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Sri Lanka - Time for International public protests

Brian Senewiratne
MA(Camb), MD(Lond), FRCP(Lond), FRACP
Brisbane, Australia

It is time for the expatriate Tamil community and those, such as myself, non-Tamils, who support the cause of the Tamil people, to get on to the streets all over the world, and protest. Not in some obscure park, but out in the streets, in busy shopping malls, and the like. Objective? To be seen, so that people will ask, “What is it all about?” Tell them, or give them a dvd (see below).

On September 10th 2008, the Sri Lankan Air Force dropped 16 bombs on Kilinochchi town, the administrative centre of the Tamil North, doing extensive damage to civilian property. A major massacre of civilians is to follow, as certainly as day follows night. The clear intention of the Sinhalese-dominated Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), is to crush Tamil resistance, under the guise of ‘eliminating terrorism’. If this means committing genocide of the Tamil people, a ruthless bunch that has the temerity to call itselg a ‘Government’, is more than prepared to do so

Genocide has to be done with no witnesses. So the GOSL, in September 2008, ordered the UN agencies and all humanitarian groups, to leave the Tamil North, saying that their safety could no longer be guaranteed.

A gutless UN
On 9 September 2008, the GOSL ordered all aid agencies (including the UN agencies) to get out of the ‘northern war zone’ and take their equipment with them. UN agencies have been delivering food and medical aid to nearly 160,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) ie refugees, in the Vanni (the Tamil area just south of the Jaffna Peninsula.

There are 13 aid groups in the region, providing emergency food aid, clean water and sanitation to some 200,000 people living in refugee camps and under trees in this area.

In an astounding act of irresponsibility, the UN and all agencies except ICRC (Red Cross), decided to cave into this State terrorism. The UN, more than any other body, must be held responsible.

On 10 September, the UN issued a statement in New York that the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon expressed his “deep concern” over the grave human rights consequences for civilians. The Statement said:

“In light of the [Sri Lankan] Government’s request for the relocation of UN humanitarian staff in affected areas, he (Ban Ki-moon) reminds all concerned of their responsibility to take active steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of civilians, allowing humanitarian organisations to do their work in safety, as well as to reach persons affected by the fighting who need humanitarian assistance.”

It went on. "The Secretary-General reminds all concerned of their obligations under international humanitarian law, especially in regard to the principle of proportionality and the selection of targets,"

It was a violation of the Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. Article 3 “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security”.

I am sure that a quarter of a million people in the area and a million concerned people outside Sri Lanka, not only shared the UN Secretary General’s “deep concern”, but have also lost what little faith they had in the UN.

As word got around, thousands of IDPs gathered (12 September) in front of the UNHCR (High Commission for Refugees) office in Kilinochchi, pleading with the UN and International NGOs (no-government organizations), not to leave

The Executive Director of the Australian Council for International Development, Paul O’Callaghan, told Radio Australia,

"This situation is likely to become a bloodbath in the next several weeks."
"Apart from the direct military conflict, we would expect that many, many will die or be in extreme circumstances if humanitarian workers are not able to access this area."
"It was an extreme [humanitarian] situation even before the decision by the government to exclude foreign aid workers."

Despite the pleadings of the civilians and concern expressed by aid workers, UN agencies and international relief organizations, which included Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision, Danish Refugee Council, Internal Organisation of Migration, and ZOA (an international NGO, operating in more than 10 countries worldwide, supporting (former) refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees and others who are affected by conflict or natural disasters), started to pull out. To their eternal credit, Internation Committee of the Rde Cross (ICRC) decided to stay. The civilians were left in the hands of God (and the Red Cross).

