(Photos all courtesy of Rikki):
Tamil Block (one of many)
mock concentration camp
"in our thousands, in our millions.. we are all both Tamil & Palestinian"
The march started from Hyde Park Corner at 1pm, with a mock detention camp with pretend barbed wire and mock detainees suppressed by mock army-troops set up in the road outside the Hilton Hotel. The demands of the Tamil community in the march were for:
* The end of disappearences from the camps and missing persons must be found
* For people in the camps to be allowed to return to a normal way of life immediately
* And for the perpetrators of the Genocide to be brought to Justice
The march then set off chanting slogans such as “Justice for Tamils, Tamils for Freedom” and “Stop Stop Genocide”, and went on through to Piccadilly, then down Whitehall, turning into Victoria Embankment along the Thames to where it finished at Temple on Embankment. There, everyone sat in the road to hear speeches from Tony Benn, Sivajilingam (a Tamil MP from the Tamil National Alliance), Andy Higginbottom (Colombia Solidarity Campaign & the International Committee Against Disapperances), Jan Jananayagam (Tamil MEP candidate), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Simon Hughes MP and Tim Martin (Act-Now!). All speakers talked about the great dignity of the Tamil people in extraordinarily upsetting times, starting with Tony Benn. Andy Higginbottom spoke after him and gave an impassioned, rousing speech about the failure of the international community and the need for grassroots social movements to find a solution to the crisis themselves in the absence of political leadership from nation states. He went on to talk about the humanitarian crisis in the internment camps holding those displaced from the conflict in Sri Lanka, questioning how the international community could simply accept the Sri Lankan government’s assertion that these are merely refugee camps. Sivajilingam – the Tamil MP visiting the UK – went on to talk about something he has long been calling for - the formation of a transnational political party in exile for the Tamil Eelam nation formed within the international Tamil diaspora which the new LTTE leadership have now called for after announcing the end of the military struggle. Jeremy Corbyn struck a similar theme to Andy Higginbottom, and was followed by Simon Hughes who again focused on the need for unity amongst Tamils in trying times, expressing his admiration for how the community had so far conducted themselves and successfully managed to get the issue of the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka into the mainstream of public opinion here in the UK for the first time (perhaps overstating the case, for most people are still not aware of the issue in this country thanks to an at-best 'partial' media exposure of the ongoing story in the British media).
Background to the question of Tamil Eelam and the current human rights catastrophe in Sri Lanka:
The current situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka is abhorent and their situation amounts a kind of 'slow genocide'. People are crammed together in filthy conditions with woeful and inadequate sanitation, food shortages, families split up & children being disappeared, and disease spreading amidst a shortage of medical treatment. UNHCR, Oxfam, UNICEF and ICRC have all commented that the camps do not meet international standards and that shelter, food and medical aid is inadequate. Amnesty International has received consistent reports of widespread and serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearance, extra-judicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment, forced recruitment by paramilitary groups, and sexual violence. Humanitarian organizations, UN monitors and the international media still do not have access to all of the camps. According to reports of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in the week ending 7th June, “over 13,000 internally displaced people disappeared from Sri Lanka’s internment camps for Tamil civilians”, Inner City Press reports.
Even Sri Lanka’s Sri Lankan Chief Justice - Sarath N. Silva – has broken ranks to criticise the IDP camps. He said, “"Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Vanni sheltered in transit centres in Cheddiku'lam cannot expect justice under the Sri Lanka's law. Law of the country does not show any interest on these IDPs. I openly say this. The authorities can penalize me for telling this”. Aid Agency Christian Aid predicted the imminent outbreak of disease in the Sri Lankan camps for Tamil civilian, although there have already been reports of the outbreak of some disease in densely populated, squalid conditions.
