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Disconnect and Mobilisation

Sri Lanka's military continues to massacre Tamil civilians while the Colombo government mockingly issues pious assurances that it is concerned for civilians. As we pointed out last week, this is taking place in plain sight of the international community, including those Western states that have long styled themselves as custodians of global liberalism. Yet there is still no international effort to restrain the Sinhala state.

 

This week the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner went to Sri Lanka to "urge" a ceasefire. Mr. Kouchner, interestingly, used to be a long-time advocate of humanitarian intervention. Applying once to be head of the UNHCR in 2005, he stated "we could open together a new era in the process of protecting all refugees and displaced persons in the world." None of this applies to the Tamils, of course. Explaining their failure to get the Sinhala regime to stop its onslaught into the packed civilians, Mr. Kouchner said: "We tried very hard - we insisted and we insisted - but it is up to our friends to allow it or not."

 

Mr. Miliband, it might be recalled, was at the forefront of Western outrage over Russia's onslaught into Georgia last August. He thundered that the UK would "not forget" Moscow's invasion and threatened dire consequences. Strangely, when Tamils are being bombed and machine-gunned by the Sinhala state today, Britain has only quiet diplomacy to offer. Interestingly, a common refrain that Western states tell the Tamils, confident the latter are gullible enough to accept it, is that they are quietly "putting pressure" on Sri Lanka.

 

It is clear this is far from true. Tamil journalist and activists who met this week with EU and American officials, British MPs and advocacy NGOs have been hearing consistent reports: Britain has long been blocking or neutralising other international efforts to sanction Sri Lanka. For example, Britain is refusing to allow the EU to formally take up the matter. Britain has also long been vehemently resisting suspension of the EU's GSP+ facility to Sri Lanka (a subsidy for EU firms manufacturing in the island - most of which are British). The UK has been taking lead in international missions vis-à-vis Sri Lanka, efforts that have produced no results whatsoever. Mr. Miliband's visit this week is a case in point.

 

As we argued earlier, Western states, looking at Sri Lanka through a 'security' lens, believe that the island's conflict will soon be settled by the Sinhala military's victory over the LTTE and that peace will thereafter follow. Underlining how disconnected from Sri Lanka's reality the West has become, Mr. Kouchner was this week, standing not far from an ongoing genocide, calling the Sinhalese his "friends" on one hand and, on the other, asserting: "the reconciliation must happen. I think it will be done."

Ironically, other Western actors, such as the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch, who have long opposed the Tamil struggle for self-rule, have in recent weeks been screaming for international action to stop the bloodbath. Those who think that the LTTE will be destroyed in the coming weeks and that then it is a question of 'peace building' and 'development' for the next few years are gravely mistaken. The foundations for a cataclysmic civil war are being inexorably laid today. The kind of polarisation that sustain not decades, but generations of struggle has become widespread and embedded. Quite apart from the euphoric jingoism that has been sweeping the Sinhalese polity and population since 2007, the wholesale massacres of Tamils since January this year has hardened resolve amongst the Tamils. 'Reconciliation', as almost all Tamils and Sinhalese know, is now an impossibility.

 

All of this has only been possible by the ideological blindness and hubris of Western states that, whilst caring little for the specificities of places like Sri Lanka, have nonetheless sought to roll out formulaic, patronising and shockingly naïve theories of conflict and conflict resolution. These have turned, unsurprisingly, on backing the state and hammering the armed non-state actor, irrespective of the grievances the latter represents.

 

Unless they are prepared to confront and discipline the Sinhala state, it is of little consequence what else the Western liberal states do now. However, it is their very failures to act against Sri Lanka’s massacres that are making clear to the Tamils the crucial importance of their own actions and efforts to safeguard their people’s future safety. And it is in this context that the Tamil nation is finally mobilising for the kind of protracted popular struggle envisioned by the authors of the 1976 Vaddokoddai Resolution.