Madam Speaker, I want to begin my remarks by thanking the member for Toronto—Danforth, the leader of the NDP, for leading the call today for this emergency debate. I also want to thank the other members present who are taking part in something that is so crucial and so important to the Sri Lankan community in Canada.
We heard just now from the leader of the NDP that the people in Sri Lanka are in crisis and many Sri Lankan civilians are caught between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers in a war zone with nowhere to turn. Earlier today, Human Rights Watch issued a release saying that there are continuing reports of high civilian casualties in the Mullaitivu district of the Northern Vanni area. The Sri Lankan government recently issued a statement saying that it is not responsible for the safety of civilians who remain in the areas controlled by the LTTE.
In addition, we have the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as local health workers reporting over the past week that a hospital was hit by three volleys of government artillery in a 24 hour period which left nine people dead and numerous injuries. Again, on February 2, that same hospital was struck again, killing three additional people and injuring 10 more.
Members present will know that under the laws of war, hospitals are strictly prohibited from attack so long as they are not being used for military purposes and both sides, as my leader has indicated, had been told that these hospitals were not being used in the conflict. In any conflict that reaches such a point of indiscriminate battle, both sides hold a measure of responsibility when it comes to protecting non-combatants.
Reports from Human Rights Watch, as well as Amnesty International, point to accusations of both sides in this conflict putting Sri Lankan civilians at risk and indeed, as we have heard regarding the hospitals and other cases, civilians have died as a result.
One of the problems faced by the international community is the fact that the Sri Lankan government has prohibited independent journalists and human rights monitors from accessing the area. As my leader indicated previously, that has put a wall around getting the story told and engaging the world community.
There is no independent field investigations taking place into the conduct of the government forces, nor for that matter the LTTE. But one thing is very clear, Sri Lankan civilians are being maimed and are dying in this conflict. When either side in a war zone violates the rules of war, it does not in any way legitimize their opposition resorting to similar violations.
Amnesty International says that reports coming from the Sri Lankan government suggest that government forces and the LTTE are violating the laws of war by targeting civilians and preventing them from escaping to safety. My point is that we have numerous reports that civilians are being injured and are dying in this conflict. There are reports of horrendous acts and horrors that the civilians of Sri Lanka are facing. To that point, there is no way under these conditions that these claims can be investigated unless and until countries like Canada use their diplomatic powers to gain a ceasefire.
I believe, and the NDP believes, that Canada must work further with the United Nations and the world community to ensure that the aid that is so desperately needed in the announcement of today reaches the most affected in the conflict, the innocent people of Sri Lanka.
I submit that this is not the time nor the place to try to decide who is more to blame for this situation. It is all too easy to place blame when such a conflict has festered for so many years. I do not want to see my country, Canada, stand by and allow civilians to be so forsaken in such a war zone.
I do not want to see Canada's hard-earned reputation as a nation of people, who believe in peace and who have been counted on in so many ways and so many times in the past to be the voice of peace, have that hard-earned reputation squandered. The Government of Canada must continue to stand up along with the world community and ensure that we take a lead position fighting for an immediate ceasefire and in doing so, open the doors for emergency aid to reach the embattled people of Sri Lanka.