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S.P. Tamilselvan
LTTE Political Wing
Sri Lanka

Dear Mr. Tamilselvan,

We are writing to express our hopes and concerns for the talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) scheduled for October 28-29 in Geneva.

Human Rights Watch is deeply troubled by the ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict. Since the renewal of major hostilities this year, civilians of all ethnic and religious groups have suffered. We believe that the resumption of dialogue presents an opportunity for both the government and the LTTE to adopt measures that will ensure greater civilian protection and bring to an end the rampant and widespread abuses of human rights that have occurred.

In our September report “Improving Civilian Protection in Sri Lanka,” Human Rights Watch described recent abuses implicating government and LTTE forces and made 34 recommendations to improve civilian protection. Since then, Human Rights Watch researchers have documented continuing serious abuses by both sides, including the killing of civilians, “disappearances,” and the blockage of humanitarian aid.

The LTTE, government security forces and armed groups linked to the government have been implicated in daily abductions and killings in towns in the North and East, and in Colombo. Recent attacks by the LTTE have targeted civilians or used so-called perfidious methods of warfare, as in the suicide bombing in Habarana this month. Government forces have conducted aerial bombings and shellings that appeared indiscriminate.

Abductions of children by armed groups are escalating. The LTTE continues to recruit children in areas it controls for use in its forces. The Karuna group, responsible for the abduction of more than 130 boys in Batticaloa district since June, is also reportedly abducting children in Trincomalee and Ampara districts.

These ongoing abuses underline the need for the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government to commit at the upcoming talks to abide by international human rights and humanitarian law, hold accountable those responsible for abuses, and support an international human rights monitoring mission.

Human Rights Watch calls on both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, regardless of how the talks in Geneva develop, to urgently institute concrete measures to protect civilians and promote respect for human rights, including:

  • Designate demilitarized zones as sanctuaries in conflict areas and pre-position humanitarian relief in known places of refuge.
  • Improve humanitarian access to populations at risk, including by ending unnecessary restrictions on humanitarian agencies.
  • Whenever possible, provide effective advance warning of military operations, both broadly through loudspeakers, radio announcements or leaflets, and directly through messages to community leaders.
  • Appoint local civilian liaison officers who are known and accessible to local communities and have sufficient rank to ensure that community concerns are heeded.
  • Agree to the establishment of a United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka. The extent of abuses and ongoing impunity require an international presence to monitor abuses on all sides.

Should the upcoming talks result in negotiations for a long-term settlement, Human Rights Watch urges that human rights be an integral component. Any future agreement should include the active participation of all affected minority communities, fully address human rights as well as political concerns, and adopt mechanisms to promote and protect human rights. Both sides should build on the efforts made by Ian Martin, the human rights advisor to the earlier peace talks.

As Human Rights Watch has noted previously, the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement and the resulting Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission gave inadequate attention to human rights issues. Large-scale hostilities largely ceased from 2002 until mid-2006, but serious rights abuses, including numerous killings and abductions, continued. The failure to fully incorporate human rights concerns into the ceasefire process was undoubtedly a contributing factor to the renewal of major hostilities in April.

Human Rights Watch welcomes the upcoming talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. Whatever the outcome of those talks, both sides can implement measures to significantly improve the protection of the civilian population. Should you so desire, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss these measures with you.


Brad Adams
Asia Division Director

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