U.S. State Department Releases Sri Lanka War Crimes Report

The U.S. Department of State‘s Office of War Crimes Issues released its investigation into the final stage of the conflict in Sri Lanka today. Requested by Congress, the report (pdf) covers the period between January and May 2009 and consists of an overview of incidents that happened during the final stage of the conflict. It is based on a wide range of sources, including Amnesty International’s own reporting, and uses both traditional, and innovative evidence such as satellite imagery and aerial photographs.

While the report “does not reach any legal or factual conclusions”, it provides a disturbing overview of what happened in the so-called “No-Fire Zone”, looking at both the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Human Rights Flashpoints – July 28, 2009

HONDURAS

Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya attempted to return to Honduras for the second time on Friday, July 24, 2009.  After a brief moment in his home country, Zelaya retreated back into Nicaragua, setting up camp on Saturday to demand his return home and to power.

Since then, Zelaya has refrained from making another attempt to enter the country for fear of attacks against his supporters, as reported by the BBC.  Curfews remain in place in southern Honduras, while supporters of Mr. Zelaya have blocked main roads.

The Honduran armed forces endorsed the San José Accord, an agreement that was forged in Costa Rica between delegates representing President Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, the leader of the de facto government.  According to the New York Times, the accord is supported by most governments in the hemisphere and it would allow the return of Mr. Zelaya as president with limited powers.

There are currently no further talks scheduled to take place between the de facto government and Zelaya.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was detained by Honduran military personnel and forced into exile at the end of June.  Several government ministers are also reported to have been detained.  Roberto Micheletti, Congress speaker, has been sworn in as “Interim President.”  Micheletti has imposed a curfew.

Recent reports also suggest that journalists who have published news stories on the crisis or covering the issue of protests and scores of detentions have been intimidated.  Prosecutors have also reported threats on account of their attempts to verify human rights abuses during protests.

Must Reads

Overheard

“President Zelaya’s effort to reach the border is reckless.”  Hilary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, July 24, 2009.

“The United States should be helping me, not criticizing.”  Manuel Zelaya, Ousted Honduras President, July 25, 2009. 

SOMALIA

The worsening security situation in Somalia was exemplified by Al-Shabab raids on two UN compounds in Baidoa and Wajid last week, which severely hindered the UN’s humanitarian work in Somalia.  Al-Shabab has also threatened to shut down 3 UN operations in Somalia, accusing the UNDP, UNDSS, and UNPOS offices of working against Somali Muslims.  Ongoing fighting in Mogadishu has already led to the closure of many feeding centers throughout the city, putting pressure on already crowded IDP camps and straining the capacity of aid agencies all over Somalia.

Meanwhile, newly appointed Somali Security Minister Abdullahi Mohamed Ali vowed Friday to reform the security forces, telling Reuters by telephone that his “main priority is to gradually re-establish capable security forces that can defeat the terrorists.”

Must Reads

Overheard

“Such acts target the whole gamut of UN peace and humanitarian operations in Somalia.  The UN is providing life-saving support to people in need throughout Somalia, and will continue to do all it can to help the country emerge from decades of violence.”  Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, July 21, 2009.

“We again appeal to the warring parties in Somalia to respect basic international humanitarian and human rights principles and to guarantee the safety and security of the civilian population as well as for the humanitarian workers trying to help the victims.”  Ron Redmon, UNHCR Spokesperson, July 21, 2009.

Coming This Week

  • July 27: Obama begins economic talks with Chinese leaders
  • July 28: Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to arrive in Washington, DC for further discussions
  • July 30: Senate hearing on US strategy on Sudan
  • July 31: Renewal of UNAMID mandate
  • July 27 -  July 31: George Mitchell, Dennis Ross, and Robert Gates in Jerusalem for talks regarding West Bank settlements

Juliette Rousselot and Jacki Mowery contributed to this post.

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response team.

Sri Lanka: what the UN council should have addressed; possible help from Rep. Shuler

Yesterday, I wrote on this blog about how the UN Human Rights Council failed to protect human rights with its recent resolution on Sri Lanka.  If you want to learn about the violations that the Council should have addressed, read the Sri Lanka entry from the Amnesty International 2009 Report, which has just been released.  It details the abuses committed during 2008 by the Sri Lankan security forces as well as the opposition Tamil Tigers.

