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In this issue: [Update on the Crisis in Sri Lanka and Catastrophe in the Vanni Region Following 2 Day Ceasefire]

I. NGO Letter Submitted to the UNSC, UN Member States, and OCHA Concerning Crisis in Sri Lanka
1. UNDERSIGNED LETTER FROM ICG, GLOBAL ACTION TO PREVENT WAR, GCR2P, MEDACT, OPERATION USA, MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP, TEARFUND, AND WFM-IGP
II. Civil Society Press Releases Demand Respect for International Law and Human Rights
1. ICRC CALLS FOR EXCEPTIONAL PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES TO MINIMIZE FURTHER BLOODSHED IN O-FIRE ZONE
2. PRESS CONFERENCE OF NGOS HELD AT THE UN BY CARITAS INTERNATIONALIS, ICG, OPERATION USA, AND GCR2P
3. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHROTECT CIVILIANS IN INAL ATTACK
III. Updates and Developments on the Crisis from the United Nations News Centre
1. UN SAYS MORE THAN 6500 KILLED IN SRI LANKA
2. 40, 000 MORE FLEE BATTLE ZONE
3. TENS OF THOUSANDS STILL TRAPPED IN SHRINKING CONFLICT ZONE
4. SG TO DISPATCH UN RELIEF TEAM TO SRI LANKAN COMBAT ZONE
IV. United States and India Announce Aid and Diplomacy Plans of Action, U.S. holds a Congressional Hearing on the Crisis
1. INDIA TO SRI LANKAILLING OF TAMIL CIVILIANS MUST STOP
2. U.S. PREPARES SRI LANKA RELIEF EFFORT
3. AT RISK IN SRI LANKAS WARONGRESSIONAL HEARING ASSESSES HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
V. Editorials on the RtoP, Untenability of the Crisis and Desperate Need for Action
1. JAMES TRAUBT RISK IN SRI LANKAS WAR
2. DAY OF RECKONING IN SRI LANKA

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I. NGO Letter Submitted to the UNSC, UN Member States, and OCHA Concerning Crisis in Sri Lanka

The attached letter was submitted to the UN Security Council, United Nations Member States, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Department of Political Affairs (DPA), and the Executive Office of the Secretary General (EOSG). The letter was undersigned by Global Action to Prevent War, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, International Crisis Group, MedAct, Operation USA, Minority Rights Group, TearFund, and WFM-IGP.

The letter provided recommendations to the UN Security Council and the Secretary General regarding the Crisis in Sri Lanka. The letter noted the dire situation facing civilians in the Vanni region of Northern Sri Lanka, in which the crisis has reached a point of extreme urgency. Tens of thousands of civilians (and possibly over 100,00ack of access has made it almost impossible to gage a reliable figure) remain trapped in the Sri Lankan designated afe zone, an area not much larger than New Yorks Central Park. These civilians remain at imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes in an extremely untenable situation, in which they are used as human shields by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and indiscriminately shelled by Sri Lankan forces. The letter implores the UNSC and SG to remember their commitments to the Responsibility to Protect and crisis prevention, and act swiftly to ensure the safety of the trapped Sri Lankan civilians.

World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy signed onto the letter within its own individual organization capacity. The World Federalist Movement- Institute for Global Policy houses the Secretariat of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect.

We, the undersigned non-governmental organisations working in or on Sri Lanka, write
to urge you to act immediately in the face of the humanitarian tragedy now unfolding
in that country.