Sri Lanka’s response
Rajiva Wijesinha, the head of the Sri Lankan so-called ‘Peace Secretariat”, and Secretary, of (what jokingly the GOSL calls) the “Human Rights Ministry”, responded as one would expect from a true Sinhala patriot:

“Since there have been hardly any civilian casualties during the recent offensives in Sri Lanka…….“It is to be hoped that he (Ban Ki-Moon) will study the Sri Lankan situation carefully in the future. Perhaps, with knowledge there will come wisdom,,,,,,,,”

What? ” ‘hardly any casualties”? Where has he been all these months? Perhaps too often out of the country. While ignorance is bliss, contrived ignorance is patriotism. If that is so, a patriot he surely is.

The next statement “with knowledge there will be wisdom” is much more serious. This is a down right insult, an insult to the UN Secretary General.

Consider this. Here is an unknown character from some tin-pot dictatorship, that has just been thrown out of the UN Human Rights Council for violating human rights, insulting the UN Secretary General. It is mind-boggling. President Rajapakse has two options –
to back his man or sack him. .

On 20 September 2008, Sri Lanka's Ministry of ‘Defence’ instructed the Sri Lanka Army not to allow humanitarian convoys to the Internally Displaced Persons in the Kilinochchi district (Vanni) with food provided under the United Nations World Food Programme. Presumably this is "punishment" for the people of this district for not "obeying" its instruction to leave the area.

The de facto State of Tamil Eelam
Many have asked me, “What are the Tamil Tigers doing about this?” My answer is, “Never mind the Tigers, what are you doing about it?

There are a million expatriate Tamils scattered all over the world. What are they doing about this serious situation?

What is being destroyed is the de facto State of Tamil Eelam, built by Tamils in the North, with significant help from the expatriate Tamils, both financial and physical. It is this that the GOSL is now about to destroy and reduce to dust..

Those who are unaware of the functioning of this State, should read Professor Kristian Stokke, Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo who spent an year studying the set-up.. It was published in the Third World Quarterly in 2006, and reproduced in full in Nadesan Satyendra’s outstanding website, tamilnation http://www.tamilnation.org/tamileelam/defacto/0602stokke.htm

Titled, “Building the Tamil Eelam State. Emerging State institutions and forms of governance in LTTE controlled areas in Sri Lanka”, it details the functioning of the Tamil Eelam State. It is this outstanding achievement by the Tamils that the GOSL and its murderous Armed Forces are destroying. They are destoying what they have not built – the infrastructure in the de facto State of Tamil Eelam,

The functioning of the State of Tamil Eelam stands in striking contrast to the dysfunction of the chaotic, corrupt, and despotic, Sinhala State in the South where 4 brothers control 75% of the budget of the country, where nothing can be done without a bribe, where hooligans and thugs are now part of governance, where the Police are reportedly the most corrupt in the world, where law and order have broken down, the media merely act as a mouthpiece for the government (or are silenced), where even the independence of the judiciary has been lost, where ‘disappearances’, arrests and detention without charge or trial occur on a daily basis, and one man, President Rajapakse, and his brothers (two of them American citizens), do what they like. As does another American, Sarath Fonseka, the Army General. Their day of reckoning on a charge of Genocide, might come.

The determination to smash the Tamil areas is nothing but State terrorism and vandalism. We, in the international community, do not have the power to prevent this, but we do have the power to protest, and this we must.

Not a scrap of this State terrorism appears in the international media. As a result, the international community is completely unaware of what the Sri Lankan ‘government’ is doing to its own people, of all ethnic groups, especially the Tamils in the North and East. It is up to us in the international community, to see that what goes on behind the closed and censored doors of Sri Lanka is bought to the attention of the international community (IC).

By “the international community” I do not mean foreign governments. Most Governments have very well informed Embassies in Colombo and know full well what is going on in the Tamil North and East. There is simply no point in telling them what they know, even better than we do.

Those who need to be apprised of the situation are the people, the ordinary decent people in the world, who would baulk at this criminal activity by a so-called ‘elected Government’, in a “Democratic Socialist Republic”, as Sri Lanka likes to call itself.

The War
What is going on is not just a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but a war against the Tamil people, to crush them into accepting Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. Multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious, multicultural Sri Lanka is being made, by military might, courtesy of foreign governments, into a monoethnic, monolingual, monoreligious, monocultural State.

