ResourcesPress Release

Physicians for Human Rights Calls for the Release of Sri Lankan Doctors

For Immediate Release

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls for the immediate release of three Sri Lankan physicians whom the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) detained on May 16, 2009. A Minister of Health official stated on May 18 that government forces handed over the physicians to police. Their current condition and whereabouts remain unknown; however, authorities may have taken two of the physicians to the Terrorist Investigation Division in Colombo. PHR fears Sri Lankan security forces will use excessive force or torture in retaliation against them for providing detailed information about government shelling and civilian casualties in the conflict zone to outside media and human rights organizations. The Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act grants security forces broad arrest and detention prerogatives.

"Physicians for Human Rights is deeply concerned about the arrest and incommunicado detention without charges of our three Sri Lankan colleagues," stated Frank Donaghue, PHR's CEO. "We have no information on the three men's conditions of confinement, but we fear for their health and safety. We call on the Sri Lankan government to release the doctors immediately, and to respect their rights to legal counsel and to receive medical care as well as family visits."

"Our sources on the ground report that health workers and civilians have been killed or seriously injured during government bombings of medical facilities. Reliable sources also report that the government is detaining doctors incommunicado, possibly 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 and in the context of allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the sealing off of the conflict zone, we are calling for an international Commission of Inquiry to investigate possible war crimes in Sri Lanka," stated Mr. Donaghue.

The three physicians who were last seen on the morning of 16 May at the Omanthai crossing point in northern Sri Lanka are:

  • Dr. Thangamutha Sathiyamoorthy, Regional Director of Health Services in Kilinochchi.
  • Dr. V. Shanmugarajah, Medical Superintendent at Mullivaaykkaal field hospital.
  • Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah, Regional Director of Health Services in Mullaitivu, who sustained serious wounds during a recent bombardment. SLA forces reportedly airlifted him from the Omanthai crossing point to an unknown destination.

PHR remains alarmed by the large numbers of civilians who are unaccounted for and who reportedly lack access to humanitarian emergency relief. Given reports of indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population in northeastern Sri Lanka, PHR calls on the Sri Lankan government to ensure the protection and freedom of movement of all civilians and medical personnel in the conflict zone.

The Sri Lankan Army declared an end to the war on May 17 after defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist forces. The Tamil Tigers acknowledged their own defeat the following day. While the SLA stated it had "rescued" all remaining Tamil Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), PHR sources on the ground revealed that only 25,000 IDP civilians near Mullaitivu have entered government-controlled areas during the final 72 hours of fighting. Sources in Sri Lanka reported to PHR they are gravely concerned of the state and security of the remaining 125,000 IDPs still trapped in the conflict zone.

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.

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