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All-Party Parliamentary Group urges action to prevent further genocide against Tamils

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG) convened in parliament to “stop the cycle of violence and genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka”.

The conference held a round table discussion which was chaired by the British Tamil Forum and had representatives from Sri Lanka Peace and Justice Campaign; International Crisis Group; Together Against Genocide (TAG); and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Alongside these speakers representatives from Widows for Peace and numerous MPs from parliament.

Sarmila Varatharaj, a senior representative of BTF, aired a short documentary detailing the long history of state oppression against the Tamil minority. The focus of the documentary was the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983 and the continued legacy of Sinhala buddhist domination. She concluded her speech by stating; 

"Tamils don't feel safe in their homeland. If this continues stability and peace will forever be in question.”

Jan Jananayagam, founder of Together Against Genocide (TAG), stated that genocide recognition isn’t sequential […] it is hard fought for”. In her speech she touched upon the difficulties other minorities have had in fighting for genocide recognition, noting that during the Nuremberg trials, the actual charge of genocide was not reached in the concluding judgements. This notes the difficulty with the term even for clear cut cases.

 

Dr Martin Stern, a Holocaust survivor, gave a detailed speech examining the term genocide and noting the horrific experience Jews and other minorities faced under the Nazi regime. He maintained that what needs to be learnt is compassion and understanding of another group's pain and suffering. Reflecting upon the legacy of the holocaust he stated:

‘They said never again after the genocide but since then I have studied 50 genocides or genocide like events, we are not good at never again.

 

Labour MP Stephen Timms stated that the crimes perpetrated against Tamils in Sri Lanka in the past and present appear to “qualify as genocide”.

When asked about the political value of the term genocide, Jan Jananayagam rebuked the question stating that for “it is not a question of politics” it is a question of truth and justice. An inquiry needs to be launched and we must evaluate the facts as they are.

 

Alan Keenan, the senior Sri Lanka analyst for the International Crisis Group, disagreed with Ms Jananayagam, arguing “everything is political” and warning that recognition of genocide may have damaging political consequences in Sri Lanka. 

Keenan further stated that there is a “deep sense of injustice” in Sri Lanka but it is "my continued belief is that it [a just resolution] will have to come for all communities and victim groups and have to be fashioned from all alliances”. 

When questioned on the right of Tamils to self-determination, Keenan responded stating that he does not think that the claim of Tamils to self-determination meets international standards however it is a purely political process.

 

Martin Stern stated that what is needed now is rigorous documentation.

“Documentation, preserving witness statements, this is essential.”

Richard Gowing concurred with Stern’s concerns stating that; 

“We have reason to be sceptical over government claims that 90% of the land the military had occupied has been returned”.

He further stated:

"the international community needs to ‘drop the pretence or assumptions that Sri Lanka is a willing counterpart when it comes to war-time violations’

Margret Owens OBE, director of Widows for Peace through Democracy raised the concern that those most affected in cases of genocide “are women and children”.

“The war has produced widows and half widows, women who do not know what happened to their husbands.

Widows have faced harassment from the security forces for seeking answers. 

The security forces continue to use torture and sexual violence.”