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The Role of the International Community
International policy on Sri Lanka continued to combine public calls for a political solution to the conflict, condemnation of LTTE attacks on noncombatants, and humanitarian efforts to mitigate the worst effects of the war on civilians.

Sri Lanka’s pervasive climate of impunity was a source of concern for both the U.N. Working Group on Disappearances and Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Bacre Waly N’daiye. In March 1998, the U.N. released the report of N’daiye’s 1997 visit to Sri Lanka. The report expressed concern over the government’s failure to bring to justice those responsible for the country’s “almost ubiquitous” extrajudicial killings and noted a troubling disconnection between apparent awareness of human rights issues at the top level of the armed forces and abusive practices on the ground. N’daiye called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, possibly with U.N. assistance; and advocated improvements in security force training and discipline, strengthening the Human Rights Commission, revising emergency regulations to bring them in line with international norms, and establishing mechanisms to combat ethnic discrimination.

The May 1998 concluding observations of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Sri Lanka’s initial report acknowledged the government’s expressed desire and efforts to promote the economic, social and cultural rights of its citizens despite the ongoing conflict but noted that the war had resulted in large-scale internal displacement, hindered efforts to provide essential services, and diverted resources. The committee voiced concern over the lack of progress towards a political settlement, evidence of ongoing discrimination and abuse against minorities, children, and women, threats to the right to shelter, to health, and to an adequate standard of living, and inadequate protection of workers.

The May 1998 visit of Olara Otunnu, U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, brought wide international attention to the plight of children in Sri Lanka’s conflict areas. In reponse to his visit the LTTE pledged not to use children under the age of eighteen in combat or to recruit children under seventeen and to accept a framework to monitor compliance. They also vowed not to restrict the movement of displaced persons or interfere with the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Otunnu urged the government to create a political atmosphere that facilitated relief measures for victims of the conflict. In October, Otunnu expressed disappointment at the LTTE’s apparent breach of its promise, after the military produced twenty-six child soldiers who had allegedly surrendered from the LTTE’s ranks.

Also in May, the U.N. Committee against Torture considered Sri Lanka’s initial report. The committee’s conclusions noted the establishment of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission with regional offices and the positive role of its Supreme Court in granting compensation to torture victims. But it also expressed grave concerns over continued torture and “disappearances,” impunity and the absence, until recently, of effective impartial investigations. While Sri Lanka has acceded to the Convention Against Torture it has not signed the declaration under Article 22 that permits individuals to make complaints to the committee.

In June, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) launched a long-awaited landmine clearing project on the Jaffna peninsula, where U.N. officials estimate ten to fifteen people a month are killed and injured by mines, unexploded mortars and artillery shells. The project got off to a slow start, apparently hindered by government bureaucracy, and in August the U.N. team threatened to cancel the project altogether if they were not allowed to bring crucial radio and communications equipment into the area, which the government apparently feared might be stolen by the LTTE. Sri Lanka has not ratified the international treaty banning landmines, which it opposed for reasons of national security.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced in July that Australia, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom had provided over U.S.$5 million for programs aimed at conflict-affected children and women. Programs to be funded include landmine awareness campaigns, education for conflict resolution, activities for community-based rehabilitation of disabled children, programs dealing with psychosocial trauma, health, nutrition, education, safe water, environment, sanitation, and special programs for single parents and unaccompanied children.

In May, Sri Lanka’s donor countries pledged U.S. $780 million in financial support, but the World Bank expressed concern thatthe prospects for an end to the conflict had not improved. Donors “deplored the growing tragic impact of the war” and called on politicians to set aside differences. In the meantime, aid was directed at improving living conditions in conflict areas, reconstruction and basic human needs.

In Jaffna in late August, Amb. David Tatham of the United Kingdom appealed to expatriate Tamils to return to Jaffna, use their financial resources to help end the war and rebuild the country. He said negotiations towards a political settlement should resumed and that “resources of the Tamil community abroad” would supplement the efforts of the international community. Britain, Germany and the European Union are involved in aid projects in the Jaffna peninsula.

Since the U.S. State Department declared the LTTE a “terrorist” organization in 1997, there appeared to be greater U.S. cooperation in training of security personnel. In August, Sri Lankan and foreign press reported that the United States was providing antiterrorist training to Sri Lankan police. Government officials confirmed that the police training was being conducted by the (Secretary of State’s) Counter Terrorism (SCT) unit. Two groups of thirty-nine officers had reportedly received training at the Louisiana State Police Academy and the

Federal Law Enforcement Training center in Georgia. The training is allegedly designed to improve the Sri Lankan police ability to protect civilian-run installations against bombing.





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