Since July of 1983, Sri Lanka has been burdened by the heavy weight of an on-and-off civil war, mostly between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tami Eelam (LTTE, aka Tamil Tigers), a militant organization fighting for the creation of an independent state called Tamil Eelam in the north and east of the country. Currently the fighting has escalated faster than ever before, forcing both sides of the fight into the war crimes territory.
Around 300,000 civilians have been caught in the middle of this battle, trapped in the northeast Wanni region of Sri Lanka where the majority of the fighting is occurring. Hindering or completely preventing civilians from fleeing to safety, including civilians injured as a result of the violence, constitutes a war crime, according to international humanitarian laws.
The violence has turned the Wanni region upside down. A local resident commented that around twenty to thirty shells drop in her area every day. Aerial and artillery bombardment is smothering the region, leading to injuries and deaths of civilians, destruction of property as well as the displacement of thousands of people. In addition, hospitals have been damaged and consequently incapacitated and the LTTE has put restrictions on civilians that prevent them from receiving medical care. Even the so-called “safe zones” are no refuge for civilians. Several deaths have occurred in the protected areas due to artillery bombings. The LTTE has also been reported to be recruiting civilians for labor, including children.
The lack of humanitarian aid is only worsening the situation. The United Nations has put forth effort to evacuate some of the critically injured civilians, but convoys from the rescue effort were prevented from leaving by the LTTE. The strict restrictions and violence have prevent food convoys from entering as well. None have been granted access into the area for a few weeks. To make matters worse, civilians are being forced into an area that is far too small for the amount of people. Space is limited and there is a serious shortage of water, food, and sanitation utilities.
Amnesty International so far has called upon Indian Foreign Secretary, Shivshankar Menon to help find a way to combat the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka. The organization has put forth a list of recommendations:
• “Raise the issue of civilian protection and press for urgently needed humanitarian assistance to reach civilians who are trapped between the two sides. Pressure must also be put on the LTTE to allow free passage of displaced families from the Wanni with immediate effect.
• Press for international monitors to assess the humanitarian needs of quarter of a million people trapped in the Wanni and to ensure proper distribution of food and other humanitarian assistance, particularly as the fighting approaches the trapped civilian population.
• Raise the issue of attacks on the media and press for impartial investigation into the same.
• Discuss the general deterioration of human rights in the country, even in areas not directly affected by the conflict” (amnesty.org).
Given the lack of cooperation from both sides of the conflict, an effort on the part of the Indian government to help raise a discussion about this issue seems crucial in order to stop the violence.