[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile; JURIST news archive] expressed deep concern Thursday over the deteriorating conditions for a quarter of a million Sri Lankans [press release] trapped in the conflict-ravaged north, calling for investigations and prosecutions of killings and other human rights abuses. Pillay said she is concerned over reports of human rights abuses, disproportionate displacement, masses of injured civilians, and a lack of access by aid agencies and journalists to the region. According to Pillay, the ongoing conflict in the Vanni region has reached a "critical stage." Civilians trying to flee have been detained, and there have been reports of human rights violations by both the Sri Lankan government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) [group website; JURIST news archive]. Pillay said:
It is the Government's duty to provide safety to all Sri Lanka's citizens, whatever their ethnic origin or political views. That means not only protecting civilians during military operations in the north, but also ensuring space for journalists and human rights defenders to seek out the truth and expose abuses.
Human rights groups have pointed to abuses by both sides in the conflict, but have recently accused the government of an increased number of violations [JURIST report]. Last year, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour urged the government to abide by international human rights standards [JURIST report] as a ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers expired. After an October 2007 visit [JURIST report] to Sri Lanka, Arbour said she would support a possible UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] monitoring mission as urged by activists, and which was subsequently rejected by the Sri Lankan Human Rights Minister. Arbour emphasized the need for unbiased monitoring of possible human rights violations, including those beyond the military conflict.