Yesterday, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (of which Amnesty International is a member) issued a briefing paper on children affected by the recent conflict in Sri Lanka. The paper details how children in the military-controlled internment camps for displaced civilians are being abducted for ransom, for forced recruitment into pro-government armed groups or due to suspected links with the opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
In May of this year, the Sri Lankan government completed its offensive against the LTTE, recapturing all the territory formerly held by the group and killing their senior leaders, thus ending the 26-year-old conflict. The LTTE had been fighting for an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the island. Both sides committed gross human rights abuses, including war crimes, during the course of the conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were displaced earlier this year by the fighting. By the end of the hostilities, over 280,000 civilians (included a reported 80,000 children) were being held in overcrowded, military-run camps. Most of the civilians are not allowed to leave the camps. The Sri Lankan government has said that they must be screened first to determine the presence of any suspected LTTE combatants.
The Sri Lankan government should tighten security at the camps so that children are no longer at risk of abduction. But they should also allow all the civilians in the camps freedom of movement, a right they’re entitled to as citizens of Sri Lanka. Those who wish to leave the camps should be immediately allowed to do so. Haven’t the displaced children and their relatives suffered enough already?