Association of Humanitarian Lawyers




                                                                                    2 August 2007


Mr. John Holmes

Under- Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs



Re: Situation of Tamil civilian population

in Sri Lanka




            International Educational Development (IED, a non-governmental organization on the Roster, Secretary-Generals list)) and our sister organization the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers (AHL) are extremely pleased that you plan an on-site visit to Sri Lanka from 6 – 9 August to assess the situation of the victims of both the Tsunami and the armed conflict.


AHL has worked to improve the situation of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka since the 1983 anti-Tamil massacres, with IED joining in shortly thereafter. In January 2007 we wrote to your office just prior to your appointment because of our alarm at how serious the situation was in Sri Lanka, especially in the Tamil areas, and that in our view, the situation was genocidal. We have attached that letter to this one. Since we wrote that letter, the situation of especially the Tamil people has worsened.


            We have reviewed with interest the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) for 2007, but regret that, as the report indicates, most of the programmes proposed have either been halted or disrupted due to the armed conflict and general insecurity in the Tamil areas. Regarding food security addressed on page five of the plan, we think it important to point out that an additional factor in food insecurity is that much of the Tamils traditional agricultural land has been taken out of production due to the ever-enlarging ?High Security Zones? imposed by the government of Sri Lanka. Continued blockades of land access into the Tamil areas, along with the other impositions on farming and fishing are elements of the use by the Sri Lankan authorities of using food as a weapon of war, a violation of humanitarian law and an element of the crime of extermination in the International Criminal Court. Regarding humanitarian access and priorities for children affected by the conflict discussed on page six, we consider that access to adequate food, water, shelter, clothing and schools are the most important.


            The report discusses ?uncleared areas? in Trincomalee and Batticaloa by which we hope you mean areas uncleared of land mines or unexploded ordinance. If this expression refers to the Tamil people or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, we most strongly suggest that you delete this language from this report and any other reports or statements issued by your office. As all are aware, there is an armed conflict in Sri Lanka. If the conflict is in the defense of the right to self-determination (we think it is, as the Tamil claim is exceptionally strong in this regard) then the international community, including all organs of the United Nations, must side with those with the right. If the armed conflict is a civil war, than the international community must be neutral, because a civil war is an internal affair of a State. We find the expression ?uncleared? if referring to Tamils as likely to encourage further ethnic cleansing, and could be read to imply that the UN, which must be a neutral body, sides with the government in this armed conflict that, in our view, has genocidal aspects.


            We further suggest stronger invocation of humanitarian law as a whole in the report and in proposed projects. In this regard, we note the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees makes reference to humanitarian law in relation to access to the conflict areas and emergency shelter needs. (CHAP at 34). Other projects, such as those to strengthen human rights monitoring (CHAP at 28-29) should include training in humanitarian law and the rights of civilians as well as all sick and wounded combatants to humanitarian relief.


            We consider it essential that you visit the conflict areas, including the territory under the control of the LTTE. Of course, we are aware that several Sinhala administrations have denied access to former Secretary-General Annan, former President Clinton, UN Special Rapportuers and investigators, and a number of other prominent persons who have sought such visits both in relation to the Tsunami and the armed conflict. We encourage you to insist that you be allowed to visit these areas. While the International Committee of the Red Cross and a very few others are allowed some access, we note that the ICRC has a mandate of confidentiality, and therefore only rarely speaks out about violations of the Geneva Conventions and the laws and customs of war in general. [1] The ?Eminent Persons Group? is denied access to these areas, and indeed has their mandate so severely restricted that it has almost no real value.


            We are also aware that any slightest expression of sympathy for the Tamil victims of the armed conflict or the Tsunami that you may make will result in harsh words from the Si Lankan authorities and certain political parties in Sri Lanka such as the JVP and the JHU. However, we expect that you will not be driven into a corner by the authorities and will insist on both accurate treatment of the armed conflict as an armed conflict, and that urgent actions be undertaken to alleviate the extreme suffering of the victims, largely Tamil, of the war and Tsunami


            There are a number of fine compilations of the laws and customs of war that you might find useful. Our organizations usually refer to the manual prepared by the Office of the Judge Advocate General of Canada[2] but the government of the United Kingdom has also issued a superb manual. [3]


            We hope your visit is as free and unfettered as possible and that it leads to an immediate improvement in the lives of all those affected by the Tsunami and the armed conflict. Please feel free to contact us at any time in regards to these or other matters.



            Thank you for your kind attention to this matter,


            Yours truly,



            Karen Parker, JD

            Chief UN delegate, IED

            President, AHL




[1] Our organizations focus on humanitarian law precisely because the ICRC does not speak out publicly about violations, and undertakes no legal actions on behalf of victims. We undertake legal actions in national and international forums, and also speak out against violations of humanitarian law and against the corruption of humanitarian law, in part, as a result of the ?war? on ?terrorism? and geopolitical interests ( such as exist regarding Sri Lanka?s Tamil areas) that impair efforts to resolve conflicts..

[2] Canada, Office of the Judge Advocate General, The Law of Armed Conflict at the Operational and Tactical Level (2004).

[3] United Kingdom, Ministry of Defense, The Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict (2005).