Sunila Abeysekera, a human rights activist and executive director of INFORM human rights documentation center in Sri Lanka, in an interview to Real News Network in Toronto, accused the Sri Lanka Government authorities of not providing enough attention to the welfare of the nearly 300,000 people in the internment camps who have come to these camps after months of deprivation, and said that the lack of proper registration procedures for the people inside the camp is providing Colombo a free hand in facilitating the Paramilitaries to take youths out of the camps in large numbers without any accountability. "Many of the people are dehydrated and have infected wounds," Abeysekara said, and pointed to the April 11th statement by the High Court Judge in Vavuniyaa that fourteen elderly people died of starvation in one day. Ref: http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=29593
What have the Sri Lankan government got to hide in refusing the international media access to the camps? Sri Lanka have only just allowed UN monitors and the relief agencies more open access to the camps, though as of Wednesday 17th June, this did not extend to all camps in the country. While the Sri Lankan President is still suppressing the humanity in the concentration camps of Vanni, the world is simply watching. So far, the UN General Secretary is sitting idly by while the human rights catastrophe continues to unfold in Sri Lanka, publicly stating that the current situation is "an internal matter". Despite massive international pressure, on Wed 27th May, the United Nations Human Rights Council refused calls to investigate allegations of war crimes by both sides. Instead it supported Sri Lanka in handling the humanitarian crisis under it's own initiative. The session had been called because of alarm over the high number of civilian casualties as well as the island's treatment of displaced Tamil civilians. The call by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay for aid agencies to be given free access to the camps so they can provide the Tamils with critical relief was not agreed.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s proclamation in a speech in Colombo on May 7th that the Government of Sri Lanka is “fully engaged in delivering all the basic needs to the people in the welfare centres” and that “the media has also been given unhindered access” exposes the sickening doublespeak of an increasingly totalitarian regime. A long standing culture of impunity from prosecution and tolerance of the worst excesses of mob violence reveal a deeply ingrained racism against Tamils in a country which increasingly resorts to extreme pro-statist propaganda and a sophisticated, extensive governmental institutional apparatus well skilled within international diplomacy through the use of sophistry and chicanery of the highest order. Oongoing repression of independent media & of government critics continues
In the recent conflict in Sri Lanka, there are allegations of atrocities having being carried out on both sides - the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers, with widespread reports the Sri-Lankan army used chemical weapons, though witnesses are hard to find as the SL government excluded the international media & NGOs from the conflict zone (more below).
The historic root to the ethnic conflict stems from a legacy of British colonialism which forcefully amalgamated two separate kingdoms of two nations of people and bestowed upon the higher-caste Tamil population a disproportionate share in the state administration under a notorious strategy of divide and rule, with the high caste Tamil population adopted the English educational system, festering a lifetime of resentment amongst the Sinhalese population that later sparked the fires of Sinhala chauvinism and propelled the emergence of Sinhala nationalism.
Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948. Independence from British rule resulted in the transfer of political power to the Sinhalese majority. The Tamils, an ethnic minority making up 24% of the island’s population, were mainly concentrated in the north and east of the island. Independence from British rule resulted in the transfer of political power to the Sinhalese majority. From the start, the Tamil people found themselves increasingly excluded from both the governance of the country as well as victims of a wider discrimination. The Sinhalese government introduced discriminatory policies including: anti-Tamil employment rules; unfair education laws; stripping Tamil plantation workers of their citizenship (1 million Tamils had been brought into the country by the British many years before); and making Sinhala, the language of the Sinhalese majority, the island’s official language. Sinhalese national chauvinism reigned supreme and fuelled a vicious and violent form of state oppression against the Tamil people. Over the years, there have been various riots and attacks on the Tamil population and their interests by Sinhalese mobs, which have consistently been tolerated with impunity, with a history of rape against Tamil women having particularly been used as a weapon. Violence towards Tamils has been fuelled by a holy book called Mahavamsa, a book with controversial writings, full of hatred towards the Tamils.
(Important evidence for the historic root of Sinhalese human rights abuse and discrimination - an old article from The Times of London from 1956):
Sinhalese state oppression has a continuous history of more than half a century since independence and has been practiced by successive Sri Lanka governments. It was this series of events which gave birth to the Tamil Tiger guerrilla movement (LTTE) 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. The USA, UK and international community proscribed the Tigers "terrorist organisation" after 911 in 2001.
However, emphasisng the depth of the conflict, the discovery of mass graves in Jaffna between 1999 & 2004 indicated the escalation of state repression that has been increasingly metered out by the SL government as years have gone by.
Prior to the latest episode in what has been an ongoing civil war, in 2000, major military gains by the Tigers and the dire state of the Sri Lankan economy as a result of the 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.
