New Delhi, 16 January 2008
As the ceasefire agreement between the government and LTTE formally ends today, at least 23 civilians, including several school children, were killed and 67 injured in a powerful bomb explosion that ripped a bus carrying school children in Buttala in South-eastern Sri Lanka. The attack on civilian targets is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and certainly a cowardly act on the part of the attackers. The government of Sri Lanka blamed the LTTE for the attack. However, no group has so far claimed responsibility. None is expected to, either.
The Tamils have been fighting a bloody battle for creation of an independent Tamil Elam, homeland for the minority Tamils, consisting of parts of the East and North of Sri Lanka.
I. Attacks on civilians are unjustified:
In recent days, attacks on civilians have been regular in Sri Lanka.
On 14 January 2008, two Sri Lankan soldiers and a civilian were killed in a roadside bomb attack on a van in the north. On 2 January 2008, at least four persons including three civilians died and about 20 others injured when suspected LTTE exploded a bomb targeting a military bus in Colombo. On 5 December 2007, at least 15 civilians died and 38 others were injured in a landmine attack allegedly by the LTTE on a crowded bus in the north.
II. Lack of commitment for human rights
Both the government and the LTTE do not have commitment for human rights. Both the parties have been equally responsible for the failure and end of the ceasefire agreement brokered by Norway in February 2002.
The Sri Lankan government has a sovereign right to take military measures to deal with the forces which intend to dismantle the unity of Sri Lanka. But it must at the same time respect and uphold the basic human rights and humanitarian laws.
While the Sri Lankan government may try to justify killing of members of the LTTE, there is absolutely no justification for killing of 17 aid workers by the Sri Lankan security forces on 5 August 2006 at Muttur, Trincomalee district or such other numerous instances of killings of innocent civilians by the security forces. To scuttle any international criticism, President Mahinda Rajapakse established a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate all the serious human rights violations and in November 2006 appointed the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) headed by the former Chief Justice of India, P.N. Bhagwati to monitor the functioning of the CoI. The government has been disregarding the recommendations of the IIGEP. The IIGEP has repeatedly accused the CoI of not being independent or not meeting international standards.
But the Sri Lankan government seems not to care.
It has also rejected the “serious concerns” expressed by many countries and UN over the withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement.
As the war rages on, the civilian populations in the Tamil-held areas are most affected. Thousands have been displaced. Although majority of them have returned home, they have been living in intense insecurity, without the basic requirements and are prone to attacks from both sides of the conflict. On 14 January 2008, a returnee IDP identified as Kanthasamy Selliah was shot dead by unidentified gunmen at an IDP camp in Kalliyangkaadu area in Batticaloa.