Paris, 26th July. On the 4th of August 2006, 17 employees of Action against Hunger (ACF) were executed in their office in Muttur, Sri Lanka. They were clearly identified as aid workers. Until today, neither national nor international judicial proceedings have been successful. Ten years later, the organization commemorates these men and women who were helping vulnerable populations.
Action against Hunger (ACF) had been delivering aid to populations doubly hit by the devastating tsunami in 2004 and the ravages of civil war. On the 4th August 2006, 17 aid workers were assassinated in their office. For Action against Hunger, the governmental security forces could be responsible of the crime, as the organization denounces it in its report the truth about the assassination of 17 aid workers in Sri Lanka.
ACF subsequently withdrew from the country after 12 years on the ground. These murders did not just end the lives of 17 persons: those people receiving assistance from ACF were also affected and were left without help. This is why since 10 years, Action against Hunger advocates for a better protection of aid workers. The organization asks for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on this topic in the United Nations.
A cold case: impunity prevails
ACF asked for an international enquiry after the failures of national procedures. In September 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) released a report on the crimes during the civil war in Sri Lanka. The report confirmed ACF’s findings on the Muttur case, criticizing the role of the security forces and also highlighting the threats made against families and witnesses. The UNHRC asked for the creation of a Special Tribunal with international members.
The Sri-Lankan government today is challenging these recommendations and instead wants to create an exclusively national tribunal on war crimes.
A war crime
International Humanitarian Law considers attacks against aid workers a war crime. Such attacks are not inevitable consequences of armed conflict but emerge when parties disregard the laws of war. Humanitarian principles – humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence – are meant to guarantee a free and secure access to isolated and vulnerable populations.
“In the face of such threats, humanitarian intervention sometimes seems impossible and the main victims are of course the populations who need the aid” underlines Pauline Chetcuti, head of humanitarian advocacy.
ACF staff – including Veronique Andrieux, Executive Director at Action Contre la Faim France - will travel to Sri Lanka in August to commemorate the ten years of the tragedy and honor the memory of the victims.
Ten years later, we do not forget them and until justice is done, we will not give up : M. Narmathan , I. Muralitharan ,R. Arulrajah, T. Pratheeban, A. Jaseelan, G. Kavitha, K. Kovarthani, V. Kokilavathani, S. Romila, M. Ketheswaran, M. Rishikesan, S.P. Anantharajah, G. Sritharan, S. Koneswaran, S. Ganesh, Y. Kodeeswaran, A.L.M. Jawffar.
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