Remembrance and reconciliation in Sri Lanka

The ethnic divide in Sri Lanka is ingrained in all aspects of life, even mourning the dead. The conflict between Tamils and the Sri Lankan state has cost over 100,000 lives, the vast majority of which are Tamil. The 18th of May, the day the armed conflict ended, has become one of the most important days in the Tamil calendar. Tamils across the world, including relatives of the tens of thousands of those that died, commemorate this day, in private or in public gatherings. However the rest of Sri Lanka celebrates this day, as the day the ‘terrorists’ were vanquished and Sinhala Buddhist rule securely extended throughout the entire island.

‘One more step by Sri Lanka’s chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhists’

Commenting on the recent self-immolation by a Buddhist monk, who was protesting against the Halal slaughter of cattle and alleged conversion of Buddhists, Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, labelled the act "one more step by Sri Lanka’s chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhists to undermine the Muslim political base". Read his full piece here . Extracts have been reproduced below. "The suicide by a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Sri Lanka to protest the slaughter of cattle has been hailed as an act of great self-sacrifice and compared to acts of self-immolation by Tibetan Buddhist monks protesting China’s repression in Tibet. Nothing could be more ill-informed. In fact, it is one more step by Sri Lanka’s chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhists to undermine the Muslim political base." "The campaign to stop the slaughter of cattle and instances of violence against Muslims are not isolated events in Sri Lanka. These are steps to politically disempower Muslims are uncannily reminiscent of the way the Sinhala establishment tries to destroy the Tamil power base."

Four years on, genocide continues off the battlefield

Originally published on OpenDemocracy.net/OpenSecurity on 20th May 2013: In May 2009 as the armed conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lanka came to a harrowing end, Sri Lanka's genocidal offensive against the Tamil population of the North-East reached a peak. Four years on, as the Tamil nation - scattered worldwide through decades of oppression and armed conflict - remembers the massacre that took place, the prospect of a stable and secure future remains bleak. Sri Lanka has long proven itself both incapable and unwilling to deliver accountability and justice to the Tamil people, yet the international community too has failed to instigate a credible process towards it. But most of all, the systematic destruction of the Tamil identity continues, unchecked. It is increasingly evident that the mantra of granting Sri Lanka time, space, economic support and international engagement is not leading to a process of accountability, reconciliation or peace for the Tamils. Torture, disappearance, rape and murder prevail; the economic and political fabric of Tamil society is repressed. What the Sri Lankan government celebrated as the defeat of one of the world's largest ‘terrorist' organisations has not brought security to the Tamil nation.

'More than just remembering' - TAG

A witness recalls the horrors of her walk towards the Sri Lankan Army controlled territory on the penultimate day of the conflict, the 17th May. “I walked, following many others, thousands. As I walked I saw the scale of the destruction, there were pools of blood and many wounded or dead. I saw a truck laden with people that had been hit by a shell not long before - the wounds were fresh. There was a mother dead, her baby still alive beside her.” What then followed was months in an IDP camp, months punctured by torture, and upon release, the constant fear of persecution. This, 4 years on from those final days of death and surrender, is the reality of life for many Tamils in Sri Lanka. On this anniversary, we remember those who lost their lives and those who survived them and we ask, what progress has been made in the fight for justice? The answer is sobering – far too little. This in spite of incontrovertible evidence of the crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state against its own citizens, this despite the manifest failings of the Sri Lankan state to provide justice, this despite much international condemnation by states, INGOs, and, especially of late, the international legal community.

'Australia must boycott CHOGM'

Former Australian diplomat Bruce Haigh has called for Australia to boycott the upcoming CHOGM, due to be held in Sri Lanka, comparing the island to Apartheid South Africas. He slammed Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr's position on Sri Lanka, stating that 'in all conscience Australia must also boycott CHOGM'. See his full piece here . Extracts have been reproduced below. "In the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary, Bob Carr has declared Sri Lanka an ideal democracy." "He has declared their institutions sound, and scoffed at the idea of corruption within the ranks of the Rajapaksa government." "He has declared the police, army and navy to be clear of charges of detaining and torturing members of the Tamil minority. He believes that the Sinhalese majority are free of triumphalism and ethnic abuse of Tamils, amounting to state sponsored genocide, following a bloody civil war that occurred because of the very attitudes and practices being deployed against Tamils today. "

Sri Lanka: why the unexpected cut?

Sri Lanka’s government says its economy will grow at a zippy 7.5 per cent this year, making it the self-styled fastest growing economy in south Asia. Yet on Friday morning the central bank suddenly and unexpectedly brought interest rates down by half a percentage point, citing fears of a slowdown. Something doesn’t add up.