A succession of Sinhalese-dominated Governments have faced a problem in the creation of this Sinhala-Buddhist nation. What can be done with the Tamils, some 18% of the population, most of whom are not Buddhists?

The options available to the GOSL are:-

1.To drive Tamils out of the country. One million already have been, but there are more
2.To make them into ‘non-people’ eg by denying them effective political representation. That is being done,
3 To replace them with Sinhalese from the South - ’sinhalisation’ of the Tamil areas. That is being done (and has been for more than 50 years, now at an accelerated pace
4 To kill them ie commit ‘Genocide’. That is now in progress.

Genocide
Genocide is defined in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide , as an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

Genocide has nothing to do with numbers killed, it is the intention and the act(s) to achieve this intention, which are what are needed to constitute genocide. The intention of a succession of Sinhalese-dominated governments, is abundantly clear - to wipe out the Tamils. This started with the massacre of some 3,000 Tamils in Colombo and the Sinhalese South in 1983, and has continued, currently at an alarming rate.

There are many ways to commit genocide: You can:

Murder them – shoot, bomb, shell or just massacre them.
Starve them.
Withhold essential medicines and let them die.
Prevent of survival activity eg fishing and agriculture.
Destroy markets, homes, hospitals, schools and businesses..

Once the intention is there, the ways to commit genocide are endless.

All of these the GOSL has done. It is therefore guilty of genocide. All those who are responsible from the President, who is also the Minister of Defence and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and those down the ‘line of command’ who are responsible, have to be charged, sooner or later. Charged with Genocide. The evidence is already overwhelming, and more, much more, is coming..

Suicide bombers
The Tamil Tigers do not need to ‘make’ suicide bombers out of young Tamils– the Sri Lankan Government and its Armed Forces do it for them. Here is the Booker Prize winner, Indian author and activist, Arundhati Roy :in “The Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire. (The italics are mine):-

“Young Palestinians (Tamils) who cannot contain their anger turn themselves into human bombs and haunt Israel’s (Sri Lanka’s) streets, blowing themselves up, killing ordinary people.”
“Suicide bombing is an act of individual despair, not a revolutionary tactic”
“The world is called upon to condemn suicide bombers, but can we ignore the long road they have journeyed on before they arrived at their destination?”

A Separate Tamil State, Eelam
The Tamils in the North and East do not need to ask for a separate State, Eelam. The brutality of the Sinhala regime unleashed on the people of this area, has done it for them. The strongest case for Eelam, is what is going on right now. The Sinhala regime has left the Tamils with no other option. It is ironic that the greater the attempted destruction of Tamil Eelam, the greater will be the need for it. Sinhala extremism is the father of Tamil Eelam.

It is also ironic that the greater the ‘victory’ won by the GOSL, the weaker it will be. The more the Tamils are crushed, the greater will be the resistance. It is an outcome that a very stupid Government and even more stupid people who elect these fools, are too stupid to see. They will, in time, when they find that it is a pyrrhic ‘victory’. A regime drunk with (military) power, is simply unable to see the ‘big picture’.

I have always believed that an evil regime, given enough rope will hang itself, given enough time will destroy itself. This is not a postulate but a historical fact. Those who do not know history, are destined to repeat it.

Two wars
As I have said in the ‘Information dvds’ on Sri Lanka’ which I recorded and released to counter the disinformation campaign of the GOSL, there are two wars going on in Sri Lanka. One is the war between the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan ‘Government’ against the Tamil people to crush them into submission – to accept Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

The other is a less known ‘war’ between the USA – India – China for the control of the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is not the largest ocean on this planet but is, by far, the busiest. Countries around the Indian Ocean produce 40% of the world’s oil. 70% of the world’s oil shipments and 50% the world’s container cargo, go across this Ocean.
100 years ago, the US Admiral Alfred Maher rightly said, “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean, dominates Asia” .The control of this strategic Ocean is the ‘big game’.

