A troubling new report from Human Rights Watch suggests that civilians fleeing fighting between Tamil separatists and the Sri Lankan army are being warehoused in government run “welfare centers” that are “just badly disguised prisons.”
They face severe shortages of food and other essentials because of government restrictions on humanitarian assistance. Individuals and families who have managed to flee areas controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been detained in poor conditions in army-controlled camps.
“Hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in a war zone with limited aid because the government ordered the UN and other aid workers out,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “To add insult to injury, people who manage to flee the fighting end up being held indefinitely in army-run prison camps.”
International humanitarian law is very clear on how to treat civilians in internal armed conflict. Yesterday, in a letter to the Sri Lankan government Walter Kalin, the Secretary-General’s Representative for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) voiced his concerns.
“IDPs, who are civilians and who retain their right to freedom of movement, must not be detained in camps…Only the most limited and narrow exception would be allowed for a temporary relocation or restriction of civilians, and only then for imperative military reasons or when safety of the civilians so requires.”
The point is, this wreaks of arbitrary detention. IDPs should not be treated as POWs.
On a related note, here is a video (via Witness) on the plight of war-affected Tamil youths.