Monday, August 17, 2009

"Condition of IDPs pitiable" - Dr.Nimalka Fernando

Tamils living in make-shift camps in Vavunia are treated not like victims of war, but like war criminals. This scathing criticism has come not from expat Tamils or any pro-LTTE Indian leader, but from a Sri Lankan human rights activist, that too a Sinhalese.

Ms Nimalka Fernando, rights activist and a lawyer from Sri Lanka, has quoted former Attorney-General and Solicitor-General of Sri Lanka Chittaranjan de Silva as having told the local media that the IDPs have been torn asunder and young women forced to stay with unknown men in make-shift tents.

Ms Fernando, who visited the Koodalnagar refugee camp in Madurai last week, told The New Indian Express in an interview that even toothbrush and soap are luxuries for the refugees and they do not even have change of clothes.

Echoing her views, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has expressed concern over possible outbreak of epidemic with the onset of the monsoon as refugees are living in flood-prone areas. It has cited reports that the camps have been flooded following recent heavy rains.

Mr V Suresh, president of the Tamil Nadu chapter of the PUCL, told reporters here on Saturday that ” toilets for inmates are not only inadequate, they also overflow, leading to water contamination”.

He said “the plight of children, the elderly and the handicapped is appalling as they are not able to compete with able bodied persons for essential commodities and toilet facilities”.

Basing his comments on leaked information, Mr Suresh has alleged that the Government is show-casing only Zone 0 and I to visiting journalists and diplomats as the tents are built with tin roofs. Housing units in Zones 2 to 6 are made from UN supplied tents and each tent is shared by two or three families.

Further, supply of cooked food has been stopped two weeks ago and inmates have to depend on dry ration or individual kitchens, he has said.

Mr Suresh has called on the international community to intervene and save the inmates from a possible outbreak of an epidemic.

Ms Fernando, in her interview, has said:”The Tamils are not treated as victims, but as war criminals. If this is the plight of innocent civilians, I can’t imagine the plight of the LTTE cadre, including disabled, who are being detained in special camps”.

Ridiculing the claim of the Sri Lankan Government that it needs time to resettle them as their areas of habitation have to be cleared of mines, Ms Fernando has asked that “if these people could reach the camps without being blown up by landmines, why can’t they return the same way?”.

She has charged the armed forces with having shelled civilian areas to force the people to seek refuge in camps. She has further alleged that the Sri Lankan military is sweeping the shelled areas and dumping bodies into the sea to obliterate all evidence of war crimes.

Ms Fernando has said she could breathe free air in the Koodalnagar refugee camp, something that is missing in the camps in Lanka.


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Monday, August 17, 2009

'Immediate intervention needed to save the IDPs in north Sri Lanka' - PUCL

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PUCL expresses concern about reports from the IDP (Internally Displaced People) Camps in Vavuniya area housing Sri Lankan Tamil about severe flooding of the camps following heavy rains for the last 2 days. PUCL apprehends that the IDP camps will turn into `death traps’ unless urgent measures are taken to safeguard lives of the 300,000 inmates.

Zones 2 (Ramanathan Camp), 3 (Ananda Kumarasamy Camp), 4(No name) of Menik Farm Camps house 65,000, 43,000 and 41,000 inmates respectively. These camps are enclosed by barbed wire from which none can leave without permission of security forces. The camps are constructed in low lying areas susceptible to flooding. Toilets for the inmates are not only inadequate but are also temporary structures oftentimes being mere huge pits dug into the soil. Due to the rains the toilet pits have caved in. As though this is not bad, the toilets have also become full and there is severe water contamination. Flood waters mixed with toilet slush is reportedly flooding the living areas.

Zone 0 and 1 alone are the model zones shown to visiting journalists and diplomats. The habitations are built with tin roofs. Housing in Zones 2,3,4,5 and 6 are made from UN supplied tents shared by 2-3 families, with no privacy.

Supply of cooked food stuffs have been stopped two weeks back. The inmates of these camps have to depend on dry rations and have been forced to have individual kitchens. Due to the rains, the firewood have become wet and unusable. Families are therefore starving.

The red soils of the area have made the camps slushy and unlivable. It is reported that the flood waters are waist deep in some parts posing severe threat to personal safety, health and hygiene. Due to the poor road conditions vehicles are unable to move in the area and thus supply of essential commodities has stopped.

The situation of children and elderly is appalling. Equally horrible is the plight of the injured and handicapped people who are unable to compete with able bodies camp inmates for a share of essential commodities and toilet facilities.

Most NGOs are running out of money and unable to supply food to camps. It is informed that World Food Programme (WFP) is planning to close down its operations in these areas soon.

Epidemics and illnesses due to the poor conditions in the camps and flooding will kill as many as the war did unless the international community steps in and initiates remedial steps on a war footing. The world governments, especially the Government of India have a moral duty to the victims Tamils to ensure that all possible safety measures are initiated.

Government of India has announced that they are going to allocate another tranche of Rs. 500 crores. As members of Indian civil society PUCL demands on behalf of other human rights community that Government of India insist that the IDP camps are shifted to a safer place and all possible remedial measures be undertaken under supervision of Indian groups including experts and independent experts. If this is not done, PUCL fears there will be numerous deaths of Tamils and immense suffering.