The situation in the Vanni area of Sri Lanka has reached a point of extreme urgency. Tens of thousands of civilians, possibly well over 100,000, remain trapped in the so-called afe zone, an area not much larger than Manhattans Central Park, held as human shields by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and exposed to indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan military. According to available estimates, including from United Nations staff on the ground, as many as 5000 civilians have died in the fighting since mid-January, including at least 500 children. Dozens more are dying each day, and the remaining civilians are exposed to severe shortages of food, water, and medical treatment. With the government of Sri Lanka poised to launch a inal offensive to inish off the LTTE, John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, has stated that bloodbath seems an increasingly real possibility.r
The United Nations Security Council and the UN Secretary-General must take the following specific steps to live up to their respective responsibilities to protect civilians and prevent mass atrocities:

The Security Council should formally include Sri Lanka on its agenda and agree on a
statement that:
Calls on the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government to cease hostilities with immediate effect and to agree to a humanitarian pause of at least two weeks, in order to permit the reopening of access routes for food, water and medical supplies;
Demands that the LTTE cease forced recruitment and allow those civilians who wish to leave to do so;
Urges the Sri Lankan authorities to allow international monitors in the conflict area and especially in eception centres, to reassure both fleeing civilians and surrendered LTTE fighters that they will be treated according to international standards;
Requests that the UN system conduct a needs assessment and accelerate contingency planning in the event of a massive civilian exodus from the afe zone;
Calls on all member-states to step up pressure on the LTTE, by tightening restrictions on foreign financing and support for the Tamil Tigers and engaging vigorously with the Tamil diaspora;
Creates an international commission of inquiry to investigate credible allegations of atrocity crimes and violations of the laws of war and declares that those most responsible for any preventable civilian carnage will be held accountable;
Encourage its Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to conduct a field
mission to Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General should:
Speak out strongly and unambiguously in support of the above, including by personally backing the UN-estimated figures of war-affected persons, including the number of casualties;
Ensure interagency coordination during the needs assessment and contingency planning processes;
If necessary, use his powers under Article 99 of the UN Charter and bring the situation in Sri Lanka to the attention of the Security Council;
Prepare to dispatch to Sri Lanka a high-level envoy as soon as a humanitarian pause is declared, to oversee any evacuation of civilians from the afe zone, to serve as the point person for the UN system, and to ensure that the warring parties abide by international norms and obligations.

Source:
"What we are seeing is intense fighting in a very small area overcrowded with civilians who have fled there," said the ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Krhenbhl. "The situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Ongoing fighting has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians who have only minimal access to medical care."

The ICRC is concerned that the final offensive in the area by government forces against fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties.

It has reminded both parties of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law in all circumstances. In the current context, which is exceptional in that combat is occurring in a very densely populated area, extreme precautions must be taken to avoid or in any event minimize civilian casualties. (...)

"The LTTE must keep its fighters and other military resources well away from places where civilians are concentrated, and allow civilians who want to leave the area to do so safely," said Mr Krhenbhl. "On their part, government forces are obliged to ensure that the methods and means of warfare they employ make it possible to clearly distinguish at all times between civilians and civilian objects, on the one hand, and military objectives, on the other. In this situation, we are particularly concerned about the impact on civilians of using weapons such as artillery."

"In the coming days the ICRC will strive to assist and protect the thousands of displaced civilians fleeing the hostilities," said Mr Krhenbhl. "However, it is imperative that independent humanitarian organizations also be allowed to provide desperately needed services and relief for civilians still trapped in the 'no-fire zone' today."

Full Press Statement:
http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/eupdate/2303

2. Sri Lanka: ICRC Calls for Exceptional Precautionary Measures to Minimize Further Bloodshed in o-Fire Zone
International Committee of the Red Cross
21 April 2009

As fighting rages in north-eastern Sri Lanka, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is warning that conflict parties must take immediate action to prevent further mass casualties among civilians. The ICRC is extremely worried about tens of thousands of civilians, including women, children and elderly people, many of them wounded or sick, who are trapped in the rapidly shrinking area along the coast that had been declared a "no-fire zone" by the government.

"What we are seeing is intense fighting in a very small area overcrowded with civilians who have fled there," said the ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Krhenbhl. "The situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Ongoing fighting has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians who have only minimal access to medical care."

The ICRC is concerned that the final offensive in the area by government forces against fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties.

It has reminded both parties of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law in all circumstances. In the current context, which is exceptional in that combat is occurring in a very densely populated area, extreme precautions must be taken to avoid or in any event minimize civilian casualties. (...)

