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Confined Sri Lankan Doctors Acted in Accordance with Medical Ethics

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes the conditional release from custody yesterday of four physicians, whom the Sri Lankan government has detained since May 16, 2009. Colombo Chief Magistrate Nishantha Hapuarachchi granted personal bail (one million Sri Lankan rupees or $8,800 USD) to each of the four men provided they appear each month before police authorities at the Vavuniya branch of the Central Investigating Division (CID) in northern Sri Lanka. Government authorities have restricted their movement, however, and the four doctors are confined to Vavuniya. They are scheduled to appear in court on November 9, 2009 for allegedly providing “false information” to the international community pertaining to civilian deaths.

PHR strongly opposes such allegations and believes that the physicians acted in accordance with their professional medical ethics.

"Doctors have an ethical duty to prevent and limit suffering of patients in their care and a duty to practice medicine in a neutral way without fear or favor. When there is evidence of any attack on a hospital or medical facility, it is appropriate for physicians to speak out in keeping with their ethical commitments. An embarrassed government has no right to detain doctors for practicing neutral medicine and for providing factual reports about the humanitarian and health situation on the ground," stated Frank Donaghue, CEO of PHR.

The four Sri Lankan physicians are:

  • Thangamutha Sathiyamoorthy, MD, Regional Director of Health Services in Kilinochchi
  • Veerakaththi Shanmugarajah, MD, Medical Superintendent at Mullivaaykkaal field hospital
  • Thurairaja Varatharajah, MD, Regional Director of Health Services in Mullaitivu, remains in hospital recovering from an operation on his right arm due to injuries sustained when he was leaving the conflict zone
  • Illancheliyan Pallavan, MD, physician at Puthukudiyiruppu government hospital

According to PHR sources in the region, a fifth physician, Sinnathurai Sivapalan, MD, reportedly remains in custody. Dr. Sivapalan worked at a private hospital in the conflict zone.

PHR believes that the detention of the Sri Lankan doctors was an attempt to suppress reports about the humanitarian crisis, civilian casualties, and attacks on hospitals during the recent routing of Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. The five Sri Lankan physicians dauntlessly provided emergency medical care to civilians during the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist forces. As the conflict zone became increasingly inaccessible to the outside world, the doctors provided first-hand accounts of shelling and civilian casualties and described the condition of their patients. Reliable sources indicated to PHR that the government likely detained them incommunicado in retaliation for adhering to their ethical obligation to protect the lives of their patients in all circumstances. These are serious violations of medical neutrality.

PHR continues to call for the doctors’ unconditional release and asks the Government of Sri Lanka to assure their safety and well-being.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

Media Contact

Kevin Short

Deputy Director, Media & Communications1.917.679.0110

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