Hospital Shelled in Sri Lanka, 9 Civilians Killed - But Does Anyone Care?

February 4, 2009

As the deadly violence continues to escalate in Sri Lanka I am distraught by the lack of attention it’s receiving.  Just last week a hospital in northern Sri Lanka, where more than 800 people were sheltering, was shelled four times.  At least 9 were killed and 20 injured by the attack.  It’s not clear who did the shelling; both the Sri Lankan government and the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been blamed.

A Sri Lankan Tamil civillian girl wounded in shelling inside the Island's rebel-held north arrives for treatment at a hospital in the government held northern town of Vavuniya on January 22, 2009. (c) STR/AFP/Getty Images
A Sri Lankan Tamil civillian girl wounded in shelling. (c) AFP/Getty

The hospital is located in the war zone in northern Sri Lanka, where government forces have succeeded in pushing the LTTE into a small area of land.  Trapped with the Tigers are over 250,000 civilians who are not allowed by the LTTE to leave.  The Sri Lankan government, as part of its offensive, has been carrying out aerial and artillery attacks in the area with the result that hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured.  The government has declared “safe zones” for civilians to seek shelter, but several civilians in  “safe zone” have killed or injured due to shelling.

Last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that hundreds of civilians had been killed or injured due to the intensified fighting between the two sides.  Shortly thereafter, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued statements calling on both sides to protect civilians.  Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, also voiced his concern.  The Sri Lankan government subsequently announced that the Tigers had 48 hours to let civilians leave the war zone; this appeared to be an unofficial truce.  It expired on Saturday night.  The fighting, and thus the shelling and the civilian deaths, resumed on Sunday.

I can’t help noticing a contrast with Gaza.  Gaza seems to get lots of press attention, while Sri Lanka doesn’t appear to get as much.  Both involve indiscriminate attacks against civilians, in war zones that the media is denied access to.  Yet it seems that the suffering in Gaza deserves more attention than the deaths and injuries in Sri Lanka.  Why is that?  Can’t the world take on another crisis?  If we don’t, we may be reading soon about, not hundreds, but thousands of civilians being killed.  That might be worth thinking about.