Sri Lanka: Civilian life must be protected

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: AI
| Date: 20000512

As fighting in the northern Jaffna peninsula escalates, Amnesty International today appealed to the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to respect international humanitarian law.

Previous escalations in this long conflict have brought widespread violations and abuses to the civilian population. "Half a million civilians live in this contested area," Amnesty International said. "Every effort must be made to respect their security."

As LTTE forces are reported to be advancing towards Jaffna town, Amnesty International called on the group to adhere to the provisions of international humanitarian law, in particular those which protect civilians and members of the armed forces who are wounded or have laid down their arms.

International humanitarian law lays down clear standards in the conduct of any war, and applies equally to all parties to a conflict. Both the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE have a responsibility to uphold these standards.

In an apparent response to the heightened conflict, the Sri Lankan authorities introduced new Emergency Regulations on 3 May 2000, granting the police and armed forces wide powers of arrest and detention and allowing for restrictions on freedom of assembly, and extensive censorship of the local and international media. This makes assessment of the true situation in the conflict zone all the more difficult.

Amnesty International today reminded the Sri Lankan government of its obligations under international human rights law not to derogate certain fundamental rights, even in a state of emergency.

"Even in a national emergency, some rights are fundamental," Amnesty International said. "No one shall be subjected to torture or ill-treatment, and the right to life must also be upheld."

In a recent statement welcomed by Amnesty International, the Sri Lankan government said that steps have been taken to protect the lives of ethnic Tamil civilians in the south of the country, against any possible backlash.

Background The LTTE are fighting for an independent state called Tamil "Eelam" in the north and east of the country and were in control of the Jaffna peninsula for a decade until 1995. After a large-scale military offensive, the Sri Lankan army regained control of Jaffna town and most of the Jaffna peninsula in December 1995. Since then fighting has centred around control of key highways linking Vavuniya town with the Jaffna peninsula. On 22 April the LTTE gained control of the Elephant Pass, a strategic link acting as a gateway to the Jaffna peninsula.

Amnesty International made a similar appeal in 1995 when the Sri Lankan army was engaged in an offensive to take control of the Jaffna area from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Amnesty International takes no position on the causes and nature of the conflict and its appeal is based on humanitarian concerns for the lives and safety of civilians and in view of widespread human rights abuses reported in the context of previous offences.

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