Tamil solidarity event in North London this Sunday:
By Mark S Brown (aka markibrown - tlio)
Whilst a human rights catastrophe has unfolded across the northern region of Sri-Lanka, military forces of the Sri Lankan government are on the verge of seizing the last small patch of rebel held territory on 16/05/09.
Since January 2009, the Sri Lankan government advanced and took over large swathes of Tamil Tiger (LTTE) territory across the north of the country, pushing Tamils into narrow strip of northern coastline measuring 10 sq km in the north-east of the island - LTTE’s last remaining enclave in Vanni. An unquestionable brutal military offensive of a captive Tamil civilian population is already shown to have been a clear violation of various UN conventions on human rights. More than 300,000 Tamils have been under siege by the Sri Lankan forces. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which rarely makes public comment, called this conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil rebels, 'nothing short of catastrophic'.
The Sri-Lankan government’s version of events have been largely accepted by the western media, principally that Tamil civilians were being held hostage by the LTTE in the military standoff. Details within this latest escalation in the long-running conflict between the Sinhalese government and Tamil liberation forces bypassed by western media include the use of chemical weapons and aerial bombing of a captive civilian population including the targeting of hospitals in the so-called “no-fire zone”, the withholding of supplies of food and medical aid and water supply to a captive population, the dismemberment of young adults and allegations of rape and torture in 'welfare centre’ camps by government forces. Meanwhile the ICRC ship carrying emergency supply of food provided by the World Food Organization (WFO) was prevented from delivering its consignments due to refusal of the Sri Lankan Government to provide security guarantees, even though LTTE has given all clearance and guarantees. And another ship working on medical evacuations also prevented from reaching shores with the same reason.
The Sri Lankan state & military mindset is formed by the knowledge that Israeli attacks against similarly confined civilians go with impunity. It is estimated around 100,000 people have already died in the conflict, with accusations of genocide rife. That the UK media is once again acquiescing in their own censorship is hardly surprising, as in the ‘war on Gaza,’ western media organizations have been denied access to the Tamil enclave surrounded by government forces.
Sri Lankan airforce Generals who say they do not target civilians, publicly state that if they are being hurt, it is not because the SL army have been raining down artillery shells upon them, but because of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) who are continuing to resist the forces of law and order. Reports of the use of Tamil civilians as human shields by the Tigers are rife also, though have not been corroborated by anyone. It is not clear how far this is the case as there is evidence that there are many civilians who are family members of LTTE fighters who are intent on staying with their loved ones to the last.
Sri Lanka’s current problems can be traced back to the legacy of British colonialism, when Great Britain forced independence on Ceylon in 1948 as one administrative unit, a move originally made in 1833 to rule over three distinct kingdoms. The island of Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon until the promulgation of the new Republican Constitution in 1972) is the historical homeland of two ancient civilisations – the ancient Dravidian (Tamil) population, who greeted the arrival of the Sinhala people who arrived on the island with their legendary Prince Vijaya from the `city of Sinhapura in Bengal' in the 6th century BC. When the Portuguese first landed on the island in the beginning of the 16th century, and the Dutch after them, both imperial powers governed the Tamil nation as a separate kingdom, recognising the Tamil homeland and the ethnic identity and integrity of the Tamil people. The British occupied the island from 1796, and in 1833 merged the Tamil and Sinhala nations into one unit for administrative convenience.
Between the 1840s and 1850s, a million people were imported – mainly poor, oppressed castes from Tamil Nadu. Tamils, who under the British had had a greater success in business and administration than the Sinhalese, were discriminated against.
Balasingham: “British colonial rule forcefully amalgamated two separate kingdoms of
two nations of people. However, the British encouraged the higher-caste Tamils and provided them with an adequate share in the state administration under a notorious strategy of divide and rule, that later sparked the fires of Sinhala chauvinism, as a section of the high caste Tamil population adopted the English educational system. Tamil dominance is the state administrative structure as well as in the plantation economic sector, together with the privileges enjoyed by the English educated elites and the spread of Christianity are factors which propelled the emergence of Sinhala nationalism.” [Source: Taken from "War & Peace: Armed Struggle & Peace efforts of Liberation Tigers", by Anton Balasingham (2004) Fairmax Publishing Ltd].
Independence from British rule in the transfer of political power to the Sinhalese majority fuelled a vicious and violent form of state oppression against the Tamil people. State oppression has a continuous history of more than half a century since independence and has been practiced by successive Sri Lanka governments. The following are the main events which occurred over time to perpetuate this trend:
1948: Citizenship Act; 1 million Tamils declared non-citizens
1949: Sinhalese colonisation of traditional Tamil homeland starts
1956: Sinhala Only Act passed; Sinhala made sole official language
Mass non-violent Tamil protest brutally repressed by government forces and Sinhala mobs. Further state-sponsored violence occurs in 1958, 1961 and 1974
1970: ‘Ethnic standardisation’ slashes university admission to Tamils (same entrance exam, but Tamils are forced to score 30%)
1972: New Constitution without Tamil participation passed
- unilateral name change of country from ‘Ceylon’ to ‘Sri-Lanka’
- declaration of Sri Lanka as a republic
- Buddhism declared state religion
It was this series of events which gave birth to the Tamil Tiger guerrilla movement in 1976 and the growth of the armed resistance campaign of the Tamils. The raison-detre of the Tamil fight for independence was perhaps most succinctly expressed by Anton Balasingham who said in his book ‘War & Peace’: “national oppression is the enemy of class struggle …working class solidarity is practically unattainable when national oppression presents itself as the major contradiction between the two nations.”
The Tamil Tigers were comprised of a sea and air force, and previously launched attacks on government military airports. They assassinated former Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. However, it attracted negative attention for deploying suicide bombers and has been lambasted for allegedly recruiting children as young as twelve to engage in armed combat against government troops.
