Sri Lanka: White lies and brute force =NDTV=

True vs Hype The propaganda wars in Srilanka

Sri Lanka: War Crimes

A United Nations investigation panel says both the government and Tamil Tigers are to blame.


In May 2009, Sri Lanka’s decades long civil war with the Tamil Tigers, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam came to a bloody close after government forces launched a massive offensive.

What exactly happened during the last days of the battle is still the subject of fierce debate, but it is clear that as the rebel perimeter shrank, around a third of a million civilians were trapped between the two armies and tens of thousands were killed.

The government says the LTTE were using civilians as human shields, Tamil exiles say the deaths were the result of indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan army. The LTTE was crushed in the offensive, most of its leaders killed and thousands were captured and imprisoned but the Sri Lankan government has so far refused to agree to an independent, international war crimes investigation.

Now a UN panel has found that the allegations against both sides are credible saying they may have committed serious violations of humanitarian law.

As Juliana Ruhfus and Dom Rotheroe have been finding out, unless and until the truth is established, a final reconciliation in Sri Lanka may prove impossible.

Some of the images in their film are deeply disturbing.

This episode of People & Power can be seen from Wednesday, April 20.


Poddala Jayantha: Latest Journalist victim in Sri Lanka

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The witch hunt against journalists depicted as enemies of the State continues unabated in Sri Lanka.

The latest victim in this “officially sanctioned unofficial campaign” is Poddala Jayantha, a senior Journalist and prominent media rights activist.

[Poddala Jayantha was always at the forefront]

Jayantha, a senior journalist at “Dinamina” the Sinhala daily run by Lake House , is also the General Secretary of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and a key activist of the Free media movement (FMM) in Sri Lanka.

The bearded Jayantha was abducted on June 1st at about 4.30 pm in broad daylight near the Embuldeniya junction in Nugegoda.

WHITE VAN

Jayantha was walking out of a pharmacy when a group of six men manhandled him and swiftly bundled him into a white Toyota Ace van.

Several people witnessed the shocking incident . Among them was someone who knew Jayantha personally.

This person who also knew veteran journalist Bennet Rupasinghe, telephoned him and told him of the incident.

66 Year old Rupasinghe was formerly with the Communist party newspaper “Atha”. Currently he works as news editor of the Lanka e-news web newspaper.

Rupasinghe then told his editor in chief and publisher Sanduruwan Senadheera about the incident. Senadheera and Rupasinghe then began telephoning people to alert them of the abduction.

Since they feared for Jayantha’s life both telephoned as many people as they could about the incident including different media personnel. The intention was to mount pressure on those responsible for ordering the abduction and make them release Poddala Jayantha safely.

COMPLAINT

Rupasinghe had first telephoned the Inspector-General of Police Jayantha Wickremaratne and told him of the incident.

Bennet also informed Jayantha’s wife and advised her to rush to the Police station and make a formal complaint.

She went with a lawyer cum journalist KW Janaranjana and another journalist Jayasiri Jayasekera to the Mirihana Police station and lodged a complaint.

In her complaint she stated that Bennet Rupasinghe had informed her of the abduction.

Meanwhile a badly battered Poddala Jayantha was dumped into a muddy pit by the roadside near the IDH hospital.

An injured Jayantha kept shouting for help saying he was a married man with a child.
But the culture of fear that prevails in Sri Lanka prevented anyone from coming to his help.

[At the hospital]

HOSPITAL

A bleeding Jayantha with blood and mud on his rumpled , torn clothes hobbled on the road for a while and finally hailed a three-wheeler to go to the hospital.

He was warded at the Intensive care unit at National Hospital, Borella.

After surgery he was transferred to a paying ward at the hospital.

The abductors had blindfolded and beaten Jayantha with iron rods and wooden poles accusing him of being a traitor to the country.

At one point the abductors had crushed three of his fingers with a wooden block saying he would not be allowed to write with his hand again.

He had fainted at one stage.

His leg and ankle were broken. In addition he suffered many injuries to face,head, arms, legs and chest.

In a further bid to humiliate Jayantha the cowardly abductors had shaved off parts of his beard and some of the hair on his head.

