Saturday, March 7, 2009

No deaths from starvation in North

The attention of the Presidential Secretariat has been drawn to media reports about Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the north starving to death. The "Daily Mirror" of today March 07, 2009 also has such a report headlined "IDPs starving to death: UN"

As these media reports were based on a letter to the Government Agent, Mullaitivu by Dr. Varatharajah, Regional Director of Health Services (RDHS) Mullaitivu on March 4, 09, in which such deaths are mentioned, the Secretary, Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition (S/MHC&N) had made inquiries about this from Dr. Varatharajah, who admitted to S/MHC&N that his report to the GA Mullaitivu, giving the cause of deaths of 13 bodies brought to the Puthumattalam hospital as being due to starvation, was not based on clinical or any scientific evidence of starvation, as there had been no post-mortem inquiries held to ascertain the cause of death.

It is reliably learnt that the letter by Dr. Varatharajah to the GA had been picked up by a diplomat engaged in relief work, who had brought it to the notice of the UN, and this in turn had been picked up by an international news agency, later used by Human Right Watch and the HRW report also given publicity by the same news agency, as well as, pro-LTTE web sites. None of those who repeated the unsubstantiated statement by Dr. Varatharajah had taken the trouble to verify this from the Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition.

This lack of clarification being sought from the proper authorities is significant, as on another recent occasion much publicity was given to an e-mail from the same Dr. Varatharajah stating that there were at least 300 deaths and over 1000 injured among IDPs in the North in cross fire. Upon official inquiry, Dr. Varatharajah categorically denied having issued any such e-mail, and its contents. Following this denial, Associated Press that issued the news item based on the same doctor's alleged claim, recalled its story.

It is regretted that diplomats, news services and organizations keeping watch on human rights violations do not verify information from the relevant authorities in charge of the related subjects, before reporting to offices abroad, releasing news items, and issuing public statements on unverified comments, which are clearly aimed at distorting the truth about the situation in Sri Lanka, in a manner that would discredit the Government of Sri Lanka and its efforts to free and assist the IDPs in the north of the country.

The Government has taken all possible measures to provide food and medicines to the people of the North, including IDPs in places arranged for their shelter and care by the government, as well as, to those continued to be held as a human shield by the LTTE, which ignores UN and other international calls for their release. It is a well known fact for many years that the LTTE forcibly takes most of the food and medicines sent to the civilians for use by its own fighting cadres.

The Government is committed to ensure the welfare of the IDPs in the North, including the supply of food, medicines and other essentials. It is necessary to emphasize that there has been no case of any citizen of those parts dying of starvation, and the government will take all measures to prevent such a tragic occurrence.

The media release by the Secretary, Ministry of Healthcare & Nutrition, of March 05, 2009.