Instead of the “USA” one could put “USA-EU-Israel”, instead of “China” one could put “China-Japan-Korea”. What India offers and gives (by way of the supply of war-material to the GOSL), Pakistan will offer more. (and vice versa). Iran has now got into the act. It is the disastrous effects of these international geopolitical games for vested international gains, that we see in Sri Lanka. The human cost - the deaths of thousands of Tamil civilians (some 75,000 to date), is of little or no interest to those who supply the weapons to the Sinhala government to kill its own people.

India has its own (double) game – to make love to the GOSL, lest it gets too close to China (it already is) and Pakistan.. At the same time, to pretend to support the Sri Lankan Tamils to keep Tamilnadu, with some 50 million Indian Tamils, happy. (The current Indian government is in power, courtesy of TamilNadu). So we have the Indian Government ‘expressing concern’ at the violation of human rights of the Tamil people and simultaneously supplying the GOSL with the necessary military assistance to violate those human rights about which India has hypocritically expressed “grave concern”.

It is a despicable game played by the so-called ‘regional power’. Power also carries responsibility. If this is not delivered, then it is an abuse of power – which the Indian Government is guilty of where a major conflict is raging on its doorstep, with some 75,000 dead, a million refugees, 130,000 of them in Tamilnadu, and a gross violation of human rights, acknowledged by the international community on 21 May 2008. There is no denying India’s responsibility since it it is the country that can stop this outrageous situation immediately. It has clearly no intention of doing so, for reasons that do not bring credit to a country that produced the likes of Mahatma Gandhi.

The necessary action.
The only “Court of Appeal” we have left, is an Appeal to the international community. To use the media to achieve this is impossible. The international media are simply not interested. Was there a single sentence in any of the main-stream media in any country, when the GOSL bombed 400 orphans in the Sencholai orphanage? No. There was not a word, nor will there be. To expect otherwise is to distance oneself from reality.

If the media are not within our reach, which is certainly the situation, the only way we can draw attention to the escalating human rights violations in Sri Lanka, now with features of Genocide of the Tamil people, is by getting on to the streets. If a million Sri Lankan Tamils across the world, took to the streets, it will make a difference.

I recently addressed a meeting of expatriate Tamils in Toronto on the Pongu Tamil event (2008). 75,000 people turned up. I appreciate that a meeting of such large numbers is only possible in a place like Canada there are some 300,000 Tamils. But I simply refuse to believe that much smaller numbers in protests across the world will make no difference. What I am appealing for is a show of ‘International People Power’ – about the only thing that will stop the murderous agenda of President Mahinda Rajapakse and his Sinhala-Buddhist extremists and his ruthless Sinhala (99%) Armed Forces from smashing the Tamilks in the North and East of Sri Lanka.

Economic sanctions is a possibility, but only a remote possibility because of the international games I have just described. What military aid the USA, Canada, EU and others refuse to supply, China will be only too willing to supply to safeguard its “String of Pearls” (the oil and trade route from the Middle East to China). Sri Lanka, is one of the “pearls’. That is why the Chinese have offered to build a harbour in Hambantota in the Sinhala South, and do any number of other ‘projects’.. China could not give a damn if the battle tanks it supplies are used to smash the Tamil areas. Israel could not give a damn if the Kfir jets it supplies (powered by American General Electric engines), are used to bomb the Tamil people.

The GOSL is flat broke. Here is a summary released in July 2008 by Dr Harsha de Silva, an economist (a Sinhalese), in Colombo:
Government Revenue Rs 750 billion
Repayment of Loans and Interest Rs 580 billion
Balance Rs 170 billion
Allocation for ‘Defence’ Rs 170 billion
Balance 0

Options to pay public sector workers (excluding Armed Forces and Police)
and other welfare payments are:-
Print money. The Central Bank, with his hand-picked Governor, is part of the government, and does what it is told - to hell with monetary policy or responsibility.
Borrow more (internally or externally) at commercial rates
Tax the hell out of people – already struggling with an escalating cost of living

Half the serious budget deficit, much of it because of a massive allocation for ‘defence’ (US$1.5 billion this year), to defend the country from its own citizens, is financed by loans and grants from foreign countries. It is this that enables the GOSL to continue this unnecessary war.

