Rights groups pressure Japan over Sri Lanka conflict

May 11, 2009 (AFP) – Japan must “shoulder its responsibilities” and use its leverage to prevent a civilian bloodbath in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, human rights and conflict prevention groups said Monday. Japan, which is Sri Lanka’s largest aid donor and holds two thirds of the island’s foreign debt, needs to “play a more active role” in confronting the worsening humanitarian crisis there, the groups said.

The appeal was made in a joint letter to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso from the heads of Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

“We believe that Japan … has an important role to play in saving countless civilian lives,” the letter said.

“It is time for Japan to show that it is prepared to shoulder its responsibilities,” it added.

After nearly 40 years of conflict, the Sri Lankan military is on the verge of defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels, having cornered the remnants of their once powerful army in a thin sliver of jungle on the northeastern coast.

Thousands of non-combatants are believed to be trapped in the conflict zone and the United Nations says up to 6,500 civilians may have b