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U.N. urged to press rights of Sri Lanka war survivors

[Reuters, Monday, 25 May 2009 12:05 No Comment]

The U.N. Human Rights Council must insist on humanitarian access to camps of tens of thousands of refugees from Sri Lanka’s war, rights groups said on Monday, to ease a situation they called "alarming" and a "catastrophe".

Human Rights Watch said Sri Lanka should be pushed at the United Nations Human Rights Council, meeting for an emergency session this week, to allow aid workers and journalists into the country’s camps and detention centres, stressing "respect for human rights is just as essential after a conflict ends."

"Although the fighting has stopped, the humanitarian situation is still alarming and real improvements are needed," the group’s Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.

Sri Lanka has argued the U.N. examination of the conflict was "ill-timed" and said the international community should focus now on helping the country rebuild after last week’s end to its 25-year civil war.

Colombo has marshalled China, Russia, India, Pakistan and other regional allies to try to deflect scrutiny of its record in a resolution in Geneva that stresses the rights of states to act without outside interference in their national matters.

But another resolution, prepared by Switzerland and backed by 30 states including France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Mexico and Mauritius, calls for "full, safe and unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to all persons in need throughout the country" and says Colombo must do so without discrimination.

While telling Sri Lanka’s government to investigate all allegations of abuses and to bring perpetrators to justice, the Western resolution, does not call for an international inquiry to be launched into allegations of abuses during the military’s onslaught to crush to Tamil Tiger rebels.

LIVES STILL IN DANGER

Amnesty International and other rights monitors have called for an independent investigation into the conduct of both sides during the final burst of the conflict, in which nearly 300,000 people escaped rebel-held areas and are now being held in government-run refugee camps.

Adams of Human Rights Watch said it was unacceptable that Sri Lanka’s government has maintained restrictions on access to the detained, displaced and wounded since the fighting ended.

"Government restrictions on access by aid groups are putting lives in danger," he said in a statement released in Geneva, where the 47 member-state Human Rights Council will start its Sri Lanka session at 1300 GMT on Tuesday.

That meeting is expected to stretch into Wednesday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called during his weekend visit to Sri Lanka for immediate and unimpeded access to camps and called for political reconciliation between the majority Sinhalese and minorities including Tamils.

Ban and other U.N. officials repeatedly criticised the government and Tamil Tigers during the final months of the war, saying the actions of both had resulted in unnecessary deaths of thousands of Sri Lankans trapped in the conflict zone.

Amnesty said many of the Sri Lankans now needing aid had also suffered under the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), whose fighters used them as human shields and forced them to enlist during the long-running conflict.

Amnestry also said the government needed to be held accountable for abuses committed by state forces, who have been accused of killing and mistreating civilians in their quest to destroy LTTE separatists over a long time period.

"The current catastrophe exists against a backdrop of pervasive human rights violations, weak institutional mechanisms to protect human rights, and a culture of impunity for perpetrators that has continued for years," it said.

[Full Coverage]

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