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A particularly British failure
Jan Jananayagam Tamil Guardian 20 May 2011 Print ArticleE-mail ArticleFeedback On Article

The unimaginable horrors that were inflicted on the Tamil people have now been documented by the UN, by INGOs and by the International media.

We are here to remember their lives, their dreams and all that they stood for. The values of the Tamil people are epitomized in a single line in the UN report released just last month.

This line describes how as hospitals were relentlessly bombed by the Sri Lankan army, as the army blockaded food from the people in order that they would be weakened from hunger and would die, after the international aid agencies including the UN had abandoned them, even as there was no anaesthetic for operations and the wards were filled with the dying, even then ordinary people continued to come forward to donate blood to those who were in need.

They who were hardly in a position to look after themselves risked the shells, risked infection, thus risked their lives so that their countrymen might live. Such courage and generosity are the highest values of the Tamil people.

They will live for eternity in our memories and in the monuments that we will build to them. Let us remember their tremendous achievements under conditions of utter adversity.

In 1995 the people of the Vanni chose to flee the Sri Lankan state, a state where the Tamil people continue to live in fear of xenophobic pogroms, in fear of physical violence at military checkpoints, where masked soldiers and paramilitaries randomly enter their homes at night to abduct, rape and murder, where men in unmarked vans take away their sons, daughters and family members never to be seen again – all because of their ethnicity, their race.

The people of the Vanni fled an apartheid state and carved out for themselves a free country out of inhospitable jungle land, the free de-facto state of Tamil Eelam.

It is a failure of the British government, that it did not support the aspirations of the Tamil people for a free state. Far worse, it failed to intervene to prevent the genocide that was committed on an innocent people. It now delays in punishing genocide, an international treaty obligation. All this in contrast to the interventions in Libya, Afghanistan and other recent military endeavours.

This a particularly British failure because of the historic obligation of Britain in Sri Lanka. For the modern, unitary state of Sri Lanka was artificially created by the British state – thereby setting in motion the conditions for genocide. 

The British government’s delay in seeking international justice for victims of genocide must be a matter of continuing shame for our country.

We as British citizens demand that the British government lives up to its international obligations, that it recognizes formally that genocide has occurred in Sri Lanka and it moves the UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council and General Assembly for an international investigation.

I know that the entire British people stand with us in this demand. Because it is consistent with fairness and the rule of law, both of which are deeply held British values.

A failure to hold Sri Lanka accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide can only have wider repercussions for Britain. The precedent set by Sri Lanka’s impunity with regard to the rules of war enshrined in the Geneva conventions and in the ICC statutes can only make other conflicts more dangerous for British soldiers.

Military cooperation with Sri Lanka either in UN peacekeeping missions or, as recently revealed by Wikileaks, to assist in Afghanistan can only serve to export their particular brand of war crimes to other regions of the world creating more resentment and radicalisation.

This unspoken quid pro quo where Sri Lanka avoids accountability for war crimes in return for military and security cooperation is morally repulsive. It must be openly opposed by the institutions of British government including the Foreign Office and the MoD.

Each of the 40,000 whom we count as dead and the 100,000 and more that remain unaccounted and are presumed dead, each of these lives was precious. Each of them demands justice.

The principle of the rule of law – hard won over centuries in this country - is not one that can be negotiated away for temporary gain and convenience. Such a compromise would diminish us all.

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