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UN Security Council must act to save civilians in Sri Lanka

Amnesty International urged the UN Security Council to take action after at least 35 people were reported to have been killed in northern Sri Lanka in an attack on a hospital. The organization has demanded that the Sri Lankan authorities allow international monitors and humanitarian agencies access to the country's troubled areas – including the "Safe Zone", who can assess the situation first hand and help ensure that the humanitarian and human rights crisis is addressed. In a letter to members of the UN Security Council, Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan said: "The Council must convene without any further delay to discuss the latest disturbing developments and immediately require that attacks on civilians by the Sri Lankan army or the LTTE be stopped; that the LTTE allow all civilians to leave the conflict area; and that the Sri Lankan government provide immediate access to international monitors and humanitarian agencies." Wednesday's shelling comes less than 24 hours after at least 49 people died and more than 50 were injured in an attack on the same hospital. Within the last few days, the situation in Sri Lanka has worsened, with 400 people – including more than 100 children – killed at the weekend, something the UN described as a “bloodbath." “Both the Tigers and Sri-Lankan military have been violating the laws of war,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director. "Over the last several months, according to witnesses, the Tamil Tigers have used civilians trapped in the conflict zone as human shields against government forces and when they have tried to flee, they have been attacked by the Tigers.   "Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan military has used heavy artillery, which is indiscriminate when used in densely populated areas, causing civilian deaths and injuries.”   There are grounds to fear that the Sri Lankan military will launch an even heavier military offensive, when general elections end in neighbouring India today. India’s regional Tamil political parties have made protection of civilians in Sri Lanka a key election issue. In its letter to Security Council members, Amnesty International also calls for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations of international law. “The Council must recall, in unambiguous terms, that alleged perpetrators of grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes, must be held individually responsible under international law," said Irene Khan.