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Sri Lanka: Elation over victories and the appalling conditions of displaced Tamil persons

Asian Human Rights Commission Statement - May 25, 2009

AHRC-STM-117-2009

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the end of his visit to Sri Lanka described the camps for Internally Displaced People (Tamils) as having the most appalling conditions he has ever witnessed. Prior to this, government spokespersons were repeatedly telling the media that everything in the camps is under control and is fine. This is no surprise. It has been the triple tasks of GOSL media which is more or less the only media available locally to demonize LTTE, the Diaspora and Western leaders who remind the government of its human rights and humanitarian obligations; to glorify the president and the military; and to create a paradisiacal impression about the IDPs.

Why is there this deception about IDPs? There is no practical use that can be gained by hiding the conditions of these people, who a journalist not long ago described as wretched of the earth. Some give conspiracy theories, such as the desire to hide evidence of war crimes and the like, while others say that is sheer revenge on Tamils for their homeland dreams, and that the present situation only indicates worse things to come for the Tamils living in the North and East for the purpose of making them incapable of rebellion for another ten thousand years. Whatever it may be, the neglect of these persons and the false propaganda about their well-being is mysterious indeed.

In the joint statement issued by the government and the UN on 24th May (during UNSG's visit) states," With regard to IDPs, the United Nations will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the IDPs now in Vavunia and Jaffna. The government will continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies". However, shortly after the issuing of this statement the government issued another statement where Sri Lanka's president rejected a call by the UN Secretary General to lift restrictions on aid delivery to overcrowded displacement camps, saying that the army must first finish screening the hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees. The president is further quoted as saying, "As conditions improve, especially with regard to security, there would be no objections to such assistance from organizations that are genuinely interested in well-being."

The appalling conditions the UNSG speaks about seem to be little of interest to the president. The president and the government are in a celebrating mood, and there are no ends to celebrations and boastful telecasts. A song which depicts the president as the king is repeatedly telecast, remnant of the initial attempt by the first executive president to claim that title. Such celebrations contrast with the ugly conditions of around 300,000 IDPs, whose appalling state has moved the United Nations top officer to claim that these are the worst conditions he has ever seen. Perhaps in order to keep such a cruel situation hidden as the celebration goes on, the doors of these camps should be closed to all but those who are certain not to speak about what they see. It is perhaps the future predicament of the Tamils to remain invisible.

The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns the wilful neglect of the IDPs and asks the UNSG Ban Ki-moon to back up his comments with suitable action.

This statement represents the views of the AHRC and the following organisations based in Sri Lanka: People against Torture Ekala, Janasansadaya - Panadura, The Home for Torture Victims - Kandy, SETIC - Kandy, Right to Life - Negombo and the Rule of Law Centre - Colombo.

About AHRC

The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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