One hundred thousand civilians held hostage by Tamil Tiger rebels on a stretch of land just twice the size of New York's Central Park have come under repeated indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The civilians are trapped in a government-declared "no-fire zone" in the northern Vanni region.
The Tamil Tigers have fired upon civilians who have tried to escape the area. Government declarations of "no-fire zones" and a two-day pause in the fighting have done little to spare civilians from attack in the area, which Human Rights Watch has called one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Food and medicines are in short supply. There is an urgent need for governments to press for the creation of a humanitarian corridor respected by both sides, which would allow relief aid to get in and civilians to get out. As one senior UN official put it on April 15, "the danger of a 'blood bath' was of great concern."
Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat says both sides in Sri Lanka's conflict are violating the laws of war. These photos are from a makeshift hospital in Putumattalan that was treating survivors of attacks on April 8 and 9, 2009. Many were women and children who were waiting in a food distribution line in Pokkanai when artillery shells hit.