Sri Lanka: Red Cross needs security guarantees

May 8, 2009

Yesterday, a ferry chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) evacuated 495 sick and injured patients from the Sri Lankan war zone and delivered 25 metric tons of food for distribution to civilians trapped in the zone.   The ICRC reported that heavy fighting was taking place near the medical assembly point in the war zone, which was jeopardizing the lives of patients and hampering medical evacuations.    The ICRC has been delivering food and evacuating sick and wounded civilians from the war zone since February.

The Sri Lankan military has confined the opposition Tamil Tigers to a small strip of coastal land in northeastern Sri Lanka.  The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  Trapped in the war zone with the Tigers are an estimated 50,000 civilians, who are being held by the Tigers as human shields.

The ICRC has called for security guarantees from both the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers so that it can safely deliver food and evacuate patients.  The Tigers have offered a security guarantee to the ICRC in response.  The Sri Lankan government has asked the ICRC to work things out with the Tigers; they haven’t offered any security guarantees, to my knowledge.

Both the ICRC and the Sri Lankan government acknowledge that the amount of food reaching the war zone is inadequate.  The Sri Lankan government should work with the ICRC immediately so that sufficient food can be delivered to the war zone and all the sick and injured evacuated without delay.