Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2010

Report
May 28, 2010

Annual Report: Sri Lanka 2010

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Head of state and government Mahinda Rajapaksa
Death penalty abolitionist in practice
Population 20.2 million
Life expectancy 74 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 21/18 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 90.8 per cent

Some 300,000 Tamil civilians were displaced by armed conflict, and subsequently detained in government camps. Those suspected of ties with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - more than 12,000 - were detained separately. Many were held incommunicado and sometimes in facilities not designed to hold prisoners or in secret places of detention. Civilians were trapped for months prior to the conflict's end in May without adequate food, shelter, sanitation and medical care, or access to humanitarian aid. The LTTE used civilians as human shields and used threats and violence to prevent them from fleeing the conflict zone. Government artillery killed and wounded civilians, including patients in hospitals and medical workers. The government failed to address impunity for past human rights violations, and continued to carry out enforced disappearances and torture. Hundreds of Tamils continued to be detained in the south for lengthy periods without charge under special security legislation. Human rights defenders and journalists were killed, assaulted, threatened and jailed. Police killings of criminal suspects intensified.

Background

In May, the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the LTTE, ending more than 25 years of armed conflict. But an end to fighting did not end the government's reliance on draconian security legislation or stem human rights violations.

Armed conflict

Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE violated international humanitarian law. The government used heavy weaponry indiscriminately in areas densely populated with civilians. The LTTE forcibly recruited adults and children as combatants, used civilians as human shields against the approaching government forces, and attacked civilians who tried to escape. Independent accounts from the conflict areas were limited as access by the media, the UN and humanitarian agencies was restricted. According to UN estimates, thousands of civilians died in the fighting. Displaced people reported enforced disappearances of young men separated from their families by the military as civilians crossed into government territory and underwent military screening to identify LTTE combatants.

The government did not begin to reopen the A9 highway - the only land route to the Jaffna Peninsula - until July, thus severely restricting civilian access to humanitarian supplies during the first half of the year. Private vehicles were banned until late December.

Internally displaced people

By the end of May, civilians displaced by fighting were confined to government camps in the north and east where conditions were crowded and unsanitary. Many thousands of other civilians also remained displaced from earlier stages of the conflict. The Sri Lankan government initially banned humanitarian agencies from the newly established camps, which were run by the military, but gradually eased restrictions to allow delivery of relief material. Humanitarian workers were not permitted to speak to displaced people. Visits by journalists were tightly controlled, and no independent human rights monitoring was permitted. The ICRC lost access to the displaced when the government directed them to downgrade activities after fighting concluded. By year's end, restrictions on freedom of movement had been relaxed, but over 100,000 people remained in the camps.