Ban Ki Moon’s Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar returned from Sri Lanka to brief the Security Council yesterday evening on the unfolding humanitarian crisis there. The briefing occurred behind closed doors, but following the meeting Mexican U.N. Ambassador Claude Heller, speaking on behalf of the entire Council, expressed “deep concern” for the plight of civilians caught in the conflict and “strongly condemned” the LTTE for preventing civilians from leaving the conflict zone.
This is pretty timid response. True, the LTTE deserve condemnation for holding civilians as human shields. But so too does the government of Sri Lanka for shelling densly populated areas where these civilians are trapped. Susan Rice, at least, sounded the right notes.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice criticized the Sri Lanka government for not providing full assistance to all civilians who manage to escape the rebel-held zone.
She also suggested that both the Tamil Tigers and the government might be guilty of violating international law.
“The fact that both sides have been shooting at civilians as they leave the safe zone is one gross manifestation of the apparent violation of international humanitarian law,” Rice said.
It is a shame that other members of the Security Council would not endorse these sentiments. Part of the problem is that China and Russia consider this an internal matter to Sri Lanka and are not willing to hold a “formal discussions” about the conflict.
Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders posts a chilling interview with surgeon Paul McMaster from Vavuniya hospital in Sri Lanka.
What is the situation at the hospital now?
We and our Sri Lankan colleagues have been dealing with casualties brought into us over these last few days from the conflict in the north of us. We’ve been seeing very severely wounded patients, the numbers of patients have increased rapidly over the last three or four days, so we’re seeing a stream of badly wounded people being brought into us.
Our hospital has got about 450 beds, and we’ve now got more than 1,700 patients in the hospital-on the floor, in the corridors, and even outside. So the hospital is very close to being overwhelmed.
What conditions are the patients arriving in?
About three-quarters of the injured coming in now have suffered from blast injuries, and the rest are gunshot wounds and mine explosions. We’re seeing who’ve survived on the field and actually reached us. We see abdominal injuries, but many of the chest or head injuries we’re suspecting don’t survive the blasts to get to us.
We are doing a lot of amputations. Many of the lower limbs are severely, severely injured and blown off. So we’re doing emergency amputations and a lot of these patients we’re doing abdominal expirations, or damage to internal organs and the bowel, we’re dealing with chest injuries, draining damaged chests and lungs, and we’re dealing with some head injuries as well, but the majority of the severe head injuries don’t make it to us. Buses that bring these people down, people are dying on those buses, and bodies are being taken off the buses sometimes as well.
Are you seeing many women or children with severe injuries?
We’re seeing a lot of men with severe injuries, but we’re also seeing a lot of women, a lot of children. We’re doing amputations on children, we’re doing abdominal expirations for internal damage as well, in children. And sometimes we’re operating on both the mother and father and a child from the same family that had been wounded in the same explosion or mine. We’re seeing whole families that are wounded sometimes.
We had a young woman of about 19 who is breastfeeding that I had to do a major leg amputation on. I just wonder what the future for her life and child will be. We’re seeing children that have no parents with them. We had a little boy with a blast amputation of his leg, I think he’s about five, and he’s being looked after by his big brother, who’s about seven, and we don’t know where the parents are or whether they’re even alive. But these two little children are in the middle of a very traumatic hospital setting on their own.
Image from Flickr user noanman under a creative commons license. The kid’s got a point.