UN Secretary General’s representative on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), Prof Walter Kaaelin, who came to Sri Lanka on a 06 day official visit on 23 September, 2009 to assess the development on the IDP situation, is yet to conclude his visit on 28 September, after which he is expected to make his assessment known.
This time, coming quick on the heels of the UN Under Secretary General for HR, Lyn Pacsoe who was very concerned about the situation in SL IDP camps, Kaelin was in Sri Lanka for the first time, over 01 year and 09 months ago, to assess the situation of the Tamil IDP’s, presumably on an invitation by the government of SL. Concluding his first visit, he spoke to the UN Radio on 04 January, 2008, after he handed over his report to the UN SG.
Answering a question then, he told the UN Radio,
“Exactly, where ever I went, internally displaced persons seem very insecure for very good reasons. Where ever I went, women have been killed, have been abducted, disappeared, or have been detained for long time without prospect of being released. It is these kinds of human rights violations, committed by all sides, and I have to say, they cause lots of anxiety and insecurity among internally displaced persons. I went to camps, where people told me how during the night men came to the camps very often being very violent, abducting people…….”
Talking about his own report handed over to the UN SG, where Kaelin talks about SL government initiated measures in positive language, Kaelin told the UN Radio,
“…….These confidence building measures (recruiting Tamil policemen) have really just started. The government in co-operation with the international community, in particular with the UNHCR, has developed what I consider to be, quite a good plan at confidence building measures. But they are just being implemented now (January, 2008) It’s too early to see a real impact…….”
For that radio interview of Prof Walter Kaelin click http://media.brookings.edu/kalin/20080104_sri_lanka.mp3
(if this does not click, pls copy paste)
A law professor at the University in Bern, Switzerland, Walter Kaelin visited SL again representing the UN SG on 02 April till April 06. After his visit where he met with government officials and some displaced persons in camps, Kaelin issued a statement in which he noted, at least 50,000 people remained trapped in the conflict zone, “with their lives exposed to great danger and without access to sufficient humanitarian assistance.”
He also expressed concern then (early April 2009) about the living conditions of an estimated 194,000 people in camps, which he said remained “dire”.
Meanwhile, a first hand report filed by the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) speaks of the situation at the time of the UN Under Secretary for Political Affiars, Lyn Pascoe’s visit to Sri Lanka only a week before Kaelin’s arrival in Colombo for the 3rd time since his first visit in January, 2008.
It would thus be interesting to note what Prof Kaelin would now say about the “dire” situation of the people in IDP camps he visited 05 months ago and the “confidence building measures” adopted by the SL government he thought was the right approach, almost 01 year and 09 months ago. He is already quoted as praising the government’s initiative in SL State media.
It can’t be “too early to see a real impact…….” now and we intend covering his overall ‘take’ on the IDP issue, once he makes it public.
The report of WSWS visit to the IDP camps follows below in full.
Tamil detainees in Sri Lanka: Almost living in hell
We arrived in Vavuniya, where many of the detention camps are located, two months after our last visit. The governments propaganda that the situation in the camps has improved is false.
The military maintains checkpoints to rigorously screen visitors to the town and camps, and troops conduct heavy patrolling. Everyone who comes to Vavuniya by train or bus has to register with the police, explain the reason for their visit and supply the address of their place of stay. On leaving Vavuniya, the same process applies.
The day we visited, the whole town was heavily guarded by the army and the Special Task Force (police commandos). The bus stand was completely cleared. We discovered later that there was much propaganda about releasing 10,000 refugees to their home areas. We saw several dozen buses parked around the Manik Farm camps to take refugees.
However, later reports revealed that at least half of the refugees had been detained in other camps in their home districts. M. Shivanandan, 49, told Reuters on September 17: Im disappointed to have left Vavuniya thinking that we could go home. He was being detained at a school in eastern Trincomalee, where 320 civilians were held under army guard.
Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe admitted that people were being held in so-called transit camps. Without confirming when they would be released, Samarasinghe told Reuters they would be sent home in a few days or weeks. This charade took place in the lead up to the visit by UN Under-Secretary Lynn Pascoe to Sri Lanka.
Inside the camps, security has been tightened. One of the four Manik Farm camps has been divided into 15 small zones, each holding about 2,750 people. This division has been carried out, not to provide more facilities for inmates, but to monitor them more tightly, with increased military guarding. Government officials had expressed concern that large camps were difficult to control.
Last time we visited we saw long queues of several hundred people every day waiting to see their relatives in the camps. But because of harassment and intimidation by the security forces and the heavy expense of making the journey, only a few people are now arriving to see their relatives.
Earlier, relatives had to talk to prisoners by standing face-to-face, divided by a barbed-wire fence. Now five feet wide barbed-wire fences have been erected to further separate visitors and inmates. People separated by five feet have to shout to speak to each other, and no one can hear clearly. And because there are fewer crowds, soldiers are watching visitors everywhere, preventing anyone having a private conversation.
The conditions inside the camp are terrible. One recently released old man from the Manik camp told us: Life inside the camp is almost living in hell. We faced a lot of problems after we left the LTTE-controlled areas. We were without food for several days. When asked for water, we were scolded in filthy language.
Finally, packed like animals, we were brought here. Initially, food parcels were thrown from vehicles. Whoever got them ate, and others had to starve. Several elderly people with me died of starvation during the early days.
The government is talking about improvements but that is just propaganda. When higher international officials come to the camps, the military arranges a good show for them. Many young men and girls have been taken from the camp and nobody knows what has happened to them.
Sanitation is a big problem. During the past four months I took a bath only four times. All the toilets are almost full. People are suffering with infectious diseases and some have died. The government is trying to kill with disease the people who escaped their guns, and claim it is just a natural disaster. Diarrhoea, viral fever and skin diseases are very common. Children and babies dont get milk-based foods. We always get the same routine mealthe very cheapest vegetables and rice.
Komarasankulam camp is set up at a government school near Vavuniya. There are 2,400 people detained there, including 600 children. Visitors meet detainees in a shed guarded by several soldiers.
When we approached one police officer at around 7 a.m., he said visits were not possible because there was a water problem and asked us to come two hours later. Over 500 people were waiting in a long queue with plastic cans to collect water from the only tube well for the entire camp. Refugees told us they started waiting as early as 2 a.m. to collect water.
Only 45 temporarily toilets covered with polythene have been provided for the 2,400 detainees. Most of them are filled and cannot be used. The stench is all around.
There is only one doctor for the entire camp. He comes for just two hours a day. One person told us that several people had died from fever and diarrhoea. Only very seriously-ill patients are taken to Vavuniya hospital.
Because of the governments propaganda about releasing people to relatives, many families have submitted applications. But only elderly people over 60 have been released. It is a lengthy procedure, with applications having to pass through several administrative divisions. However, the final decisions are taken by the area military commander.
Officers in the camps have informed people that even if they were to be released, no one would be allowed to resettle in Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu in the Vanni region, areas that were captured by the military in the final stages of the war.
The military has recently cleared a jungle area to set up a camp at Murasomottai in the eastern Trincomalee district, where about 2,300 refugees are detained. This is one of the so-called transit camps.
One inmate said: We are liberated, the government boasts! But we are detained here in a jungle. During rainy days we have to stand, as there is water on the floor. Visitors are only allowed to talk for 15 minutes, then they are chased away. Snake bites are common in this camp. My 27-year-old daughter lost both her legs in Kilinochchi. I have lost my wife. This is an intolerable situation.
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