Inflation currently 29% - is the highest in Asia. To complain about it or question the outrageous allocation for ‘defence’, is treason, traitors who should be lock up Neither charge nor trial are necessary, in the Democratic Socialist Republic, fast becoming a Fascist Dictatorship.

A revolt in the Sinhala South, caused by the escalating dost of living, is coming – but may not be soon enough to save the Tamils from annihilation or the country from bankruptcy...

To target the Sinhalese, the most misled people in Sri Lanka, and tell them that they are being taken for a ride, is urgent.

To block the supply of money to that irresponsible regime in Colombo, is urgent. This is why it is crucial to block the EU GSP+ facility for Sri Lanka (duty concession for goods from Sri Lanka to EU countries, which is dependent on their human rights record). This is coming up for renewal in October 2008, with a decision by the EU in December 2008). This simly must be blocked. The fact that Sri Lanka has, on 21 May 2008, been thrown out of the UN Human Rights Council for its abysmal record on human rights violations, and the fact that the situation has got worse, much worse, since then, should help..If the GSP + facility is removed, it might put the necessary economic pressure on the Government to abandon this murderous attempt at a military ‘solution’ and force a return to the negotiating table.

Worldwide protests is a possibility. I urge the expatriate Tamils (now more than a million), and those who support the struggle of the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity, and safety, in the country of their birth, for that is what this ‘war’ is all about, to come out in their thousands in a series of mass protests launched across the world, to stop the murderous regime in Sri Lanka from destroying the Tamil areas.

I urge the “Sleeping Tamils’, as I call them, to wake up, and ‘get involved’. This can be as simple a job as apprising their non-Sri Lankan friends, of the atrocities being committed by the GOSL. It is for this purpose that I have released a series of dvds on the rapidly deteriorating in Sri Lanka. All you need is to get a copy and show it to your neighbours, church groups etc.. Get them to contact their MP, Congressman or Senator and ask what their Government is doing to stop this outrageous situation. Get them to contact their media and ask why none of this has been aired. This is far more effective than individual Tamils (or others concerned with this serious situation) trying to lobby these people. I have been down this road many times over the past 25 years and know what I am talking about.

What prevents action? Fear
With the exception of the Tamil militants (a relatively recent entity), the Tamils have been, and still are, a frightened people. Fearlessness is not one of their virtues. This has been so since the dawn of Independence (1948), and well before that. I asked my Tamil wife why this should be so. ”Because the Tamils are excellent Government servants. Tell them to jump, and they will ask “How high, Sir?” When in British colonial times, they ended letters with “Your Obedient Servant”, they actually meant it –literally. You Sinhalese wrote the same thing but meant not a word of it. To question authority is not in Tamil genes. That is why they were so sought after by the colonial British. As a Sinhalese you will find this difficult to comprehend”. Yes, I find it “difficult to comprehend”.

In fact, I have had this difficulty all the way back to 1948, .when as a 16 year old boy I watched with amazement what the Tamils would tolerate under the repressive Sinhala regime that had taken over the country from the repression of the colonial British.

I watched with dismay, the futile Gandhi-style non-violent protests by Tamil ‘leaders’ from 1956, being broken up by Government-sponsored Sinhalese hoodlums with monotonous regularity. Non-violent protests do not work against a ruthless regime as anyone in Idi Amin’s Uganda, among many others, will testify. As Mao Zeding rightls said in one of his early quotes, Power flows through the barrel of a gun,, and later, War is a continuation of Politics.

