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UN Human Rights chief calls for Sri Lanka inquiry

Oliver Scanlan
15 May 2009

A spokesman for Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters on Friday that she supports an independent inquiry into the violence in Sri Lanka. The call comes on a day when Sri Lankan military forces continued their relentless bid to end the 25-year war with the Tamil Tigers. Remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) resist desperately from a tiny strip of land, in the midst of thousands of civilians.

The ToD verdict: It is over a month since Walter Kaelin, the UN Secretary General's representative for the rights of internally displaced persons, warned of a "blood bath" if the Sri Lankan military moved in against the Tamil Tigers without first allowing the civilian population to flee. As the Sri Lankan military continues to drive the LTTE into the sea, it is becoming increasingly apparent that his prediction has come true. Although both sides have engaged in a vigorous propaganda war and journalists have been forbidden from entering the war zone, it is nonetheless clear that thousands of civilians have been killed in the cross fire between government and rebel forces.

Those who survive face increasing hardship as the International Committee for the Red Cross has been forced by the continuing combat to suspend the delivery of aid, with ICRC operations director Pierre Krahenbuhl referring to the situation as "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe".

The suspicion on the part of many commentators and analysts, including Pillay, is that human rights abuses have been committed on both sides. Her call for "clarity" not "impunity" would make a probe into suspected offences a necessity. At this point, however, with the Sri Lankan government so far brushing off calls for a ceasefire, it is uncertain when such an inquiry will ever be held. 

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Thousands more flee Pakistan town as military lifts curfew

As the Pakistan military lifted the curfew around the town of Mingora in the Swat valley today, tens of thousands of civilians fled to swell the already vast numbers of people displaced from their homes by the ongoing war against the Taliban. According to a military statement, at least 55 Taliban militants and three Pakistani soldiers have been killed during this, the twentieth day of the Pakistan army's operations against Taliban positions in the districts of Swat, Buner and Lower Dir in the country's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). A total of over 834,000 people have registered as displaced persons with the UN since the beginning of the fighting, with Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, saying that there would be a humanitarian crisis if a massive deployment of aid is not forthcoming.

Nuclear watchdog warns nuclear weapons states set to double

Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing director general of the IAEA, has warned that international agreements restricting the proliferation of nuclear weapons are on the verge of collapse and that, without drastic action by nuclear weapons states, the number of potential nuclear weapons states could double in a few years. Citing the inequity of the system, designed around the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty which compels signatories to refrain developing nuclear weapons while, theoretically, obliging nuclear states to disarm, he said that in this respect the middle east is a "ticking time bomb".

He made the prediction that the next wave of proliferation would result in the emergence of 10 to 20 "virtual" weapons states. Such states would not actually have nuclear weapons, but would have sufficient technical knowledge and raw materials to be able to weaponise rapidly. He noted that there were sweeping steps that could be taken immediately to prevent this, observing that of the 27,000 nuclear weapons in existence, the vast majority of them are possessed by the United States and Russia.

Aung San Suu Kyi charged in run up to Myanmar elections

On Thursday, the Burmese opposition leader was charged with violating the terms of her house arrest in what many analysts are saying is a political move by the Myanmar military junta. The ostensible reason for the charge was a recent incident in which an American man swam across a lake and spent a night at her home, where she has been under house arrest for thirteen years.

The charges have been introduced two weeks before the statutory end of her latest six year term of house-arrest and have resulted in her transfer to the harsher conditions of Insein prison. Next year the military clique, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, will hold its first multi-party elections since 1990. That election resulted in Aung Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, winning a sweeping victory which was promptly rejected by the military.   

Obama brings back Guantanamo trials

Having suspended them within hours of taking up office, US officials revealed today that President Barack Obama will bring back the highly controversial military tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay. The officials have said that the system, which is expected to apply to fewer than twenty of Guantanamo's 241 inmates, will be amended so that it restricts the admissibility of evidence based on hearsay and bans altogether evidence gleaned from such practises as "waterboarding". These provisions have not allayed critics, however, who point out that during his presidential campaign, he vowed to reject the Military Commissions Act.

Policemen killed in Chechnya

On Friday, two policemen were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the restive Caucasus republic of Chechnya. The attack comes weeks after Moscow ended its decade long counter-terrorist operation in the region, and is symptomatic of continued unrest. The attack occurred near the entrance to the regional interior ministry building.

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