Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mother Day Massacre

The advancing Sri Lanka Army massacred civilians by paving their bunkers with tanks, by throwing explosives inside the bunkers and by shooting the injured, says a medical worker who came out of Mu’l’li-vaaykkaal during the last days of the war, became incarcerated in a camp and now escaped the island. “Around a hundred thousand captured civilians herded to Mullaiththeevu were kept in rows within barbed wires, most of the time without water or food under the hot sun.

Colombo particularly targeted hospitals and makeshift hospitals. When people moved away from Ki’linochchi, its hospital started functioning in the school building at Udaiyaar-kaddu. More than two thousand shells were fired on this building by the SLA.

Ki’linochchi to Tharmapuram, Vaddakkachchi, Visuvamadu, Udaiyaar-kaddu, Puthukkudiyiruppu – until reaching Mu’l’li-vaaykkaal, at an average 50 civilians were killed every day in Sri Lankan attacks. 8000 were already killed before herded into Mu’l’li-vaaykkaal.

Medical work decimated and workers were shaken at the death of patients, nurses and workers. When there were more than 300,000 people, Colombo sent food for only 30,000. Important medicines such as anesthetic drugs were not sent. Life-saving surgery without anesthesia was a cursing ordeal for the patients as well as doctors.

Mothers and children standing in queue to receive infant milk food were targeted in the SL shell attacks. Without seeing no one could visualize the sorrow of the child that lost the mother and the mother who lost the child.

SLA shell attacks, guided by spy craft were targeted on queues for gruel also. Despite casualties the queue would form again. While even gruel was scarce to people, lands they cultivated were harvested by the SLA.

At one stage, the LTTE leadership ordered food meant for combatants to be shared with civilians. The fighters fought only with gruel food and to the last LTTE served gruel to people.

Around 1000 waterholes were dug and several hundreds of toilets were made for civilians at the initiative of the LTTE. Water often mixed with sand was collected in shell-halves and was filtered by cloth.

There were no epidemics. Pregnant mothers and infants bearing shell fragments came to makeshift hospitals. These hospitals functioned 24 hours and wailing was always heard around them. Many dead bodies couldn’t be buried in certain situations of SL attacks and hungry dogs dragged them.

Every time moving patents to ICRC vessel there will be targeted shelling from the SLA. A few hundreds taken for ICRC treatment died. How that happened was not known and whom to ask.

Even in emaciated conditions people donated blood for treatment and some of them later died of their own injuries. More than a thousand people were killed on the day when the SLA entered into Maaththa’lan and Pokka’nai (20th April).

On May 15th and 16th the SLA entered and rampaged the pocket of land crowded with nearly a hundred thousand people. I had to pass through at least around 300 bodies when I came out. Some were alive but couldn’t walk. I helped a few who could walk. Some held my feet when I tried to go away. What could I do?

There is a long list of people who were eliminated and disappeared after capture by the SLA. The army-controlled area was a place where murders took place in front of one’s eyes.

In Mullaiththeevu, a hundred thousand people made to stand in rows would all of a sudden be ordered to squat by the SL army. The soldiers would make sadistic laugh at seeing the melee of people falling on each other in the exercise.

Long poles were used to beat the people and to threaten them. Old and young stood under hot sun for a long time, immensely suffering from thirst. Mullaiththeevu to Vavuniyaa was scenery of disaster.
There were 20 to 25 people in a tent in the internment camp at Cheddiku’lam. Food was sometimes thrown from a vehicle.

Everyday in the internment camp around 30 people died. It was a place of epidemics.
Thousands suffered of Chicken Pox, hundreds had brain fever, many elders died and some committed suicide.
The bribe to SL army for a person to come out was several hundred thousands of rupees.

In the last days of the war over 18,000 killed, more than 5,000 lost limbs, more than 7,000 seriously injured and several thousands suffered minor injuries. Several thousands suffer mental illnesses. More than a hundred medical workers- doctors, nurses and volunteers perished.

Knowledge and exercise of precaution reduced casualty. No one died of any epidemic under LTTE control. Several thousands of Sinhala youth of the SLA, from poor families, regrettably laid down their life in the war.

