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David Cameron's explanation is too little too late

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If Number 10 is about to breathe a sigh of relief, they ought to know that their last ditch and very public efforts to engage with British Tamils have fallen far short of their placating intentions. Considering the Tamil community makes up over 100,000 of the British electorate, David Cameron was absolutely right to think he owed us an explanation. It’s just a shame that the explanation was far too little, too late.

Writing in the Tamil Guardian yesterday, the British Prime Minister said he believes he will "shine the international spotlight" on Sri Lanka through his attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next week. Discovering ongoing human rights violations isn’t quite the same as discovering a hilltop vista – you don’t have to see it with your own eyes to believe it.  In fact, you're the British Prime Minister attending an event hosted by the Sri Lankan government, you most probably won’t see it at all - and certainly not on a day trip to Jaffna where most of the worst affected live in terror of speaking out, with the Sri Lankan Army stood at every corner. Casting the spotlight on war crimes, atrocities and human rights violations is the mandate of the media and NGOs and all things considered (censorship, intimidation, oppression etc.) some have been doing rather a good job of it in Sri Lanka, after the end of the armed conflict at least. 

The fieldwork, reports and evidence of all that is wrong in Sri Lanka has been laid out for the world to see for years. If Number 10 had any doubts as to the graphic video and photograph evidence in the media, then let it not forget the extensive report published by a UN Panel of Experts, as well as the fact finding mission of UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.  International leaders would do well to remember that their role is to act against atrocities, not to simply expose them, and certainly not to protect their perpetrators.

Mr Cameron also seems to think he will be having “frank conversations with the Sri Lankan government”. I find it astonishing, no ridiculous, that David Cameron expects frankness from a regime that is built upon deceit and denial. The Prime Minister will apparently “demand” Sri Lanka carry out an independent and transparent investigation into war crimes and human rights abuses. It is becoming frustrating to hear leaders and bodies repeating this same message, yet never stipulating the consequences of ignoring them. The point is that Britain's engagement with Sri Lanka is not working, because Sri Lanka does not care what you say Mr Cameron, only what you do. What happens Mr Cameron, when your demands go unheeded, just as all such demands and encouragements and gentle urges have gone unheeded for four years?

One must acknowledge that David Cameron was wise to try and reach out to the British Tamil community and recognised the significance of the Diaspora’s voice on matters concerning Tamils in the North-East as well as the UK’s relationship with Sri Lanka. Sadly, all such engagement is rendered meaningless if all the Prime Minister intended to do was defend his previously made decision to attend CHOGM  - a decision which to British Tamils is indefensible.

No matter how strongly Mr Cameron words his demands, he must know that all that will result is a photo opportunity for Mahinda Rajapaksa and his associates, together with the usual sprinkling of strong ‘anti-Imperialist’ rhetoric in the Sri Lankan press. The time has long passed for the world to realise that Sri Lanka does not intend to play nice. The British Prime Minister cannot possibly hope to appease us by explaining all the reasons he should engage with the people responsible for over 70,000 Tamils killed in the space of a few months alone. It is hopeless in fact to even expect the Tamils to ever be appeased by such placatory positions. After the horrors of 2009, there can be no middle ground. Nothing short of justice, accountability and self-determination for the Tamil nation will provide Tamils with security and safeguard them against genocide. Until then, the least David Cameron could do is stop fraternising with war criminals.



Abi Nathan, a student of Humanities at University College London (UCL).

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