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Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamils and Muslims worst affected in country’s human rights crisis

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Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamils and Muslims worst affected in country’s human rights crisis

Embargoed until 0800 GMT Friday 14th December 2007

One year since the Sri Lankan government promulgated tough anti-terror laws the country’s human rights situation has hit a new low, resulting in serious violations against ethnic Tamil and Muslim minorities, Minority Rights Group International says in a new briefing paper.

“The anti-terrorism laws fed into the deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka that has resulted in hundreds of killings, abductions and disappearances, mostly of ethnic Tamils and some Muslims,” says Mark Lattimer, MRG's Executive Director.

“The last two years have seen the government more vigorously pursue its ‘war on terror’ which has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths and mass displacement of minorities,” he adds.

Since the tough counter-terrorism laws were promulgated in December 2006 large numbers of ethnic Tamils have been arrested and detained on suspicion of links with the Tamil Tigers – the militant group fighting government forces for a separate state in the country’s north and east. Checkpoints have sprung up across the country and the military often conducts large-scale search operations where Tamils face harassment and risk being arrested. On 1 December 2007 following two suicide bomb attacks in the capital Colombo the government arrested over 1000 people.

According to the MRG paper human rights in Sri Lanka reached a crisis point in 2007 with numerous reports of extra-judicial killings, disappearances and abductions. Many such cases go unreported, but according to Sri Lankan human rights groups some 662 people have been killed and 540 people have disappeared between January–August 2007. A vast majority of them are Tamils and some are Muslims.

“It is clear that on every front it is minorities who are facing the brunt of Sri Lanka’s worsening human rights situation. The figures available only represent the reported cases and still the numbers are shocking,” Lattimer says.

The briefing paper also points out the human cost of Sri Lanka’s ‘war on terror’ in 2006–07: at least 3500 civilians were killed and close to 290,000, mostly Tamils and Muslims, were displaced. The government has also been responsible for forcibly returning people to their places of origin and barring thousands of Tamil families from access to their homes by creating special High Security Zones.

“Under the cover of the ‘war on terror’ the state is engaging in human rights violations against Tamils and Muslims that range from illegal arrest to land grabbing,” Lattimer says.

The briefing paper also accuses armed groups such as the Tamil Tigers and their splinter group the Karuna group of perpetrating large scale human right violations against minorities including killings, abductions, disappearance, extortions and the recruitment of child soldiers.

“The gravity of the situation in Sri Lanka cannot be underestimated. It demands urgent international attention. Serious international pressure must be brought to bear, if the violence is to be contained and peace talks are to be put on track,” Lattimer adds.

The paper recommends that Britain, the European Union and the US pressure the Sri Lankan government to accept international human rights monitors. It also calls on the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers to cease violence and return to peace talks.

Notes to the editor

  • The briefing paper can be downloaded at http://www.minorityrights.org/?lid=4583
  • The figures of killings and disappearances are part of a joint report by three Sri Lankan human rights groups The Law and Society Trust, Free Media Movement and the Civil Monitoring Commission.
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • For more information or to arrange an interview with Mark Lattimer or the author of the briefing paper contact:

    Farah Mihlar, MRG Media Officer
    T: +44 207 422 4205
    M: +44 7870596863
    E: farah.mihlar@mrgmail.org 

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