The sadistic lust of Mahinda Rajapaksa is very astonishing - inflicting pain on ordinary civilians in every possible way, and then projecting that as forms of his soothing operation to the outside world.

The world may forget, but Tamils will never forget the true face of the civilization of 21st century, the world has shown to them, writes the medical worker in his notes.
UN Human Rights Council at its12th session in Geneva has concluded general debate on human rights situations that require the council’s attention. Representatives from several countries and NGOs participating in the debate expressed concern about the situation in camps for internally displaced persons in the north of Sri Lanka.

KAREN PARKER, of International Educational Development, said in her statement that there should be institutional reform and study of the root causes of conflicts as essential to transitional justice. In Sri Lanka, the Government resisted any purview of accountability, and was still prosecuting the war against the Tamil people. The only remedy for the latter was to submit to ever-harsher oppression and abuse. The international community had not looked into the underlying causes of the Sinala-Tamil war for many years. The people were in detention camps because they were Tamil, not because they were civilians. The whole issue of this war was because the Tamil people had sought their right to self-determination, among other rights, and the Government had refused them. Massive ethnic cleansing was occurring, and the Council should act for the Tamils.

Excerpts from some of their statements are as follows:

CHRISTIAN STROHAL (Austria) said that no country had a perfect human rights record and all needed to work constantly and self-critically to address their shortcomings and do better for the promotion and protection of human rights. This fact obliged countries to openly address situations that were of particularly concern to them in order to enter into a dialogue on how to improve the implementation of international standards on the ground. Austria pointed to the human rights situations in Iran, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Sudan, which were all situations where Austria failed to see the necessary political will and determination to improve the protection of human rights effectively.

JANICE MCGANN (Ireland) said that the situation in Sri Lanka was over but the peace there remained to be won as serious breaches of humanitarian and human rights law had taken place during that war.

PETER HERTEL RASMUSSEN (Denmark) said the Government of Sri Lanka should fully respect all human rights.

CHRISTINE GOY (Luxembourg) said that Luxembourg was equally concerned for the grave situation in Sri Lanka with regards to the freedom of expression. The situation of internally displaced persons and the allegations of violations of international law during the armed conflict had not yet been the subject of an independent international enquiry, and therefore required particular attention from the Council.

MURIEL BERSET (Switzerland) said that the evolution of the situation in Sri Lanka remained of concern to Switzerland which reiterated its appeal. The humanitarian actors needed to be able to conduct their work without constraints. The holding of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced peoples must end and their safe and voluntary prompt return enabled.

CAROLINE MILLAR (Australia) said Australia remained concerned that over 300,000 civilians remained displaced in camps in northern Sri Lanka.

REINHARD SCHWEPPE (Germany) said as for the situation in Sri Lanka, Germany stressed that reconciliation was strongly based on the full respect of human rights and urged the Sri Lanka Government to create conditions which ensured the safe and dignified return of all internally displaced persons.

WENDY HINTON (New Zealand) said In Sri Lanka, New Zealand remained concerned about the situation for those in camps for internally displaced persons. The Government should engage in a reconciliation process taking into account the legitimate aspirations of all minority groups.

GOTZON ONANDIA ZARRABE, of Franciscans International, said in Sri Lanka, internally displaced persons were not being resettled as promptly nor as safely as the Government promised to the Council, and they continued to suffer within the camps. Human rights defenders, journalists and anyone voicing a differing opinion on the Government’s current policies continued to be the target of violent attacks and harassment by both State and non-State actors.

LUKAS MACHON, of International Commission of Jurists, said in Sri Lanka, humanitarian aid had been continuously obstructed by Government limitations on access to internally displaced persons and the maintenance of internment camps through unjustifiable restrictions on freedom of movement.

MICHAEL ANTONY, of Asian Legal Resource Centre, said the Universal Periodic Review was clearly not a sufficient mechanism to address the worst human rights situations in an effective or timely manner. The Council was currently failing to effectively address situations of human rights crisis, such as those in Sri Lanka and Myanmar; this was not simply a failing of political will, but also one of approach. In Sri Lanka, the continuing grave situation of internally displaced persons was testimony to this.

