Intervene against threats to
humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka
“We're following CHA very closely and we would take necessary steps to eliminate them if needed………We assure full security to who ever co-operate - if not face the consequences after the deadline.” – an email threat from Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal Party (TMVP), the political party headed by Col. Karuna, on 20 April 2007.
The threat given in the above email to the humanitarian NGOs who are members of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies as well to the UN workers in Eastern Sri Lanka expires on 30 April 2007. The Karuna faction has subsequently denied having sent the emails but no one can afford to take chances. The government of Sri Lanka on its part seeks to simply wash off its hands by treating the Karuna group as an independent entity.
I. Threats to NGOs and UN Agencies
The first threat to the NGOs and UN Agencies working in the Trinocomalee district in eastern Sri Lanka was received on 17 April 2007. It was sent by a group claiming themselves to be the Intelligence Unit of the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal Party. The NGOs were asked to fill up a registration form and submit before 30 April 2007. The email warned that those failing to register won't be allowed to carry out humanitarian work in the war-zones.
This was followed by another threatening email on 20 April 2007. The email stated that they had information that Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) was trying to persuade the other NGOs to ignore the first email. This time the warning was specific: “We're following CHA very closely and we would take necessary steps to eliminate them if needed………We assure full security to who ever co-operate - if not face the consequences after the deadline.”
Given the fact that several aid workers have been already killed by armed groups and the Sri Lankan security forces in Sri Lanka, the two emails allegedly from Karuna group pose serious threats to the security of the humanitarian workers in Sri Lanka. On 31 March 2007, the Consortium of Non-Governmental Organizations in Jaffna which has a membership of more than 47 Jaffna district-based organizations, decided to stop releasing their monthly reports to the media as they have been receiving death threats from unknown persons not to publish the reports.
The NGOs who are constantly under the scanner of the Sri Lankan government have been extremely vulnerable to attacks from the armed opposition groups and the security forces.
On 1 April 2007, six ethnic Sinhalese civilians working on a post-tsunami construction project were shot dead at Mailampaaveli in the eastern district of Batticaloa. They were employed in building an orphanage for survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The deceased were identified as Welage Chandrasiri, T.M. Dhanapala and his 18-year-old son Dhanapala Wijetunga, T. Wijakon, and two brothers L.M. Dayananda Kapporal and Maduranga Kapporal. One Sinhala worker named V. U. Nandanage and two Tamils, Indran Pirapaharan and Maduramuththu Nagarasa were injured in the attack and admitted to Batticaloa hospital. The government blamed the LTTE for the killings but the LTTE denied its involvement and accused the Karuna group to be behind the attack.
In particular, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) has been directly targeted by the government. Not only its account having about US$2 million (euro1.5 million was frozen in September 2006, its activists have been specifically targeted. On 24 March 2007, humanitarian worker of the TRO identified as Muthuraja Aruleswaran was killed and three TRO officials including the Assistant Executive Director Vadivel Ravichandran, International Planning Director Seenithamby Parameswaran, and the Director of Akkarayan Development Organisation, Selvarajah Nixon were wounded in a claymore attack allegedly carried out by a Deep Penetration Unit of the Sri Lanka army at Periyamadu in Mannar district. The victims were returning after monitoring the relief assistance to the displaced civilians following the Sri Lanka Army operation in Mannar Vavuniya border.
Earlier, on 5 January 2007, Sri Lankan Special Task Force personnel and the Police (Criminal Investigation Division) reportedly launched simultaneous raids at the regional offices of the TRO in Trincomalee and Vavuniya, and interrogated its officials and staff. The security forces seized all the documents and picked up four TRO workers identified as Administrative Officer in Vavuniya, Sathiyamoorthy, Programme Officer P. Thevarajah, Accountant Nirosha and Office Assistant Priya from the Vavuniya office. Again on 6 January 2007, Sri Lankan Police (CID) raided the Colombo office of the TRO and reportedly asked for the home addresses of TRO staff of the Colombo office.
