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Sri Lanka Disputes Report of 20,000 Dead

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29-30 | AJE, NYT and AI

Calls around the world are growing for an inquiry into the number of civilians who may have been killed in the final stages of the Sri Lankan military’s assault on Tamil Tiger fighters. Both sides have been accused of killing civilians in the conflict. The U.N. says the total number of people killed in the final phase may never be known. Al Jazeera’s Azhar Sukri reports. (2:56):

Sri Lankan government officials have denounced a report by the Times of London on Friday that “more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final throes of the Sri Lankan civil war, most as a result of government shelling.”

The English newspaper’s estimate, which it said was based on an analysis of “aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony,” relied in part on an anonymous United Nations source and what the paper called “confidential United Nations documents.” But Sri Lankan officials heaped scorn on the report and U.N. officials told the New York Times, the Guardian and The BBC that they have no good estimate of the number of civilians killed in the final weeks of fighting and questioned the methodology.

On The Times of London Web site, the newspaper’s foreign editor, Richard Beeston, narrates a video analysis of aerial photographs of the beach where Tamil Tiger separatists made their last stand, surrounded by thousands of civilians. The photographs appear to have been taken after the fighting ceased, and The Times says that they show evidence of shelling and of a large number of graves for both militants and civilians. >>>

Amnesty Int’l: U.N. must publicize civilian casualty figures

The United Nations must immediately publicize its estimate of the number of civilians killed by the two sides in the final weeks of fighting in Sri Lanka, Amnesty International said.

An investigation by the Times newspaper in Britain, drawing on confidential U.N. sources, stated that more than 20,000 civilians were killed in the last few weeks of the conflict, and suggested that most of them were killed as a result of shelling by the Sri Lankan government.

“Amnesty International received consistent testimony indicating that war crimes were committed by both sides in the conflict, and has called for an independent international investigation,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director. “The Times’ report underscores the need for this investigation and the U.N. should do everything it can to determine the truth about the ‘bloodbath’ that occurred in northeast Sri Lanka.”

On Wednesday, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that ignored the plight of more than a quarter of a million displaced Sri Lankans now confined in internment camps by the Sri Lankan military. The resolution failed to call for a fact-finding mission to inquire into allegations of serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by Sri Lankan forces and by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).

Amnesty International continues to receive consistent reports of widespread and serious human rights violations facing the displaced people, including enforced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment, forced recruitment by paramilitary groups and sexual violence.

“The U.N. must address the war crimes and grave human rights violations that have occurred – and could still be occurring – in Sri Lanka,” Sam Zarifi said. “The Human Rights Council’s decision not to call for specific measures to protect Sri Lankans made a mockery of the Council, but it doesn’t mean the end of the international community’s responsibility to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

Despite repeated calls and the gravity of the situation, the Sri Lankan government continues to restrict access to the camps by international humanitarian organizations, including the U.N. and the Red Cross (ICRC).

Amnesty International acknowledges the importance of the role of the international community in supporting the Sri Lankan people through providing humanitarian assistance, including food, shelter, health care and returning home displaced civilians. These efforts, however, also need to be accompanied by specific measures to ensure respect for the full range of the human rights.

“There are many cruel similarities in the suffering of the Palestinian civilians who were trapped in Gaza during the Israeli operation in December and January and the Sri Lankan civilians who were trapped in the so called ‘no-fire zone’,” said Sam Zarifi. “The Human Rights Council established a fact-finding mission which will now look at violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by both sides in Gaza. By not establishing a similar fact-finding mission for Sri Lanka, the Human Rights Council has demonstrated deplorable selectivity and double standards.”

Sri Lanka toll ‘may never be known’

The world may never know the extent of civilian deaths during the final days of the Sri Lankan military’s assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a senior U.N. official has said.

Rejecting a newspaper report claiming that 20,000 civilians had died in the final days of the conflict, John Holmes, the U.N. humanitarian chief, on Friday said the death toll was “unclear”.

“I fear we may [never know], because I don’t know that the government would be prepared to co-operate with any inquiry,” Holmes said.

Reacting to the report in the UK-based Times, he said: “It may be right, it may be wrong, it may be far too high, it may even be too low. But we honestly don’t know. We’ve always said an investigation would be a good idea.”

“That figure [20,000] has no status as far as we’re concerned,” Holmes said. >>>

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Written by Editors

30 May 2009 at 2:51 pm

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