KAREN PARKER, of International Educational Development, said there should be institutional reform and study of the root causes of conflicts as essential to transitional justice. In Sri Lanka, the Government resisted any purview of accountability, and was still prosecuting the war against the Tamil people. The only remedy for the latter was to submit to ever-harsher oppression and abuse. The international community had not looked into the underlying causes of the Sinala-Tamil war for many years. The people were in detention camps because they were Tamil, not because they were civilians. The whole issue of this war was because the Tamil people had sought their right to self-determination, among other rights, and the Government had refused them. Massive ethnic cleansing was occurring, and the Council should act for the Tamils. There should be a protective presence in Camp Ashraf as soon as possible. The Council should reflect its decision on Honduras in taking a new decision on Myanmar, where a similar situation prevailed.

SATHLYASANGARY ANANDASANGAREE of Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada, said so far the Sri Lankan Government had failed to live up to its commitments to the international community. Over 300,000 Tamil civilians were still being held against their will in open prisons and their freedom of movement restricted; clean water, sanitation, food, medicine and the basic necessities of life were in dire need. The Government had also failed to allow independent observers access to the camps. The deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka desperately required the attention of the Council - the international community must demand the unconditional release of the civilians within the 180-day timeline proposed by the Government of Sri Lanka and supported by a majority of Council members.

NIMALKA FERNAND, of International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), in a joint statement with Asian Forum for Human Rights; and Asian Legal Resource Centre, said with regard to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, although the war had arguably ended, the threats to democracy as well as the human rights violations had not diminished. Further, over 250,000 people were living in camps as internally displaced persons and a leading human rights defender had received a death threat for his advocacy with the European Union. Against this backdrop, the International Movement Against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism wished to remind the members of the Council, the concerned Member States, the United Nations Secretary-General and other international institutions, of the various commitments and pledges given by the Government of Sri Lanka. It also called on the Sri Lankan Government to facilitate investigations of all allegations that had been revealed by various media institutions regarding extra-judicial killings. Finally, the International Movement Against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism wished to point out that the implementation of the 13th and 17th amendment was still outstanding and national legisla

Sri Lanka should make public a list of all IDPs

With the end of the government’s military campaign, Crisis Group urges that:
The Sri Lankan government should make public a list all those being held in camps for the displaced and in places of detentions, to reassure worried families about the fate of their loved ones, to facilitate the reunification of divided families, and to protect against the threat of abduction and forced disappearance.

The ICRC and UNHCR must be given full and immediate access to every stage of the government’s “screening” for those suspected of involvement with the LTTE. The ICRC should be granted full access to all places of detention to ensure that surrendered and captured combatants and other terrorist suspects are treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and Sri Lankan law. The Sri Lankan government should make public its plans for the demobilisation and rehabilitation of former LTTE fighters.

The Sri Lankan government should remove all restrictions on the access and effective work of the ICRC, UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs in government camps for the displaced in Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna and in government hospitals and medical centres. Punitive restrictions on visas and on travel within Sri Lanka for international staff of humanitarian agencies must also be removed. Lack of access and the consequent reduction in services only compounds the already severe physical suffering and psychological hardships the displaced are enduring.

The Sri Lankan government should announce a clear and prompt timetable for the resettlement of all those recently displaced from the Vanni. The government should also establish an open and inclusive process of consultation with independent Tamil and Muslim leaders to devise a fair and sustainable plan for the resettlement of all those displaced from the Northern Province, including the nearly 100,000 Muslims forcibly evicted from Jaffna and Mannar in 1990.

The Sri Lankan government should make tangible and meaningful steps to assure Tamils, Muslims and other minorities that their rights will be respected and their equal citizenship and physical safety will be assured. The government should initiate a new and inclusive process of dialogue between legitimate and independent representatives of all ethnic communities in pursuit of a lasting political settlement that addresses the grievances and insecurities of all communities through constitutional guarantees of power-sharing and individual rights.

Sri Lankan Army Atrocities

The heartbreaking Damilvany Gnanakumar story is one many yet to be told. She was released recently from a Sri Lankan concentration camp. I would imagine for a hefty sum of money. These SL Government‘s acts of mercy does not come cheap nowadays.

