“Stop! playing games with aid organizations”- Human Rights Watch

The Sri Lankan government should immediately lift its September order barring humanitarian agencies from the Vanni conflict area in northern Sri Lanka so they can assist thousands of persons displaced by flooding from Cyclone Nisha.

Experienced and impartial humanitarian agencies have offered to respond to the crisis, but face government obstruction. Only government-approved food convoys have been allowed to enter the Vanni since the government in September 2008 ordered the United Nations and nearly all humanitarian agencies to withdraw from the Vanni, severely limiting humanitarian access to the affected population. Cyclone Nisha hit northern Sri Lanka on November 25, 2008, causing heavy rains and flooding that reportedly forced between 60,000 and 70,000 people to relocate. Thousands of shelter kits and tarps are available from the humanitarian community to provide emergency shelters for the affected families, but the government has reportedly insisted that only tarps without logos from humanitarian agencies will be allowed into the Vanni. Such unnecessary restrictions on assistance are unacceptable in this time of urgent need. “The Sri Lankan government should stop playing games with aid organizations and let them get on with their life-saving work,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Tens of thousands of people in flooded areas of the Vanni are without adequate shelter and need help now.”

“The LTTE bears a heavy responsibility for the suffering of the civilian population in the Vanni,” said Adams. “By refusing to allow civilians their basic rights to freedom of movement, they have trapped hundreds of thousands of civilians in a dangerous war zone, in horrible conditions.”

Human Rights Watch has previously reported that the Sri Lankan authorities have detained many displaced persons leaving the Vanni, holding them in closely guarded militarized camps near Mannar town. The government claims this is necessary for the safety of the detained civilians themselves, but the families detained in the camps have repeatedly stated their desire to leave; the government’s detention policy violates the rights of these displaced persons to freedom of movement.

“If the humanitarian community can operate in conflict zones like eastern Congo, Somalia, and Iraq, they can operate in the Vanni as well,” said Adams. Human Rights Watch