The workers of international humanitarian de-mining organization, Halo Trust came under repeated attacks. As of 12 February 2007, 11 Halo Trust workers have been either reported “missing” or killed during the past six months. On 9 February 2007, Nagarasa Narenthiran, an employee of Halo Trust reportedly went missing in Jaffna. Earlier, on 4 January 2007, Halo Trust employee Subramaniam Parameswaran was abducted from his home at Racca Road in Jaffna by unidentified men who came in a while van. On 9 January 2007, C. Rajendran, a driver of Halo Trust went missing in Jaffna.
During 2006, several aid workers were killed. In the worst case of attacks on aid workers, 17 employees of Action Contre La Faim or Action Against Hunger were killed on 5 August 2006 at Muttur town in Trincomalee district allegedly by the Sri Lanka Army soldiers who entered the town in the early morning on the day. The aid workers who were wearing ACF agency T-shirts were lined up and shot dead from very close range. The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission pointed the needle of suspicion towards the security forces.
Apart from killing of 17 workers of Action Contre la Faim, those killed during 2006 include Nagarasa Thavaranjitham of Sri Lanka Red Cross who was killed at his residence in Chettikulam under Vavuniya district on 20 August 2006, P. Jestly Julian, a worker employed by an UN agency UNOPS, who was killed at Munaiyoorkalam in Thambiluvil in Amparai district on 24 August 2006 and Ragunathan Ramalingam of World Concern who was killed by unidentified men in Trincomalee district on 12 September 2006.
II. Protecting the Karuna faction
There is no protection from the Sri Lankan government.
On 6 March 2007, Sri Lanka's Inspector General of Police (IGP), Victor Perera stated that over 400 persons including “ex-soldiers, serving soldiers, police officers and underworld gangs and other organised elements” had been arrested since September 2006 on charges of abduction of civilians. It is an open secret that the security forces and the Karuna group work hand in glove. This has been revealed time again including by Allan Rock, Special Adviser to the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict during his visit to Sri Lanka in November 2006.
The government of Sri Lanka therefore turned its blind eye to the threats posed by the Karuna group and refused to act against the security forces involved in human rights violations. Rather it threatens those who expose the nexus.
On 17 April 2007, Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, allegedly threatened Ms. Champika Liyanarachchi, editor of Daily Mirror, a leading English daily, for the paper's coverage of actions of the Karuna Group. In an article titled “Armed Karuna faction running its writ in Pottuvil” of 16 April 2007, the Daily Mirror had reported, “The Karuna faction is said to be creating havoc in the Muslim-dominated Pottuvil town in Ampara, moving around freely with weapons in government-controlled areas while law enforcement authorities are allegedly turning a blind eye”.
III. UN must act tough
The threats are part of the concerted efforts by the Sri Lankan government to throw out humanitarian organizations and make the lives of the civilians caught in the war untenable.
The United Nations Secretary General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and international community must intervene with the government of Sri Lanka and read the riot act for threatening the humanitarian agencies. International community must bear in mind that it was Sri Lankan Army who were responsible for the killing of aid workers and until today no accountability has been established. It is also ONLY the Sri Lankan government which can prevail over the Karuna faction.
The failure to intervene would be disastrous. While national level workers of humanitarian organisations and UN agencies have been easily targeted, sometimes even the UN officials were targeted. In one particular case of killings of the officials (local and international) of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Rwanda during the genocide, Palais Wilson reportedly debated whether to plant a tree or have a epitaph inside the Palais Wilson in their memory. The issue of disclosing the UN inquiry report into the circumstances of their killings or providing adequate compensation for being killed on duty did not figure adequately.
The thugs in Sri Lanka must not be allowed to repeat the murders of humanitarian workers.
 . Don't make another Darfur: Geneva Talks for Peace in Sri Lanka , ACHR Review, Asian Centre for Human Rights, 25 October 2006, http://www.achrweb.org/Review/2006/138-06.htm