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Human rights violations in IDP camps after conflict ended

Apr 22, 2011 11:26:43 PM- transcurrents.com

Extracts from report on Sri Lanka by advisory panel appointed by Ban Ki moon

2. Violations in the IDP Camps

(a) Arbitrary detention of IDPs in closed camps

154. Civilians emerging from the conflicts zone were initially housed in a network of 21 IDP sites spread across Jaffna, Mannar, Trincomalee and Vavuniya districts. Most were eventually sent to Menik Farm near Vavuniya, which at its peak, housed around 250,000 IDPs, making it one of the largest IDP sites in the world and one of the largest population centres in Sri Lanka.

155. Menik Farm and other IDP sites were closed camps, guarded by the military and surrounded by barbed wire. Essentially, the entire Vanni IDP population was detained and not allowed to leave. The Government held that the detention of the entire IDP population was necessary until the screening could be completed and the Vanni sufficiently cleared of landmines. Screening continued inside Menik Farm. Paramilitaries from former Tamil militant groups often wearing balaclavas, roamed around, often at night, outside the scrutiny of humanitarian organizations, to select and remove people they claimed had links to the LTTE.

156. At Menik Farm, severe restrictions prevented international organizations from doing protection work or speaking to the IDPs in private. ICRC initially had access to Menik Farm for a short period, but was soon excluded. The restrictions suggest an attempt by the Government to prevent those who came out of the conflict zone from relaying their experiences to international agencies and NGOs. The absence of external and independent monitoring also increased the vulnerability of IDPs to violations in the camp, including exposure of women without male relatives and unaccompanied children to sexual and other forms of violence.

157. Prior to the establishment of Menik Farm, international agencies, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, UNICEF and others, debated amongst themselves about conditioning their provision of humanitarian assistance on the Government’s meeting international standards with regard to the camps. Several communications on the applicable standards were sent to the Sri Lankan Government by agencies, such as UNHCR, and by NGOs. However, when IDPs came out in larger numbers, the international agencies failed to take a common position on the pre-conditions. Many international agencies continued to provide assistance, in spite of the dramatically substandard conditions that prevailed at Menik Farm.

158. The detention of the IDP population lasted for months or in some cases, years. By December 2009, around 149,000 IDPs had been released, with another 135,000 remaining in the camps. By September 2010, the Government said it had released 242,741 IDPs, with 25,795 still waiting to be released.

(b) Inhumane camp conditions

159. While the Government referred to Menik Farm as a "welfare village" for IDPs, it was located in the middle of the jungle, without its own water source. After the large influx of IDPs in April and May 2009, conditions in Menik Farm were far below international standards. These conditions imposed additional unnecessary suffering and humiliation on civilians. New arrivals often had not eaten for days. While many persons suffered from depression, psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, and some IDPs committed suicide. Some died while awaiting passes to get basic medical treatment or died from preventable diseases.

160. Extreme overcrowding in the camps forced some people into unsafe living conditions. Provision for food, water, shelter and sanitation at Menik Farm was highly inadequate to cope with the large numbers of people who arrived in April and May. The shelters consisted of tarpaulins, which became very hot under the blazing sun. People had to wait many hours or sometimes an entire day for food and water. Food was of very poor quality and sometimes was served into bare hands, without plates.

161. Families were often grouped into tents with other families, to whom they were not related. In cases of families headed by women whose husbands were missing or dead, such practice made them vulnerable to abuse by unrelated men living in the same tent. The poor conditions provoked violence by IDPs against other IDPs, including sexual violence and exploitation, particularly considering the high number of women without male relatives and unaccompanied children. Women were not given sufficient privacy, and soldiers infringed on their privacy and dignity by watching them while they used the toilet or bathed. Some women were forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for food, shelter or assistance in camps.

162. While basic conditions at Menik Farm were inhumane, a Western Union (money transfer facility) soon opened, and thousands of people, many of them LTTE with connections among the Diaspora, were able to buy their way out of the camps by bribing the military. Conditions in Menik Farm did improve over time after much protest from the international community and threats from donors to cut off funding.

(c) Torture in detention

163. The CID and TID maintained units inside the camps in Menik Farm and conducted regular interrogations. Other individuals were also detained and interrogated for potential links to the LTTE, including the doctors, the AGA and two United Nations staff members. Some of them were tortured as well. The sounds of beating and screams could be heard from the interrogation tents. The UNHCR recorded at least nine cases of torture in detention. Some detainees were taken away and not returned.

