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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State > Switzerland > Swiss Federation of Tamil Associations Appeal to Swiss Government 1998

Switzerland & the Tamil Struggle

Swiss Federation of Tamil Associations
Appeal to Swiss Government
26 October 1998

Mr.Jean Daniel Vigny
Head of the Human Rights Division
Bundeshaus West
Gurtengasse 5, 3000 Bern

Sri Lanka’s Use of Food as a Weapon of War

The Swiss Federation of Tamil Associations submits this Appeal and seeks your compassionate and influential intervention to secure a just resolution of the armed conflict in the island of Sri Lanka - a conflict which has taken an increasingly heavy toll in human lives and human suffering during the past 15 years and more.

Tamil Child in the VanniThe embargo placed by Sri Lanka on the supply of food and medical supplies to the Tamil homeland has created a humanitarian crisis. (photo alongside: a Tamil child in the Vanni, July 1998)

The Asian Human Rights Commission Newsletter reported in its March/April 1998 issue:

"There has been an economic blockade in the Northern Province in Sri Lanka ever since 1990. In 1995 since the resumption of the Eelam war, the government of Sri Lanka has forbidden non governmental organisations (NGOs) from distributing food and, with the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), distributing medicine.

Stringent controls have also been imposed on the ICRC in the medicines they can provide. Thus, the government took upon itself the full responsibility of tile distribution of food and medicine to the war-torn districts of the Vanni (Mullaitivu, Killinochchi and Mannar). Instead of providing for its people, the government has pursued a policy of deprivation. It does not allow any outsiders to visit the area so that this information is not disseminated. It imposes severe controls on the NGOs that are allowed to work there.... Given the situation in the Vanni, we request people concerned with human rights and humanitarian issues to expose this and bring pressure can the government of Sri Lanka to immediately rectify the problems cited"

Three months later, the British Refugee Council reported of further cuts in the supply of food to the Tamil areas:

"REPORTS say that following a meeting between President Chandrika and Essential Services Commissioner (ESC) NA Obadage on 16 June, the government has decided to cut food aid to refugees in the north from 1 July. Food aid will be slashed by 40% in Jaffna, 20% in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts and 15% in Mannar and Vavuniya districts... The food sent in May was also less than 40% of the average monthly delivery in the previous 24 months. Reports also say that the food available is adequate only for 150,000 people, while the displaced in the Vanni are currently estimated at 317,000. Observers say the cuts will worsen the situation and bring further misery on the people." (British Refugee Council Publication, Sri Lanka Monitor, June 1998)

From August 1998, the people in Vanni are demonstrating against this enforced starvation. Even the meagre quantity of food that is sent is contaminated with worms, flies and insects.

From the 9th of September 1998, some Tamils are on a hunger strike in front of the UNHCR office in Kilinochchi, Mallavi and other Vanni areas. Thousands of Tamils in the Vanni are currently engaged in a massive protest against the use of food as a weapon of war. It is now over 50 days since this mass protest which has been ignored by the Sri Lankan regime.

We submit that the government of Sri Lanka is violating their fundamental right to live.

The Sri Lanka Government's attempt to use food as a weapon of war has come under severe criticism from even Mr.Ranil Wickramasinghe, Leader of the Sri Lankan Parliamentary Opposition and the United National Party (UNP) who said that the Government was using food as weapon on civilians living in areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Speaking at a special debate on the plight of civilians in the LTTE controlled regions, Mr Wickramasinghe said "that food and drugs were not being sent in sufficient quantities to those areas".(photo alongside: Displaced Tamils in the Vanni - Source Virakesari,1 November 1998) vanni2.JPG (19213 bytes)

Professor Jordon J Paust (Law Foundation Professor at the University of Houston and Co-chair of the International Criminal Law Interest Group and the American Society of the International Law) in a well researched article (in the Venderbilt Journal of Transactional Law June 1998) entitled "The Human Rights to Food, Medicine and Medical Supplies, and Freedom from Arbitrary and Inhuman Detention and Controls in Sri Lanka,' has pointed out that the denial of food and medicines was a serious war crime. He states:

"Under human rights law, there is a recognised right to adequate and available food......whatever the full contours and permeations of the right to food might be, it is clear that it constitutes a violation of the human rights law to deny adequate food to a given population."

