New York, 5 March 2009 – Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General is extremely concerned over the deteriorating situation for civilians trapped in northern Sri Lanka. He strongly deplores the mounting death toll of civilians in the area of fighting, including a significant number of children. There is an urgent need to bring this conflict to a speedy end without further loss of civilian life. In this respect, the Secretary-General renews his call to the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to suspend hostilities for the purposes of allowing civilians to leave the conflict zone, and allowing immediate humanitarian access to them.

The Secretary-General calls on the LTTE to remove its weapons and fighters from areas of civilian concentration, to cooperate in all humanitarian efforts calculated to relieve the suffering of civilians, and to immediately cease recruitment of children.

The Secretary-General strongly urges the Government to begin serious efforts to resolve the underlying causes of conflict.

New York, 3 April 2009 – Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General is deeply distressed by continuing reports from the Vanni region of Sri Lanka that civilians are at extreme risk, with heavy casualties, and that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are keeping civilians in a very small area of active conflict against their will. While some have been able to leave or escape, reliable reports indicate that the LTTE have prevented others from leaving, including by firing at them.

The Secretary-General calls upon the LTTE leadership to allow civilians to leave the conflict area of their own free will. The severe restrictions of the LTTE on their freedom of movement violate international law. The Secretary-General also deplores the forced recruitment of civilians, particularly children.

At the same time, the Secretary-General again reminds the Government of Sri Lanka of its responsibility to protect civilians, and to avoid the use of heavy weapons in areas where there are civilians, as promised. The Government should receive and treat displaced persons in accordance with international law, and work closely with the United Nations in meeting the protection and physical needs of displaced persons.

New York, 9 April 2009 – Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General and President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka spoke again today about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Vanni region and their shared concerns about the civilians still trapped in the area.

The President understood the Secretary-General’s deep preoccupation with the fate and condition of the civilian population. They agreed to continue to work together urgently on ways forward in the coming days.

The Secretary-General reminds all concerned of their obligations to do all they can to protect civilians, and stresses that civilians should be allowed to leave the affected areas.

New York, 20 April 2009 – Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General welcomes the escape by tens of thousands of civilians from the conflict zone in Northeastern Sri Lanka over the last three days. While the departure of civilians to safer areas is welcome news, he remains deeply concerned about the circumstances of the civilians that remain in the conflict zone and the potential for large-scale casualties. He deplores the continued use of heavy weapons in the vicinity of civilians, and the use of force by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in preventing the departure of civilians from the conflict zone.

In the light of the latest outflow of displaced persons, the UN is increasing its efforts to provide the required humanitarian assistance, and will continue to do all it can to ensure conditions fully reflect international standards.

The Secretary-General stresses that it is now imperative for UN staff to be allowed into the conflict zone to facilitate relief operations and the evacuation of civilians. Humanitarian agencies must be allowed to assess needs and bring in adequate relief supplies. They must also be allowed to have full access to screening centers and any other reception points for those escaping the conflict zone. It is also important to ensure the sustainable resettlement of these internally displaced persons (IDPs) as soon as possible.

New York, 11 May 2009 – Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General is appalled at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Sri Lanka over the weekend. Thousands of Sri Lankans have already died in the past several months due to the conflict, and more still remain in grave danger.

The Secretary-General has repeatedly called upon the parties to the conflict to stop using heavy calibre weaponry, including mortars, in the areas with high civilian concentrations. The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the continued use of heavy weapons in this situation. The reckless disrespect shown by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the safety of civilians has led to thousands of people remaining trapped in the area.

The Secretary-General once again calls on both sides, in the strongest terms possible, to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law. The LTTE must immediately allow the remaining civilians in the conflict zone to leave. He reminds the parties that the world is watching events in Sri Lanka closely, and will not accept further violations of international law.

The Secretary-General urges the Government of Sri Lanka to explore all possible options to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed and to make public the terms under which that can be achieved without further loss of civilian life, and for the LTTE to give sober and positive consideration of those terms.