This finally dawned on the Tamils, and in 1972, came the Tamil militant youths. They put a spine in the backs of spineless people. For the first time, the very first time in the recent history of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, the Tamils (or rather, the Tamil youths) stood up and challenged the right of the Sinhala Government to do what it was doing. For the first time, the Sinhala government had to look at the Tamils and their problems. Until then, the Tamils were just a joke.

As I have said in numerous addresses over the past three decades, it was the Tamil militants who forced the GOSL to the negotiating table. Had it not been for them, the Tamils would have been under the table, picking up the crumbs thrown at them by the Sinhala masters sitting at the table.

The expatriate Tamil community was happy to support the Tamil militant struggle from a distance, and that too if they were pushed to do so, but not do anything to put themselves at risk.

They failed to act when the brutal Sinhala regime in Colombo, used (or abused) its powers (and exploited the critical geographical position of Sri Lanka astride the Indian Ocean), and ‘made love’ to foreign powers to ban the Liberation struggle of the Tamil people’ as ‘nothing but terrorism’ This got a marked boost post-9/11.

Expatriate Tamil were criminalized. The word “Tamil” became synonymous with “Tamil terrorists”. The expatriate Tamil community was not prepared to challenge this – this same old problem of not being prepared to challenge ‘authority’. Rather than stand up and challenge this nonsense, they dug bunkers and got into them. The few brave souls who stood up were demonised, arrested as ‘terrorists’, intimidated, harassed and silenced. Some are in jail, or heading for jail, on some absurd charges.

As the monstrously brutal regime in Colombo began to really get going to crush Tamil resistance, the expatriate Tamils got even deeper into their bunker. It is ironic that today, as Kfir jets circle the Tamil North, bombing the hell out of Tamil people and crushing everything that can be crushed, the Tamil people in the area are getting out of their bunkers to challenge the GOSL, while the expatriate Tamils, facing no such danger, are climbing deeper into their bunkers!

The best example of this occurred just yesterday. I will not give you the details, just the gist. A very powerful group of expatriate Tamils in a very powerful country, arranged a meeting, “to discuss the draconian laws and repression of the Tamil people, misrepresentation of the struggle for freedom, criminalizing the Tamils under anti-terror laws in Sri Lanka and abroad, criminalizing the Tamil diaspora under anti-terrorist laws in UK, Canada and European countries.” I was invited to speak

Then came a second email. Would I include "brutal oppression of freedom struggle by the state legislation". I said “No problem”.

I cancelled my patients (which I could financially ill afford to do), and booked my passage. I was about to confirm my flight when I had an email (just 24 hours ago), “We are all worried about the future of Tamils. I have been asked to put on hold all activities. Please delay your booking” I cancelled my flight. I asked for clarification. “I have been asked” by whom? On what grounds? Please reply – urgent. I have had no reply.

Consider this. Here is a Sinhalese, who has nothing to gain from getting involved in this struggle, who has put his medical practice on hold, and is about to travel 23 hours (economy class, I might add), to take whatever risks there are (and with Sinhalese hoodlums around, there are risks), to address an important meeting in a major country at a time when the Tamil people are facing their biggest crisis ever. And what do his Tamil hosts do? Cancel the meeting.

Am I annoyed? No. Am I disappointed? No. Then what are my feelings? A sense of satisfaction that my assessment of the expatriate Tamils is correct. And that intimidation by a bunch of racist hoodlums, both in Sri Lanka, and abroad, works. The ‘spine’ put into Tamil backs by the Tamil militants, has all but collapsed..

That is why, after more than half a century, the Tamils are still struggling for a place (the traditional areas of habitation of the Tamil people), where they can live with equality, dignity, safety and safety, which is what this struggle has been all about

Protest now
For the sake of a brutalized people, I urge you to put your cowardice aside., and protest. Protest now, tomorrow might be too late for the Tamils of the North and East of Sri Lanka. Protest now, or watch the Genocide of the Tamil people. The choice is yours.

Brisbane, Australia 21 August 2008

1 Com:

Peter Boyle | September 24, 2008

How can people get the DVDs referred to in this article?

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