"Moreover, it would be especially unlawful and egregious to deny the right to adequate food as government tactic to control certain persons or as a weapon of war. The most egregious violations include denials of food and medicine or medical supplies, especially for children.…"

"If food is likely to be used by both the general population and enemy combatants, the destruction or denial of food, in circumstances where one can reasonably foresee that the general population will suffer, will necessarily involve the indiscriminate use of food as a weapon."

"[these] denials also violate related prohibitions under the laws of war, and constitute serious war crimes... Fear of food falling into the hands of enemy combatants is not an excuse for denying food to the civilians... starvation even of enemy combatants, seems necessarily inhumane because it involves unnecessary and lingering death and suffering.."(Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law Vol. 31;Number3:May 1998)

According to an AFP report dated 21 August 1998, the government has admitted cutting down the relief supplies to the region under Tamil control but claims this was done after a majority of the refugees returned to their homes in the northern Jaffna peninsula and were resettled in their own villages. They had fled the peninsula when government forces wrested control of the region in early 1996.

This claim is disputed by the Citizens' Committee of Killinochchi district, which has accused the government of "using food as a weapon of war." According to this Committee "the government has, during the last few years, introduced a series of cuts in the relief rations supplied to the displaced Tamils". This is a form of collective punishment on the Tamil people by the Sinhala State" says the committee.

This violence has now reached genocidal proportions and calls for immediate intervention by the international community. As Professor Paust remarks:

"Moreover, if specific intent to commit these types of denials (food and medicine) is shown, the denials can even constitute international crimes of genocide. These international crimes implicate not merely individual responsibility, but also the duty of the government to seek out, arrest, and initiate prosecution or extradition of those reasonably accused of such crimes..." (Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law Vol. 31;Number3:May 1998)

We are impelled to make this direct appeal to you, prompted by the continuing violence against the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

Throughout its war against the Tamil people, the Sri Lankan Government has targeted Tamil civilians in the belief that Tamils may be terrorised into submission.

According to Lutz Oette, winner of the 1996 Cheng Chen Nan Prize at the University of London, "Between 1984 and 1987 thousands of Tamil civilians, in particular young males, but also women and children were killed by various government forces". In fact, Amnesty's reports since the 1980's show that these killings have indeed increased exponentially over the years.

The latest atrocity to come to light in Sri Lanka's "war without witnesses" is the report by Reuters (13 July 1998) of mass graves in Jaffna, the Tamil city under Sri Lankan army occupation since October 1995. These were Tamils whom Amnesty had identified in its April 1997 report as having "disappeared" during 1996. In its November 1997 Report Amnesty had expressed its belief that these young Tamils had been tortured and killed while in Sri Lankan army's custody.

Over the past fifteen years the Sri Lankan Government has been guilty of gross, consistent and continuing violations of the human rights of the Tamil people - violations which have taken under the cloak of a ‘war against terrorism’.

These systematic and continuing violations are carried out with the intent to subjugate and assimilate the Tamil people under alien Sinhala rule within the confines of a unitary Sri Lankan state. We submit that they are clearly genocidal in nature.

Many Non Governmental Organisations have in fact described the situation as "genocidal".

In March 1997, the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, (whose patrons include Noam Chomsky and whose President is Nobel Laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel) appealed to the members of UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) at its 53rd Sessions in March 1997 "to take urgent measures to end the genocidal situation existing in Sri Lanka today".

Likewise in April 1998, 54 International NGO's with consultative status with the UNHCR refereed to the "increasingly genocidal dimension of the war" at the 54th Session of the UNHCR. In September 1997, the Australian Human Rights Foundation, in a press release issued following the murder of a Christian Tamil priest by Sri Lankan troops called it " a war of genocide".

The violence against the Tamil people has taken many forms. It has involved air raids carried out with intent to kill, massacres of political prisoners in custody, reprisal massacres, disappearances and being subject to a massive economic blockade where food and medicine is used as weapons of war.

We give below some examples of the killings which has to-day resulted in over 500,000 Tamils comprising the skilled work force (including teachers and health professionals) fleeing the Island and over 850,000 Tamils becoming "internally displaced". Several thousand Tamils have fled to Tamil Nadu and continue to flee in order to escape the ongoing atrocities. Many do not reach the shores of Tamil Nadu, their boats being subject to attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy. In fact several boatloads of Tamils have simply perished during their attempt to flee.