"The LTTE must keep its fighters and other military resources well away from places where civilians are concentrated, and allow civilians who want to leave the area to do so safely," said Mr Krhenbhl. "On their part, government forces are obliged to ensure that the methods and means of warfare they employ make it possible to clearly distinguish at all times between civilians and civilian objects, on the one hand, and military objectives, on the other. In this situation, we are particularly concerned about the impact on civilians of using weapons such as artillery."

"In the coming days the ICRC will strive to assist and protect the thousands of displaced civilians fleeing the hostilities," said Mr Krhenbhl. "However, it is imperative that independent humanitarian organizations also be allowed to provide desperately needed services and relief for civilians still trapped in the 'no-fire zone' today."

Full Press Statement: http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php/eupdate/2303

3. Sri Lanka: Protect Civilians in inal Attack
Human Rights Watch
20 April 2009

Sources in the 20-square-kilometer "no-fire zone" reported to Human Rights Watch that the Sri Lankan army is still using heavy artillery in attacks on the densely populated area and that the LTTE continues to block civilians from fleeing. There were unconfirmed reports of hundreds of civilian casualties today alone. At least 10,000 people have managed to escape in the past day, but 50,000 to 100,000 civilians remain in the conflict area under grave threat.

"The government's inal warning' to the Tamil Tigers should not be considered a final warning to the thousands of trapped civilians," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Both sides need to show far greater concern for civilians, or many more civilians will die."
Under international humanitarian law applicable to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE are obligated to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilian life and property. But since January, both sides have shown little regard for the safety of civilians in the embattled Vanni region in northeastern Sri Lanka, and more than 4,500 civilians are believed to have died in the fighting, according to UN estimates. 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.

Human Rights Watch reminded Sri Lanka of its obligations under international law to investigate credible allegations of war crimes, including by members of its own forces, and appropriately prosecuting those responsible. Past Sri Lankan government investigations into allegations of war crimes have led to few prosecutions, particularly in recent years. Human Rights Watch also called on the UN Security Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of war crimes by both sides.

"The Sri Lankan government needs to hear loudly and clearly from a concerted international community that they, just as the Tamil Tigers, will be held accountable for what happens to the civilians in the no-fire zone," said Adams. "It is high time for the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka to be officially taken up on the Security Council's agenda."

Individuals who commit serious violations of international humanitarian law with criminal intent - that is, deliberately or recklessly - should be prosecuted for war crimes, Human Rights Watch said. 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. (...)

Source: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/04/20/sri-lanka-protect-civilians-final-attack

III. Updates and Developments on the Crisis from the United Nations News Centre

1. UN says nearly 6,500 civilians killed in Sri Lanka
The Washington Post
Eranga Jayawardena
24 April 2009

Hundreds who fled intense fighting in Sri Lanka's war zone were awaiting evacuation from this tiny coastal village Friday as the U.N. reported that nearly 6,500 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the last three months.

Speaking to journalists on a rare visit to the edge of the war zone, civilians told of Tamil Tiger rebels using them as human shields. Conditions "were terrible as we did not have anything to eat. We thought it's better to flee," said Rajeshwarai, 40, who gave only her first name. She and other civilians moved with the retreating rebels for months as the advancing army chipped away at the insurgents' territory, trying to end the nation's quarter-century of civil strife.

The rebels promised the civilians protection, Rajeshwarai said. "But they did not keep the promise." The U.N. estimates that 50,000 people were still trapped in the war zone after more than 100,000 fled earlier this week, spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said Friday. Nearly 1,000 awaited evacuation Friday.

Dr. Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi, a top government health official in the war zone, said there was a severe shortage of food and medicine in the area and people were dying of starvation.
The ongoing violence was so intense that many people were abandoning their dying relatives to flee the fighting, he said. Doctors Without Borders, a medical relief group, said the civilians pouring out of the conflict zone included large numbers of people with blast, mine and gunshot wounds. The rebels have denied accusations they used civilians as human shields.
At least 6,432 civilians have been killed in the intense fighting over the past three months and 13,946 wounded, according to a private U.N. document circulated among diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka in recent days. A foreign diplomat gave a copy to The Associated Press on Friday.
The U.N. has declined to publicly release its casualty figures and had no immediate comment on the document.

