It is unfortunate that an organization such as Amnesty International should make a highly inaccurate statement on the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) situation in Sri Lanka relying on highly speculative and unsubstantiated information and hearsay. 

Contrary to the perception created in its press statement, in the last four to five weeks alone over 155,000 IDPs from the original 294,000 have been returned to their homes by the Sri Lanka Government with assistance from the UNDP, UNHCR, WFP, IMO and other UN Agencies. It is recalled that these civilians had been taken hostage and used as a human shield by the LTTE terrorist group as it retreated deeper into the North in the last few months of the conflict earlier this year and were eventually rescued by Sri Lanka’s security forces in a daring operation.  They were not civilians simply fleeing a conflict.  The rescued civilians were accommodated in camps, prepared in advance by the Government, where their security was guaranteed and food, shelter, healthcare and other facilities were provided. The return of such a large number of IDPs to their homes in less than 5 months after the end of a 27 year long conflict has been hailed as one of the fastest resettlement programmes in recent history.  Ironically and sadly however, Amnesty International has in its press release on 16th November announced that it has launched a week of action to “highlight the continued detention of thousands of displaced civilians in Sri Lanka”.  We call on AI to be constructive and launch a campaign to raise funds to assist those returning home.

According to UN reports, there are 26 million IDPs around the world.  In Sri Lanka, following the recent resettlement, the total number of IDPs remaining in the camps has been reduced to only 134,000.  Everyday, an average of 1500 IDPs are sent from the camps to their homes.  However, AI, ignoring these developments as well as the proportionately larger IDP issues elsewhere in the world, continues to focus on Sri Lanka in an obvious demonstration of mala fides.  It is unfortunate that such a  reputed international human rights organization has allowed itself to be   manipulated by the remnants of the former LTTE  living abroad to launch an unwarranted campaign of this nature. While concern for those who may be actually suffering is understandable, pretend pain for those who are being cared for by the Government of Sri Lanka is cynical. 

When the Sri Lankan security forces rescued over 294,000 civilians who were then held by the LTTE, a number of LTTE suicide cadres and other activists also came along with the civilians.  Over 12,700 former combatants have been identified among the IDPs so far. The Government housed the IDPs in a secure facility until such time that they could be screened and LTTE cadres separated from the normal civilians.  The security forces continue to unearth hidden caches of weapons in the North.  The UN Guiding Principles on IDPs fully recognizes the right of States to detain IDPs for a temporary period where there are issues of safety and security.  LTTE cadres identified in the screening process are being removed from the main camp and transferred to rehabilitation facilities.  For a country that suffered from the brutality of a vicious terrorist organization for over 27 years, it would be difficult not to take all possible precautions to avoid a recurrence.

Contrary to the false claims of AI, all IDPs have been provided with food at a cost of over US$ 1 million per day, including nutritional supplements for children, schooling facilities for the children, shelter and medical care in the camps. 132 doctors have been assigned to the camps by the Government.  There have been no reports, verified by WHO representatives, of deaths due to starvation or lack of medical care.  There has been no outbreak of any epidemic or other health scare. Those being resettled are being provided with a package which includes building materials for rebuilding their houses, a six month stock of dried food rations and a financial payment.  Resettlement is taking place with the assistance of the UNHCR and UNHCR’s standards for resettlement are being complied with. 

Contrary to their claims, 68 NGOs in addition to the UN Agencies work in the IDP camps and in the resettlement villages and there has been no restriction of access.  The Sri Lankan security forces, NGOs and bilateral donors are involved in the de-mining process (403 sq. km. have to be demined) which is a pre requisite for speedier resettlement in the North.   IDPs, still in the Vavuniya camps, who have been screened are permitted to leave the camps on temporary day passes.

Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
New York. 
20th November, 2009

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