It ought to be noted that of the 50,000 civilians killed in this war almost 95% are Tamils. This makes the genocidal nature and intent painfully plain.

The examples given below are merely indicative of the violence being visited upon the Tamil civilians. As the death toll shows the actual level of violence is much more. More details will be found in the annexed report

Attacks by air:

An air raid at Suthanthirapuram on 10 June 1998 killed 32 civilians and wounding 52.

Nine civilians were killed on the spot and fifteen were injured when two Sri Lankan Kfir bombers attacked a Catholic Church in Vavunikulam on 15 August 1997.

Sri Lanka used napalm bombs in an aerial attack on the coastal village of Nachikudda in the Mannar district on 16 March 1996 around 4.30am. At least twenty civilians (all of whom were refugees who had fled Jaffna late last year) died in the bombing by Two MI 24 Helicopters. Those killed included six month old Julian Delin and sixty-eight year old Thavasi Velayi . According to an eyewitness the scene of this attack was "like a crematorium" and "the trees that (were) growing there, the huts, fishing equipment and everything else have all been burned down"'

In August 1995, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported how a Tamil Catholic Church in the village of Navaly was bombed, killing at least 65 people on 9 July 1995. (Unconfirmed reports suggest a figure as high as 120 in this instance).

In September, the same year Medicine Sans Frontier(MSF) reported that a school in the Tamil village of Nagar Kovil was bombed by a low- flying Pucara aircraft during the school's lunch hour, killing at least 34 children.

In all instances the bombings were deliberate.

Mass murders of political prisoners in custody:

There have been a number of killings in prison,

In July 1983, 53 Tamil political prisoners were massacred in the maximum security Welikade prison in Colombo. No enquiry has been conducted into the killings up to date. On 12 December 1997, three Tamil detainees, Muthulingam Dharmalingam, Shanmugarajah Sivanesan and Sharif Jehan were hacked to death in front of Ward D in Kalutara prison by a group of Sinhalese criminal prisoners. Up to now those responsible have not been identified and punished.

The most recent case of mass murder of political prisoners in custody is reported by Amnesty International in its November 1997 report. According to this report over 600 Tamils were believed to have been tortured and killed while in custody.

Arbitrary killings and Disappearances

Arbitrary killings and reprisal attacks on civilians are common in the Tamil areas. Acts by Sri Lankan forces characterise unmitigated repression and brutality. Civilians have been compelled by the Sri Lankan army to act as human shields to detect landmines.

In May 1995, the British Refugee Council publication, Sri Lanka Monitor reported "... in Colombo, Kandy and elsewhere in the South, hundreds of Tamils were arbitrarily arrested and tortured. Many 'disappeared' and bodies were found floating in the waterways and lakes near Colombo".

On 11 February 1996, a group of soldiers from the 58th MilePost army camp, accompanied by home guards (Sinhala civilian settlers armed by the Sri Lankan Government) killed 24 villagers at Kumarapuram, Kiliveddy in the Trincomalee district. The massacre (which took place between 5.30pm and 8pm ) is believed to have been in reprisal for the killing of two soldiers by the LTTE earlier when an army patrol was ambushed at a point about one mile north of Kiliveddy.

Given the humanitarian crisis that has arisen , we urge the intervention of the Swiss government to help end this situation and bring succour to the people of Tamil Eelam by:

1. making public its concern for the right to life of the people of Tamil Eelam, and exposing the humanitarian crisis faced by the Tamil people in their homeland;

2. calling upon Sri Lankan Government for the immediate withdrawal of its armed forces from the Tamil areas and end the use of food and medicine as weapons of war;

3. calling upon both the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to move towards a negotiated political solution that allows the Tamil people to realise its right to self-determination; and

4. enabling genuine negotiations for a political solution be commenced with the assistance of a third party acceptable to both the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Thanking you.

Yours faithfully,

Ponrajah Anton,
President, Swiss Federation of Tamil Associations
c/o Vanakkam, Postfach 7908, 6000 Luzern 7SFTA



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