The white van cowards had forced the hair down Jayantha’s throat making him swallow it.

MEETING

At about the same time that Poddala Jayantha was being abducted and assaulted a delegation of Journalist association representatives was having discussions with President Mahinda Rajapakse on problems faced by the media.

The meeting had been arranged by FMM convenor Chulwansa Sri Lal.

Poddala Jayantha had refused to meet with the President as part of the delegation it was pointless.

Prasanna Fonseka of the SLWJA had attended the meeting instead of Jayantha.

Among others present at the discussion were “Ravaya” editor Victor Ivan and senior journalist Waruna Karunatilleke.

The meeting was held to discuss the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka. There was concern about the campaign to malign some journalists on state media as being paid agents of the LTTE.

While discussions were on, news of the abduction was conveyed to Transport minister Dulles Alahapperuma .

When Alahapperuma informed President Rajapakse of the incident a nonchalant Rajapakse responded that he did not want to get involved in friction between media institutions.

The cryptic comment about alleged “media institution friction” by the President assumed greater significance due to subsequent developments.

In a bizarre twist the Mirihana Police instead of searching for the White van abductors went in search of veteran journalist Bennet Rupasinghe.

INTERROGATION

Rupasinghe was arrested at 8 .pm on June 1st and detained at the Police station for 18 hours till 2.pm on June 2nd.

He was interrogated for hours about alleged discrepancies between his version of the abduction and the complaint made by Mr. Jayantha’s spouse.

Bennet Rupasinghe said during interrogation that he had been informing people of the incident with the approval of Mr. Senadheera.

The Police then telephoned Sandaruwan Senadheera the editor-in-chief and publisher of Lanka e-news and asked him to come to the Police station.

When Senadheera arrived there on June 2nd, his statement was also recorded.

Both journalists were produced before the Nugegoda chief magistrate Vasantha Jinadasa by the Police special investigation unit.

SUSPECTS

Police informed the magistrate that both journalists were key suspects in the case as they had been the first to inform Poddala Jayantha’s wife of the incident.

Lawyers Vidura P. Manchanayake and Manjula Pathiraja who appeared for the two journalists submitted that the journalists had had nothing to do with the incident but upon , hearing of the abduction of Poddala Jayantha, informed his wife and advised her to lodge a complaint with the Police.

Police also said that Rupasinghe and Senadheera had informed the IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne, Media minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, the Director of Information Anusha Pelpita and Presidential adviser on Public Affairs Kumarasiri Hettige about the incident.

As such the Police wanted both Journalists to be remanded pending further investigations.
But the chief magistrate who put off the case for August 3rd declined to remand both.
They were released on personal bail of Rs. 500,000 each and ordered to report to Police every Sunday.

Several media rights organizations and human rights institutions have condemned the abduction and attack.

In order to understand the background to the abduction and attack on Poddala Jayantha a brief excursion into recent events is necessary.

MEDIA RIGHTS

The bearded Poddala Jayantha was a popular figure among journalists as an ardent campaigner for media rights.

He was at the forefront of media demonstrations and also issued several statements critical of the Government despite being a Lake House employee.

According to journalists at Lake House both Jayantha and Sanath Balasuriya the president of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) were journalists holding left of centre views.

Both had supported Mahinda Rajapakse during Presidential elections of Nov 2005 and had even campaigned for him.

However as office-bearers of SLWJA both had been later critical of the government for trying to curb and suppress the media.

Despite working at the Government controlled Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (Lake House) both had courageously stood up for the rights of media personnel regardless of irritation caused to the powers that be.

In association with other media rights organizations the SLWJA had been staging demonstrations and building up public awareness of media suppression

They had issued statements critical of the govt whenever the situation warranted it

When journalists were abducted, arrested or attacked Sanath and Jayantha had rushed to their defence in whatever capacity possible

They attended courts when journalists were charged.

RUPAVAHINI

When the gangster-Parliamentarian Mervyn Silva and heroin dealer “Kudu” Lal had invaded “Rupavahini” premises the employees there had erupted and held both as captives’

Both Sanath and Jayantha had rushed to State TV premises and persuaded employees to release Mervyn and “Kudu”.

