Calls for a humanitarian truce between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces are growing as fighting intensifies and the number of casualties increases. On Thursday, Amnesty International reiterated its call for an immediate truce to allow aid to reach trapped civilians and ensure safe passage for all those that wish to leave.
Tens of thousands of people are trapped in "safe zones" in the north eastern Wanni region, where they are at increased risk from the escalation in attacks by both sides in the conflict.
"The deliberate firing on civilians by either side constitutes a war crime," said Sam Zarifi, Director of the Asia Pacific region at Amnesty International. "We cannot stress enough the importance of an immediate pause to allow the displaced to leave before thousands more are killed. The UN and international donors must put pressure on both parties to end this major humanitarian catastrophe."
On 26 March United Nations humanitarian Chief John Holmes also called for a humanitarian pause to allow the civilian population to leave. Amnesty International urged the United Nations and international donors to put pressure on Sri Lanka to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access to camps for the displaced people in the region.
Amnesty International made the call as it released a new briefing detailing on the situation of internally displaced people in Sri Lanka.
The organization has received credible and consistent reports that the LTTE has forcibly displaced civilians and pushed them into areas under their control in the Wanni. They are effectively being held hostage and used as a buffer against the Sri Lankan armed forces – a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.
Most independent observers estimate there are between 150,000 to 200,000 civilians trapped in the midst of the heavy fighting. The LTTE is also reported to have deliberately attacked civilians that have tried to escape from areas under their control.
The Sri Lankan government has intensified the suffering of the displaced people by cutting off international humanitarian assistance to a region where there are no longer any functioning hospitals. Those people that risk their lives and flee face further ordeals when they enter government-controlled areas.
Amnesty International has received information that the government is using the screening process at checkpoints and in transitional "welfare villages" as an excuse to discriminate against large groups of ethnic Tamils and to detain families for indefinite periods of time.
Reports show that the "welfare villages" established by the authorities are overcrowded and have inadequate facilities. In camps in Vavuniya and Jaffna, the displaced are held in de facto detention, not being allowed to leave. There is also a continued military presence inside the camps which puts the civilians at further risk.
"The Sri Lankan government’s attitude so far has been to seek international assistance while rejecting international standards or scrutiny," said Sam Zarifi. "The United Nations and donor government must ensure Sri Lanka acts on its obligations and ends the discrimination and suffering of the displaced people."