(New York) - The armed opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government are deliberately and indiscriminately targeting attacks on civilians, Human Rights Watch said today. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) bombings in Colombo and a Sri Lankan government aerial bombing of an LTTE radio station this week resulted in more than two dozen civilian deaths.
“Both the Tigers and government forces are brazenly violating the laws of war by targeting civilians or failing to distinguish between civilians and combatants,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These callous attacks only add to the suffering and grief of ordinary Sri Lankans.”
The most deadly attack this week occurred on November 28 at a popular store in a Colombo suburb, when a bombing killed 17 civilians and injured dozens more. Earlier that day, a suicide bombing targeted Social Services Minister Douglas Devananda, head of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), a Tamil party which is part of the ruling coalition, killing two civilians and injuring another three at his government office in Colombo. Devananda was not harmed in the attack.
No one has claimed responsibility for the bombings, but the methods and targets are consistent with past LTTE actions.
The violence in Colombo came one day after the Sri Lankan military bombed the Voice of Tigers, a radio station run by the LTTE near their headquarters in Kilinochchi. The attack reportedly killed eight civilians, including three of the station’s employees.
The government claimed the radio station was a legitimate target. “The employment of civilians at that facility, if indeed there were any, was a choice made by the Tamil Tigers,” said Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.
The laws of war prohibit targeting the media, unless they are serving a specific military function. “In this case, available evidence indicates, and the government has not shown to the contrary, that the Voice of Tigers was a civilian station,” said Adams.
Also on November 27, a Claymore mine killed 11 children and two adults in the Vanni area controlled by the LTTE. Both the government and the LTTE blamed each other for the deaths.
On November 26, two teachers and three students were seriously injured when artillery shells fell into a school compound at Maluvarayankattaiadampan in the Mannar mainland in an area of northern Sri Lanka controlled by the Sri Lankan government. Responsibility for that attack remains unclear.
At a time of escalating fighting in the north, Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that neither the LTTE nor the government security forces are taking all feasible precautions to protect civilians from harm. In addition to the rising civilian death toll, neither side has taken adequate measures to facilitate humanitarian relief to the thousands of people recently forced to flee their homes due to the conflict or otherwise in need of assistance.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, more than 22,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the north since September. Aid workers have been targets of threats and attacks from both sides, prompting fears of an exodus by international humanitarian organizations.
“The intensifying violence and attacks on civilians underlines the urgent need for a United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka,” Adams said.
Human Rights Watch urges both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government to take stronger measures to protect civilians, including to:
- Agree to designate demilitarized zones as sanctuaries in conflict areas and pre-position humanitarian relief in known places of refuge;
- Ensure the protection of displaced persons, regardless of ethnicity, and end forced returns;
- End threats, harassment and violence against nongovernmental organizations and their staff; and,
- Agree to the establishment of a United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Sri Lanka.