The Plight Of Tamil POWs

By Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran

On the 12th of October, nearly 200 Tamil prisoners held in Sri Lanka began a hunger strike calling for their immediate release. It was reported that three of them had been hospitalized because of their deteriorating condition. Following that, the Sri Lankan government gave the hunger strikers an assurance that it would resolve the issue of their continued detention before the 7th of November. The Tamil prisoners suspended their hunger strike relying on this assurance but stated they would resume their fast if they remain detained after November 7th. It was reported that the Sri Lankan government was considering releasing 32 persons on bail before November 9th and another group of 30 persons before November 28th. The Tamil prisoners saying that the above was not satisfactory have now resumed their hunger strike. Most of the 200 Tamils detained for over six years have never been formally charged with any crime.

The continued indeterminate detention of these prisoners constitutes continuing serious breaches of international law. As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Honorable Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, stated in the Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) submitted to the Human Rights Council during its 30th Session in September, the legal framework of the conflict in Sri Lanka and its aftermath is governed by international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. Sri Lanka’s assertion that the continued detention of these prisoners is lawful as part of a “rehabilitation program,” and/or “amnesty discourse” is an affront to international law, the international community and the inherent dignity of the detainees and their families.

All of the Tamil prisoners have been held because of their alleged involvement in the country’s armed conflict; a conflict that ended on May 18, 2009. The TGTE demands that the government of Sri Lanka fulfill its obligations under international law and immediately release all Tamil prisoners currently being held.

The TGTE calls upon the government of Sri Lanka and the international community to:

  • Publicly recognize these detainees as persons protected by international law. Their continued detention without any end in sight is a serious breach of the Geneva conventions and customary international law.
  • Publicly recognize these detainees as prisoners of war.
  • Ensure that the continuing serious violation of their rights under international law immediately ceases and those responsible for their continued unlawful detention be held accountable.

The TGTE calls upon the Norwegian government, which has previously acted as a facilitator during the conflict, and the Co-Chairs of the Ceasefire Agreement, namely the US, UK, EU, and Japan and India, to intervene and urge Sri Lanka to meet its obligations under international law. Finally, the TGTE calls upon the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to use his good offices to effect the immediate release of those held in violation of international law.

The TGTE expresses its solidarity to the moral struggle undertaken by the Tamil prisoners and to the planned hartal and other forms of non violent struggle taken up by our breathern in our homeland.

The TGTE while calling upon the international civil society to take necessary action to bring this to the attention of the international community, is organizing a hunger strike in the United Kingdom.
The thirst of Tamils is Tamil Eelam.