A statement by concerned persons and human rights defenders
It is with great distress that we have been witnessing the escalation of the no-holds-barred military operation in Sri Lanka’s North by the State and non State actors and the simultaneous quelling of voices of dissent in Sri Lanka. The number of civilian deaths is unaccounted for, while the State’s top interest seems to be only protecting the chauvinistic Sinhala nationalist values, which seeks to quell the diversity and vibrancy of the Sri Lankan society. This has posed a grave danger to the 250,000* civilian population caught in the midst of this war.
The ongoing war in Sri Lanka has led to the loss of life, property and liberty of common people on a daily basis. In spite of protests internationally, the situation remains unchanged and the toll that this war is taking on civilians is increasing manifold as we write this. The recent shelling of a hospital in the North, suicide bombing attack on a refugee camp in Anuradhapura by LTTE and lack of access to humanitarian agencies to provide assistance are just a few examples of the same.
Another serious concern is the violent curbing of the freedom of press and expression in Sri Lanka. Freedom of expression is a constitutional guarantee that every democratic state has a responsibility to protect. The Sri Lankan state’s failure to protect the freedom of the media, particularly its reluctance to take action against sections of Sinhala right wing organisation who have been killing and terrorising independent media persons, demonstrates the state’s lack of concern for Tamil and Muslim citizens caught in the midst of the war between the forces of the State and that of the LTTE. The killing of editors and senior journalists and the crack down on the media in the name of ‘national security’ has further strengthened the impunity with which the right wing Sinhala nationalists and government forces are engaging in severe violation of human rights and indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.
We strongly condemn the attacks by the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE on the civilians in the North of Sri Lanka.
· We urge the Sri Lankan state forces and the LTTE to immediately stop all aggressive activities and provide sustained safe passage to the civilians caught in the cross fire.
· We urge the government to allow for humanitarian aid to respond to serious food and medical crisis in northern Sri Lanka. This would also entail taking steps to protect the humanitarian agencies to enable them to continue their work
· We call upon the Sri Lankan State to reach a political resolution, putting into force the All Party Representative majority report, which called for devolution of state power to the Tamil minority community.
· We call upon the Sri Lankan State to protect media personnel and uphold the freedom of expression.
· We also call upon the Indian state to strongly oppose the Sri Lankan military’s all-out assault on the North, which has failed to distinguish the militants from the civilians.
· While appreciating the Indian State’s efforts we urge the Indian government to pressurize the Government of Sri Lanka to take all necessary steps to protect the lives of the 2.5 lakhs* of civilians still trapped in the war zone.
These actions must be taken immediately as the number of civilians who are losing their life, property and liberty is increasing every hour. It is imperative that the Indian government live up to its commitment to democracy and human rights and insist that the Government of Sri Lanka fulfil its constitutional and international commitments to right to life, protection of minorities and freedom of expression.