Thereafter a number of Rupavahini employees were attacked with knives and razor blades on different occasions by Mervyn’s goondas.None were arrested.

In early January 2008 a gang of thugs in a white van went to the Boralesgamuwa area where Jayantha with the intention of abducting him

But alert residents had protested vehemently compelling the white van cowards to retreat ignominiously. Later villagers held a Bodhi pooja to invoke blessings and protection for Poddala Jayantha (Poddala is the name of his village)

Thereafter a safe houses for both Sanath and Jayantha were set up.

KEITH NOYAHR

On May 22nd 2008 Keith Noyahr , Associate editor and defence columnist of “The Nation” newspaper was abducted by men in civilian clothing. He was assaulted and tortured at a secret location

Prompt action spearheaded by Krishantha Cooray the former Chief Executive Officer of “Rivira media corp” compelled the abductors to release a severely injured Noyahr with a warning that he should stop writing for ever.

Cooray who used his wide-ranging contacts to launch a world-wide agitation for the release of Noyahr was himself under threat later and was forced to relocate to a foreign country.

In the aftermath of the Keith Noyahr incident five media rights organizations held a public demonstration on May 23rd 2008, condemning it and demanding govt action to bring the abductors to justice.

They were Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of media employees trade union (FMETU) Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF),Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA) and the Free Media Movement (FMM).

It was well known then that FMM convenor Sunanda Deshapriya, and SLWJA stalwarts Sanath Balasuriya and Poddala Jayantha were the livewires behind the protest demonstration.

GOTABHAYA

Shortly after this demonstration Defence secretary and Presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapakse summoned Balasuriya and Jayantha to his office. Also present were former “Lakbima” editor and present chairman of Lake House Bandula Padmakumara and Media center for National security director Lakshman Hulugalle.

Secretary Rajapakse went on a tirade against both saying that as Lake House employees they could not go against the Govt. Gota also charged that they were working against the Army commander Sarath Fonseka and the Army. There was a heated exchange of views.

At one point the Journalists said “Just because a war is being waged, if some wrongs are being committed by the military under that guise, it has to be exposed. There is no need to hide behind the guise of war”.

The Defence Secretary retorted “Don’t you understand what I am trying to say? If you don’t agree and continue with what you are doing, what has to happen to you will happen. Laws will be introduced to restrict reporting on the conduct of military or on Commanders of the Armed Forces. The military will campaign for such laws. We can see whether the voice of the military is stronger than the campaign of the journalists.

The Journalists then said “You are making a serious threat on our lives”.

The Defence Secretary replied “No, No. I am not doing it. I am definitely not threatening your lives. I am not. It will happen from where it happens. Our services are appreciated by 99 per cent of the people. They love the Army Commander (Lt. Gen. Fonseka) and the Army. Those who love us do what is required. We cannot help that.”

LETTER

Angered by the Defence secretary’s attempt to intimidate the Lake House Journalists in the presence of their boss, Padmakumara, the five media organizations that organized the Noyahr incident demonstration sent a joint protest letter to Lt. Col (Retired). Gotabhaya Rajapakse.

The letter stated:

“We are extremely disappointed and very concerned to discover that you summoned and reprimanded Sanath Balasooriya and Poddala Jayantha, President and General Secretary of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association ( SLWJA), over the protest campaign organized by our five media organizations against the abduction and inhuman assault on The Nation journalist Keith Noyahr.”

Your action has no precedent.

“We held this protest campaign peacefully and under the freedom of expression enshrined in our Constitution. The aim of our protest was to demand that the government initiates an open and impartial investigation into the abduction and assault of Keith Noyahr and bring the culprits to book. We openly stated that if the government does not apprehend the culprits and attempts to impair and impede the investigation, we hold it responsible for this heinous crime.

The Letter went on to say:

“We are outraged by your thinly veiled repeatedly expressed threat that the lives of Sanath Balasooriya and Poddala Jayantha would be in grave danger should they continue to defend the right to independent reportage critical of the military and the regime. Clearly, it is a problem that you see no problem in such odious expression. At a time when the President and his government seek to assure us that all is well with the protection and fullest enjoyment of fundamental rights in Sri Lanka, your behavior-and not for the first time-is a significant marker of the ground reality and the challenges facing free media and human rights.

