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British medic held in Sri Lankan IDP camp.

Zane Slocombe | 05.06.2009 22:34 | Anti-racism | Repression | Terror War | World

Damilvany is a British medic who worked in a makeshift hospital in the perversely named no fire zone helping treat and process the thousands of innocent civilian casualties of the conflict. She is currently detained against her will in a Sri Lankan IDP camp.

Damilyvany Gnanakumar, known as 'Vany' is a 26 year old biomedical graduate who left her Chingford home to travel to the conflict zone of Northern Sri Lanka in February 2008.

She worked in a makeshift hospital set up in a primary school in the 'no fire' zone, a supposedly safe area for civilians, which experienced some of the heaviest civilian casualities in the Sri Lankan Governments civil war against the LTTE 'Tamil Tigers'.

The area in which the hospital was located faced regular bombardment and experienced a direct hit in which 37 people were killed and Damilvany narrowly escaped, being only around 20 metres away from the perimetre of the blast.

She relayed via satellite phone to Observer reporter Gethin Chamberlain that so many parents had lost their children and children lost their parents, it had just become an every day thing to them.

She begged the question, ''Why is no one helping?''

Vany was with the last batch of civilians to escape the safety zone and was detained and placed in the Menik Farms-Zone 2, Ramathan Relief camp in Vavunya District Northern Province.

The last her family heard from her was via a phone call on 19 May 2009, where she pleaded with her family to get her out. The phone call was abruptly cut short and her family have not heard from her since.

There are currently estimated to be 300,000-400,000 ethnic Tamils being held in internment camps in Sri Lanka without access to proper sanitation, medical facilities or sufficient food. Many of them with untreated wounds.

Aid agencies and the foreign media are barred access. The UN refuses to publish any estimates of the number of civilians killed as they say the lack of access means that the true figure may never be known. They admit it could be 'substantially more' than 200,000.

Aid agencies which currently have access are slowly being expelled or their workers prevented from returning under tough new visa rules introduced last year. The Sri Lankan Government is taking a particularly hard line towards the agencies originating in the countries which called for a UN investigation into the atrocities which occurred during this conflict.

There are currently reported to 6 foreigners detained in IDP caamps in Sri Lanka. These are 1 Britons, 3 Australians, 1 Dutch and 1 person from Norway.

Reports coming out of Sri Lanka claim that the SL Government is looking into prosecuting medics who worked in the conflict zone.

The Sri Lankan Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights was quoted on India addition, "Gnanakumar had entered the country in February last year and overstayed her six-month visa which expired in August," the minister said. "If it is found that she has also worked as a medic then it would be violation on two counts, one to overstay after visa expired and to take up any work without authorisation in the No-Fire Zone."

I am attempting to raise the profile of Damilvany Gnanakumar's plight and hopefully increase the momentum for her speedy return home whilst at the same time I hope that this also focuses the attention on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamils killed, injured or languishing in camps in Sri Lanka.

The plight of a young woman who left the relative comfort of her home in Chingford, Essex and faced considerable danger to help people in desperate need motivated me to do everything I can to help.

Worrying reports that the Sri Lankan Government is looking into prosecuting her for 'spreading false information about genocide' is nefarious and baseless accusation and a statute which has no place in the law of a country which claims to be a democracy.

Any journalist which criticises the ruling Sri Lankan freedom party is accused of being a LTTE spy or colloborator.

A spokesman for the opposition United National Party,District UNP Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera addressing a media conference on 4 June 2009 claimed that 4 media personnel have been abducted, 27 had been mercilessly assaulted and 11 have been killed in the last 4 years.

The British High Commission is in contact with the Sri Lankan Government with regards to Damilvany Gnanakumar. In this climate where every Tamil is viewed as a terrorist and any humanitarian worker who publicly expresses empathy with the suffering of ethnic Tamils is branded a LTTE mouthpiece/spy/collaborator, Damilvany needs a bigger voice to ensure that she can return home and tell her own story.

Updates as they emerge are available via and via the 'Free Vany' group on the facebook social networking site which also includes links to relevant officials in the UK and Sri Lanka. There are also template letters for people to use if they do not have the time to compose their own.

I do not have any experience of campaigning so any help via sympathetic groups with an interest in human rights and the ability to present Damilvany Gnanakumar's story to a wider audience will be very much appreciated.

Zane Slocombe
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