Colombo, Sri Lanka, 22 May 2009 – Statement by the Secretary-General on arrival in Sri Lanka

We are here at a defining moment in Sri Lanka’s history. A long and terrible conflict has come to an end. Now is the time for the nation to unite to build a just and lasting peace. No one can do this but the Sri Lankans themselves, working together without regard to religion or ethnic identity.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am here to offer help and partnership. Civilian casualties have been heavy. Too many lives have been lost and too many communities destroyed during the long decades of conflict.

I remain deeply concerned about the safety and welfare of at least 300,000 displaced persons. I hope my visit today can help begin a process of national recovery, renewal and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans. That is why I am here.

Tomorrow, I will meet with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and senior advisers. If possible, I will travel to the zone of conflict in the northeast and visit the Manik Farms IDP camp near Vavuniya.

My goals are three. First and foremost, to meet urgent humanitarian needs. Together with the government, we must ensure that the IDP camps meet minimum standards and adequate supplies of food, medicine, water and other essential assistance are available. I will therefore ask that UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations be given immediate and unhindered access to all areas where there are displaced people.

Second, I will urge the government to expedite the screening and processing of refugees as quickly as possible. Families must be reunited and people must be able to begin rebuilding their lives and reintegrate into society. This will require a major commitment to reconstruction and rehabilitation. The United Nations is ready to help in any way it can, under proper conditions. Full transparency and full respect for human rights are essential.

Third, I will urge the government and all elements of society to take powerful and immediate steps to initiate a political process of dialogue, accommodation and reconciliation.

Old enmities must overcome. Sri Lankans of every ethnic and religious identity must enjoy equal justice, rights and guarantees of security under the law, as President Rajapaksa declared in his recent address to Parliament. The world will be watching.


Following is the joint statement by the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations at the conclusion of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Sri Lanka on 23 May:

At the invitation of Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, paid a visit to Sri Lanka. During the course of his visit, he held talks with the President, Foreign Minister as well as other senior leaders of Sri Lanka. During his stay, he also consulted other relevant stakeholders, members of international humanitarian agencies and civil society. The Secretary-General visited the internally displaced persons (IDP) sites at Vavuniya and overflew the conflict area, near Mullaitivu that was the scene of the conflict.

President Rajapaksa welcomed the Secretary-General as the highest dignitary to visit Sri Lanka in the post-conflict phase. This was a reflection of the close cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United Nations as well as Sri Lanka’s commitment to work with the United Nations in the future.

President Rajapaksa and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed that following the end of operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka had entered a new post-conflict beginning. In this context, the Government of Sri Lanka faced many immediate and long-term challenges relating to issues of relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconciliation. While addressing these critical issues, it was agreed that the new situation offered opportunities for long-term development of the north and for re-establishing democratic institutions and electoral politics after 2 ½ decades. The Government expressed its commitment to ensure the economic and political empowerment of the people of the north through its programmes.

President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General agreed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio-economic development. The Secretary-General welcomed the assurance of the President of Sri Lanka contained in his statement in Parliament on 19 May 2009 that a national solution acceptable to all sections of people will be evolved. President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.

President Rajapaksa and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discussed a series of areas in which the United Nations will assist the ongoing efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka in addressing the future challenges and opportunities.

With regard to IDPs, the United Nations will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the IDPs now in Vavuniya and Jaffna. The Government will continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies. The Government will expedite the necessary basic and civil infrastructure as well as means of livelihood necessary for the IDPs to resume their normal lives at the earliest. The Secretary-General welcomed the announcement by the Government expressing its intention to dismantle the welfare villages at the earliest, as outlined in the Plan to resettle the bulk of IDPs and call for its early implementation.

The Government seeks the cooperation of the international community in mine clearing, which is an essential prerequisite to expediting the early return of IDPs.

The Secretary-General called for donor assistance towards the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) jointly launched by the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations, which supports the relief, shelter and humanitarian needs of those in IDP sites.

President Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General recognized the large number of former child soldiers forcibly recruited by the LTTE as an important issue in the post-conflict context. President Rajapaksa reiterated his firm policy of zero tolerance in relation to child recruitment. In cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), child-friendly procedures have been established for their “release and surrender” and rehabilitation in Protective Accommodation Centres. The objective of the rehabilitation process presently underway is to reintegrate former child soldiers into society as productive citizens. The Secretary-General expressed satisfaction on the progress already made by the Government in cooperation with UNICEF and encouraged Sri Lanka to adopt similar policies and procedures relating to former child soldiers in the north.

