Activists and supporters of Amnesty International will launch a week of action on Monday highlighting the continued detention of thousands of displaced civilians in government camps in Sri Lanka.
Activists in more than 10 countries will take action as part of the Unlock the Camps campaign. Events include a ‘Circle of Hope’ in Canada, a street march and signature campaign in Nepal, a poetry reading in Switzerland and solidarity actions in France, Germany, Mauritius and the United States.
Throughout the week, Amnesty International activists based in London and participating sections will write blogs about the events taking place across the world..
Six months after the end of the war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka continues to confine people who fled fighting in the north to closed displacement camps in uncomfortable and sometimes hazardous conditions.
Releases from the camps have increased in recent weeks. However, camp shelters have deteriorated as Sri Lanka has entered the rainy season, with funds for shelter repair running out.
This week John Holmes, lead advisor on humanitarian affairs to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, travels to Sri Lanka to assess the situation of the people in the camps.
Around 150,000 displaced people living in government camps in northern Sri Lanka are still being denied their basic human rights including freedom of movement. The military control whether the displaced can leave camp premises – even to seek medical care – and they are denied basic legal protections.
The government has widely publicised recent releases but Amnesty International has received reports that many people have been held by local authorities to determine whether they had links to the LTTE.
Displaced people have been given no voice in decisions regarding their release, return or resettlement.
Families have received no warning about impending releases or been informed of conditions in their former homes. They have not been given clear information about their rights and obligations, legal status or procedures for tracing family members.
Humanitarian organizations have been prevented from talking to displaced people in the camps, obstructing their ability to conduct crucial human rights work such as providing legal aid or assisting with family reunification. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not had access to the camps since July.
Since the war ended in May 2009, many thousands of people detained in camps have been subjected to ‘screening’ by the security forces in an attempt to root out LTTE members.
An estimated 12,000 people (including children) suspected of links to the LTTE have been arrested, separated from the general displaced population and detained by the authorities in irregular detention facilities, such as vacated school buildings.
Amnesty International has received repeated, credible reports from humanitarian workers about the lack of transparency and accountability in the screening process, which is conducted outside of any legal framework. There are also increased dangers to detainees when they are held incommunicado.
While screening is appropriate to ensure that LTTE combatants are not housed with the general camp population, proper procedures should be followed and the screening process must not be used as an excuse for collective punishment.
Independent monitors (including the ICRC) continue to be denied access to sites housing adult LTTE suspects. Detainees have not been charged with any offence, and have been denied legal counsel and due process. Many are held incommunicado.
Amnesty International has called on the Sri Lankan government to respect and protect the human rights of displaced people, including the rights to liberty and freedom of movement.