Sri Lanka: UN expert urges end to political killings in Government-rebel fighting

28 April 2006

A United Nations rights expert has called on the Government of Sri Lanka and separatist Tamil rebels to take urgent measures to end political killings and strengthen human rights protections as the conflict looks set to spiral out of control.

A United Nations rights expert has called on the Government of Sri Lanka and separatist Tamil rebels to take urgent measures to end political killings and strengthen human rights protections as the conflict looks set to spiral out of control.

At the same time, the UN refugee agency expressed serious concern over the recent displacement of thousands of people in the Trincomalee district of northern Sri Lanka, following clashes with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and military air strikes earlier this week.

“The current impasse in negotiations is no excuse for either side not taking immediate steps to end political killings and protect human rights,” the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, said in a statement. “The dangerous escalation of the conflict in recent days is a direct consequence of killings being allowed to run unchecked.”

He deplored the widespread killings and violence that have continued to spiral since his visit in December, culminating in a suicide bomb attack on the army chief and retaliatory military strikes on Tuesday.

“Every such killing represents a major setback to the peace process, and every retaliatory death plays into the hands of those whose interests do not lie in the restoration of peace. In responding to the situation, the Government must give primacy to protecting civilian lives,” he said.

Mr. Alston said he found the LTTE's denials of responsibility for many attacks unconvincing, and warned that its apparent use of surrogate groups to attack the security forces represented a dangerous escalation of the conflict.

At the same time, he reported a dangerous indifference on the part of the Government to other armed elements responsible for attacks, including the Karuna group. While he found no clear evidence of official collusion during his visit, he reported strong circumstancial evidence of at least informal cooperation between Government forces and these factions. He also noted the Government had failed to effectively investigate most political killings.

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who received their mandate from the now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights and will now report to the newly established and enhanced Human Rights Council.

The UN refugee agency reported today that although the overall situation seems to have stabilized in most parts of the conflict, “we remain seriously concerned over the recent displacement of thousands of people.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva that between 7,000 and 8,000 people had fled a cluster of villages in the Muttur area on Tuesday. Last week 8,500 people were uprooted by claymore mine attacks there, and earlier this month 3,000 others were displaced after a marketplace bombing in Trincomalee town and subsequent inter-ethnic violence.

A joint UN assessment team, including UNHCR, is in the region today and Mr. Redmond said that with the easing of fighting between the government and the LTTE and the re-opening of access roads, many of the displaced are expected to begin returning to their homes.

“UNHCR is calling on all parties to allow immediate access to affected populations as soon as possible,” he added. “We’re also concerned about reports of intimidation by some local residents of some of the internally displaced people who sought help in government-run welfare centres.”

 

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