'Sri Lanka concerns put Commonwealth’s credibility on the line'

By J.S. Tissanaiyagam Sri Lanka, whose leaders are accused of committing war crimes against Tamils in the civil war that ended May 2009, and subverting democracy, is to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November. In the past the Commonwealth, the 54-member intergovernmental grouping of mostly Britain’s former colonies, has emphasised human rights and democracy as core principles and chastised member countries that violated them. Sri Lanka however has not been censured but rewarded: named as CHOGM’s next venue, it will automatically lead the organisation for the...

'Much ado about nothing'

Writing for the Colombo Telegraph, Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a Tamil civil society activist, and attorney at law and lecturer at the University of Jaffna, outlined the facade of the proposed northern provincial elections and inadequacy of the 13th Amendment. See here for original article, extracts reproduced below: “Many ask as to whether the Tamil Civil Society’s position is pragmatic. As for our assessment of the 13th amendment – our assessment is one based on a realist analysis of the state of affairs. As to what we prescribe, if we are thinking of what is only possible, the options are very limited within the status quo. To be pragmatic should not be a call to learn to live with the oppression. To be pragmatic should not be a call to accept minimalistic solutions, which do us no good.” “The Government has made the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections a ‘high value commodity’ for the Tamils. By promising and breaching the promise and re-promising to hold it, the Government has made the Tamil community yearn for it. The strategy seems to be to get the Tamils to ask, demand, struggle, fight for something so minimalistic; to get them to feel and identify with the Provincial Council as an institution that will solve their problems. The political leadership of the Tamils – particularly the Tamil National Alliance has fallen for this trap. It has become very difficult to get the Tamil polity to debate and discuss about what contesting in these elections might mean for the Tamil struggle for self determination and meaningful self-government. Most Tamils want to vote, purely to show their displeasure with the Government. Many Tamils actually think, quite mistakenly, that an elected TNA Chief Minister will be able to reign in the unruly Governor of the Northern Province. The defeatist mentality stemming from Mullivaaykkal reigns supreme and many actors are making convenient use of this collective despair of the Tamil people.”

'Idea of Tamil nation is not dead in SL'

Writing in Tehelka, Revati Laul, detailed her recent trip to the North-East, concluding, "but even in the aftermath of the terror and genocide, the Tamil idea of nationhood has not disappeared. If India does not want another cycle of violence at its doorstep, it cannot afford to be indifferent to the voices of the Lankan Tamils." See here for original article, extracts reproduced below: "With the war over, things have gone back to usual. Contrary to Rajapaksa’s famed 13th amendment, promising autonomy to the provincial councils in the north for the Tamils, this means a return to State policies from the 1950s that systematically and deliberately excluded them from cultivable farmland and prime fishing waters. The exclusion that sparked the Tamil resistance and war in the first place is back with a bang." "TRINCOMALEE IN the east, a long and beautiful stretch of coastline once held by the LTTE, is now back on the tourist map after it was recaptured by the army in 2006. But Trincomalee is overrun with soldiers at every street corner. Every passenger on every incoming bus to the north and east is checked by the military. Every time you board a bus, you have to write your contact numbers, purpose of visit and passport details." "In another camp in the east — local guides did not wish it to be identified — a frail 53-year-old woman stepped out of her mud hut to greet us. She dashed her daughter off to get us a sweet red drink from a store nearby as her eyes slowly shifted to a faraway place. She now lives entirely in the past. Every waking moment is spent thinking of the home they fled in 2006; the two cows she had to sell, named Neerum or water and Neeruppu or fire. “Even if I don’t get back my farmland, I will live with that. All I want, even if it’s just a small hut, is to get back to my homeland,” she said wistfully. At yet another camp in the north, a fisherman’s eyes brimmed over. Living in a camp for more than 22 years is no life, he said. In the 1990s, he left the camp to live in the Vanni, the LTTE heartland, where he felt protected and thought the Tamils would have a future. Now, at the age of 60, with that dream getting more and more blurred, he confessed, “I think I should just end it all now and walk into the sea.” The refusal to be named or identified is commonplace among the Tamils. Their fear is palpable."

Beginning of an Era: Tamil Occupation of Parliament Square

"Today marks the fourth anniversary of the Tamil Occupation of Parliament Square in protest against the actions (or lack of any action) of the Sri Lankan government, the UK government and other key international actors at the time." Check out full blog post by JP here . Extract reproduced below: "Today for me is a day to be celebrated. It marks the coming of age for not only me but a whole generation of Tamil activists. It is a testament to the power of collective action, creating a voice in the public space for the previously voiceless, opening up dialogue and raising awareness. For me, it honours the unity of a community that had previously stood isolated and what the force of that unity can achieve. It was the beginning of a new era, although we did not entirely know it then. It set in motion of wheels for a new political age for the liberation struggle for Tamils in Sri Lanka. Although many believe it was a wasted effort, and certainly what followed soon after was definitely not something to be celebrated- the death of at least 40,000 Tamils by conservative estimates, the protest in itself is.

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