UN Security Council: action needed on Sri Lanka

June 5, 2009

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to brief the Security Council tomorrow on Sri Lanka.  As with past sessions on Sri Lanka, it will be a closed-door session and won’t even be held in the Council area, since Sri Lanka isn’t on the Security Council’s agenda, as the Council president recently explained.

Amnesty International today said that the Security Council should stop discussing Sri Lanka informally and instead should address Sri Lanka’s human rights crisis in a formal session resulting in strong action being taken by the Council.  The Sri Lankan government is still denying aid agencies full access to civilians displaced by the recent fighting who are being held in military-controlled internment camps.  The Sri Lankan government recently reconquered the remaining territory held by the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought for over 26 years for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island.  Both sides were responsible for gross human rights abuses during the conflict.  Nearly 300,000 people were displaced in the last few months by the fighting.  Amnesty is urging the Security Council to demand that the Sri Lankan government provide full access for aid agencies to the displaced civilians.

AI also called on the Security Council to demand an international investigation into the abuses of human rights and humanitarian law committed by both the Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE during the recent fighting.  That call was echoed today in Geneva by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, who repeated her earlier support for an independent international inquiry.  The Sri Lankan Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva responded to her remarks by rejecting an international inquiry, saying that any process of accountability would be handled by Sri Lankan institutions.  You should also be aware that yesterday, a Sri Lankan minister told reporters that the government had no plans to investigate the reported deaths of thousands of civilians during the recent fighting.  So what kind of accountability will we ever see if it’s left to the Sri Lankan government?

We don’t have time to waste.  AI is still getting disturbing reports of family members searching fruitlessly for relatives who were forcibly separated from them at government-controlled crossing points after the families managed earlier this year to flee the war zone.  Given the thousands of human rights violations committed by the security forces, we’re very concerned that the people taken away by the government forces could be at serious risk of torture and enforced disappearances.  We need the Security Council to act now.