Civilian deaths have increased dramatically, according to the U.N. An average of 33 civilians were killed each day at the end of January, and that jumped to 116 by April, the document said. More than 5,500 of those killed were inside a government-declared "no-fire" zone.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said the government took special care to avoid civilian casualties, and that many of those killed were combatants dressed in civilian clothing. The Sri Lankan military on Friday gave journalists rare access to Puttumattalan, which until earlier this week was inside the section of rebel territory designated as a "no-fire" zone. ()

On Thursday, India called for an immediate cease-fire to allow the civilians to escape. But Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said the government had no plans for a cease-fire. "The military operations will continue to free the remaining civilians," he said. Brig. Shavendra Silva, a top commander in the conflict zone, said his troops were on the verge of crushing the remaining rebels and ending the 25-year civil war. More than 70,000 have died in the fighting to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have faced decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the ethnic Sinhalese majority.

Silva also said intelligence reports indicated reclusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and other top Tamil Tiger officials remain holed up there. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would send humanitarian experts to Sri Lanka to monitor the situation. ()

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/24/AR2009042400374.html?hpid=sec-world

2. Sri Lanka: 40,000 more flee battle zone
UN News Centre
21 April 2009

An estimated 40,000 more people have fled Sri Lanka's north-eastern coastal pocket, where the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are engaged in fierce fighting, the United Nations refugee agency has reported.

This would bring the estimated total of those having fled the conflict zone, where civilians have been trapped for months in perilous conditions, to over 100,000, according to Ron Redmond, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The newly escaped groups were expected to reach the districts of Vavuniya and Jaffna, which are hosting most of the internally displaced people (IDPs) within 48 hours. A few thousand have already arrived in each district.s civilians are transported into the sites, UNHCR is still ascertaining the total number of new IDPs in the two districts, Mr. Redmond said in Geneva.

ith more similar movements expected, UNHCR and shelter agencies are working with the government to identify more land, including in the district of Mannar, to alleviate overcrowding at the existing IDP sites, he added. UNHCR, together with the government and partners, is providing emergency shelter support and non-food aid to the new arrivals while carrying out protection monitoring at the sites and stockpiling relief items in preparation for additional displacement, the agency says. ()

In addition, other sectors were not well-financed at all: shelter stood at 18 per cent, water and sanitation at 16 per cent, and health at just 15 per cent.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it had enough food to feed 100,000 people for the next two weeks and more was being sent from Colombo, the capital of the island nation.

Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=30537&Cr=Sri+lanka&Cr1=unhcr

3. Sri Lanka: tens of thousands still trapped in shrinking combat zone, UN says
UN News Centre
22 April 2009

More than 60,000 civilians have fled the combat zone in Sri Lanka in the past two months
22 April 2009 The United Nations voiced deep concern today over the safety of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in a shrinking pocket of land on Sri Lankas north-east coast where fighting rages between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The situation in the area is chaotic and reliable information is difficult to obtain, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense, over 60,000 civilians fled the area since 20 April, with nearly 83,000 leaving between October 2008 and April 2009. More than 81,000 are now accommodated in camps.

hile there are no verifiable numbers of overall casualties, we believe that significant numbers have been killed and injured in the military operation, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters. Delivering aid to those trapped in the combat area remained shipment remains difficult as well. Some 1,200 metric tonnes of humanitarian assistance, which was due to embark for the area on 19 April could not leave due to the fighting, according to OCHA. No assistance has been delivered to the conflict area since 1 April.