In negotiations the LTTE sought the establishment of an interim self-governing authority in the north-east to facilitate human rights protection as well as “resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and development in the north-east, while the process of reaching a final settlement remains ongoing”. However, throughout the peace process, 'liberal' hawks within the international community cast aspersions on the LTTE's commitment and belittled its efforts to govern the areas under its control. Conversely, they papered over the state's chauvinism with bureaucratic and technocratic excuses. They poured scorn on the LTTE's attempts to reconcile international demands with its real and substantive security concerns, whilst ignoring the LTTE's concessions at the negotiation table. Within months of the 2002 ceasefire, the 'liberals' had forgotten that it was the LTTE that had called for international mediation and, from a position of military strength, first offered a unilateral ceasefire, instead asserting that the 'reluctant' LTTE had been forced into the ceasefire. Far from offering the Tamil people anything in negotiations that could lead to a lasting peace, the United National Party (UNP) Government failed even to implement the provisions of the ceasefire agreement. It failed to allow Tamils to return to their homes in the “high security zones” occupied by the SLA, or have the SLA vacate public buildings in Tamil towns. It also failed to disarm the pro-Government paramilitary death squads.
As a result, the LTTE suspended its participation in negotiations in 2003. The UNP was replaced in 2004 elections, which were boycotted almost totally by the Tamil population, by the even more chauvinist Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Several Tamil MPs elected in the last parliamentary elections in the country in 2004 have been murdered, including Mr Maheswaran and Nadarajah Raviraj. Veteran Eastern Province Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham was shot dead at the St. Mary's Cathedral in Batticaloa during midnight mass at Christmas, 2004.
The most-recent escalation in the 26-year conflict recommenced when the Sri Lankan government launched major offensive operations in April 2006, displacing over 40,000 Tamil civilians in 3 days. Their offensive stepped up a notch in mid-2007 when it ordered international NGOs out of Vanni. Five thousand Tamils in ‘controlled zones’ disappeared. All this happened despite the fact that the LTTE called for a ceasefire and peace talks in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
Sri Lankan Air Force bombers destroyed the Ponnampalam Memorial Hospital in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in northern Sri Lanka on February 6. According to Tamilnet.com, 61 patients were killed in the attack.
By February 2009, there were approximately 495,000 conflict-displaced persons in Sri Lanka. Of this number, 281,698 were displaced after April 2006 and approximately 214,000 from the period before. The biggest number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in 2008 were in the Vanni where, due to access restrictions, getting accurate figures was impossible. The UN was estimating around 230,000 IDPs in the Vanni area as of November 2008; the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies estimated around 300,000 IDPs; the government in some cases was suggesting a figure as low as 100,000. By April 2009, the majority of IDPs in Sri Lanka were in the government-controlled areas where they had fled from Vanni.
The Sri Lankan Government had declared an end to the use of heavy weapons on April 27. And yet, the medical relief group, Medecins Sans Frontiers reported that the civilians pouring out of the conflict zone included large numbers of people with blast, mine and gunshot wounds. Up to 30,000 Tamil civilians have been left severely disabled by Sri Lankan army shelling in the so-called 'no-fire zone', it has been revealed (Dean Nelson, The Telegraph, 24 May). International aid agencies say that SL authorities prevented access during the conflict and hampered the entry of life-saving medical supplies and evacuations of wounded people.
A humanitarian worker who’dd been serving in Sri Lanka's Vanni district for more than a decade until he fled in mid-May at the height of the Sri Lankan military assault against the last Tamil-held areas in northeastern Sri Lanka estimated that Sri Lankan government forces killed or injured 25,000-30,000 civilians in the span of just a few days during its final offensive against Tamil militants. He told Catholic News Service in Rome, May 21 that the high number of casualties was caused by "a generous use" of weapons, such as cluster and chemical bombs, which are banned by international treaties and, therefore, their use represents a crime against humanity. Government forces launched a ground offensive in Vanni, bombarding areas with cluster bombs, cannons, multibarrel rocket launchers, and chemical and incendiary bombs such as Napalm and white phosphorous, the aid worker said. [Taken from: “Banned arms' use caused high casualties in Sri Lanka, says aid worker”, by Carol Glatz - Catholic News Service. Ref: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0902368.htm].