President Rajapaksa informed the Secretary-General regarding ongoing initiatives relating to rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants. In addition to the ongoing work by the Office of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, a National Framework for the Integration of Ex-combatants into Civilian Life is under preparation, with the assistance of the United Nations and other international organizations.

Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances.

UN human rights chief deplores deteriorating situation for civilians in Sri Lanka 29 January 2009

GENEVA — The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Thursday she was deeply concerned by reports of the rapidly deteriorating conditions facing a quarter of a million civilians trapped in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka, and of alleged human rights abuses and a significant number of civilian casualties, as well as the huge displacement.

Pillay also expressed concern at the highly restricted access to the Vanni region for aid agencies and impartial outside observers, including journalists and human rights monitors.

“The perilous situation of civilians after many months of fighting, multiple displacements and heavy rains and flooding is extremely worrying,” Pillay said. “The lack of access for independent monitors, humanitarian workers and the media only adds to concerns that the situation may be even worse than we realize,” she added.

The High Commissioner cited reports of forced recruitment, including of children, as well as the use of civilians as human shields by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). She also condemned the fact that safe zones promised by the Government have subsequently been subjected to bombardment leading to civilian casualties.

“People trying to flee the conflict areas are reported to have either been prevented from doing so, or to have been arbitrarily detained in special centres,” she said. “It seems there may have been very grave breaches of human rights by both sides in the conflict, and it is imperative that we find out more about what exactly has been going on. It is also urgent that civilians in the north can find safe shelter, away from the fighting.”

Pillay noted that along with the Secretary-General and other heads of UN agencies, she had already expressed her concerns directly to the Government of Sri Lanka. “We are all seriously alarmed by the situation,” she said, “as are many of the NGOs and other organizations operating in Sri Lanka.”

Pillay said the conflict had reached a critical stage: “While the Government has made military gains on one hand, the rule of law has been undermined on the other. The killing of the prominent newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge earlier this month was the latest blow to the free expression of dissent in Sri Lanka. The searing article he wrote prophesying his own murder is an extraordinary indictment of a system corrupted by more than two decades of bloody internal conflict.”

The High Commissioner observed there had not been any successful investigations or prosecutions of political killings, disappearances and other violations committed in recent years.

“It is the Government’s duty to provide safety to all Sri Lanka’s citizens, whatever their ethnic origin or political views,” Pillay said. “That means not only protecting civilians during military operations in the north, but also ensuring space for journalists and human rights defenders to seek out the truth and expose abuses.”

Pillay added that “a strenuous effort needs to be made to tackle the core problems that have fuelled this conflict for a quarter of a century, in order to bring peace and prosperity and restore fundamental rights and freedoms for all Sri Lankans in all parts of the country.”

Serious violations of international law committed in Sri Lanka conflict: UN human rights chief 13 March 2009

GENEVA (OHCHR) — The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed her growing alarm Friday at the increasing number of civilians reported killed and injured in the conflict in northern Sri Lanka, and at the apparent ruthless disregard being shown for their safety.

“Certain actions being undertaken by the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.” Pillay said. “We need to know more about what is going on, but we know enough to be sure that the situation is absolutely desperate. The world today is ever sensitive about such acts that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Despite the Government’s designation of safe — or “no-fire” — zones for civilians, repeated shelling has continued inside those zones, according to information made available to OHCHR. Other areas holding civilians have also been shelled. OHCHR said a range of credible sources have indicated that more than 2,800 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,000 injured since 20 January, many of them inside the no-fire zones. The casualties are believed to include hundreds of children killed and more than a thousand injured.

Even after the Government’s announcement on 24 February that heavy weapons would no longer be fired into the no-fire zones, close to 500 people were reportedly killed and more than a thousand injured in these zones. Of these deaths, the great majority have been attributed to the use of heavy weapons. Overall, since 20 January, more than two thirds of the reported deaths and injuries have occurred in the no-fire zones.

According to UN estimates, a total of 150,000 to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in an ever-shrinking area of territory in the Vanni region.

“The current level of civilian casualties is truly shocking, and there are legitimate fears that the loss of life may reach catastrophic levels, if the fighting continues in this way,” the High Commissioner said. “Very little attention is being focused on this bitter conflict.”

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are reported to be continuing to hold civilians as human shields, and to have shot at civilians trying to leave the area they control. They are also believed to have been forcibly recruiting civilians, including children, as soldiers.

“The brutal and inhuman treatment of civilians by the LTTE is utterly reprehensible, and should be examined to see if it constitutes war crimes,” said Pillay.

There is very limited food – and reports of severe malnutrition – and key medical supplies, such as sutures, painkillers and antibiotics for treating victims, are virtually unavailable, even in the one makeshift medical facility still functioning.

The High Commissioner called on both the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to immediately suspend hostilities in order to allow the evacuation of the entire civilian population by land or sea. She also urged the Sri Lankan Government to grant full access to UN and other independent agencies to allow an accurate assessment of the human rights and humanitarian conditions in the conflict zone.


The Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kaelin, will carry out a short working visit to Sri Lanka from 2 to 6 April 2009 at the invitation of the Government.

During his visit, Mr. Kaelin plans to discuss the present situation of internal displacement in the country with senior Government authorities, United Nations agencies present on the ground and civil society representatives and will also meet with internally displaced persons.

Walter Kaelin, an independent expert and professor of law at the University of Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons since 2004.


COLOMBO – The Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin, expressed urgent concerns today for the lives of over 100,000 civilians trapped in the 14-square kilometre area of the Vanni declared by the Government of Sri Lanka as a no-fire zone. He spoke at the end of a 4-day visit to Sri Lanka.

“I am deeply concerned for the lives of over 100,000 civilians trapped in the 14-square kilometre area of the Vanni declared by the Government of Sri Lanka as a no-fire zone. Large numbers of civilians already have been killed or wounded. Following reports that LTTE fighters now have been pushed almost entirely into this zone, many more are at risk of losing their lives. I urgently repeat my call to the LTTE to allow all civilians under its control to leave this zone and to seek safety elsewhere. I also call on the Government of Sri Lanka to scrupulously respect the no-fire zone for as long as a civilian population remains within it. Moreover, I believe that a series of humanitarian pauses must be initiated immediately to allow civilians to leave and humanitarian actors to provide life-saving relief to the remaining population,” Mr. Kälin said.

During his visit to Sri Lanka, the Representative consulted with the Special Advisor to the President, the HQ Vanni Security Forces Commander, the Minister of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, the Attorney General, the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordination of the Peace Process, other civilian and military representatives of the Government and heads of UN agencies. Outside Colombo he visited the Omanthai checkpoint and met internally displaced persons (IDPs) at transit sites and camps in and around Vavunyia.

Noting that more than 52,000 displaced persons have arrived in Vavuniya since November, the Representative welcomed the Government’s acknowledgement of its responsibility to protect and assist these persons, and he recognized measures already taken in this regard. He concluded, however, that extraordinary efforts will be required of the Government, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and donors, acting in cooperation, to successfully meet the humanitarian needs of this population, as well as those of the tens of thousands expected to arrive in the coming weeks and months. This included supplementing Vavuniya’s already over-stretched resources to meet basic humanitarian needs and alleviating the overcrowding of the Vavuniya transit sites. In this regard, he requested the Government to further facilitate unhindered access for humanitarian agencies and organizations to all IDP sites. He further stressed that the civilian character of IDP sites must be respected by removing military personnel to the periphery and restoring civilian policing and administration.

The Representative welcomed the Government’s receptivity to relieve the pressure on Vavuniya’s resources by transferring some IDPs closer to their homes in other districts. The Representative was encouraged by assurances of the Government that it will now take additional measures to promote family reunification, including the imminent opening of family visiting centres at the camps and the provision of an office to UNHCR and the Ministry of Social Services at Omanthai checkpoint. Such facilities and access will allow them to assess special needs and vulnerabilities of new arrivals and to collect information and requests for family reunification directly from the IDPs.

The Representative recalled that while civilians may be briefly interned in camps on general but imperative grounds of security, soon following an acute emergency any restrictions remaining upon freedom of movement must be justified on an individual rather than group basis. He expressed concern particularly for IDPs displaced from the Vanni in March 2008 and yet remaining interned in two Mannar camps more than one year later. The Representative observed that some recently displaced may wish to remain in the camps for the time-being, but stressed that a procedure with clear and objective criteria to allow for freedom of movement must be developed, communicated to IDPs and implemented without delay.

The Representative welcomed the Government’s assurances that it will promptly develop criteria and procedures to speed the release of many more IDPs from the camps, particularly those with vulnerabilities, such as people with disabilities, unaccompanied and separated children, and single or widowed mothers with small children. Immediate release of persons with special needs and those posing no security threat who may seek shelter with host families will respond to international human rights standards and help ease congestion in transit sites. While a few hundred elderly IDPs (over the age of 60) have been released, many more remain among the 57,000 in the camps, unaware of procedures by which they may obtain review and release. Others need assistance in locating their relatives outside. The Representative called on the Government to immediately release the staff of United Nations agencies and NGOs, and their families.

Furthermore the Representative was reassured by the Government’s commitment that it will undertake all necessary measures to facilitate the prompt and sustainable return of IDPs to their communities of origin.

The Representative welcomed the Government’s commitment to devise an action plan endorsing fundamental principles and indicating clear benchmarks, criteria and timetables for security screening of IDPs; registering them in order to enhance their freedom of movement; and facilitating return. He looked forward to supporting the Government and the international community in developing such a plan of action to resolve the present displacement crisis and protect the rights of IDPs in accordance with international standards. Such a plan surely will be instrumental in building the confidence among all Sri Lankan citizens and restoring the trust among affected Tamil populations that will be prerequisites to consolidate a lasting peace.

Walter Kaelin, professor of law at the University of Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced People since 2004.

Urgent international scrutiny needed in Sri Lanka, say UN Human Rights Experts – 8 May 2009

GENEVA – Mr. Philip Alston, Mr. Anand Grover, Mr. Olivier De Schutter and Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN Human Rights Council experts dealing with summary executions, right to health, right to food and water and sanitation, released today the following statement:

The current humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka gives cause for deep concern, not only in terms of the number of civilians who have been and continue to be killed, but because of a dramatic lack of transparency and accountability. “There is good reason to believe that thousands of civilians have been killed in the past three months alone, and yet the Sri Lankan Government has yet to account for the casualties, or to provide access to the war zone for journalists and humanitarian monitors of any type”, said Philip Alston, the UN expert on summary executions.

The continuing catastrophic situation of civilians in Sri Lanka trapped in the midst of fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE, in an area measuring less than 10 sq km, must be immediately addressed. “These civilians do not have sufficient access to food, essential medical supplies or services and safe water and sanitation. Even if they do escape death or injury at the hands of the hostile parties, their continued presence in this area without access to these basic rights is an effective death sentence,” declared the Experts of the UN Human Rights Council. “The safety of civilians, including their safe passage out of the conflict zone, must be prioritized by all actors involved” said the Experts. While many thousands of civilians have now left this area, the Experts maintained their concern about the safety of more than 50,000 estimated by the UN to still remain.

Shipments of food and medicine to the “no fire zone” have been grossly insufficient over the past month and the Government has reportedly delayed or denied timely shipment of life saving medicines as well as to chlorine tablets. “As a result of the blackout on independent information sources, it is impossible to verify any of the Government’s claims as to the number of casualties to date or as to the steps that it says it is taking in order to minimize the further killing of innocent civilians, and ensure delivery of humanitarian assistance”, said the Experts.

“When people manage to escape, they reportedly continue to face scant supplies, entirely insufficient access to adequate medical treatment and severely overcrowded hospitals, providing no relief to the horrors they had been living,” remarked Anand Grover, the UN expert on the right to health. “Access to food has also been hampered by arduous and lengthy registration procedures for the internally displaced persons; the desperation and chaos witnessed in some cases show that the situation is critical,” said Olivier De Schutter, the UN expert on the right to food. Catarina de Albuquerque, the UN expert on water and sanitation, also expressed concern about “water shortages reported at Omanthai and at most of the transit sites as well as inadequate sanitation facilities, which put the health and lives of the population at further risk.” The Government must take urgent measures with the assistance of the international community to ensure that security concerns do not result in unjustifiable suffering.

The Experts called upon the Sri Lankan Government to provide convincing evidence to the international community that it is respecting its obligations under human rights and international humanitarian law. It is also clear that the LTTE, for its part, has acted in flagrant violation of the applicable norms by preventing civilians from leaving the conflict area and having reportedly shot and killed those trying to flee. “There is an urgent need to establish an international commission of inquiry to document the events of recent months and to monitor ongoing developments.” The Experts called upon the UN Human Rights Council to establish such a commission, as a matter of urgency, to address the critical situation in Sri Lanka, and demand full respect for all human rights. Any such inquiry should study the conduct of all sides to the conflict.

Mr. Philip Alston was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2004 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Commission first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to summary or arbitrary executions in 1982. Mr. Alston is Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

Mr. Anand Grover was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UN first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to health in 2002. Mr. Grover is currently the Director of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS in India.

Mr. Olivier De Schutter was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UN first decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur to examine questions relevant to the right to food in 2000. He is currently Professor of International Human Rights Law at the Catholic University of Louvain.

Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque began her work as Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation in November 2008, as the first Independent Expert on this mandate. She currently works as a senior legal adviser at the Office for Documentation and Comparative Law (an independent institution under the Portuguese Prosecutor General’s Office) in the area of human rights.

All four experts serve in an independent capacity and addresses issues under their mandates in all countries. Further information on their mandate may be found at

UN expert extremely concerned about situation of displaced in Sri Lanka – 15 May 2009

GENEVA — The UN Representative on Internally Displaced is extremely concerned about civilians forced to stay in the conflict zone as well as continued confinement of internally displaced persons to camps.

“At least 50,000 internally displaced civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone, with their lives exposed to great danger and without access to sufficient humanitarian assistance. The LTTE prevents them from leaving the area and has placed military installations close to civilians. The Government has also been using heavy weapons, including mortars, in the conflict zone over the last few days. This combination of factors must have resulted in unacceptably high numbers of civilian casualties,” Walter Kälin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, said today, highlighting that the civilians are trapped in a conflict zone that is no larger than four square kilometres. He drew attention to a statement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) indicating that heavy fighting on 12 May 2009 had made it impossible for the ICRC to evacuate wounded and sick people from the conflict zone and to deliver food to the entrapped civilians. “I call on the LTTE to let the remaining civilians go and both sides to agree to humanitarian pauses for that purpose as well as to allow humanitarian access to bring in much needed food and medicines and evacuate the wounded,” Kälin demanded.

Recalling both parties’ obligations under international humanitarian law, Kälin said “Even if one party to the conflict is deliberately using civilians as human shields, the other party is still prohibited from carrying out attacks that are indiscriminate in their consequences or result in a disproportional loss of civilian life.”

Kälin also expressed concern about the living conditions in camps for internally displaced persons, which remain dire. He noted that the influx of an additional 110,000 internally displaced during the last ten days of April is posing additional challenges for the Government and its humanitarian partners: “Ensuring adequate humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons is first and foremost a Government responsibility, especially since the Government decided to intern them in camps, citing security concerns.” The Government continues to hold more than 194,000 internally displaced persons who escaped the fighting in temporary camps.

Kälin stressed the need to screen and register the displaced without any further delay, and to restore the freedom of movement for the very large majority among them who do not pose security threats. “Prolonged internment of such persons would not only amount to arbitrary detention but it also aggravates the humanitarian situation needlessly,” he said. While he welcomed the news that, as of 28 April 2009, 1,252 people had been released from the camps — mostly elderly, mentally disabled and other vulnerable persons — he expressed concern that some elderly people had died from starvation or malnutrition in the camps, and called on the Government to release immediately all vulnerable persons still in the camps along with, where necessary, their care givers.

Walter Kälin, Professor of Law in Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons since 2004. He carried out a visit to Sri Lanka from 2-6 April 2009 at the invitation of the Government. For more information, contact Mr. Jan Hessbruegge: tel.: +41 22 917 9192;

Message of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the Human Rights Council Special Session on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka – 26 May 2009

I regret that I am not able to attend in person the Human Rights Council special session on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. It is appropriate that the Human Rights Council, as the premier body for the protection of human rights, should address the tragic human rights and humanitarian consequences of the conflict in that country.

