With the rapid diminishing of its role in Sri Lanka, due to the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, the ICRC is now seeking a larger role in revamping the country’s prisons. The Geneva-headquartered humanitarian agency wants an agreement with the government regarding its post-conflict role here.
The government in November last year requested the ICRC to close its offices in Jaffna and Vavuniya and operate from Colombo. The ICRC launched its Sri Lankan mission in 1989 on the invitation of then President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Justice Ministry sources told The Island that a three-member ICRC delegation, led by its head of operations here, Yves Giovannoni, had discussed prisons reforms with Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem at the latter’s office on Monday (12). He was accompanied by Protection Coordinator Ralph Wehbe and Detention Coordinator Lynn Graham.
Talks focused on ways and means of tackling overcrowded prisons. Hakeem, who is also the SLMC leader, had explained his inability to take decisions without consulting Prisons Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera. He promised to discuss ICRC’s concerns with Gajadeera.
The ICRC delegation stressed the urgent need to deal with Sri Lanka’s congested prisons. The delegation pointed out that those held in crowded conditions undergo severe difficulties, while suggesting some remedial measures.
Responding to a query by Minister Hakeem, the ICRC acknowledged that the situation here was better than in some other countries, in spite of overcrowding. The protection officer said that he had access to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where detainees are held since 2002. It is an extrajudicial detainment and interrogation facility run by the US within Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. The facility was established in 2002 by the Bush Administration to hold detainees from the ‘war on terror’.
The ICRC delegation had a separate meeting with Justice Secretary Suhada Gamlath.
Authoritative sources told The Island that INGOs, including the ICRC should review their operations here due to restoration of State authority in all parts of the country. During the war, successive governments had relied heavily on the ICRC to maintain contact with the LTTE.
During its 22-year deployment here, the ICRC supervised a safety zone around the Jaffna Teaching Hospital (1990-1995), chartered ships to move those living in the Jaffna peninsula wanting medical treatment in the South and also to transport medical supplies to hospitals in the peninsula (1995-2002), facilitated movement on the A 9 road at the height of the conflict, escorted government food convoys (2000-2002), helped the military and the LTTE to exchange bodies of combatants (since 1996), chartered flights to move patients and medicine during eelam war IV, evacuated 13,800 casualties and accompanying relatives during the final phase of the conflict et al.