23 December 2008
GENEVA - The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin, has expressed his increasing concern for Sri Lankan civilians in the northern Vanni region. In a letter today to the Government of Sri Lanka, the Representative acknowledged the Government’s continuing efforts to enable humanitarian convoys to reach the estimated 200,000-300,000 internally displaced persons in the region but stressed that current supplies of food, medicine, emergency shelter and sanitation materials are inadequate to meet the severe and increasing needs of the displaced. The Representative has called on the Government to significantly improve access for more humanitarian relief and humanitarian personnel to reach all civilians in need.
The Representative also raised the situation of civilians who have crossed from the Vanni into cleared areas and are now being held in camps at Kalimoddai and Sirukandal. The Representative observed a legitimate need for screening of armed elements from the civilian population, but recalled that such screening must be concluded promptly and in accord with clearly established and transparent criteria and procedures. IDPs, who are civilians and who retain their right to freedom of movement, must not be detained in camps.
The Representative is concerned by reports that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is restricting IDPs’ freedom of movement and ability to seek safety in another part of the country. Only the most limited and narrow exception would be allowed for a temporary relocation or restriction of civilians, and only then for imperative military reasons or when safety of the civilians so requires. The Representative also cautions that the intermingling of combatants or military objectives within a civilian population violates at a minimum the duty to take precautionary measures and to respect the principle of distinction.
The Representative urges the parties to the conflict to agree a mechanism that will allow safe and adequate access for humanitarian personnel and assistance to all civilians in need in the Vanni. He equally reiterated the obligation of all parties to the conflict to scrupulously respect international humanitarian law, including the duty to take precautionary measures and prohibition of the use of human shields.
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