The images of terrified and emaciated women, men and children fleeing the battle zone ought to be etched in our collective memory. They must spur us into action.

Since December, during the latest phase of intense fighting, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, injured or displaced. They have seen their property and livelihoods shattered. Independent human rights monitors and the media should be given unfettered access to verify reports of serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law which have consistently surfaced in the course of the fighting.

Furthermore, the fate of thousands of civilians believed to have been in the conflict area, or in transit to displacement camps is still unknown. The plight of those who have already reached the camps must also be addressed with urgency. These people are in desperate need of food, water, medical help and other forms of basic assistance. Severe overcrowding is creating serious problems. Malnourishment is a pressing concern. There have already been outbreaks of contagious diseases.

Unrestricted humanitarian aid will make the difference between life, illness or even death to many, and yet access for the UN and NGOs to the IDP camps continues to be hampered. I call on the Government to ensure that unimpeded assistance promptly reaches the survivors.

I also urge the Government to expedite and correct flaws in the screening process implemented to separate LTTE combatants from the civilian population. Full access to independent monitors is crucial to ensure due process and humane treatment for detainees. Freedom of movement for the very large majority of displaced people who do not pose security threats should also be granted as soon as possible.

The Government claimed military victory over the LTTE and announced the death of senior LTTE commanders. For many years, the LTTE’s campaign of violence had terrorized Sri Lankan people of all ethnic communities and ruthlessly eliminated independent-minded Tamils who dared to dissent. I fully recognize the Government’s responsibility to protect its people against acts of this kind, but as in any comparable situation, the rules of international human rights and international humanitarian law must be upheld at all times. In no circumstances can the end justify the means employed to achieve it.

There are strong reasons to believe that both sides have grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians. An independent and credible international investigation into recent events should be dispatched to ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as specific responsibilities.

Allegations that the LTTE purposefully prevented civilians from leaving the conflict zone, despite their suffering and the dangers that they faced, warrant close scrutiny. The LTTE has reportedly engaged in forced conscription for military purposes and located military facilities amongst civilians, effectively using them as human shields. There were even alleged cases of the LTTE firing on civilians as they sought to flee, or targeting with suicide attacks checkpoints as the IDPs left the area.

For its part, the Government reportedly used heavy artillery on the densely populated conflict zone, despite assurances that it would take precautions to protect civilians. This and the reported shelling of a hospital clinic on several occasions in the last weeks of fighting, if verified, would be of great concern. Allegations that the army may have killed LTTE members who were trying to surrender and who thus may qualify as “hors de combat,” if confirmed, would constitute serious violations of the laws of war.

Establishing the facts is crucial to set the record straight regarding the conduct of all parties in the conflict.

Victims and the survivors have a right to justice and remedies. The Government has already indicated that it may grant amnesty to lower and mid-level LTTE cadres and only prosecute senior LTTE leaders. I would like to underscore that amnesties preventing accountability of individuals who may be responsible for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights are impermissible.

As I record this message on May 25, the Secretary-General has visited Sri Lanka. I wish to join the Secretary-General in his appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka to address the root causes, the longstanding human rights conditions, to ensure a comprehensive process of accountability for human rights violations by all concerned. A new future for the country, the prospect of meaningful reconciliation and lasting peace, where respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms can become a reality for all, hinges upon such in-depth and comprehensive approach.

Clearly the challenges of recovery and reconciliation extend beyond the conflict-affected areas to the broader political and institutional life of the country. Three decades of conflict have had a corrosive effect on public life and the rule of law. Human rights defenders and journalists have continuously faced threats and even death. The independence of important institutions, such as the national human rights commission, has been compromised. As is almost invariably the case in post-conflict situations, general trust must be rebuilt by reenergizing a human rights culture in the country.

I remain convinced that an OHCHR office with a promotion and protection mandate in Sri Lanka could play an important role in supporting the Government and in building the confidence of all stakeholders in Sri Lanka’s recovery. I urge the Human Rights Council to support the call for the international community’s help at such a critical juncture for Sri Lanka.  (LNW)


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