Sri Lanka: Women Against War on International Women's Day

WLUML Networkers
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development issue a statement: Stop human rights abuse of women, and uphold gender equality and non-discrimination.
"We are deeply concerned of the gravity of humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, particularly in the north of Sri Lanka which has been reported on by the local and international media, civil society organisations, International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN including by the Secretary general and his senior Humanitarian officer Sir John Holmes despite the denial and control of access of media to the conflict zones by the Sri Lankan government.
"According to the Human Rights Watch, over the past two months, more than 2,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict and thousands more injured, and currently some 150,000 civilians are at grave risk from fighting and aid shortages in the northeast Sri Lanka. Many are dying because of lack of food and medicine, as reported by the UN.

"Those who have been displaced by the conflict are experiencing violence and human rights abuses on a daily basis. Their fundamental human rights such as right to life are severely curtailed because of restricted movement, denial of humanitarian assistance, lack of adequate food, water, sanitary conditions, medical care, etc. by the Sri Lankan government.

"We are particularly concerned of the violence perpetrated against women, violation of human rights of women, and discrimination against women in the crisis situation in Sri Lanka. Two recent reports from Batticaloa in the east of the island about the sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl by members of the security forces as well as of the murder of a woman by unidentified persons point to the severity of the insecurity faced by women in the context of the conflict.

"UN Security Council Resolution 1325 acknowledges that “civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict including as refugee and internally displaced persons, and increasingly are targeted by combatants and armed elements”. In Sri Lanka, the conflict has not only exacerbated violence against women but has also disabled mechanisms through which women victims and survivors of violence can seek justice and redress. Internally displaced women and girls are at specific risk without protection mechanisms and access to support. Women human rights defenders, women engaged in the provision of humanitarian aid, women journalists and social workers are particularly at risk in conflict situation. Not only are women targeted for violence and sexual abuse, but also disproportionately affected in gender-specific ways in conflict situation.

"CEDAW General Recommendation 19 makes clear that gender-based violence which impairs or nullifies “the right to equal protection according to humanitarian norms in time of international or internal armed conflict” is prohibited by the Convention which has been ratified by the government of Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka is also bound by many other human rights obligations under other human rights treaties that it has also ratified.

"Paragraph 131 of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) on women and armed conflict condemns gross violation of human rights in armed conflict including rape and systematic rape of women, creating a mass exodus of refugees and displaced persons, and states that perpetrators of such crimes must be punished.

"The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which set out the humanitarian standards for providing assistance and protection to internally displaced persons, explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in the application of all of the Guiding Principles.

"The prolonged war in Sri Lanka has also violated fundamental human rights of people in other parts, including the east of Sri Lanka. The collapse of democratic institutions, restrictions on the freedom of speech and opinion, widespread torture, arbitrary detention and failure of law enforcement agencies to actively investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations.

"Curtailment of social services provided by the Government has had impact on women and men in rural areas. It is reported by National Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO), Sri Lanka that women and men engaging with small-scale fisheries lost their property and income due to restriction of fishing areas and safety zones, armed groups snatching the catch of fisher women and men, increased check points affecting the smooth transportation of fish, increasing costs of living such as oil and food.

"Lack of commitment to implementation of policies to improve gender equality negatively affects women in terms of accessing to education, employment opportunities, social security entitlement, etc. On top of those disadvantages women have shouldered additional roles and responsibilities to cope with the deteriorating living condition by taking care of sick or injured family members, taking informal waged work to cover additional expenses, etc.

"A woman in Trincomalee is struggling for her life and her three children by herself after losing her husband on the sea allegedly killed by the navy. She sells hoppers and pittu for people’s breakfast. Widening high security zone reaching to the forest near her community does not allow her any more to collect fire wood and some food items from the forest causing her to lose her livelihood and adding to her burden.

"A Muslim woman in Ampara has to travel 25 km from her home to work as domestic helper of a restaurant after her husband lost his livelihood as fisherman due to the national security measures set in force in the area which forbid him to go fishing. She has to go through four check points to go to work and come home everyday. As a Muslim woman she is blamed and harassed for traveling by herself and engaging in this kind of job. The mosque also urged her to stop doing the job. She was depressed but has to keep herself up and sustain her family.

"We emphasise that “Peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men and development” (para 113, Women and Armed Conflict, BPFA, 1995) and call upon Sri Lankan government and LTTE to immediately declare ceasefire.

"We call upon the Government:

To immediately declare its willingness to a cessation of hostilities with the LTTE in order to facilitate an emergency evacuation of civilians trapped in the conflict zones of the Vanni;
* To ensure urgent delivery of food, water and medical supplies to IDP camps without discrimination based on sex,
* To ensure the needs of women, particularly in rural area in service provision,
* To investigate and bring justice to every human rights violation
* To support for women’s peace efforts and promote women’s leadership in community mobilisation
* To ensure women’s participation in decision making processes at all levels

We call on the international community:
* To uphold gender equality in human rights protection and humanitarian aid work
* To ensure incorporation of gender dimension in investigating and reporting the situation of armed conflict in Sri Lanka.

March 8th, 2009

Rural and Indigenous Women Task Force
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)