Repeated Shelling of Hospitals Evidence of War Crimes

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30 Attacks Reported on Medical Facilities Since December
Friday, May 8th, 2009
HRW Feb
In a scathing report released on May 8, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented 30 individual attacks by Sri Lankan military forces on hospitals in the northern war zone, including medical facilities located in the so-called "no-fire zones" declared by the government, and indicated that those who ordered these attacks could face a future war crimes tribunal after the conflict has concluded.

Under the laws of war, parties to a conflict must take all feasible precautions to ensure that a target of attack is a military objective and not a civilian object. Attacks that do not discriminate between military targets and civilian objects are prohibited. Individuals who order or carry out unlawful attacks willfully - that is, deliberately or recklessly - are responsible for war crimes. States are obligated under the laws of war to investigate alleged war crimes and prosecute those responsible.

"Repeated Sri Lankan artillery attacks striking known hospitals is evidence of war crimes," said Brad Adams, HRW's Asia Director. "The government cannot hide behind LTTE atrocities to justify their own unlawful acts."

Human Rights Watch said Sri Lanka's key donors - including the United States, the European Union, India, Japan, and China - should strengthen calls for the Sri Lankan government to cease the use of heavy weapons in densely populated areas, particularly near hospitals. "Both the government and the LTTE should permit safe humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee the combat zone," the report said.

The rights watchdog also reiterated its call for the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka to be urgently taken up by a formal meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York and by a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Previously, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse told Sky News in an interview that "nothing should exist beyond the no fire zone" and confirming that the Sri Lankan government considered hospitals legitimate military targets. Mr. Rajapaksa also warned that journalists who broadcast video footage from inside the LTTE-controlled areas could be expelled from the country. 

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