Twelve years ago, 17 Action Against Hunger aid workers were executed in Muttur, Sri Lanka. These men and women, despite the fact that they were properly identified as humanitarian workers, were murdered in their offices on August 6th, 2006, as they worked to provide assistance to survivors of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Since then, government authorities have taken no action to bring those responsible for the murders to justice. Action Against Hunger continues to demand the prosecution of the perpetrators.
Rarely have humanitarian workers been targeted with such violence. This assault, led by some members of the Sri Lankan government forces, constitutes a war crime, as the Geneva Convention rules that, during wartime, civilians and aid workers’ protection remains an uninfringeable principle of international humanitarian law.
17 Action Against Hunger humanitarian workers—whose sole objective was to support the people of Sri Lanka—were assassinated. Beyond the victims themselves, their relatives, and their coworkers, the entire population was wronged. After helping more than 100,000 people in Sri Lanka since 2005, the organization eventually decided to leave the country two years after the killings.
“Since 2006, the Sri Lankan government, after failing in its duty to protect its population and all aid workers, has failed in its duty to provide justice,” says Pauline Chetcuti, Action Against Hunger’s Head of Humanitarian Advocacy and Policy. The national investigations conducted were futile; and Action Against Hunger’s inquiries have been ignored.
“To address this impunity, we succeeded in obtaining the opening of an international investigation in 2014, which led to a report on the crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war. The United Nations’ Civil Rights Council has substantiated our conclusions regarding the government forces’ implication in the crime and the threats to the families and witnesses,” adds Chetcuti.
The United Nations and the Sri Lankan government approved the establishment of a special international court, as requested by the Council. Yet, its implementation has been constantly delayed. Indeed, Sri Lanka is impeding the process by refusing the presence of international judges. The United Nations recently asserted in a report from the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, that “none of the measures adopted so far to meet Sri Lanka’s commitment to provide transitional justice is appropriate to ensure real progress.”
“Action Against Hunger will not give up achieving justice for the 17 victims of the Muttur massacre. This tragedy reminds us that humanitarian workers are still threatened in conflict areas, as are civilians; despite the fact that their work is sorely needed. No humanitarian mission can be carried out under such conditions,” says Chetcuti.
This tragedy is unfortunately not an isolated event. On August 19th, 2018, World Humanitarian Day, tribute will be paid to all those who have perished in the field and to those who continue to provide assistance to millions of people throughout the world, despite the risks. The international community must rally to ensure that disregard and contempt will not prevail. The safety of all humanitarian workers is no option.
“We demand the authorities urge Sri Lanka to implement a realistic and independent mechanism to combat impunity while guaranteeing accountability,” Chetcuti concludes.
Twelve years after the massacre, we do not forget and we will not give up on our search for justice: 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.