For those four months, the 25-year-old British graduate was imprisoned behind razor wire inside the Sri Lanka’s grim internment camps, home to nearly 300,000 people.
The last time she publicly spoke about the conflict was from the hospital where she was working inside the ever-shrinking war zone in Sri Lanka’s north-east. Then, the Sri Lankan army had surrounded the small sliver of land where the remnants of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas held out and where hundreds of thousands of civilians had taken refuge. She had been in despair: a shell had just struck the hospital and dozens were dead. “At the moment, it is like hell,” she said then.
The young mother was standing by the side of the road, clutching her baby.

The baby was dead.

Damilvany Gnanakumar watched as she tried to make a decision. Around them, thousands of people were picking their way between bodies strewn across the road, desperate to escape the fighting all around them. “The mother couldn’t bring the dead body and she doesn’t want to leave it as well. She was standing … holding the baby. She didn’t know what to do …

At the end, because of the shell bombing and people rushing – there were thousands and thousands of people, they were rushing in and pushing everyone – she just had to leave the baby at the side of the road, she had to leave the body there and come, she had no choice.

And I was thinking in my mind ‘What have these people done wrong?

Why are they going through this, why is the international government not speaking up for them? I’m still asking.” Gnanakumar was one of a small group of medics treating the wounded and providing a running commentary to the outside world from behind the lines. For months she had managed to stay alive while around her thousands died.
At night, she lived in bunkers dug in the sand. During the day, she helped in the makeshift hospitals, dodging the shells and the bullets, tending the wounded and the dying, as the doctors tried to operate with butchers’ knives and watered-down anesthetic. Now her damning account provides a powerful rebuke to the claims of the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, that the defeat of the Tamil Tigers was achieved without the spilling of a drop of civilian blood.

Usually the Sri Lanka government’s ground forces, done regular air raids by air force Kfir jets. But in early January artillery barrages began, forcing the population to move. That was when the reality of the war hit Gnanakumar for the first time. “It was raining and … you could see everywhere on the road the blood is running with the water and the bodies were left there because there was no-one to identify who was dead and who is alive, the bodies were just laid down on the floor and that’s the first time I saw dead bodies and wounded people crying out, shouting.”
Wherever they stopped, they built a bunker, digging down until they could stand up in the hole, cutting down palm branches and laying them across the top for a roof and packing sandbags on the top and around the sides.

As the frontline advanced, trapping as many as 300,000 people inside a shrinking enclave of LTTE-held land, Gnanakumar went to the makeshift government hospital, which had moved into a former primary school, and volunteered to help, dressing wounds and administering first aid. As the fighting intensified, they were treating as many as 500 people every day in two rooms. “They had a shortage of medicine but they had to somehow save the people. The last two weeks or so there was a shortage of everything.” With replacement blood running out, she had to filter what she could from the patients through a cloth before feeding it back into their veins.

When the anaesthetics ran short, they diluted them with distilled water. “I watched when there was a six-year-old boy,” she said. “They had to take off the leg and also the arm, but they didn’t have proper equipment, they just had a knife that the butchers use to cut the meat, and we have to use that to take off his leg and arm. He cried and cried.”

As the army closed in, it got worse.
“People were running and running to get them safe away from the shell bombing, but they couldn’t and it came to a point where we thought we are all going to die, there is no way we can be safe anymore here, but we just have to take it. I mean, you can’t get out of the shell-bombing. I didn’t think that I would be alive and I would be here now. I said OK, I’m going to die, that is the end of it. “One day I was inside the [operating] theatre and the next room was bombed. We had a lot of the treated people left in the room for the doctors to go and monitor and they all died in that shell bomb. And they [the Sri Lankan forces] again bombed the hospital and one of the doctors died in that.” Inside the hospital, there was no respite.

Gnanakumar could not take any more. On 13 May the hospital had been hit, killing about 50 people. “The bunker right next to ours had a shell on top of it and there were six people in the same family died and three were wounded. “I saw them … suddenly I start hearing people are crying out and I thought, it has to be somewhere really close … I came out of my tent and I saw blood everywhere and the people – I couldn’t even imagine that place, there was blood and then the bodies were into pieces everywhere . In the last five days, she says, she believes about 20,000 people died. The UN has acknowledged the true death toll may never be known.