KEHELIYA

Subsequently the issue was raised by journalists at the defence matters press briefing held by Cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella.

MCNS director Hulugalle also present was asked specifically about the incident.

He denied that Gotabhaya Rajapakse had threatened the journalists and had only sought a clarification. Hulugalle maintained that as lake House employees both had no right to engage in anti-govt activity.

When asked whether journalists had no rights to engage in politics if they wanted Rambukwella replied as govt employees of Lake house they had no right.

Asked as to why this was not emphasized when Sanath and Jayantha campaigned for Mahinda during Presidential polls Minister Keheliya came out with a characteristic “vihiluwa” “They were summoned to be thanked for that”.

The next major development in this saga was the cowardly assassination of “Sunday Leader” editor Lasantha Wickrematunge on Jan 8th 2009.

RETURN

When threats against journalists increased in the aftermath of the brutal slaying a large number of journalists left the Country., Poddala Jayantha had also been one of the scribes who fled abroad for safety.

He returned to Sri Lanka only a few weeks ago and was living in Nugegoda temporarily. Poddala Jayantha was the first of those who fled abroad in January this year to return to Sri Lanka

This return was seen as an act of defiance. The cowardly bullies are happy when people flee for safety.

Recent events clearly indicate that Poddala Jayantha was singled out to the latest victim of a state sponsored witch hunt to target independent journalists refusing to bow down before this regime .

They were accused of being agents of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)

Initially Army commander Sarath Fonseka alleged that evidence had been unearthed against Sinhala journalists helping the LTTE. He even said that media rights demonstrations at Lipton’s circus roundabout were bankrolled by the tigers.

This was followed by a media interview of IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne who reiterated the Army commander’s accusation.

VILIFICATION

The Inspector General of police accused unnamed journalists of obtaining money from the LTTE under the guise of campaigning for media freedom in Sri Lanka.

State controlled TV net work ITN showed visuals of Poddala Jayantha on its segment called “After News” while the accusation was being aired.

The bearded Poddala Jayantha’s image flashed across TV screens as references to treacherous journalists getting money from the LTTE were made.

On 22nd May an editorial of the state controlled Sinhala language daily “Dinamina” called for stoning and expelling of so called professional journalists who grow beards and take money from tigers.
Since Poddala Jayantha is well-known known for his beard, there was no doubt about the intended target. It was indeed sadly illustrative of the prevailing media situation that the paper for which Poddala Jayantha worked for more than 15 years should denigrate him this way.

As a result of this vilification campaign , Poddala Jayantha’s little daughter was humiliated at school. She refused to attend school .

The past few weeks saw continued attacks on “unnamed journalists” who had campaigned for media freedom and justice for abducted and killed journalists in Sri Lanka.

TRAITORS

Media ministers Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena added to the confusion by stating different points of view at press conferences about the so called list of media practitioners who got hand-outs from the LTTE.

They were called traitors by various politicians and pro state and state controlled media.

Even the independent “Divaina” newspaper wrote an editorial calling for the death penalty to be imposed on Sinhala journalists who betrayed the Country by taking money from the LTTE

The scene therefore was being set for the abduction and assault of Poddala Jayantha.

SCAPEGOATS

The “officially sanctioned unofficial” incident displayed a new twist by the fact that the two journalists who informed the family and authorities of the abduction were arrested and produced in courts.

This is seen as a crude attempt to prevent journalists from helping fellow journalists in distress and taking appropriate action.

Had it not been for Rupasinghe and Senadheera the fate of Jayantha may have been different.

But now the “good Samaritans” were being penalised. People were being encouraged to be like the Pharisee and Levite in Jesus Christ’s parable

President Rajapakse’s cryptic observation that he did not want to get involved in friction between media institutions followed by Police attempts to charge Rupasinghe and Senadheera of being suspects, strengthens suspicion that some “media sections” are going to be made the scapegoats.