Under the circumstances, PUCL urges the Government of India and the International Community to immediately intervene in the administration and running of the IDP camps in Vavuniya region of north Sri Lanka housing close to 300,000 Sri Lankan Tamils affected by the war.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties - (Tamil Nadu & Puducherry)

Released to the Press in Chennai by Dr. V. Suresh, President, PUCL (Tamil Nadu and Puducherry)

Mob: 09444231497

Source -

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Monday, August 17, 2009

AI : Attacks on free media put displaced civilians at risk

Attacks on journalists, relentless intimidation, and government-imposed restrictions on reporting threaten freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and jeopardize the safety and dignity of civilians displaced by war.

The Sri Lankan government actively obstructed reporting on the last stages of the recently concluded armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE – Tamil Tigers). Civilians were subjected to artillery attacks and both sides were accused of committing war crimes.

The government continues to deny journalists and media workers unrestricted access to hundreds and thousands of displaced people living in camps, hindering reporting on their war experiences and on conditions in the camps themselves.

At the same time, unprecedented levels of violence against media workers engaged in critical reporting has contributed to a climate of fear and self-censorship that has deprived the people of Sri Lanka of their right to information.

Sri Lankan press freedom advocates say that more than 30 people working for Sri Lankan media outlets have been killed since 2004. Many others have been abducted, assaulted or threatened for their war reporting. Newspapers have been seized and burned, newspaper offices have been vandalized and printing equipment destroyed.

Months after the war in Sri Lanka ended journalists and media workers are still facing murder, abduction, censorship and intimidation. The vast majority of victims were members of the minority Tamil community, but Sinhalese and Muslim journalists have also been killed. The perpetrators of many of these crimes have not been identified, let alone punished.

Sri Lankan journalist and human rights activist Sunanda Deshapriya says the government never recognized that journalists and media workers, (or through the media – the public) had a right to information, but for most of the conflict (which lasted from July 1983 until May 2009) journalists had "mechanisms" to get information.

However, pressure on Sri Lanka's journalists escalated along with the intensity of the fighting, and during the last phase of war, said Mr. Deshapriya, from 2006 onwards, the government tightened restrictions, producing a number of statements saying that journalists were not even allowed to report casualty figures.

Journalists writing about the war without getting approval from the Media Centre for National Security put themselves at risk. "Killing journalists, threatening journalists, abductions, disappearances – all these things happened to journalists who would try and push the limits," he said.

Threats and acts of harassment against journalists and the media have increased unabated in a prevailing culture of impunity, and have blunted reporting.

"If you read Sri Lankan newspapers, you still get the government version. Very rarely, you get a critical point of view," said Sunanda Deshapriya.

"Everyone is self-censoring themselves ...some of them willingly because some of them really support the system – and some of them unwillingly. In Sri Lanka, there is no freedom of press."

“Critical and dissenting voices are more or less silenced in Sri Lanka today.

"So even someone like me, who writes a column from abroad, I censor myself. I always see whether my column is going to offend the government, because they are going to attack me. You know, I have family back at home. So we all, to some extent, censor ourselves when writing about the situation."

Sunanda Deshapriya is a regular columnist for the weekly newspaper Ravaya. He has researched the media's role in the Sri Lankan conflict and has presented papers at national and international media workshops. He has also written and lectured on the code of ethics for journalists in Sri Lanka.

But Sri Lankan journalists are not the only ones under pressure. Foreign correspondents have been denied visas or deported for stories that offended the government.

In July, Ravi Nessman, Sri Lanka Bureau Chief for the Associated Press was compelled to leave Sri Lanka after the government refused to renew his visa. Ravi Nessman reported extensively on civilian casualties in the government’s final assault against the LTTE.

He also broke the story of a government plan to detain hundreds of thousands of displaced people in camps for up to three years, and raised questions about the decision to block media access.

How has this restrictive media culture hurt civilians?

Sunanda Deshapriya recalls that not long ago, both the government and the Tamil Tigers were giving heavily distorted figures for the amount of people living in the war zone in areas under Tiger control:

"Access to information was blocked, and because of that what happened? Tigers said they have 400,000 people in Wanni. That's the Tiger number. Government said: there's 120,000.

"And there was no independent verification, no journalists, no media was allowed. And government [was] asking people to come...they said 'we are ready to welcome you.' And, at the end, it turned out to be nearly 300,000 people."

The government, said Mr Deshapriya, urged civilians from the war zone to flee into its territory, but its own agencies, relying on erroneous government figures, were unprepared for such vast numbers.

When the civilians arrived, "...there were no facilities. Still, after three months, after the war is over and people does not have even basic facilities [in the camps] because there was no freedom of information. Journalists could not report [on] how many people are there, what conditions they are living in," he said.

This also meant that the international community could not effectively address the situation because there was no verification of facts.
With no independent verification, the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers were both able to use the world's appetite for information as a means of promoting their own agendas.

The flow of information from the camps now consists mainly of information provided by relatives of those detained, of individual leaks from aid workers to journalists and of anonymous blog entries.

In almost all cases, those providing the information remain anonymous to avoid reprisals. As a result, the information finding its way out of the camps is often unreliable. This can only hurt the detained civilians.

"There has to be a system, there has to be free access," said Sunanda Deshapriya.

Human rights violations

"Human rights violations of all types have the potential to be ignored by the authorities when access to the camps and their inhabitants is restricted," said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International's Sri Lanka expert.

"Of particular concern is the potential for abuse against the most vulnerable people in the camps, those needing the most urgent protection such as unaccompanied minors, women, the elderly and people with disabilities.

"Exploitation of vulnerable individuals by government forces has been a longstanding problem in conflict areas and among the displaced; social stigma and Sri Lanka’s pervasive culture of impunity further compound the problem."

© Amnesty International

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