Colombo, Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Media and Communications, Peace and Conflict

An “unpatriotic” appeal for a UN mechanism to protect civilians

These are difficult times for all.

The GoSL is fighting a humanitarian war to liberate innocent civilians from the scourge of man-eating Tigers and claims that the safety and welfare of these “innocent civilians” is foremost in its agenda. The UN claims that the GoSL is cooperating with it, and vice versa. (Atleast that’s what it seems to some of us, as the majority are deafened by the roar of Lions and unable to hear anything else but the roaring)

INGOs are being approached by the GoSL to help with the problem of vast numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs). However, to quote a helpless INGO worker, “this is a Catch22 – total loose-loose situation…. Us humanitarian organisations have been put up for a huge dilemma; do we support the IDPs coming out from Vanni on the GoSL’s terms, or let them go without support? Do we let ourselves be co-opted, or let the IDPs suffer more?”

Report after report speaks of “liberated” people tucked away safely in camps, unable to leave and settle in a place of their choosing, or reunite with their loved ones. Visitors have to be given special clearance by the MoD to visit them. Those unwittingly involved in this mini-drama claim that even food, clothing, medicines and other essentials which have been collected for these people are not allowed to reach them, as they are denied MoD clearance.

To quote an activist, “From the information we are getting, this is an accurate situation, but NO ONE is willing to go on record today.”

A journalist warns of “possible repercussions (of commenting on the situation). “Understand that there are people on the ground working with the authorities to get the best possible deal for the IDPs, under very trying circumstances. Most of the security personnel on the ground have been accommodating and are bending the rules in order to accommodate help coming from outside. Remember that they too are working according to the orders of the country’s highest authorities” he cautions.

“The situation is far from ideal. But emotional, irresponsible and one-sided articles (like the one by ‘Sri Lankan diary’ in Groundviews) can make the ground situation worse…. if the IDPs are foremost in our mind then we must first understand that for better or worse they are under military control now – and we don’t want to make things worse for them by antagonizing the military…”

But given that it is human beings and not wildlife that is involved in this issue, emotions cannot be put aside so easily. As one INGO worker laments, “it is awful to be aware of the ongoing slaughter, and not be able to do anything to stop it…. In my dreams I hope for an international intervention, but that is not going to happen”.

So in these trying times, we, the people of Sri Lanka, continue our “unpatriotic” appeal for a UN mechanism to provide security for the survivors of this humanitarian war. At the risk of being accused of crying “wolf!” too often, we reiterate what those trapped in their dilemma are afraid to voice – “we do not think it would be wise to leave the protection of the civilians to the authorities!”

Will anyone heed the cry?