Civilians in Sri Lankan warzone in grave danger: UN experts

May 9th, 2009 - 12:42 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, May 8 (DPA) Four UN special experts on human rights said Friday that there was a “humanitarian crisis” creating a “catastrophic situation” for civilians in northern Sri Lanka, and called for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to look into the conflict raging there.
The four issuing the joint statement were Philip Alston, expert on summary executions; Anand Grover, special rapporteur on the right to health; Olivier De Schutter, special rapporteur on the right to food; and Catarina de Albuquerque, an expert on water and sanitation.

“There is good reason to believe that thousands of civilians have been killed in the past three months alone, and yet the Sri Lankan government has yet to account for the casualties, or to provide access to the war zone for journalists and humanitarian monitors of any type,” Alston was quoted as saying.

Some 50,000 people are thought to remain in an area measuring less than 10 square kilometres, caught in a crossfire between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tiger rebels, who are making what seems to be a last stand.

The civilians do not have sufficient access to food, essential medical supplies and services or safe water and sanitation, the UN experts said, adding that this was an “effective death sentence” in addition to the danger from the fighting.

The experts said the government has reportedly “delayed or denied timely shipment of life-saving medicines” to the so-called “no-fire” zone.

When people do manage to escape the conflict zone, as tens of thousands have done, they find the government has insufficient medical facilities, food and safe water awaiting them, the experts continued.

“The government must take urgent measures with the assistance of the international community to ensure that security concerns do not result in unjustifiable suffering,” the statement read.

The rebels have also violated international law, they said, by preventing civilians from leaving the conflict area, at times using force.

The commission of inquiry should investigate both sides to the conflict, the experts said.

The independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council.

The Sri Lankan military says it is in the final phase of its campaign to crush the Tigers, who have been fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in north-eastern Sri Lanka for more than 25 years.

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