Human rights groups have welcomed a promise made by the government of Sri Lanka to lift by 1 December 2009 any restrictions on movement of at least 130,000 people displaced by the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.
“Now the Sri Lankan government needs to demonstrate that it will provide the displaced with necessary assistance such as shelter, food and security as they re-establish their homes,” said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific deputy director.
Thousands of Tamils who escaped the war have been detained in camps under military control for the past six months and deprived of their freedom of movement. Many of them survived months of difficult conditions as they were forced to travel with retreating LTTE forces who forcibly recruited civilians, including children, and in some instances used civilians as human shields.
The Sri Lankan government has agreed to give people a choice about whether to remain in camps, to seek alternative accommodation or attempt to return home.
“For months, vulnerable people have been held in inadequate conditions in camps lacking adequate sanitation facilities and clean drinking water. If the Sri Lankan government follows through on its promise to allow thousands of people to return home, it would be the first step in the long struggle ahead for people rebuilding their devastated lives,” commented Madhu Malhotra.
Amnesty International emphasises the continued need to protect the rights of internally displaced people both within and outside the camps.
The organisation also urges the Sri Lankan authorities to abide by the principles of international humanitarian law and ensure that displaced people are supported in making voluntary and informed decisions about their future.
“Humanitarian and human rights organizations should be given unimpeded access to displaced people and those attempting to resettle to monitor their safety and wellbeing and ensure their needs are being met, including that they are protected against further human rights violations,” said Madhu Malhotra.
Since the war ended in May 2009, an estimated 12,000 displaced people, including children, suspected of links to the LTTE have been arbitrarily arrested, separated from the general displaced population and detained by the authorities in irregular detention facilities such as vacated school buildings.
Observers have been concerned about lack of transparency and accountability in that process, which is conducted outside any legal framework and about the increased dangers to detainees who are held incommunicado.
People arrested on suspicion of links to the LTTE and accused of crimes, should be charged with legitimate offences, tried and prosecuted in accordance with the law.