|Elders Statement on IDP's|
|Thursday, 03 December 2009 09:33|
The “Elders” Statement on IDPs in Sri Lanka -
The Elders Foundation, based in London, has issued an unfortunate statement dated 26.11.2009 containing highly inaccurate and outdated information on the IDP situation in Sri Lanka. It is sad that respected group of eminent Elders, including its Chair Archbishop Tutu, has endorsed such a statement.
Contrary to the perception created in its press statement, the Sri Lanka Government has resettled over 170,000 IDPs from an original displacement of 294,000 with the assistance of the UNHCR, WFP, OCHA and other UN Agencies. In the resettlement process, UNHCR’s standards have been adhered to and access provided to UN Agencies where resettlement is taking place. The UN Under Secretary General Sir John Holmes, during his recent visit, publicly stated that there was no indication that people were being returned involuntarily. IDPs are clearly returning to their home villages and not to “closed camps” as alleged. Returning IDP families are being provided with a package which includes a cash payment of SL Rs. 50,000, food, dry rations sufficient for six months, roofing sheets and building materials as well as tools required for agricultural and farming pursuits. The return of the IDPs has occurred in less than six months of their displacement.
The statement does not acknowledge anywhere, the Sri Lanka Government’s announcement on 19th November ’09 that all IDPs will have full freedom of movement with effect from 1st December ’09. The Elders have ignored the fact that many UN Agencies, including UNHCR, WFP, UNICEF, UNDP, etc. and 68 NGOs have had unimpeded access to all the IDP camps.
Since 17th May ’09, not a single bullet has been fired or a bomb exploded as part of the conflict in any part of Sri Lanka and the armed groups that operated in the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been disarmed. However, the statement overlooks this as well as the rehabilitation of ex-adult and child combatants which is already well under way. UNICEF is playing a vital role in this activity.
The Sri Lanka Government has launched a massive reconstruction programme in the Northern and Eastern Provinces but the statement has failed to acknowledge these positive developments including the opening of major highways linking North and South, resumption of fishing in the Northern seas and the economic resurgence in these areas with the resumption of lost livelihoods by the people in these areas. Schools and clinics are being rehabilitated, roads being restored and electricity is being connected.
According to UN reports, there are 26 million IDPs around the world. In Sri Lanka, following the recent resettlement, the total number of IDPs that remain in the camps is down to about 120,000. Everyday, an average of 2000 IDPs are sent from the camps to their homes. In addition, IDPs now have full freedom of movement. However, the Elders, ignoring all these developments as well as the proportionately larger IDP issues elsewhere in the world has followed Amnesty International in continuing to focus on Sri Lanka in an obvious demonstration of mala fides. It is unfortunate that the group of eminent elders 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 actually suffering is understandable, pretended pain for those who are being cared for by the Government of Sri Lanka is unacceptable.
When the Sri Lankan security forces rescued over 294,000 civilians who were being 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 Govt., therefore, had no choice but to house the IDPs in a secure facility and restrict their freedom of movement until such time that they could be screened and LTTE cadres separated from the normal civilians. 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 have been removed from the main camp and transferred to rehabilitation facilities. For a country that suffered from the brutality of an unrelentingly 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 in the statement of the Elders, all IDPs have been provided with food including nutritional supplements for children, schooling facilities, shelter and medical care in the camps. 132 doctors have been assigned to the camps by the Govt. There has not been a single report, verified by the WHO representatives, of death due to starvation or lack of medical care. The crude death rate in the camps is consistent with the rate in the rest of the country. There has been no outbreak of any epidemic or other health scare. Without relying on substantiated information, the Elders Foundation has relied on hearsay and information purportedly gathered from third parties and there has been no effort made to verify these stories.
We hope the Elders Foundation will have the courage to correct the inaccuracies in its statement and thereby preserve their reputation.