UN: bloodbath now in Sri Lanka

May 11, 2009

Yesterday, a doctor working in Sri Lanka’s war zone reported that at least 378 people were killed by shelling over the weekend.  The doctor said that 1,122 others had been injured and that the firing appeared to have come from the government side.  Gordon Weiss, the U.N. spokesman in Sri Lanka, said:

“We’ve been consistently warning against a bloodbath, and the large-scale killing of civilians including more than 100 children this weekend appears to show that the bloodbath has become a reality.”

Sri Lanka has been embroiled in a civil war for about 26 years between the government and the opposition Tamil Tigers, who seek an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  Both sides have been responsible for massive human rights abuses during the conflict.  Since a 2002 ceasefire broke down in mid-2006, the government’s offensive has reconquered most of the territory once controlled by the Tigers.  The Tigers are now confined to a small coastal strip in northeastern Sri Lanka, surrounded by the Sri Lankan army.  With the Tigers are an estimated 50,000 civilians who are being held by the Tigers as human shields and prevented from fleeing the area.

The Sri Lankan government today said that the Tigers were responsible for the shelling that killed the civilians.  The government also claimed that the doctor reporting from the war zone was in no position to give an independent account “as he is virtually another captive of the Tigers.”  Since independent observers, including journalists, are barred from the war zone, it is difficult to verify reports from the war zone.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to have an informal session about Sri Lanka today.  The Sri Lankan Defence Secretary claimed that the Tigers were using the latest charge of civilian casualties in an attempt to influence the discussions at the Security Council.

Ahead of today’s meeting on Sri Lanka at the Security Council, Amnesty International and three other international organizations (Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group and Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect) issued a joint letter to the Japanese Prime Minister, urging Japan, as a member of the Security Council, to support formal action on Sri Lanka at the Council.  The Security Council has only considered Sri Lanka in informal settings so far; it would reportedly need to elevate discussion on Sri Lanka to a formal level before the Council could take action.

We can’t wait for the discussions at the Security Council, formal or informal.  Thousands more civilians may be dead long before the discussions ever result in any action.  Please write to the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government now; we need maximum international pressure on both sides to stop the bloodbath immediately.