Sri Lanka: are releases of displaced civilians genuine?

Amnesty International has been calling on the Sri Lankan government to grant freedom of movement to over 250,000 displaced civilians now being held in internment camps in the north.  The government has said that it can’t allow civilians to leave the camps until they’ve been screened to determine if any of them are connected to the opposition Tamil Tigers.  (For more information on this subject, please see our Sri Lanka page.)  The Sri Lankan government has announced releases of some of the civilians.  But are they actually being released?

Amnesty has received reports that some of those released have apparently been transferred to other camps where they may be subjected to additional screening by local authorities.  The UN has also reported that some of the displaced civilians have been transferred from the camps and are now being held in transit sites in other areas with restricted freedom of movement.  The UN refugee agency last week said that they were concerned about approximately 3,300 displaced civilians who’ve been held in transit sites for more than two weeks rather than being returned to their homes.  A British minister visiting the camps this week said that the British government funding couldn’t support people simply being transferred from one “closed” camp (meaning, a camp which people aren’t free to leave) to another closed camp.

The displaced civilians should be immediately allowed to leave the camps if they wish.  Unlock the camps now!

Another Shocking Video from Sri Lanka

The British news company, Channel 4, has released another shocking video on Sri Lanka, this time on the terrible conditions facing Sri Lanka’s displaced Tamils in the internment camps they’re currently held in.  (For background on this story, see the Sri Lanka page on the AIUSA website.)  Like the earlier execution video released by Channel 4, Amnesty International cannot confirm whether the video and pictures reportedly shot inside the camps two weeks ago are authentic.  We could do so if the Sri Lankan government would allow aid workers and independent human rights observers full, unimpeded access to the camps and their civilian population.

It’s imperative that conditions in the camps be improved quickly, especially with the monsoon rains coming in the next few weeks.  But even more important, the civilians must be allowed to leave the camps if they wish. On that score, we may have gotten some good news today:  the Sri Lankan government announced today that civilians in the camps could be released if they had relatives willing to take them.  We’ll see whether this is implemented and how many it will apply to.  But even those civilians without such relatives are still entitled to freedom of movement.  Being caught in a war zone is not a crime; the displaced civilians should not be treated as criminals.  Unlock the camps now!