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British Tamil woman enters her ninth day of hunger strike demanding justice for genocide

Ambihai K Selvakumar, a director of the International Centre for the Prevention of Genocide (ICPPG), is on her ninth day of hunger-striking as she continues to demand justice for the genocide of Tamils carried out by the Sri Lankan state.

Selvakumar's protest has sparked a number of solidarity hunger strikes across the North-East including in Batticaloa, Amparai and Jaffna. Her four demands to the British government are listed below.

- Recommend to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly that Sri Lanka be referred to the International Criminal Court and take steps to effectively investigate charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

- Establish an International Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIIM), akin to those established for Syria and Myanmar, which mandates the evidence is of international crimes and human rights violations be collected and prepared for criminal prosecutions. A meaningful IIIM must have a strict time frame.

- Mandate that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) appoint a Special Rapporteur to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for on-going violations and have an OHCHR field presence in Sri Lanka.

- Recommend an UN-monitored Referendum to determine the aspirations of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, on the basis that the North-East of Sri Lanka is the traditional Tamil homeland and the Tamils have the right to self-determination.

Tamil activists have also been disappointed by the refusal of the British government to heed the UN Human Right Commissioner’s calls for international action. In her report, the High Commissioner recommended that member states consider an ICC referral; pursue prosecutions in domestic courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction and impose sanctions on senior Sri Lankan officials implicated in human rights abuses. Britain has insisted that it is promoting accountability by supporting what is seen as a weak resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, which calls for a further 18 months of collating evidence.

“So many people have died in this struggle, we don’t want any more deaths”

Selvakumar, affectionately referred to as Ambi miss, has refused to eat or to take medication until at least one of her demands are met. Her deteriorating health has caused concern amongst family and friends who are calling for her to conclude her hunger strike and for the British government to respond.

A well-known figure in the local community and a classical dance teacher, Selvakumar has continued her protest at her London home. Selvakumar, who came to the UK in the 1990s, has and continues to be a vocal community organiser, working on Tamil asylum cases as well as supporting victims of the genocide obtain jobs in the UK. 

"Ambi Miss is such a powerful person," one of her students told the Tamil Guardian. "She is more than just a dance teacher but to many of us, she is a second mother. Honestly, I’m unsure what any of us would do if she died. We would lose an extremely important voice in the community"

"Many of my own dance performances, choreographed by Miss, have had extremely important political messages to them. Our performances have explored the Tamil genocide as well as issues of pollution and feminism. When she looks at the plight of Tamil people, it isn’t a depressive motif, but instead, an empowering one where she teaches us to not lose hope because the truth will always overcome everything".

“So many people have died in this struggle," the student added. "We don’t want any more deaths.”

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