SRI LANKA: by Dr John WhitehallNews Weekly
Defeated, friendless Tamils face annihilation
, July 11, 2009
On May 19, the Sri Lankan Government declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who, for some 25 years, had led the struggle for autonomy for ethnic Tamils in their traditional region, the lowlands of north-east Sri Lanka.
|Tamils fleeing bombardment|
The victory was won with overwhelming firepower that fell indiscriminately on the Tamil Tigers and civilians and included such banned weapons as cluster bombs. Some 20,000 civilians are believed to have died, with Colombo's military victory assured by the support of China.
The real victory, however, was inevitable, thanks to Western governments which, during the "war on terror", proscribed the Tigers as terrorists and categorised them with the likes of al Qaeda. This gave Colombo an apparently higher moral ground to do what it wanted. It also invited the Western audience to imagine the Tigers to be like Islamic terrorists - presumably unrepresentative of peoples under their control and committed to the destruction of Western democracy and culture. The war in Sri Lanka turned on the word "terrorist".
But were they terrorists? Certainly, they employed terror, but so had the Colombo state. However, the Tamil Tigers were not like the Vietcong or al Qaeda which emerged from hiding simply to destroy. During the 2002-06 ceasefire they were a de facto government administering land traditionally belonging to the Tamils. They ran their affairs through ministries of health, education, welfare, agriculture and sports, as well as police and security. They were certainly an autocratic if not a military dictatorship, but they perceived the Tamils as facing genocide at the hands of the majority Sinhalese.
In my three months' stay in their de facto capital, Kilinochchi, teaching Tamil medical students, I used repeatedly to ask people, "Why did you join the LTTE?" Their consistent answer was: "To fight for Tamil survival". They knew of the history of racial oppression against them by the Sinhalese majority; they simply wanted freedom to rebuild their civilisation. Unlike al Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers had no international goals, nor even the ambition to conquer all of Sri Lanka; they merely sought to secure what they believed was historically theirs.
As for the Tamil people themselves, they deserve better than to be stereotyped as potential terrorists, especially after they have fled to Australia. Given access to the Sydney Opera House, they would rather sing in it than blow it up.
In my opinion, the Tamil Tigers were best understood as a movement for national liberation.
The term terrorist implied the Tigers were a tiny minority in the Tamil population; but I began to question that when I visited some of the military cemeteries in which some 20,000 had been buried. Can a minority force that huge commitment?
I attended the Tamil equivalent of ANZAC Day and mingled with thousands of family members of the dead who were placing flowers and food on the graves. There was overwhelming sadness but a commitment to the concept that the dead had died worthily for Tamil Eelam - the Motherland. They did not die for, or because of, the Tigers as an organisation, but for the ideals they pursued.
It appears Western governments swallowed the impression that the Tigers were unrepresentative of the Tamil population; but the actions of Colombo since victory reveal that the Sri Lankan Government understood differently. Since victory, Colombo has incarcerated the entire population of the north-east, some 300,000 people, not the handful of terrorists they claimed they were fighting. And, despite Colombo's earlier propaganda that the Tigers were a tiny force, no fewer than 10,000 combatants have also been incarcerated.
Colombo has promoted another deception that the Tamils are merely internally displaced people (IDPs). However, it has kept Tamil civilians under military guard, without any publication of their names, without any access to aid organisations or to journalists, and in physical conditions described by independent observers as "terrible". Deaths from hunger have resulted from this collective punishment, which is proscribed by the Geneva Conventions. Furthermore, Tamil combatants are being held in secret camps and denied the rights of the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war.
According to Colombo, the Tamil population of the north-east is being kept for "rehabilitation from LTTE propaganda". In other words, an entire population, including mothers and children, is being incarcerated until it learns to think differently. But how can it possibly lose its fear of racial annihilation? Its current treatment will merely reinforce its conviction that it faces genocide.Genocide
On a more practical level, Colombo is also claiming it is too unsafe for the Tamils to return to their homes because of land mines. However, it is currently taking the opportunity to further its established practice of settling Sinhala residents in vacant Tamil regions (a breach of Geneva Conventions against genocide).
And what of our proponents for freedom in the United Nations? On May 26, a special session of the Human Rights Council was held to consider Sri Lanka after the High Commissioner, Madame Navi Pillay, declared the need to "address the tragic human rights and humanitarian consequences of the conflict in that country ... [and the existence of] strong reasons to believe both sides have grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians". She thereupon called for "an independent and credible international investigation into recent events ... to ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations".
The UN council, however, rejected the call for investigation and instead congratulated the Sri Lankan Government for its victory over the terrorist LTTE. The council affirmed the Sri Lankan commitment to "sovereignty" and was "encouraged" by its handling of displaced persons.
The resolution was adopted by 29 votes to 12 with six abstentions. Those in favour included Russia, China, Cuba and the African and Islamic blocs.
The conclusion by the UN Human Rights Council utterly ignores the legitimate rights of the Tamil population and is a disgrace.
Under the concept of "sovereignty" and the need to overcome "terrorism", this UN council has not only ratified the destruction of the helpless Tamils, but has thereby endangered members of government-persecuted minorities everywhere.