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Amnesty International Calls on Obama Administration, U.N. Security Council to Act Now to Save Sri Lankan Civilians
WASHINGTON - May 13 - Amnesty International is urging President Barack Obama to speak out against the indiscriminate killing of civilians in the current conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE). The human rights organization has also urged United Nations Security Council members to discuss the latest disturbing developments in the country and establish a Commission of Inquiry into violations of international law that have taken place during the violence.
These calls follow reports of at least 35 people being killed today in an attack on a hospital in a designated "Safe Zone." The shelling comes less than 24 hours after at least 49 people died and more than 50 were injured in an attack on the same hospital.
Within the last few days, the situation in Sri Lanka has worsened, with more than 400 people---including more than 100 children--killed over the weekend.
"There are real fears that the bloodbath--as the United Nations has called it--will turn into an even deeper sea of misery after May 13 when general elections end in neighboring India," said Amnesty International USA's deputy executive director Curt Goering. "While U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice have voiced concern, President Obama himself must speak out publicly and forcefully over the wanton disregard for human rights in Sri Lanka."
Amnesty International is calling on President Obama to urge that all parties to the conflict respect a temporary truce so that civilians can be safely evacuated. He should also push the Sri Lankan government to allow the United Nations and other international monitors to assess the situation, as well as permit journalist and aid agencies to operate freely and safely. Abuses by all parties should be investigated and accountability should be stressed.
In a letter to members of the U.N. Security Council, Amnesty International said: "The Council must convene without any further delay to discuss the latest disturbing developments and immediately require that attacks on civilians by the Sri Lankan army or the LTTE be stopped; that the LTTE allow all civilians to leave the conflict area; and that the Sri Lankan government provide immediate access to international monitors and humanitarian agencies."
"Both the Tigers and Sri-Lankan military have been violating the laws of war," said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director. "Over the last several months, according to witnesses, the Tamil Tigers have used civilians trapped in the conflict zone as human shields against government forces and when they have tried to flee, they have been attacked by the Tigers. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan military has used heavy artillery, which is indiscriminate when used in densely populated areas, causing civilian deaths and injuries."
There are grounds to fear that the Sri Lankan military will launch an even heavier military offensive, when general elections end in neighboring India today. India's regional Tamil political parties have made protection of civilians in Sri Lanka a key election issue.
In its letter to U.N. Security Council members, Amnesty International also calls for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of international law: "The Council must recall, in unambiguous terms, that alleged perpetrators of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes, must be held individually responsible under international law. Given the mounting evidence of serious violations of international law, the Council should establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious violations by all parties in recent months, or request the Human Rights Council to establish such a Commission."
The total estimated casualty figures of the conflict since January are more than 7,000 killed and 13,000 injured.
There are an estimated 50,000 civilians still trapped in the area.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.