In addition, available stocks of non-food items to internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled to the Vavuniya district will soon be exhausted because of the large influx of new arrivals.
In response to influx, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said today that it was providing some 25,000 hygiene packs for women and girls to meet the needs of the large number of IDPs. ()

Along with other UN agencies and humanitarian organizations, UNFPA voiced deep concern over the plight of tens of thousands of civilians unable to flee the fighting. omen and girls have unique needs, said agency representative Lene K. Christiansen. NFPA is working with government and non-governmental partners to ensure that these needs are not overlooked in the current crisis.r
Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=30561&Cr=sri+lanka&Cr1=

4. Secretary-General to dispatch UN relief team to Sri Lankan combat zone
UN News Centre
23 April 2009

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced that he will immediately send a United Nations humanitarian team to the shrinking conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka, calling for the mission to be allowed into the area as soon as possible.

The dispatch of the team to the five square-mile pocket of land where fighting rages between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was agreed upon recently between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Mr. Bans envoy, Vijay Nambiar, who also serves as his Chef de Cabinet.

The purpose of the team will be to assess the situation and provide assistance to civilians, the Secretary-General told reporters today in Brussels. ()

Yesterdays statement, read out by Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, which holds the Councils rotating monthly presidency, also strongly condemned the LTTEs use of civilians as human shields and its actions that block people from leaving the conflict area.

The 15-member body also appealed to the Tamil rebels to enounce terrorism, allow UN-assisted evacuation of remaining civilians in the conflict area and join the political process of dialogue in order to put an end to the conflict. Today, a senior UN relief official put the number of civilians still trapped in the conflict zone in the Vanni region at 50,000.

Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that the Government has reported that 103,000 people have left the area and are in transit to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) e hope that those numbers are accurate, but the world body cannot verify them, she said at a press briefing in New York. ()

She emphasized that both the Government and LTTE are violating international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians, with heavy weapons being used in the so-called no-fire zone and the LTTE preventing people from fleeing the ery horrendous situation in the region. ()

Many of those who escaped conflict ere forced from their homes more than a year ago, and it is something of a miracle that they have survived such a terrible ordeal, said Neil Buhne. e need to ensure that no more lives are lost by meeting their immediate needs, and beyond that to help them get back on their feet, so that they can eventually return to their homes.r ()

Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=30576&Cr=sri+lanka&Cr1
Secretary General Ban ki-Moons Full Statement: http://www.un.org/apps/sg/offthecuff.asp?nid=1286

IV. United States and India Announce Aid and Diplomacy Plans of Action, U.S. holds a Congressional Hearing on the Crisis

1. India to Sri Lanka: Killings of Tamil civilians must stop
Sindh Today
22 April 2009

Expressing concern at the plight of civilians in Sri Lanka, India Wednesday asked the war-torn nation to ensure that the killings of Tamil civilians are stopped and underlined that it will do ll it can to also ameliorate the humanitarian crisis.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a special meeting late Wednesday night to discuss the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Sri Lanka. The meeting was attended by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. e are very unhappy at the continued killing of innocent Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka. These killings must stop, Mukherjee said in a statement after the meeting.

he Sri Lankan government has a responsibility to protect its own citizens. And the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) must stop its barbaric attempt to hold civilians hostage, he said. here is no military solution to this ongoing humanitarian crisis, and all concerned should recognise this fact, he said.

Mukherjee reiterated the governments view that he only lasting solution will come from political efforts to address the real concerns of the Tamil people, giving them lives of dignity within the Sri Lankan mainstream. ndia will work to achieve this goal, and will do all it can to also ameliorate the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict, he said.

Mukherjee said he will be speaking to many of his counterparts around the world to join India in this effort. Sri Lankan presidential adviser Basil Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is expected to be in New Delhi Thursday morning to brief the Indian leadership on the situation in Sri Lanka, said highly placed sources.

The meeting decided to provide relief to Tamil refugees who are heading to India, the sources said. It also decided to send more food and medical relief for starving and sick Tamil civilians who have managed to flee from the no-fire zone, they said.
Concerned over the plight of civilians trapped in shrunken war zone, India has been pressing the Sri Lankan government to ause the military operation to enable the civilians to move from the no-fire zone to safe areas.

