Wednesday, September 30, 2009

UN envoy Walter Kalin counters government statement

The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin said the restoration of freedom of movement for more than 250,000 internally displaced persons held in closed camps in Northern Sri Lanka is becoming a matter of urgency, and he remains very concerned about the very slow pace of releases.

In a statement today over his recent visit to Sri Lanka, including the IDP camps in Vavuniya, Kaelin said he continued to welcome the Government’s stated intention that 70–80% of the displaced shall be allowed to return by the end of the year and he was impressed by the Government’s massive demining and reconstruction efforts that he witnessed in the Mannar rice bowl.

“It is imperative to immediately take all measures necessary to decongest the overcrowded camps in Northern Sri Lanka with their difficult and risky living conditions. The IDPs should be allowed to leave these camps and return voluntarily and in freedom, safety and dignity to their homes. If this is not possible in the near future, the displaced must be allowed to stay with host families or in open transit sites”, the Representative said.

“This is particularly important as the monsoon season is approaching. The camps, which were set up to respond to an immediate emergency, are not equipped to deal with heavy rains. The expected flooding of low-lying areas in the upcoming weeks is likely to cause serious threats to health and life,” Kaelin added.

The comments countered a government statement released last week which quoted Kalin as expressing his full satisfaction about the facilities provided by the Sri Lankan Government for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) sheltered at the Welfare villages.

The Representative, in his statement yesterday, while appreciating that his interlocutors in the Government shared these goals, called upon the Government to translate its commitments into action without further delay.

“In this context an incident reported by the Sri Lankan Army on 26 September involving the use of firearms to control a group of internally displaced persons trying to move from one camp zone to another that resulted in injuries to two persons raises serious human rights issues. It also underscores how interning people in large and overcrowded camps not built for prolonged stays is in itself a factor detrimental to security,” he said.

According to international law, legitimate and imperative security concerns may justify the internment of civilians during the height of a conflict, but it must not last longer than absolutely necessary to respond to these security concerns. Internment decisions must further be made on an individual rather than a group basis. Those who are not released must be informed about the reasons on an individual basis and be given a genuine opportunity to have this decision reviewed by an independent body.

In light of these standards and the need to properly balance security concerns with the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the Representative urged the Government again to take prompt action.

© Daily Mirror

Related Links:
UNHCR concerned about safety of displaced persons in Sri Lanka - UNHCR
UN Representative discusses with Sri Lankan government - UN Press Release
UN ratchets up criticism of Sri Lankan camps - AFP

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