Urgent Intervention to End the Humanitarian Crisis sign now

International Health Professionals against Humanitarian Crisis (IHPHC)
Unit 1, Fountayne Business Centre, Broad Lane, London N15 4AG
Phone: +44 208 808 0674 email: [email protected]
09-02-09

Commissioner Navanethem Pillay
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais Wilson
52 rue des Pвquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland

Dear Commissioner Navanethem Pillay,

We, the health professionals located around the world, would like to bring to your urgent attention the collective punishment meted out by Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) on Tamil people in the Vanni area of Sri Lanka. These Tamils civilians are in need of urgent protection, vital medical care and essential assistance as reported by the ICRC and UN organisations.

After unilaterally withdrawing from the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in January 2008, GoSL launched military offensive against the LTTE administered areas and seized the in the east and most recently in the north causing massive displacement of civilians and subjecting them to severe hardship. There are no safe areas for civilians to seek protection. An UN official John Campbell, from the World Food Programme (WFP), has told the BBC that conditions of the IDPs in the LTTE held areas are "as basic as in Somalia".

It is reported widely that the Sri Lankan Air Force has used cluster bombs on civilian settlements. Indiscriminate air attacks and shelling had caused hundreds of killings and several thousands have lost their limbs. The Genocide Prevention Project, a New York based initiative listed Sri Lanka as one of the top eight "red alert" countries.

Food, medicine and other essential items are used as weapons of war and have been systematically denied to Internally Displaced People(IDP). Human Rights Watch reports that since last September, when the Sri Lankan government ordered the withdrawal of most UN and nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, as well as journalists, from the conflicted area, a humanitarian crisis has developed with acute shortages of food, shelter, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies.

Over 250,000 Tamil civilians are internally displaced and have no shelter, clean water, sanitation, food or access to adequate medical assistance. According to ICRC estimates, only half of the population found refuge in the so-called safe area, which is too small for the entire population. Some 10,000-15,000 families, for example, have settled in a coastal area where there is no clean drinking water.

Hygiene is deteriorating with the extra demand placed on already limited sanitary facilities. While there have been no reports of significant outbreaks of communicable diseases, there are fears of this happening should current conditions persist.

The Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital, the only hospital in the Vanni that had not been displaced by the current GoSL military offensive, was shelled more than 10 times in 48 hours according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the only international organization not to have left the Vanni in September 2008. The UN has also reported that the hospital was bombed using cluster bombs. The ICRC press release states that there were more than 800 persons, 500 of who were in-patients, in the hospital at the time of the shelling. The attacks killed 20 persons and injured over 100. As a result of the shelling the patients, hospital staff and ICRC personnel fled the premises. Now all of the medical facilities in the Vanni have been displaced.

Two other makeshift medical facilities in the Vanni region have also been hit by shelling in recent weeks. This is unacceptable. Wounded, sick and medical personnel and medical facilities are all protected under international humanitarian law. But, according to Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse appearing in Sky news says that, No hospital should operate outside the Safety Zone...everything beyond the safe zone is a legitimate target. This confirms the culpability of Sri Lanka Army shelling Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital.

On 06-02-09 Sri Lanka Air Force bombers bombed and fully destroyed Ponnampalam Memorial hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu , killing 61 patients while, the Sri Lanka Army launched indiscriminate artillery barrage on the hospital, totally disabling the rescue of the surviving patients. The bombardment comes after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband urging the warring parties not to attack medical facilities both within and outside the safety zone following the claim by SL Defence Secretary Gotabhaya that hospitals outside safety zone were legitimate targets.

Mr de Maio of ICRC warns that "When the dust settles, we may see countless victims and a terrible humanitarian situation, unless civilians are protected and international humanitarian law is respected in all circumstances. It's high time to take decisive action and stop further bloodshed because time is running out."

As Government of Sri Lanka is party to the conflict, anyone except GoSL should be invited to operate Safety Zones. Sri Lanka lost its campaign to be re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council due to its human rights record. Thus, GoSL cannot be entrusted with the duty to safeguard the very Tamils whom GoSL failed to protect. Until the resumption of permanent ceasefire, Tamils can rely only on the UN protection. Tamils are in urgent need of international intervention, and any delay would exacerbate the humanitarian disaster.

The European Union called for a halt to the conflict. EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel said: "This is an escalating humanitarian catastrophe. We are extremely worried about the terrible situation facing people trapped in the fighting."

No matter where they are, however, civilians are protected under international humanitarian law and must be spared the consequences of the fighting. The ICRC and UN have conveyed their grave concerns and reminded Sri Lankan Government that these Humanitarian laws are made to be followed precisely in these circumstances.

We appeal to you earnestly to take immediate action to:
1.Reinstate the ceasefire agreement breached by GoSL with LTTE.
2.Compel the GoSL to stop the collective punishment of the Tamils.
3.Pressure the GoSL, in the strongest possible way and at the highest level, to observe and abide by International Humanitarian Law, International Human Rights Law and the Geneva Conventions.
4.Civilian hospitals organised to give care in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the parties to the conflict.
5.Urge GoSL to respect its self-declared "Safety Zone" and cease any shelling or bombing of any civilian settlements, schools, churches, temples or other public buildings.
6.Allow the national and international accredited medical personnel and surgeons into Vanni.
7.Urge you to take collective action through the Security Council as GoSL has failed in its responsibility to protect its populations, the international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to help to protect populations.
8.Provide UNHR monitoring mechanism as an urgent requirement because GoSL breached the ceasefire; is party to the conflict; is inflicting gross humanitarian violations on Tamil civilians; is outright disregard to observation of international humanitarian standards.
9. Urge GoSL to allow international monitors under the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) because is inflicting gross humanitarian and human rights violations on Tamil civilians, and is preventing humanitarian access and assessment of the humanitarian situation by independent, humanitarian organizations.
10.Adopt a United Nations Human Rights Council Emergency Resolution calling for an end to the gross humanitarian violations and human rights violations against Tamils.

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Jerry KingBy:
Justice, rights and public orderIn:
Petition target:
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

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