On a separate note, if you’re a constituent of U.S. Representative Heath Shuler (11th District, North Carolina) or know someone who is, you should know that the Congressman has just concluded a visit to Sri Lanka (at least, according to the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry).  It’d be great if his constituents could write to him and get him to press the Sri Lankan government to give journalists and aid agencies full, unimpeded access to the hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians in internment camps in northern Sri Lanka.  I’d also appreciate it if his constituents could get him to come out publicly in favor of an international investigation into the human rights abuses and war crimes committed by both sides during the conflict in Sri Lanka.  If the Congressman adds his voice to those of Amnesty International, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and The New York Times (all of whom have called for such an international investigation), maybe we can get the U.S. and other governments to establish one during next week’s regular session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Amnesty Researchers On-the-Ground in Chad

Amnesty International researchers are currently on-the-ground in Chad investigating the growing numbers of refugees streaming across the border from Darfur.  Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty Canada, has been documenting the mission online.  Here is an excerpt from a podcast posted yesterday detailing the still desperate situation:

Darfuri refugee women and girls at Bredjing camp filling water containers.

Darfuri refugee women and girls at Bredjing camp filling water containers.

“They are there on their own.”

Those words have been haunting us all day.   We have now come further east from Abéché to Farchana.  Within perhaps a 30-40 kilometre semi-circle around Farchana there are 3 major refugee camps as well as 12 sites for displaced Chadians.  Farchana itself is not far from Chad’s border with Darfur.

Our intention today had been to travel to one of the sites for displaced Chadians in this region, Arkoum.  We want to make it to several IDP sites during our mission because we have certainly come to understand that their safety and well-being is extremely precarious.

It is a universal story.  Without any doubt refugees, including Darfuri refugees here in Chad, face considerable hardship, insecurity and violence.  The international community does, however, have a much clearer role and responsibility for their protection.  Not so with IDP’s, who remain, of course, citizens of the country, in this case Chad.  Here, as is so often the case around the world, Chadians displaced within their own country have only minimal protection.  Largely abandoned by their own government and not fully protected by the international community.  And of course, still very near to the terrible human rights violations that forced them from their homes in the first place.

It is so important that we get access to some of the sites, to see and hear first hand the challenges displaced Chadians face.   But while the refugee camps are all within fairly easy reach of the town of Farchana, our base, the sites for IDP’s are more remote and difficult to reach.  And because of growing security concerns in eastern Chad, in the wake of a rebel incursion far to the south of here in Goz Beida, the UN decided today to cancel plans for a convoy to Arkoum, which we would have been part of.  Instead we travelled to a nearby refugee camp, Bredjing, and spent the day working with Darfuri refugees.

A human rights monitor with the Association for the Promotion of Fundamental Rights in Chad who is usually based in Arkoum had intended to travel back out to the site with us today, but was obviously unable to do so.  His worry was palpable.  It was he who kept saying: “ils sont là; tous seuls” – they are there on their own.

It all comes down to security.  In the midst of insecurity, the full range of human rights teeters and collapses.  That of course has been the horrible reality in both eastern Chad and Darfur for the past five years.  Insecurity means killings and rape; homes destroyed and crops burned.  But it also means education, health, food and water supplies, and livelihoods are also turned inside out.

And it is still insecurity that reigns in eastern Chad.  When I was here with an Amnesty team in late 2006 the local population, thousands of whom had recently been chased from their homes in a brutal wave of attacks, felt completely abandoned.   The sad truth is that 2 ½ years later, even though international troops and police are now deployed here, displaced Chadians remain at terrible risk.

And whenever security concerns arise here, as they have again, they are the first to be cut off, the first to be abandoned.  In so many respects, the most vulnerable yet the least protected.  As our friend kept saying, they are on their own.  We must find a way to stand with them.

- Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada

To listen to the original podcast and read more about the mission to Chad, visit the Amnesty Canada Mission Blog.