AG to file response to FR petition on “internment “camps

[TamilNet, Saturday, 11 July 2009, 22:01 GMT]
Three member Bench of the Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court Friday directed the Attorney General (AG) to file objections within two weeks in respect of granting leave to proceed, and interim relief to the Petitioners, in a Fundament Rights (FR) Violation petition against the detention of nearly three hundred thousand Vanni IDPs in State controlled "welfare centres" which have been described by human rights activists and organizations as "internment camps," legal sources in Colombo said.

The petitioners, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and its Executive Director, Dr.Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, have sought the court in their petition to declare that the Respondents and/or the State have violated the fundamental rights guaranteed to individuals placed in the IDP camps, namely the right to equality and equal protection of the law, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom to engage in any lawful occupation profession, trade, business, or enterprise, as well as freedom of movement, and of choosing residence within Sri Lanka.

The petitioners have cited President Mahinda Rajapakse in his capacity as the Minister of Defence, Defence Ministry Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, Northern Province Competent Authority Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri, Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry Secretary Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Re-settlement and Disaster Relief Services Ministry Secretary U.L.M. Haldeen, and the Attorney General as Respondents.

The FR petition challenging the curtailment of movement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the camps under the purview of the State came up for inquiry Friday before a three- member Bench of the Supreme Court. The Bench comprised Justices N.G.Amaratunge, P.A.Ratnaike and Chandra Ekanayake.

Deputy Solicitor General Shavindra Fernando informed Court that the government is taking all steps to provide facilities for the Internally Displaced Persons. Mr Fernando added that about 5,000 persons on June 13 and 8,600 persons in July 7 have been released from the camps.

Mr. Fernando, with Senior State Counsel Viveka Siriwardane, appeared for the Respondents.

Presidents Counsel K. Kanag Iswaran with M.A. Sumanthiran, Bhavani Fonseka, and Gehan Gunatilake appeared for the Petitioners, the CPA and the Executive Director Mr. Saravanamuttu.

The Petitioners state in the FR suit that those living in the IDP sites in Vavuniyaa, Mannaar, Jaffna and Trincomalee are living in areas which are highly militarized with barbed wire fences surrounding the camps, and that no IDP is allowed to leave the camp without prior approval from the military.

They state that there are families who have been separated at the screening points or en route to the IDP camps, where children have been separated from their parents and siblings, and that due to restrictions families are unable to reunify.

Such separation is an added trauma to those who have witnessed loved ones being killed, houses and property destroyed, and having to flee heavy fighting in search of safety.

They state that there are more than five deaths on a daily basis in the IDP camps due to starvation and malnutrition.

The petitioners further state that special categories of persons remain in camps including around 3,100 government servants, 6,700 persons over the age of 60 years, 780 persons with special needs, including pregnant women, mentally disabled, and persons needing medical treatment, and none of these groups are able to leave the IDP camps due to restrictions of movement imposed in the camps.

Presently 300,000 IDPs are interned in 40 IDP camps in Vavuniya, and other areas where their movement has been severely restricted.

According to international standards enshrined in the International Covenant and Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, IDPs have the right to liberty of movement and the right to move freely in and out of the camps concerned, the petitioners maintain in the FR petition.

The Court then directed the Deputy Solicitor General to file objections of the State, if any, within a period of two weeks in respect of granting leave to proceed and interim relief to the Petitioners fixed the further hearing into the FR petition for August 6, legal sources said.


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