Human rights group speaks out April 13, 2007

Political tussle blights World Cup win

Cricinfo staff

Sri Lankans protest during a demonstration against London-based Amnesty International, © AFP
Amnesty International has accused Sri Lanka of distorting a campaign at the World Cup aimed at highlighting the deteriorating human-rights situation on the war-torn island.

The organisation is urging Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger rebels to improve their rights record and asked fans in the Caribbean to sign white cricket balls marked "play by the rules." Sri Lankan officials are reportedly furious and have lodged a protest with the ICC, but Amnesty said the campaign was not aimed at the Sri Lankan cricket team or a boycott of Sri Lankan sports.

"The lives of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans are being affected ... our campaign is about these people, not the Sri Lankan cricket team," Purna Sen , Amnesty's Asia Pacific Director, said. "Civilians desperately need better protection and a key goal of our campaign is to press for independent human rights monitors to investigate human rights abuses and identify the perpetrators."

Rights activists have said that at least 1,000 people have disappeared in the island in the past year. In recent months, bodies have been found of people shot dead "execution-style" and dumped in swamps and roadsides. Intensified fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels has also forced over 300,000 people to flee their homes, the rights group claimed.

Amnesty said Sri Lankans "are rightly proud of their ethnically diverse national cricket team," but said they should also think about "hundreds of thousands of people (who) have had to flee the fighting to live in temporary shelter -- and so are not able to live in safety let alone watch cricket."

The influential Free Media Movement (FMM), which consists of journalists and rights activists in Sri Lanka, recently rapped Amnesty's use of the tournament saying it could anger moderates and help the government take a more hardline stance.

The Tamil Tigers, on the other hand, have backed Amnesty's campaign saying it would raise international awareness among the majority Sinhalese population about "the brutality of their government against the Tamil population."

However, the Tigers were criticised by Amnesty for continuing to forcibly recruit child soldiers, preventing civilians from leaving conflict areas and for killing "hundreds of civilians in summary executions and bomb attacks."

Earlier this week, the Tigers called for an international sporting boycott of Sri Lanka. "The apartheid South African regime was brought to its knees by using sports to raise political awareness among the white South Africans," a spokeswoman told AFP. "I hope in a similar fashion the campaign started by Amnesty International will evolve into an international sports boycott against the Sri Lankan cricket team."

The Tigers have been fighting for a separate state in a war that has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.