The number of distraught Tamil civilians fleeing the war zone crossed the 100,000 figure Wednesday, said Sri Lankan authorities. The meeting was held in the backdrop of an uproar in Tamil Nadu over the worsening humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka.

Earlier in the day, Mukherjee urged Sri Lanka to ensure that relief material India has sent to the country is distributed through the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Congress, that leads Indias ruling coalition, also urged Sri Lanka to declare ceasefire to resolve the humanitarian crisis and allow Tamil civilians to move out of the conflict zone.

Source: http://www.sindhtoday.net/south-asia/90071.htm

2. U.S. prepares Sri Lanka relief effort
The Washington Times
Nicholas Kralev and Jason Motlagh
22 April 2009

The Obama administration said Tuesday that it is preparing a major relief effort for Sri Lanka amid expections that the nation's 26-year civil war will end within days - at a cost of tens of thousands of civilian lives. (...)

Mr. Owen said the administration has urged both sides to show restraint and protect the civilians caught in the fighting. The U.S. government estimates that 125,000 civilians were trapped in the "no-fire zone" in the Tamil Tigers' northern stronghold until Monday, when about 35,000 fled after government forces broke through a key line of defense, Mr. Owen said.

Another 25,000 escaped Tuesday, he said, leaving about 65,000 still in harm's way. He said the U.S. government is identifying available resources to aid victims of the conflict after the fighting stops. At a human rights hearing on Capitol Hill, lawmakers said they were concerned at the inability of aid workers and journalists to enter the conflict zone.

"In my experience, whenever journalists - let alone journalists and humanitarian workers - are deliberately kept from getting to and reporting on conflicts and crises, you can bet that something is going on that cannot stand up to the light of day," said Rep. James McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. McGovern and other lawmakers stressed an international responsibility to protect civilians in the region, regardless of which side they are on. "Right now, it doesn't seem that there are good actors with whom to align when it comes to the plight of the civilian population caught in the conflict zone," said Rep. Donna Edwards, Maryland Democrat.

Humanitarian groups say the government has killed scores of civilians by shelling no-fire zones, while rebels continue to use civilians as human shields - charges both sides deny. "However horrific this situation is, it is about to become much worse. Fears are that the civilians remaining in the zone ... will be considered fair game leading to a mass slaughter, in the government's final assault against the insurgents," said Sarah Holewinski, director of Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. (...)

Overall, more than 70,000 people have been killed since the LTTE began its insurgency in 1983 to carve out an independent homeland for the ethnic minority Tamils, who have been marginalized by ethnic Sinhalese-dominated governments. A 24-hour ultimatum, issued Monday, demanded that all militants lay down their weapons by noon Tuesday and that Tamil Tiger rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran turn himself in to authorities. The deadline passed with no reply from LTTE spokespeople or affiliated media outlets.

However, in an apparent signal of vulnerability, a statement from the movement's political wing was posted on the pro-rebel Web site shortly after the military's breakthrough Monday, calling for a cease-fire without preconditions.

Source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/22/us-prepares-for-war-relief/

3. At Risk in Sri Lanka's War--Congressional Hearing Assesses Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka
Voice of America
21 April 2009

The situation in Sri Lanka, where government forces are fighting to eliminate the last stronghold of Tamil separatist rebels, was the subject of a U.S. congressional hearing Tuesday. Discussion of the military conflict and what the United Nations and human rights groups call a dire humanitarian situation came during a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

Sri Lankan government troops are pressing an offensive against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in their last stronghold, the northern area of Vanni. Thousands of civilians have fled to government-controlled areas. The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought for 25 years to establish an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority in the northern part of predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lanka. More than 70,000 people have died in the civil war.

"The particular case we are exploring this afternoon, Sri Lanka, is a situation where both the government forces and the Tamil Tigers have abdicated their responsibility to protect from mass atrocities civilian non-combatant who are caught in the cross-fire of war," said Jim McGovern. "It has therefore fallen to the international community, and especially humanitarian organizations like UNHCR and the ICRC, along with a handful of NGO's, to try to assure their safety."