Just as the passer-by who “misappropriated” Lasantha Wickrematunge’s cellular phone has been made prime suspect for the assassination and Kotte municipal councillors have been framed for the attack on MTV/Sirasa, Bennet and Sanduruwan could be made the ” guilty party” for the Jayantha abduction.

The new campaign to malign journalists as paid agents of the LTTE and the abduction of Poddala Jayantha shows that the Government riding the crest of a victory wave is all out to suppress media dissent by targeting potential dissenters with trumped-up charges of tiger links.

DAYA MASTER

The three medical doctors who rendered yeoman service to innumerable people in Mullaitheevu are being detained and interrogated. Attempts are made to elicit the names of journalists who contacted them

LTTE political wing member “Daya master” who surrendered to the Army some weeks ago was interrogated intensely. Thereafter a list of journalist names were compiled on the basis of information allegedly divulged by Daya master.

The so called list of journalists allegedly in the pay of tigers has its genesis in the detention and interrogation of Daya Master. It appears that journalists disliked by the state will be “named” on this list and dealt out punishment as seen fit.

The Poddala Jayantha episode is the first in this phase of this officially sanctioned unofficial campaign. It certainly wont be the last until and unless remedia measures are enacted.

From Prabhakaran to Poddala, the people responsible for helping Mahinda Rajapakse become president are feeling the power of his presidency.Frankenstein dies a thousand deaths as their monstrous creation runs amok

Perhaps the editors and publishers invited for dinner by the President on June 5th will know what lies in store for courageous members of the fourth estate.

The attack on a prominent media rights activist like Poddala Jayantha is very likely to enhance the climate of fear among Sri Lankan journalists and media activists further. -dbsj

I can be reached onEmail: dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com

ஆயுத போராட்டம் இன்று முடிவிற்கு வந்துவிட்டதை புலம்பெயர்ந்த தமிழர்கள் ஏற்றுக் கொள்ள வேண்டும்-மனோ கணேசன் எம்.பி.

வீரகேசரி நாளேடு 6/3/2009 9:01:29 AMபுலிகளின் ஆயுதப் போராட்டம் முடிவிற்கு வந்துவிட்டது. இந்த உண்மையை புலம்பெயர்ந்துள்ள தமிழர்கள் ஏற்றுக் கொள்ள வேண்டும். புலம்பெயர்ந்துள்ளவர்களின் போராட்டங்கள் தமிழினத்தின் பிரச்சினைகளை இன்று உலகறிய செய்திருப்பது உண்மை. ஆனால் தாய்நாட்டிலே வாழ்கின்ற தமிழ் மக்களின் வரலாற்றுக் கேள்விகளுக்கு புலிகளின் ஆயுதப் போராட்டமும் அதைச் சார்ந்த புலம்பெயர்ந்த தமிழர்களின் கவன ஈர்ப்பு போராட்டங்களும் விடைகளை கொண்டு வரவில்லை என்ற கசப்பான உண்மை புரிந்து கொள்ளப்பட வேண்டும் என ஜனநாயக மக்கள் முன்னணியின் தலைவர் மனோ கணேசன் எம்.பி. தெரிவித்துள்ளார்.

நாட்டின் இன்றைய நிலைமைகள் தொடர்பில் கருத்து தெரிவித்த மனோ எம்.பி. மேலும் கூறியதாவது, 1940 களில் தொடங்கப்பட்ட தமிழர்களின் தேசிய போராட்டத்தின் தலைமையை 1970களில் தொடங்கப்பட்ட ஆயுதப் போராட்டம் சுவீகரித்துக் கொண்டது. ஆயுதப் போராட்டம் தோற்றுவித்த யுத்தம் முடிவிற்கு வந்துவிட்டாலும் தேசிய போராட்டத்தை தோற்றுவித்த அரசியல் காரணங்கள் அப்படியே இருக்கின்றன. தேசிய இனப் பிரச்சினையை தோற்றுவித்த இந்த காரணங்களுக்கு படிப்படியாக பதில் தேடும் தேவையை மறந்து ஆயுதப் போராட்டம் கொண்டு செல்லப்பட்டதனாலேயே இன்று தோல்வி ஏற்பட்டுள்ளது.