The campaign ‘Act-Now’ learned of witness reports that SLA troops had been digging large holes with mechanical diggers in the area of the final conflict zone, as claims of numbers who have fled the so-called ‘no-fire zone’ enclave in Mullaithivu remain unverified. On Sunday 17th May, between 25,000 to 50,000 civilians were still stranded on the 7.7 sq km narrow strip of northern coastline where 150,000 civilians had been confined alongside Tamil Tigers fighters in the final conflict. Due to exclusion of UN monitors, relief agencies and international media, it was not possible to verify the whereabouts of this number of people – whilst total numbers being detained in the IDP camps have similarly been unable to be verified.
Report published by Amnesty International entitled, ‘Twenty Years of Make-Believe: Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry’, Amnesty International accuse the Sri Lankan government of “failure in delivering justice for serious human rights violations over the past twenty years”, which they describe as having “trapped the country in a vicious cycle of abuse and impunity.”
In terms of the forming of popular opinion about what is happening in Sri Lanka, whilst the BBC has been lacklustre in it's coverage of what has been going on in Sri Lanka, Channel 4's own coverage has been consistently exploratory. Examples of Channel-4 coverage are here:
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 is concerned with 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. Ports and airfields like Hambantota, sited along the Eurasian seaways are referred to as China’s 'string of pearls'.
[Source: The Strategist - 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 has been questioned in this respect.
Under-reported is the fact that as well as Russia, Israel continues to supply Sri Lanka with arms and military training even after the United States and Britain stopped arms trading with Sri Lanka over the government’s human rights violations. Israeli Air Force pilots reportedly flew Sri Lankan attack aircraft against Tamil Tiger targets on the Jaffna peninsula in the 1990s.
[Source: “Read It To Believe It: Israel's Ties in Sri Lanka”; Pakistan Daily - Fri 15 May 2009
Ref: http://www.daily.pk/world/asia/10087-read-it-to-believe-it-israels-ties-in-sri-lanka.html ].
Blood for Oil, again? Surprise-surprise
Meanwhile, pending approval by the UN is Sri Lanka's ownership of a sea bed where there are oild deposits off the east coast of the island in the Indian Ocean, west of the Andaman Islands, as part of it's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is to build it's first oil well off the coast of mannar early next year.
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.”
Gangsterism & the reaping of a bitter harvest
The Tamils wish for a separate homeland can only be stronger in the diaspora, whether by those who renounce the futility of war or those who will incubate resentment and have a taste for revenge. Despite pronouncements from the Sri Lankan president of the government’s intention to positively engage with the Tamil population and broker a new mediation process, the extent of the human rights abuse in the recent military offensive has destroyed any remnant of goodwill between both ethnic groups on the island. Tamils simply don’t believe what they observe as blatant doublespeak by the Sinhalese state; the depth of the crisis has served to only further entrench both sides from reaching a meaningful political solution. In any case, they remain poles apart in eachothers ultimate desired outcomes. Recent events have only further entrenched Tamil’s desire to independent status.
Tamils have long argued that, without a credible military threat, the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism that led to the conflict and served to escalate it to this catastrophic point will unfurl in all its supremacist glory.
The fear is that some elements within the LTTE and the independence 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. This will be even more likely if the international community fail to act and wholeheartedly apply themselves to resolving the Tamil’s now overwhelming set of grievances.
Important evidence of latest human rights abuses:
Appeal to World Leaders for release of Dr. Shanmugarajah, Dr. Varatharajah and Dr Sathiyamoorthy
News stories of particular interest:
Vanni IDPs live under appalling condition: Sri Lankan Chief Justice
[TamilNet, Thursday, 04 June 2009]
Camp disappearances reach alarming levels - Rights advocate
[TamilNet, Sunday, 14 June 2009]
Tamils languishing in Sri Lankan Death Camps, by Richard Dixon
Sri Lanka accused of 'ethnic cleansing' of Tamil areas,
by Dean Nelson, The Daily Telegraph
Published: 26 May 2009
Evidence of the use of chemical weapons during the recent SLA offensive: