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On Our Own

Despite the intense internationalization of Sri Lanka's conflict in the past few years, the ongoing deterioration of the human rights situation in the island seems inexorable. For decades international human rights organizations have lamented the culture of impunity that has allowed disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture and sometimes rape to become a matter of routine in the island state. But the massive international intervention that accompanied the Norwegian peace initiative since 2001 promised implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, that such abuse was in Sri Lanka's sordid past. However the past 18 months have amply demonstrated that human rights is a meaningless concept in this bloody island. Instead it is defence of the Dharma that remains the Sinhala state's raison d'etre.
 
Some argue that today sovereignty is not a state’s absolute right, but conditional on its responsibility. It is international pressure - either moral or tangible in the form of sanctions - that is the guarantee of a state's respect of human rights. This implies a responsibility on the international community to ensure abusive states are held to account. But leading members of the international community involved in Sri Lanka are doing precisely the opposite: funding, arming, advising and supporting the Rajapakse regime's brutality. The logic of the 'war on terror' is being prioritized over protection of international humanitarian and human rights norms. In other words, in the interests of destroying the Liberation Tigers, anything goes.
 
Of course each international actor vehemently rejects it is condoning or encouraging the Rajapakse administration's violence. The Western states seek cover behind the logic of sovereignty and blame the 'unlikeminded' states for the supposed impossibility of restraining Sri Lanka by sanctions. In the meantime, countries like US and UK use the opportunity provided by renewed high-intensity conflict in Sri Lanka to sell arms.
 
This week two Red Cross workers were murdered. The killers picked the victims up from the middle of Colombo city and dumped their bodies elsewhere. At the same time, in the interests of 'national security' Tamil neighbourhoods and houses in the sealed capital are being turned over by the security forces. The Police Chief has ordered Tamils who 'have no reason' to be in Colombo to get back to the Northeast or Upcountry areas. Bodies are dumped daily by roads and villages across the government-controlled Northeast and in parts of the South. The international community is not only aware of all this, they have a grandstand seat from which to view the bloodletting.
 
This contradiction has important lessons for the Tamil people. Since 2001, the panacea for Sri Lanka's ills has been 'federalism.' There is, of course, no body for this shell concept. But we are told that we will not be 'allowed' to have an independent state, so we'd better settle for something short. The Sinhalese are told they have to 'share power' but are to be assured the Tamils will be contained. We have 'grievances' and 'aspirations' the Sinhalese are told. But the core problem - the Sinhala dominated state is brutalizing and scattering our people, dismembering and colonizing our homeland and erasing our community's cohesiveness - is reduced to one of ‘unresolved conflict.’
 
The question now for the Tamils is a simple one: what is the guarantee of our security in the future? If the international community is refusing to make the slightest effort to restrain the Sri Lanka state today, when vicious violence against Tamils is no longer even disguised, then on what basis are we to expect it to do so in future? The present Sri Lankan state is frail and utterly dependent on foreign aid for its very functioning. Yet we are expected to believe that a Sri Lankan state reinvigorated by the kind of international aid that a peace process alone will bring will be more likely to be responsive to international counsel. That is the basis on which we are to accept a federal solution - i.e. accept the disarming of the LTTE.
 
In short, the Rajapakse administration and the international community are together providing the strongest reason - beyond the question of the right to self-determination - as to why Tamils cannot live safely in a Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka. There will always be the possibility of vicious rulers like Rajapakse - and the President's steadily rising popularity amongst the Sinhalese is a solid indicator of the state of ethnic relations today. And international interests will always favour the state over the Tamils. The case for international intervention to restrain the Sri Lankan state cannot be made more clearly than by today's developments. Therefore, the question now is: in the face of international indifference, what options are the beleaguered Tamils left with?