committed now will be investigated even after the conflict ends.
SLDF calls on the UN, the ICRC, and the international community to:
• contribute to meeting the immediate humanitarian needs of civilians in the conflict-affected areas;
• negotiate with GoSL to set up a mechanism with sufficient international oversight that will manage the process of surrender of LTTE members, and that will ensure that they are treated in accordance with international law;
• monitor and facilitate the screening of Tamil civilians in internment camps, and monitor conditions in these camps; and
• work towards timely resettlement of all displaced people to their original homes.