(New York) - On his trip to Sri Lanka, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should highlight the plight of civilians displaced by the fighting that ended Sri Lanka's war, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Ban

Human Rights Watch urged Ban to use his May 23, 2009, trip to Sri Lanka to elicit commitments from the government to ensure the protection of  nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons, including the many wounded still in the battle zone. Ban should also publicly call on the government to prevent future human rights violations by: guaranteeing Sri Lanka's Tamil minority equal treatment under the law; ending the cycle of impunity for serious abuses; and ensuring greater media freedom. Ban should also request the government's cooperation for an international commission of inquiry to investigate serious violations of the laws of war by both Sri Lankan armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the recent fighting. Since January 2009 until the end of the fighting in mid-May, more than 7,000 civilians were killed and many more injured, according to information from the United Nations.

"The end of Sri Lanka's long war provides important opportunities for promoting greater respect for human rights in the country," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Secretary-General Ban's visit provides an important opportunity for publicly raising both his hopes and concerns for a Sri Lanka that respects the rights of all." 

Human Rights Watch said that vital issues for the Sri Lankan government include:   

  • Providing full access for UN and humanitarian agencies to the detention camps for internally displaced persons and to the battle zone to treat the wounded;
  • Stopping all forms of harassment, intimidation and threats against human rights defenders and journalists exposing past or present abuses;
  • Ensuring protections against new violations of human rights against the Tamil population and persons the government may suspect of being LTTE members; and
  • Addressing longstanding concerns in the Tamil community about discrimination and the government's commitment to treat Tamils as full and equal citizens under the law.

Human Rights Watch said Ban should push for the creation of an international commission of inquiry to hold accountable all sides for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that occurred in the context of the recent fighting.