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Anna Neistat - Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Over the last couple of years we have had repeated assertions that Sri Lankan forces attacked hospitals with heavy weaponry. This is taken up in a very strong statement by the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General, which states that “The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery, some of them were hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were well-known to the Government.” It goes on to claim that this is one of the five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the Government of Sri Lanka.

This exercise began in a big way in February 2009 with a report by a Dr Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch to the American Senate. At the time I wrote that the lady – who quoted only me by name in her report, everyone else she cited, good or bad by her standards, being anonymous tried to ‘to substantiate her claim regarding ‘clearly marked hospitals’ with a long list, dating only from December, which was after we had pointed out how careful the government had been in the preceding six months, since TamilNet had alleged hardly any collateral damage.’

It is outrageous therefore that the Panel should talk of systematic shelling of hospitals. Of course I have not read the whole report yet, but the one incident I have seen mentioned, that 16 patients were killed at Putumattalan hospital on February 09 because of falling shells, is exactly as was reported by Tamilnet two days later. Surprisingly, having failed to mention this incident on the 9th or 10th, they then cited an ICRC report on the 11th.  The US report simply said the ‘A source reported that the makeshift hospital was hit by shelling, killing 16 patients.

SL Army medical clinic in Gurunagar (Jaffna)

The next time that Tamilnet reported shelling with regard to the hospital, it was ‘targeting the environs of Maa’ththa’lan makeshift hospital’. This was on March 3rd, and the US also duly reports ‘shelling in the area of the Mattalan hospital’. On the next two days again there was firing in the vicinity of the hospital, and then we get shells hitting the area ‘close to the makeshift-hospital’, causing injuries to four already wounded patients on March 13th. It is almost two weeks later that Tamilnet next mentions the hospital, though the US report cites HRW for the hospital being hit by a shell on March 16th, killing two people.

The March 26th attack on the hospital alleged by Tamilnet is not mentioned by the US report, which instead mentioned that one of the entrances to the hospital was hit, and a child was killed by a shell which landed 10 metres in front of the hospital. The Panel however states baldly that RPGs were fired at the hospital around 27 March killing several civilians. In addition to civilian casualties, the operating theatre, makeshift ward and roof all sustained damage’. Tamilnet, which had put the number of deaths at five, all patients ‘who were being treated at the Intensive Care Unit’, dwells rather on the fact that the attackalso destroyed part of the medicines recently brought to the hospital’. The Panel does not refer to this, perhaps because it would take away from its claim that ‘The Government also systematically deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies’. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2011
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