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AI criticises protests
Human rights group labels protests aimed at its campaign a "distraction".
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2007 17:36 GMT
Amnesty International believes these protesters have taken their eye off the ball [GALLO/GETTY]
Amnesty International has criticised protests against its "Play by the Rules" campaign, labelling them a distraction to the plight of hundreds and thousands of Sri Lankan people.

Members of the National Patriotic Front demonstrated Thursday against the group's use of the Cricket World Cup to highlight human rights abuses in the country.
The "Play by the Rules" campaign has focused on mobilising support for international monitors.

The monitors would investigate human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and attempt to identify the perpetrators so they can be brought to justice.

But, the Free Media Movement, an independent body that campaigns for media freedom and human rights in Sri Lanka, has also said it opposes the Amnesty International campaign despite it being well intended.

"Cricket is a powerful bond that unifies all communities in Sri Lanka and
offers a war-weary nation an important psycho-social release," it said in a statement.

Sri Lanka's government also criticized the campaign, saying the national
cricket team is comprised of all Sri Lankan ethnic groups, and urged Amnesty International not to mix politics with sport.

A desperate situation

However, Amnesty International believes the situation is Sri Lanka was so dire it was necessary to use every avenue possible to raise awareness.

"The situation in Sri Lanka has become so desperate for local people that urgent action is needed.

"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, so they can be brought to justice," said Purna Sen, Asia Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

"Through our campaign we are drawing attention to the increasing human rights abuses committed against civilians by the Sri Lankan government, the Tamil Tigers, the Karuna faction and other armed groups.

"The lives of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans are being affected -- our campaign is about these people, not the Sri Lankan cricket team."

With an increased focused on Sri Lanka during the tournament in the West Indies, the humanitarian group believes there is a great opportunity to highlight the plight of those Sri Lankans caught in the conflict.

Using "the great game"

"Cricket is a great game and the Sri Lankan people are rightly proud of their ethnically diverse national cricket team, which symbolises the best of Sri Lanka," said Purna Sen.

"But hundreds of thousands of people have had to flee the fighting to live in temporary shelter and so are not able to live in safety let alone watch cricket."

Tim Parritt, Deputy Director of the Asia Pacific Program at Amnesty International, spoke to Aljazeeera English about the frustration of being criticised for mixing politics and sport.

"This campaign was triggered by a particularly serious deterioration in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

"We are concerned at level of civilian deaths and belief we need strong and urgent action is needed and we call on all parties involved, the government forces, Tamil Tigers and the Karuna faction to abide by International conventions relating to the treatment of civilians in armed conflicts," he said.

The London based group argues that independent monitors are needed now due to the deteriorating security problem on the island.

They believe increasing abductions, illegal killings and child recruitment in Sri Lanka are all going on unchecked and victims do not receive justice.

The intensified fighting over the last year has forced over 300,000 people to flee their homes. They claim at least 1000 people have been forcibly disappeared since the beginning of 2006.

Amnesty International emphasised that it was not calling for a boycott of the Sri Lankan cricket team or Sri Lankan sports overall and is not campaigning in any stadiums in the West Indies.

For more information about the campaign, please go to: http://web.amnesty.org/pages/lka-020407-petition-eng

Aljazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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