[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for: 09 August 2006
Review: 127/06

Muttur and Qana massacres:
Need for a balanced response from UN and its OHCHR

I. Muttur massacre of Sri Lanka: 

Over 800 people are estimated to have been killed in Sri Lanka in low-level fighting in recent months. With international community showing little interest to arrest escalation of the conflict and India being reluctant to play a more pro-active role, Sri Lanka is all set to plunge into a full scale civil war.  The violations of the Geneva Conventions have already become blatant.

On 5 August 2006, 17 workers from French NGO, Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger, ACF) were shot dead at Muttur town allegedly by the Sri Lanka Army soldiers who entered the town in the early morning on that day. The aid workers wearing ACF agency T-shirts were reportedly trapped inside their Muttur branch office residence located close to Muttur Cultural Centre. The bodies were all face downwards on the front lawn of the ACF office, seemingly lined up and shot at very close range.

"The bodies [of Muttur massacre victims] were all face downwards on the front lawn [of ACF office], seemingly lined up and shot at very close range. The sight was too much to handle," said a Fact Finding Mission of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies that visited Muttur town 6 August 2006.

Bodies of 15 of the slain aid workers were recovered at the front lawn of the ACF office. Bodies of two others were recovered in a car that suggests that they have apparently been killed while trying to flee the scene of the attack. The two were obviously killed in an attempt to destroy evidence. Out of 17 killed, 16 were Tamils while one was Muslim. Four of the slain were women.

The targeting of aid workers belonging to the Tamil minorities allegedly by the Sri Lankan soldiers exposes one of the main reasons of the failure of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission. The Sri Lankan authorities and the mainstream Sinhalese political parties perceive the humanitarian agencies as pro-LTTE. The international monitors have often been criticised as partial.

II. Qana massacre of Lebanon

Nearly 1,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the Israeli attacks on Lebanon following the kidnapping of two Isreali soldiers by the Hezbollah militias. More than 100 Israelis, most of them soldiers, have also been killed.

While Hezbollahs have been undoubtedly responsible for the continued attacks on the Iasraeli targets including civilians, the disproportionate use of force especially against the civilians in Lebanon by the Israeli forces has been crystal clear.  The disprporationate use of force including the massacre of civilians in Qana, South Lebanon on 30 July 2006 in which over 50 persons including many children were killed by the Israeli soldiers constitutes blatant violations of the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute on International Criminal Court. These are war crimes. It is another matter that relevant international bodies may not declare so.

III. Response of the UN and its bodies on the conflict in Lebanon

International community was shocked by the images of the Qana massacre on 30 July 2006. The United Nations bodies have been seized of the conflict in Lebanon.

On 31 July 2006, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour condemned “killing of dozens of civilians, among whom a very high proportion were children, resulting from the shelling by the Israeli Forces of a residential building in which civilians were sheltering in Qana, South Lebanon.”

On 3 August 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination held a general debate on the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, which was organized in response to concerns voiced by Experts at the first meeting of the Committee's ongoing sixty-ninth session in Geneva.  Several Experts of the CERD Committee felt that “the Committee did not have an obvious mandate on this particular matter, but wished nevertheless to record their condemnation of the killing of civilians and to issue a statement in solidarity with the victims of the conflict”.

The independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council planned an investigative mission to Lebanon. However, on 7 August 2006, the visit of a team of senior UN representatives on human rights issues i.e. the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Paul Hunt; and the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, Miloon Kothari had to be postponed because of the deteriorating security situations.

On 7 August 2006, the Group of the Arab States and Organisation of Islamic countries at the UN Human Rights Council also placed a request to convene a Special Session of the Human Rights Council to “consider and take action on gross human rights violations by Israel in Lebanon, including the Qana massacre, country wide targeting of innocent civilians and destruction of vital civilian infrastructure”. The proposal is supported by Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Senegal, Pakistan, China, Russian Federation, Cuba, South Africa and Azerbaijan. The Human Rights Council is scheduled to hold its Second Special Session on Lebanon on 11 August 2006.

As we upload this issue of ACHR WEEKLY REVIEW, the United Nations Security Council is considering a draft resolution aimed at ending the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.              

IV. The lack of response of the UN on the Muttur massacre

There is no difference between the Qana massacre and Muttur massacre. The aid workers of the Action Contre la Faim have been targeted because of their Tamil ethnic origin, an act of worst form of racism. The workers of ACF were civilians and were only providing humanitarian assistance to those who have been affected by the conflict.

Three days have passed since the Muttur massacre took place but unfortunately there has not been any public statement from the UN Bodies including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and concerned UN Special Rapporteurs on the massacre of the ACF workers.

While Sri Lankan government has promised an independent investigation, its investigations into previous massacres of the ethnic Tamil minorities do not evoke any confidence.

Asian Centre for Human Rights calls for interventions from the UN Human Rights Council and its various mechanisms and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights into the Muttur massacre. An international inquiry into the Muttur massacre is crucial to uphold accountability for such gross violations of the Geneva Conventions.

The escalating conflict in Sri Lanka too deserves attention of the UN and incidents such as the Muttur massacre deserve condemnation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and must be investigated by the relevant UN mechanisms. The failure to condemn make the parties in conflict believe that they are not even governed by the laws of war.

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