3. Arbitrary detention of suspected LTTE

164. During the screening process, the SLA removed those suspected of being LTTE members to separate detention facilities at Boossa and Omanthai, generally under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or the Emergency Regulations. In many cases the SLA did not provide family members with notification for the detention of their relatives; neither did it identify the criteria by which it was identifying suspected LTTE. According to Government figures provided to the Panel, as of September 2010, a total of 11,696 persons who "initially surrendered… are accounted for and are being processed", although this number cannot be independently verified, as the Government has refused to allow independent oversight by the United Nations, ICRC or the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission. The tally includes people who did not take part in fighting or who were only recruited in the final weeks or days. Among them, according to the Government’s figures, were 594 children. Initially children were housed with the adults, but were registered by UNICEF; later they were moved to separate child rehabilitation centres. However, many of these were in the south of Sri Lanka, which made family visits difficult.

165. Detainees would be questioned in detail about their links with the LTTE. Some would then be transferred to "Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres" (PARCs), under the authority of the Commissioner-General for Rehabilitation. This office, established in 2006 under Emergency Regulations, exercises power to detain a "surrendee" upon order of the Defence Secretary for up to two years, for the purpose of "rehabilitation". The Commissioner-General decides the nature of the rehabilitation in individual cases, and the programme does not comply with international frameworks for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. While it is known to include vocational training (as selected by the Government), official rehabilitation also includes a psychological component where "surrendees" are "reformed". According to the September 2010 figures provided to the Panel by the Government, "approximately 6,500" alleged ex-combatants were undergoing "short term" rehabilitation, "around 3,500" were undergoing term rehabilitation", and "less than 1,500" were identified as "hard core" LTTE and designated for prosecution.

166. The Government submitted documents to the Panel which stated that 5,809 "rehabilitees" had been "reintegrated", that is, released as of 8 February 2011, with a further 4,581 undergoing "rehabilitation" under the authority of the Commissioner-General for Rehabilitation in nine different PARC detention facilities. This suggests 1,306 alleged LTTE suspects are still retained in closed detention facilities for criminal investigation and prosecution.

167. There is virtually no information about the conditions at these separate LTTE "surrendee" sites, due to a deliberate lack of transparency by the Government. The fact that interrogations and investigations as well as "rehabilitation" activities have been ongoing, without any external scrutiny for almost two years, rendered alleged LTTE cadre highly vulnerable to violations such as rape, torture or disappearance, which could be committed with impunity.

G. Other allegations

168. In addition to the credible allegations discussed above, the Panel has been presented with a number of other allegations, about which it was unable to reach a conclusion regarding their credibility. Due to their potentially serious nature, these allegations should also be investigated.

1. Allegations of the use of cluster munitions or white phosphorus

169. There are allegations that the SLA used cluster bomb munitions or white phosphorus or other chemical substances against civilians, particularly around PTK and in the second NFZ. Accounts refer to large explosions, followed by numerous smaller explosions consistent with the sound of a cluster bomb. Some wounds in the various hospitals are alleged to have been caused by cluster munitions or white phosphorus. The Government of Sri Lanka denies the use of these weapons and, instead, accuses the LTTE of using white phosphorus.

2. The "White Flag" incident

170. Various reports have alleged that the political leadership of the LTTE and their dependents were executed when they surrendered to the SLA. In the very final days of the war, the head of the LTTE political wing, Nadesan, and the head of the Tiger Peace Secretariat Pulidevan, were in regular communication with various interlocutors to negotiate surrender. They were reportedly with a group of around 300 civilians. The LTTE political leadership was initially reluctant to agree to an unconditional surrender, but as the SLA closed in on the group in their final hideout, Nadesan and Pulidevan, and possibly Colonel Ramesh, were prepared to surrender unconditionally. This intention was communicated to officials of the United Nations and of the Governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as to representatives of the ICRC and others. It was also conveyed through intermediaries to Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa, former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and senior officers in the SLA.

171. Both President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa provided assurances that their surrender would be accepted. These were conveyed by intermediaries to the LTTE leaders, who were advised to raise a white flag and walk slowly towards the army, following a particular route indicated by Basil Rajapaksa. Requests by the LTTE for a third party to be present at the point of surrender were not granted. Around 6.30 a.m. on 18 May 2009. Nadesan and Pulidevan left their hide-out to walk towards the area held by the 58th Division, accompanied by a large group, including their families. Colonel Ramesh followed behind them, with another group. Shortly afterwards, the BBC and other television stations reported that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been shot dead. Subsequently, the Government gave several different accounts of the incident. While there is little information on the circumstances of their death, the Panel believes that the LTTE leadership intended to surrender.

(The above extracts are from pages 44-48 of the report on Sri Lanka by the advisory panel appointed by UN Secretary -General Ban Ki moon)