இந்த தோல்வியுடன் இந்நாட்டிலே தமிழ் இனம் ஆரம்பித்த இடத்திற்கே மீண்டும் திரும்பியுள்ளது. அத்துடன் மேலதிக சுமையாக மூன்று இலட்சத்திற்கும் மேற்பட்ட அப்பாவி மக்கள் அகதிகளாக தடுப்பு முகாம்களில் வாழ வேண்டிய நிலைமை ஏற்பட்டுள்ளது. இடம்பெயர்ந்து முகாம்களில் வாழும் நமது மக்கள் தொகையில் பத்தில் ஒருவர் அங்கவீனராக உள்ளனர். இரண்டு பெற்றோர்களையும் இழந்துவிட்ட பெருந்தொகை குழந்தைகள் இருக்கின்றார்கள்.

பிள்ளைகளை இழந்துவிட்ட பெருந்தொகை அனாதை வயோதிப பெற்றோர்களும் இருக்கின்றார்கள். மிகப் பெருந்தொகையானோருக்கு தமது குடும்ப அங்கத்தவர்கள் உயிருடன் இருக்கின்றார்களா அல்லது உயிருடன் இருந்தால் எங்கே இருக்கின்றார்கள் என்ற கேள்விகளுக்கு விடை கிடைக்கவில்லை. தனித்துவிட்ட பெண்களின் பாதுகாப்பான வாழ் நிலைமைகள் கேள்விக்குறியாகவுள்ளன. மந்த போசனமும் தொற்று நோயும் பசியும் நமது மக்ககளை வாட்டுகின்றன.

இந்நிலையில் நமது மக்களின் அகதி வாழ்க்கை தொடர்பிலான கேள்விகளுக்கு விடைகளை தேடுவதிலும் அரசியல் தீர்வு தொடர்பில் நிலவுகின்ற கேள்விகளுக்கு விடைகளை தேடுவதிலும் சமாந்தர போக்கை கடைப்பிடிக்க வேண்டியது அனைத்து தமிழ் அரசியல் சக்திகளின் வரலாற்று கடமையாகும். இந்த இரட்டை நோக்கங்களை அடைவதற்கு நாம் இலங்கை மண்ணில் இருந்தபடி ஜனநாயக ரீதியாக செயற்படுகின்றோம். தாய் நாட்டிலே வாழும் மக்களின் மத்தியில் இருந்து செயற்படும் தமிழ் அரசியல் தலைமைகளுக்கு துணை சக்தியாக மாத்திரமே புலம்பெயர்ந்த தமிழர்களின் எதிர்கால நடவடிக்கைகள் அமைய முடியும். இதை புலம்பெயர்ந்த தமிழ் முன்னோடிகள் புரிந்து கொள்ள வேண்டும்.

Source : Virakesari

Sri Lanka: Stop Shelling ‘No-Fire Zone’

UN Security Council Action Needed to Avert Humanitarian Catastrophe

April 9, 2009

(New York) – The Sri Lankan government should stop firing heavy artillery into the “no-fire zone” in the northern Vanni area where some 100,000 civilians are trapped by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, causing skyrocketing casualties, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch called upon the United Nations Security Council to take urgent measures, including by sending a special envoy to Sri Lanka, to bring an end to violations of international humanitarian law by government forces and the LTTE.

“Sri Lanka’s so-called ‘no-fire zone’ is now one of the most dangerous places in the world,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council has quibbled over protocol when it should be acting to bring an end to this ghastly loss of life.”

People in the government-declared no-fire zone told Human Rights Watch that several areas have been subjected to heavy shelling since April 7, 2009, resulting in numerous civilian casualties. According to a doctor at the make-shift hospital in Putumattalan, on April 7 the hospital received 133 wounded civilians and 20 dead bodies. He said that all were the victims of a shelling in Pokkanai, a seaside area within the no-fire zone that is crowded with displaced persons.

Two other shelling attacks hit the same area on the morning of April 8. The doctor said the hospital received 296 wounded and 46 bodies on April 8, and 300 wounded and 62 bodies on April 9.  Because of a lack of access to the conflict area, Human Rights Watch is unable to confirm these figures independently.  On April 9 the International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated 230 injured civilians plus their relatives by ferry from Putumattalan.

