A Profile of Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues in the Vanni and Vavuniya

Centre for Policy Alternatives
March 2009

1. Executive Summary

This report focuses on the human rights and humanitarian situation resulting from the conflict in the North of Sri Lanka, between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), currently concentrated in the Mullaitivu District. This report is the result of a field trip undertaken by CPA to Vavuniya on 7-8 February, as well as follow up interviews, reports and articles, and a discussion held in Colombo on 13 February. By highlighting critical issues and putting forward  recommendations this report aims to increase public engagement on the issue and support efforts to address the needs and rights of the affected population.

1.1 Situation in the Vanni

Over the last three months the fighting has intensified with the security forces forcing the LTTE to retreat into a smaller territory which is currently estimated to be under 30 square kilometres. The majority of the civilian population of the Vanni is currently trapped in this small territory where fighting rages. Estimates of both civilian casualties and the actual number of displaced in the Vanni are difficult to confirm, given the heavy fighting and the lack of independent verification. The fatalities for the period from January 2009 are reported to be higher  than 2,000, but this figure has been  contested by the Government. The total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Vanni is also challenged by the Government which insists that there are only 60,000 IDPs. United Nations (UN) Agencies on the other hand initially calculated 200,000-250,000 and are currently in the process of examining if the figure is between 130,000 – 150,000. The District Secretaries of Killinochchi and Mullaitivu put the figure at around 400,000. Nevertheless with only around 32,000 arriving into government controlled areas in 2009 the fate of the majority of the Vanni population hangs in the balance. The majority of those displaced are trapped in the Vanni. The LTTE has imposed stringent restrictions on IDPs leaving the Vanni and has even shot at some IDPs attempting to flee while subjecting those trying to escape with severe repercussions, including torture. By restricting the IDPs freedom of movement the LTTE is using the civilians as human shields. The LTTE is also accused of carrying out other human rights violations including firing weapons from locations close to civilian spaces such as hospitals or welfare camps, as well as forcibly recruiting adults and children into its ranks. The fact that significant numbers persevere in crossing over every week despite these horrific threats they risk in attempting to escape, is a testimony to the shocking conditions in the conflict area.

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