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(Geneva) - The resumption of talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) presents an opportunity for both sides to endorse measures that will ensure greater civilian protection and end the rampant and widespread abuses of human rights in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. Talks between the government and the LTTE are scheduled in Geneva on October 28-29.

In letters sent today to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and to LTTE political head S.P. Tamilselvan, Human Rights Watch expressed its deep concern for the ongoing human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by both sides since the renewal of major hostilities this year.

“The rapid escalation of abuses shows the urgent need for the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to abide by international law, hold accountable those responsible for abuses, and support international human rights monitors on the ground,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Geneva talks present an opportunity for both sides to put such commitments on the table.”

Human Rights Watch called on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, regardless of how the talks in Geneva develop, to institute concrete measures to protect civilians. The government and the LTTE should:

  • 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; and,
  • Agree to the establishment of a United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka, as the extent of abuses and ongoing impunity require an international presence to monitor abuses by all sides.

In the letters, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that 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 a contributing factor to the renewal of major hostilities in July, Human Rights Watch said.

In September, Human Rights Watch issued a report, “Improving Civilian Protection in Sri Lanka,” that described recent abuses implicating government and LTTE forces and made 34 recommendations to improve civilian protection.

“Should the Geneva talks result in negotiations for a long-term settlement, human rights must be an integral component,” said Adams. “But whatever the outcome of those talks, both sides should urgently implement measures to improve the protection of the civilian population.”

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