Quiet down–I need to make a sound

May 27, 2009 at 7:41 pm (Human Rights) (, , , , )

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

The past week brought to an end a violent conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the small island country off the coast of India.

A recent update by one of Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka country specialists, Jim McDonald, described the dire humanitarian situation that continues to plague the country despite the end of the war. Currently, approximately 250,000 civilians are displaced in Sri Lanka. Of that 250,000, 80,000 are children. These civilians have been forced to live in camps with severely limited access to necessities such as food, water, and medical care. McDonald describes…

“The Sri Lankan government has recently restricted access to the camps by international aid agencies, including the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

McDonald’s report acknowledges that both the government of Sri Lanka and the rebel LTTE group, or Tamil Tigers, have been responsible for mass human rights abuses since the conflict began in 1983. These abuses include targeting civilians, the use of torture, and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Someone needs to be held accountable for these atrocities. Most importantly, however, humanitarian solutions need to be appropriately applied across the country to ensure the health and safety of civilians. Many of these civilians have lost everything important to them due to a climate of violence and the lack of a rule of law, as McDonald recognizes.

On May 26th and 27th, the United Nations Human Rights Council met to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka. A May 27th news release by Human Rights Watch describes the new resolution passed by the United Nations that has disappointed human rights supporters throughout the world. The resolution focuses solely on human rights abuses committed by members of the Tamil Tigers, and neglects to address those committed by the government. In addition, the resolution failed to initiate action regarding the current humanitarian crisis.

Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch stated the following:

“The Human Rights Council did not even express its concern for the hundreds of thousands of people facing indefinite detention in government camps. The council ignored urgent needs and wasted an important chance to promote human rights.”

Human Rights Watch described the resolution that was rejected by the United Nations, with main opposition stemming from Brazil, Cuba, India, and Pakistan. The key aspects are as follows:

1. Urged government cooperation with humanitarian organizations and the protection of displaced civilians

2. Asked the government to respect media freedom and to investigate attacks against journalists and human rights defenders

3. Called for keeping the UN Human Rights Council informed about the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka

Perhaps most importantly,

4. Called for the investigation of abuses committedby both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE

Why were these requirements turned down and substituted by a resolution that largely commended the Sri Lankan government for its actions? The new resolution is much too weak.

Over the years the conflict in Sri Lanka has been largely downplayed and skewed by propaganda set up by the groups involved. However, some have set out to educate the public about the crisis. Popular singer-songwriter M.I.A often uses her music as a platform of encouraging social and political change and has spoken about the events occurring in her home country of Sri Lanka. In an interview that aired on January 28th, M.I.A described…

“a systematic genocide…[that has] just escalated to the point that there’s 350,000 people who are stuck in a battle zone and can’t get out.”

The singer continues to describe that aid, humanitarian organizations, and journalists are banned from the area. In the interview, M.I.A references a common misconception of Sri Lanka’s Tamil people: that being Tamil means being a part of the terrorist organization known as the Tamil tigers. She states that…

“human beings around the world have to be taught that Tamil equals Tamil civilians first, and the Tamil Tiger is a separate thing. And both of those groups are different. It’s like a square and a circle.”

The upcoming days will reveal how the world will respond to the situation in Sri Lanka. We can only hope that the innocent civilians whose lives have been torn apart by the conflict are given the attention and care they deserve as soon as possible.

Additional News/Information:


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