UN Human Rights chief Navaneetham Pillay’s forthcoming report to the Human Rights Council, extracts of which appeared this weekend in a Sri Lankan newspaper, makes a clear and unambiguous call: for an international investigation into the mass atrocities of the final months of the island’s civil war. The High Commissioner’s call will be welcomed by the diverse array of actors, both ‘local’ and international, who have been steadfastly campaigning for five years for accountability for the war crimes and crimes against humanity in which at least 70,000 people were systematically slaughtered in 2009. In particular, it will be enthusiastically welcomed by the Tamil people, for whom the mass killings – described by an earlier report by a UN panel of experts as amounting to ‘systematic targetting' and 'persecution’ of them – constituted genocide by the Sri Lankan state.
Almost five years after the fighting ceased, impunity still rules. Quiet diplomacy, expert reports, video footage of atrocities and two UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutions have failed to force Sri Lanka to fall in line. Instead, emboldened by the lack of international action and the military defeat of the LTTE, an increasingly brazen Sri Lankan state is rebuffing the international community, whilst systematically dismantling the Tamil nation and its homeland in the North-East. Sri Lanka's lamentations of insufficient time and space belie a reality where the more time and space granted, the worse the situation becomes for the Tamil people. The end of the armed conflict, far from bringing them the promises of peace, left them at the mercy of a Sri Lankan state drunk on its Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism. Amidst this intensifying crisis, Tamils both at home and abroad, along side all those who believe in justice and accountability, have high expectations for the year to come. As all eyes look to the UNHRC next month, on which key states have pinned warnings and deadlines, the calls for an international inquiry are at fever pitch.
Today the Tamil nation unites in an act of collective remembrance. From gatherings in diaspora locales to silent moments of thought in the occupied homeland, Tamils pause to remember all those who gave their lives in protracted struggle against the genocidal onslaught of the Sinhala state. What began as commemoration of those who fell in a war of liberation is today the defining moment of solidarity in the cause of national resistance. Marking not the finality of death, but the solemnity of sacrifice, the symbolism of this single day, like no other, is a thread that unites the Tamil nation across the world’s borders and reiterates at once its identity and its unyielding defiance in the face of genocide.
Sri Lanka had intended its hosting of the Commonwealth leaders’ summit last week to burnish its international standing and, in particular, decisively crush the growing worldwide campaign for accountability for its wartime atrocities and ongoing human rights abuses. In actuality, the summit turned into an unmitigated public relations disaster, with these very issues eclipsing the conference and drawing wall-to-wall international media coverage. This unexpected and welcome outcome can be directly traced to the boycotts of the summit by leaders of Canada, Mauritius and, reluctantly, India, and,...
As India’s External Affairs Minister arrived for the CHOGM summit today, he sought to underplay the significance of the Indian Prime Minister’s absence. Manmohan Singh was forced to withdraw in response to concerted political pressure from Tamil Nadu where the State Assembly has unanimously passed two resolutions demanding an Indian boycott. Whilst Tamil Nadu insists that India must make justice for the Tamils central to its policy in Sri Lanka, Delhi thinks otherwise. Wedded to an out of date Cold War framework in which great power interests are calibrated by spheres of influence, and subsequently driven by paranoia about Chinese investments in the region, it desperately seeks influence in Sri Lanka and is willing to collude with Colombo’s crimes to that end. But this conciliatory approach is bound to fail. The central obstacle to Indian interests on the island is the Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian order that produced the Rajapaksa presidency. Until India works to undermine and contain this, it will not be able to realise any of its commercial, political or diplomatic objectives on the island.
Writing in the Tamil Guardian on Thursday , British Premier David Cameron set out his government’s rationale for rejecting the growing calls, both at home and abroad, for him to boycott the Commonwealth leaders’ summit in Sri Lanka next week. Whilst noting the Sri Lankan government’s “ poor record on human rights and cruel treatment of the Tamils ” – an understatement given the steadily mounting evidence – and the grave “ allegations ” of war crimes and sexual violence, Mr Cameron’s argument, in sum, is that to secure the “ change ” he wants to see, “ the right thing to do is to engage ” with Colombo. We disagree. In fact, it is precisely Britain’s policy of essentially unconditional engagement that has enabled, and emboldened, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime to thumb its nose at international demands for accountability and justice, and to intensify its repression of the Tamil people.
Amidst mounting criticism from an array of voices, the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary continue to insist that they will be attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo next month, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office going to extensive lengths to defend this decision. Calls for a boycott are gathering momentum, including an explicit promise of support from Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary. Meanwhile the Indian Prime Minister is said to be reconsidering his attendance as protest grows in Tamil Nadu, including protests against...
The landslide victory of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election was an act of sheer defiance by the Tamil people. Their emphatic endorsement of the TNA at the ballot box - whose campaign highlighted the core Tamil political demands and the Tamil armed resistance for independence - was a resolute affirmation (through the only means available to them) that the political aspirations outlined in the Thimphu declaration of 1985, continue to be the basis of the Tamil struggle. This was not a vote for the TNA. It was a vote for resistance. It was a refusal to accept the government's mantra of 'development, rehabilitation and reconciliation' and an unequivocal assertion to the international community of the absolute minimum political demands of the Tamil people. Ironically, through the process of voting in the election, the Tamil people categorically rejected the NPC as any basis to a political solution. Four years after the government celebrated the military defeat of the LTTE, as the quashing of the Tamil nation's call for freedom, this could not be further from the truth. The people have spoken and their message is clear – they have not surrendered. The Tamil people demand the right to self-determination.
Recent weeks have once again seen the Sri Lankan military enjoying cordial ties with several members of the international community, including states that have led the call for accountability and justice, as well as been at the forefront of criticising the present militarisation that pervades the North-East and the island as a whole. The US military continues to provide training and hold joint military exercises, as well as engage in ‘development’ projects in the North-East with their Sri Lankan counterparts. Meanwhile, it recently emerged that the UK has approved over £8mn worth of arms sales to the country, including small arms and assault rifles. Current engagement by the West, far from yielding any progress, is only serving to legitimise, embolden and endorse Sri Lanka’s military. Four years of ‘engagement’ has not resulted in progress. The call for justice and accountability has not produced any meaningful results, militarisation is only becoming more pervasive and the military continue to act with impunity.
The shooting of unarmed protesters by a state’s military, as took place in Weliweriya this week , is horrific. The profound perversity of a state turning its military apparatus on the people it purports to protect is universally felt. The Tiananmen Square massacre, Bloody Sunday and even Egypt today, are cases in point. The insurmountable inequity of force and the ensuing bloodshed of the unarmed protesters form a chilling reminder of a state’s simmering potential to abuse its monopoly on violence. The outrage and shock that has reverberated through Sri Lanka’s south following the Weliweriya incident is thus well placed. Yet as with the killings of other dissenting individuals, this tragedy highlights the intractable fallacy of an equal or inclusive ‘Sri Lankan identity’. In Sri Lanka, even death is no equaliser. The killing of a dissenter is defined by ethno-political identity, both that of the individual and their demands.