For Immediate Release
AIUSA media office, 202-544-0200 x302
Amnesty International Says Displaced in Sri Lanka Trapped Between Military and Monsoon
Amnesty Urges the Inclusion of Detainees in Talks of Resettlement
WASHINGTON - A quarter of a million Sri Lankans being held in de facto detention camps are facing a humanitarian disaster as monsoon rains threaten to flood camps, said Amnesty International today.
For months, the Sri Lankan government authorities have failed to deliver basic services to camps set up in the Vavuniya District in the north-east that were created following conflict in the area.
These camps remain overcrowded and lack basic sanitation facilities. As a result, during heavy rains in September, rivers of water cascaded through tents and forced camp residents to wade through overflowing sewage.
"People living in these camps are desperate to leave," said Amnesty International's Sri Lanka expert, Yolanda Foster, who is in contact with relatives of some camp residents. "The government must ensure that the displaced are treated with dignity."
A recent escapee from Chettikulam camp reported to Amnesty International that some women had been forced to give birth in front of strangers without privacy.
"Medical staff are only available in the camps 9 to 5," the escapee said. "People start waiting in line for medical assistance from early morning...how can you expect a lady who is pregnant to stand in a line for hours? If the war has ended, why doesn't the government let these people out?"
"The provision of protection, assistance and return is not an act of charity but a basic right," said Foster. "They have a right to protection and must be consulted on whether they wish to return to their homes or resettle."
Since the war ended in May 2009, thousands of people detained in camps have been subjected to ‘screening' processes by the security forces.
While screenings are used to ensure that detainees are not members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the processes should follow proper procedures and not be used as an excuse for collective punishment.
Approximately 10,000 detainees that have been determined ex-LTTE combatants are held in separate detention facilities.
Amnesty has previously raised concerns about the lack of independent monitoring and lack of accountability for these screening processes.
Despite the government's widely publicized accounts of detainee releases, Amnesty has received reports that many were merely transferred to other camps in the area where they may be subjected to rescreening by local authorities.
Amnesty has also received reports that the military is blocking release attempts by the civilian administration.
The Sri Lankan government must involve the displaced themselves in plans for return or resettlement. Authorities must also facilitate the assistance of independent humanitarian organizations in this regard, in order to effectively deal with the humanitarian disaster the camps are facing.
"Freedom of movement is now critical," said Foster. "The international community and the government of Sri Lanka can no longer ignore the voices of camp detainees to be allowed to leave."
According to government figures, the fighting between the Sri Lankan army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) displaced over 409,000 people. At least 280,000 were displaced from areas previously under LTTE control. Since March 2009, there has been a dramatic influx of people fleeing the fighting and crossing into government controlled areas.
The displaced people, including at least 50,000 children, are being accommodated in 41 camps spread over four districts. The majority of the displaced are in Vavuniya District where Manik Farm is the biggest camp.
When United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited some of the camps in May, he said: "I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scene I have seen."
While some progress had been made on providing basic needs, much still needs to be done on the right to health, food, water, family reunion and access to relatives.
Amnesty International has also called on the government of Sri Lanka to end restrictions on liberty and freedom of movement; ensure that camps are of a truly civilian nature and administered by civilian authorities, rather than under military supervisions; and give immediate and full access to national and international organizations and observers, including aid agencies, in order to monitor the situation and provide a safeguard against human rights violations.
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