24 Mar … And Now for a Look at What’s Happening Elsewhere in the World
More than 150,000 civilians under daily bombardment, with an estimated 2800 already dead (including 500 children) and more than 7000 injured. Water and medicine running short. The advancing forces rejecting a cease fire. And the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights raising concern about potential violations of international human rights and humanitarian law….. Sound familiar? No, I’m not talking about the recent Israeli action in Gaza, but the current conflict in Sri Lanka – an unfolding humanitarian crisis that has received some coverage here in England (for example, in the Guardian and Times), but apparently little in the United States (although since I’m 4000 miles away, I’m perhaps not in the best position to judge).
According to a story in yesterday’s Guardian:
“Tens of thousands of people are caught between the last 1,500 fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the advancing troops of the Sri Lankan army. The civilians are trapped on a thin strip of land – estimated at 13.5 square miles (35 square kilometers) – on Sri Lanka’s north-east coast. The UN warns that if people stay they risk being killed by government shells and if they try to leave they will be in danger of being shot by the Tigers. Diplomats say there is a real danger that a bloody denouement to the 25-year-old civil war could result in an ‘all-out humanitarian catastrophe’.”
In response to international criticisms, Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s foreign secretary, said that international law does permit a “proportionate response.” “This is not a situation comparable to Darfur or the western Congo. This is a terrorist organisation holding its own people as hostages.”
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, while condemning the Tamil Tigers for using civilians as human shields, has also criticized government forces for engaging in “indiscriminate shelling” of civilians.
In a further escalation of the tensions, the BBC today reported that the Sri Lankan government has accused humanitarian groups of harboring terrorists and of seeking to prolong the war for their own economic gain.