A witness to the first attack on April 8 said that it took place at 7:30 a.m. near Pokkanai primary health center. Hundreds of civilians were waiting in line near a food distribution center when four or five artillery shells hit the area, killing at least 13 civilians immediately and wounding over 50 others. The doctor, who examined the site two hours after the attack, said that the shells were 120mm rounds and appeared to have been fired from Sri Lankan army positions to the south.

A 35-year-old man told Human Rights Watch that he was waiting in the food distribution line with his wife and 2-year-old child when the shelling started:

“There had been no distribution of milk powder for three months, and so when they announced that there would be distribution today [April 8], hundreds of people lined in queue. It was early in the morning. I heard the first shell, and hit the ground. Then several more landed nearby, after three or four minutes. I survived by miracle, but my 45-year-old uncle died on the spot – he lost both legs.

“I tried to get him to the hospital by bike – there are no cars, and no ambulances, and there were so many people – women, and children – injured in that attack. Now I am staying in the hospital with my wife and child, because we have nowhere else to go and the hospital may be the safest place. But there is also no place to stay here – there are so many injured people, and the new injured are being brought here all the time as we speak.”

Another attack followed several hours later. The doctor said the new patients continued to arrive by the minute.

Human Rights Watch called on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to urgently facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians from the conflict area. Approximately 100,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the roughly 20-square-kilometer area under LTTE control.

Several people who recently managed to flee the no-fire zone reported that escape was becoming increasingly difficult because the LTTE had built an earth mound and posted sentries at regular intervals on the zone’s perimeter. One woman who escaped in mid-March said that LTTE fighters had opened fire on her group as they tried to flee in the dark, but they kept running. A large number spent the night hiding in the Nanthikadal lagoon, which borders the no-fire zone, standing in water up to their necks. Only when it was light enough for government forces to see that they were civilians did the group emerge from the water toward the government side.

A 19-year-old youth who tried to escape with his family on April 1 said that the LTTE had forced his parents to turn back. He and his younger brother made a run for it, however, and eventually made it to the government side.

The Sri Lankan government continues to prevent the media and other independent observers from traveling to the war-affected Vanni region to report on the situation. The doctor told Human Rights Watch that he and other medical staff who have been providing information from inside the no-fire zone have been threatened by the authorities and ordered not to speak to the media.

“We decided that we are beyond the point where we can just complain to the authorities,” the doctor said. “Because we told them a hundred times and they have failed to take any proper steps to stop the attack on civilians and did not send in the necessary amount of medications.

“We have been reporting every day, every day providing reports to relevant authorities and to the international community, and still there are no real steps taken to save these innocent civilians.”

Under international humanitarian law applicable to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, both the government armed forces and the LTTE are obligated to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilian life and property. Since January, both sides have shown little regard for the safety of civilians in the Vanni, and more than 3000 civilians are believed to have died in the fighting. The LTTE has violated the laws of war by using civilians as “human shields,” by preventing civilians from fleeing the combat zone and by deliberately deploying their forces close to densely populated civilian areas. The Sri Lankan armed forces have indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals, in violation of the laws of war.

Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent – that is, deliberately or recklessly – should be prosecuted for war crimes. War crimes include using human shields and deliberately attacking civilians. Evidence as to whether indiscriminate attacks on civilians were deliberate or reckless would include: information on the known number of civilians in the area under attack, attacks striking presumptively civilian objects such as hospitals, and a showing that such attacks occurred repeatedly. In addition to those who ordered or executed unlawful actions or attacks, commanders who knew or should have known of war crimes being committed and failed to take measures to stop them can be held responsible as a matter of command responsibility.

Sri Lanka has an obligation under international law to investigate credible allegations of war crimes, including by members of its own forces, and appropriately prosecuting those responsible.

“War crimes by the Tamil Tigers don’t give Sri Lankan commanders free rein to ignore civilian casualties,” said Adams. “Accountability is a two-way street.”

Source : HRW.ORG


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