Downward spiral of ethnic violence
Civil war erupted in 1983. After the LTTE killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers in an ambush, 3,000 Tamils were slaughtered in government-instigated Sinhalese programmes in ‘Black July’. Since then the violence has spiralled out of control, claiming over 70,000 lives.
Major military gains by the Tigers and the dire state of the Sri Lankan economy as a result of the ongoing war were the key factors that forced the Sri Lankan Government to respond positively to unilateral LTTE ceasefires declared in 2000 and 2001. The February 2002 Norwegian-mediated ceasefire agreement has been the longest-lasting attempt to bring peace. However, practically all attempts from talks in 1985, those held in 1987, the failed negotiations in 1994-95, to the most recent ones in 2002, have eventually all collapsed or stalemated in the end.
This might have something to do with the fact that the LTTE are a proscribed terrorist organisation. The discrimination against LTTE in negotiations that give full representation to the views of the Sri Lankan Singalese government is a key part of the problem and the ongoing political stalemate. As a former colonial territory which existed in its own right alongside the Singalese nation, the Tamil Nation has not received true recognition for it’s own history and how it came about. Any historical analysis of this situation is similarly never examined.
Several Tamil MPs elected in the last pariamentary elections in the country in 2004 have been murdered, including Mr Maheswaran and Nadarajah Raviraj. Veteran Eastern Province Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead last year at the St. Mary's Cathedral in Batticaloa during midnight mass for Christmas.
Land grab under the guise of development
The Mahaweli Development Project, the largest single development programme undertaken by the Government of Sri Lanka so far, which started in 1977, included the construction of a cascade of large dams along river Mahaweli, channelling water to irrigation projects in the drier north-central parts of the island and provided hydroelectric power from 3 dams. The scheme had the added effect of splitting the north and east of the country, dividing the Tamil enclave with large resettlement of the Singalese population occurring – principally a land grab under the guise of development. Environmental effects included a rise in the watertable thus necessitating drainage and increased salinity in some areas and contamination of natural water ways due to high usage of agrochemicals in agricultural practices. Additionally, the Victoria dam wiped out the last habitat of the Veddha tribe, a dam built by UK-based Balfour Beatty which was allegedly completed in part-exchange for military armaments.
Recent military offensives in the north by government forces which swept entire populations of Tamils into the enclave in the north east over recent months have resulted in a widespread dispersal of munitions and landmines in forests across the region.
China’s ‘String of Pearls’
Observers have pointed to the fact that China is quietly strengthening its strategic position in the Indian Ocean. China’s strategic interest in the island, underscored by it’s military assistance to the Sri Lankan government, is manifest in the building of a $1 billion port at Hambantota on Sri Lanka's south coast, to use as a refuelling and docking station for its navy - an essential component of China’s need to secure shipping lanes across the Indian Ocean and through the Straits of Melaka and the South China Sea for it’s supplies of Saudi oil. To safeguard its shipping, China needs to be capable of projecting power into the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. From ports and airfields like Hambantota, sited along the Eurasian seaways like a 'string of pearls', Chinese forces could gather intelligence, protect its shipping and attack hostile navies. [Source: The Strategist - Ref: http://kotare.typepad.com/thestrategist/2009/05/chinese-in-sri-lanka.html ].
Ever since Sri Lanka agreed to the plan, in March 2007, China has increased military aid and arms sales to Sri Lanka. China became it’s biggest arms supplier in the 1990s; in April 2007, Sri Lanka signed a classified $37.6 million (£25 million) deal to buy Chinese ammunition and ordnance for its army and navy, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly, and according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, China gave Sri Lanka — apparently free of charge — six F7 jet in 2008. China’s aid to Sri Lanka jumped from a few million dollars in 2005 to almost $1 billion last year, replacing Japan as the biggest foreign donor. [Source: “Chinese billions in Sri Lanka fund battle against Tamil Tigers”, The Times Online, May 2, 2009 – Ref: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6207487.ece ].
China’s impartiality in taking their seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council must be questioned in this respect.
IMF loan denounced
Following the 750bn IMF Emergency funding received at the recent G20 leader's Summit in London in April, the first real test to any improvement in the abysmal human rights record of the International Monetary Fund has been fortified by a 'letter before (legal) action' to the British Government. In the letter sent to high level British Government officials, Public Interest Lawyers, a group of attorneys representing a Tamil activist group in UK, charge that in light of the Sri Lankan Government's systematic and gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law "the UK under international law has various obligations, namely, to denounce and not recognise the situation in Sri Lanka as lawful [and] not to render aid and assistance to Sri Lanka. Amongst other things, the letter seeks:
“An immediate, clear and unequivocal declaration that the UK government will vote against the proposed $1.9 billion IMF emergency support loan to the Sri Lankan government.”
End Game no nearer
A victory by the Sri Lankan state at this juncture is no victory even for that state.
The Sri Lankan state in aiming for feudal or colonial ambitions, will never end the actual war in this way. The LTTE and the struggle are not only sure to survive but will find resurgence in a more severe Form, returning to an underground resistance with the return of suicide bombing as a tactic.
Furthermore, the current military operations and the possible incompleteness of them in the annihilation of the LTTE leadership, which Colombo is soon going to realise and going to complain about, will serve only for its excuses of not agreeing to meaningful political solutions.
This article (or version thereof) will be published in the Summer issue (Issue No-7) of 'The Land ' magazine
Ref for this article: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LegacyofColonialism/message/2100
Further sources of info:
Bloodbath unfolding in Sri Lanka
Tamil humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka deepens, world looks away
Tamil solidarity event this Sunday
Together 4 Tamils