SL has no excuse to lock up the Tamils
Thank you, Madam Chair, for offering Crisis Group the opportunity to present our assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka today.
Since the end of the war and the defeat of the terrorist Tamil Tigers, the government of Sri Lanka has been imprisoning without charge over a quarter of a million ethnic Tamils displaced by the conflict. The state has locked them in internment camps in the north of the country. The camps are surrounded by barbed wire, and as an incident just this past weekend in Vavuniya demonstrates, the Sri Lankan army will shoot at anyone who tries to escape.
Such restrictions on freedom in the absence of due process are a violation of both national and international law.
Conditions in the camps are poor and deteriorating. They are overcrowded, with medical facilities, access to clean water and sanitation all woefully inadequate. These conditions are expected to worsen dramatically with the onset of monsoon season. The military is preventing humanitarian organisations, including the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), from undertaking effective monitoring and protection in the camps.
The government has made numerous promises to release those held in the main camps, but these are little more than attempts to deliberately mislead the international community. Very little has come of any of Colombo’s pledges. The worst kind of duplicity was seen just a few weeks ago, when the government announced it had released 10,000 displaced persons. In fact, we know at least 3,300 people had been moved from an internment camp to another detention facility. (UNHCR press release, 29 September 2009)
Here are the numbers as we understand them today (as of 15 September, UNHCR with government figures). Of the estimated 289,000 internally displaced Tamils at the end of the war, some 10,000 are held in detention centres on suspicion of having links to the Tamil Tigers, about 5,000 have managed to buy their way out of the camps by paying off the right people, and only 6,000 have been resettled. Those in the main camps in the north number about 264,000.
The ICRC has not been able to visit the main camps in the north since July, and they have never been able to visit those in detention facilities who are accused of working with or for the Tigers.