A Tragedy in Sri Lanka
In January, I was named the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs. Shortly afterwards, I held my first hearing on the civil war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the rebel Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka is a tiny island nation off the southern coast of India. Since its independence in 1948, the country has had a vibrant democracy, but its potential has been stunted by this civil war. It is often hard for us to think about conflicts unfolding at the other end of the globe, but the war in Sri Lanka has caused a humanitarian crisis of such magnitude that I felt Congress and the Administration had to pay more attention to this issue.
At the hearing, I was troubled to hear about atrocities committed by both sides and stunned that more than 200,000 civilians have been trapped in the conflict zone without adequate food, water, and medical care. The rebel Tigers have been holding tens of thousands of innocent civilians against their will, using them as human shields against the Sri Lankan military, and forcing children to fight. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan military has behaved irresponsibly, too. They have fired on heavily-populated civilian areas, showing a disregard for innocent lives. They have also failed to allow badly needed humanitarian aid to reach civilians who have had to leave their homes to seek shelter in camps for displaced persons.
I know that the United States, through the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is working hard on this issue. The Secretary, other Members of Congress and I have repeatedly called on both sides to agree to a ceasefire and have urged the Government of Sri Lanka to allow NGOs and international organizations better access to the conflict zone so they can alleviate the suffering of thousands of people. I will continue to provide updates on the conflict and what the United States is doing to help the people of Sri Lanka.
For more information on the refugee situation in Sri Lanka, you can follow this link to the UN Refugee Agency.