The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned of a catastrophic situation in which hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded. The Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists have issued varying casualty figures. Amin Awad, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative to Sri Lanka, said 100,000 civilians have been on the move in the last 48 hours, adding to an already large population of 180,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

"The 100,000 who just left the no-fire zone are being processed by the [Sri Lankan] army in the district of Kilinochchi and the district of Mullaitivu," said Amin Awad. "This will become an extra burden on the already-meager resources and the limited space the government of Sri Lanka provided to receive the IDP's."

Awad puts the number of civilians remaining in the Tamil zone at 50,000 to 60,000, which he calls a conservative estimate. He says more than 9,000 people, many with serious injuries, have been evacuated since February.

The United Nations and Human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists to exercise restraint, with Awad urging additional humanitarian pauses. However, both came under sharp criticism in Tuesday's hearing.Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch says both warring parties have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law.

Tamil separatists, she says, continue to prevent civilians from fleeing to government-controlled areas and use them as human shields, while numerous casualties can be attributed to government artillery attacks. Neistat faults the government for failing to ensure delivery of sufficient relief supplies to people still in the conflict zone, and failing to provide sufficient aid to the internally-displaced ()

The comment was also a response to a Sri Lankan Embassy statement, issued through a Washington public relations firm Patton Boggs, sharply criticizing Human Rights Watch and other non-government groups. () Despite what it called unfounded fears expressed by Human Rights Watch and other organizations, the statement said the government has an excellent track record of restoring war-torn areas and returning displaced persons to their homes as soon as practicable.

It said the United Nations and International Committee of the Red Cross have full access to 16 IDP camps, which the government says meet international standards and provide adequate shelter, food, medicine and services.

Miriam Young, Director of the U.S. Non-Government Organization Forum on Sri Lanka, says the most critical need is an immediate cessation of hostilities to allow the U.N., Red Cross, and other humanitarian agencies to provide food and medicine to those in need.

She urges the Obama administration to use its influence to press both warring parties to stop the fighting."This is an opportunity for the Obama administration to reassert our country's moral leadership on behalf of desperately vulnerable people," said Miriam Young. "Not to do so would mean the loss of tens of thousands more needless deaths. ()

Source: http://www.freevoa.com/2009/04/congressional-hearing-assesses.html

V. Editorials on the Untenability of the Crisis and Desperate Need for Action from GCR2P and ICG

1.At Risk in Sri Lanka's War
Washington Post
By James Traub
22 April 2009

James Traub is the Director of Policy at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, housed at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center. As well as a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. The following article was featured in the Washington Post.

At this moment, at least 60,000 civilians trapped in a tiny strip of land along the northern coast of Sri Lanka are being deployed as human shields by the insurgent force known as the Tamil Tigers while artillery shells fired by the Sri Lankan army land indiscriminately among rebels and noncombatants alike. The United Nations asserts that at least 4,500 civilians have been killed since January as the government has sought to decisively end a bloody rebellion that has lasted for a quarter-century. The army is said to be preparing a final assault that, according to U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, could produce a loodbath. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has spoken of ens of thousands of lives at risk. Yet the conflict has barely been reported, and the international community has barely stirred.

The fighting threatens to produce exactly the kind of cataclysm that states vowed to prevent when they adopted he responsibility to protect at the 2005 U.N. World Summit. This doctrine stipulates that states have a responsibility to protect peoples within their borders from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. When states are found to be anifestly failing to protect citizens from such mass violence, that responsibility shifts to the international community, acting through the United Nations. At the core of this norm is the obligation to act preventively rather than waiting until atrocities have occurred, as has happened too often.

Why, then, the silence? The most important answer is simple: he war on terror. Government officials have artfully, and relentlessly, appropriated the language of the war on terror to characterize their fight against the rebels, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The group is one of the worlds most ruthless insurgencies: The Tigers perfected the technique of suicide bombing long before Islamist jihadists did so (using it in 1991 to kill Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, among many others) and operate almost as a suicide cult. The United States includes the LTTE on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. Any government that failed to aggressively confront such a threat would be guilty of failing to protect its citizens.
When we think of mass atrocities, we think of regimes or their proxies massacring defenseless citizens, as in Rwanda or Darfur. The situation in Sri Lanka is more complicated, morally and legally: This is a situation of armed conflict in which both parties are acting in ways that pose a grave risk to innocent civilians. ()

But states engaged in combat do not have the right to perpetrate atrocities; nor does the cruelty of armed opponents absolve states of their responsibility to protect citizens. And there is no one better equipped than we in the United States to recognize the cynicism behind the language of the war on terror, which allows states to do as they wish in the name of defeating supreme evil. Over the past quarter-century, Sri Lanka has been accused of fighting the Tigers with a policy of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions. In the current battle, the army has engaged in intense shelling and aerial bombardment of the combat area and an adjacent o-fire zone, set aside for civilians.

Colombo is in no mood for lectures. But we cannot accommodate its ambition to crush the LTTE if doing so could lead to massive loss of life among civilians. Quiet diplomacy by U.S. officials and by Ban and others last week persuaded the government to observe a two-day pause in the fighting, but the Tigers refused to let civilians leave, the government continued to prevent humanitarian groups from entering the conflict zone, and the battle resumed with equal or greater ferocity.

There is widespread agreement about what must be done: The LTTE must allow civilians who wish to leave to do so; the government must agree to observe a more extensive cease-fire, guarantee the safety of those civilians and treat them according to international standards governing internally displaced peoples. The Tigers may refuse to release civilians, whom they view as the only thing standing between themselves and annihilation. But the army must not use this as a pretext to resume hostilities: The rebels no longer represent a threat to the state, and most analysts believe that a Gotterdammerung on the beach would spawn a new insurgency.
The time for behind-the-scenes diplomacy has passed. The Security Council must take up the issue a move Colombo has fiercely resisted and remind both sides that there will be consequences, in the form of prosecutions for crimes against humanity. The council should also demand that the government grant humanitarian groups and the media access to the conflict zone, dispatch a special envoy to the region, and consider imposing sanctions. Ultimately, it must help facilitate a durable political solution to the fighting. In 2005, the United States, along with the rest of the world, accepted the obligation to protect civilians at risk of atrocities. The moment has come to redeem that pledge.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/21/AR2009042102970.html

2. Day of Reckoning in Sri Lanka
Foreign Policy
By Robert Templer
21 April 2009

Robert Templer is the Asia Program Director at the International Crisis Group. He is also a specialist on Islamic extremism, conflict, and terrorism in Asia.

The Sri Lankan government has issued a deadline of noon tomorrow for the Tamil Tigers to surrender. With the embattled rebels unlikely to put down their guns before then, only forceful and immediate international action to halt the fighting can prevent the possible deaths of tens of thousands of civilians trapped between the warring parties. ()

Much of the international community knows what is happening and what is at stake. Nongovernmental organizations, including the International Crisis Group, have been sounding the alarm bells since last fall. Since then, more and more hard proof of unacceptable civilian suffering and war crimes have emerged, including the satellite images of the crowded tent camps seen here, video of dead children, and interviews with exhausted ICRC doctors. Nonetheless, the U.N. and influential governments have been slow to act and have allowed a bad situation to grow much worse.

Similar paralysis and foot dragging by multinational institutions and powerful countries produced Rwanda and Srebrenica. Barack Obama's administration has said it is committed to the principals of international law and humanitarian protection. Sri Lanka is the perfect opportunity for the new U.S. president to show that this is not empty rhetoric.

With both government forces and Tamil Tigers abdicating their responsibility to protect civilians from mass atrocities, urgent, determined, and united international action is necessary to ensure the safety of the innocent -- by the United Nations Security Council, other multilateral organizations, and individual countries that have relations with Sri Lanka, including India and Japan. ()

Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4883


 

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