Facebook icon
Twitter icon
e-mail icon

Disarm the paramilitaries

To: the US Congress,

We would like to express our grave concerns regarding the stalled peace process in Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka’s presidential elections approach this Thursday, both of the two main contenders are crudely marginalizing the interests of the Tamil minority.

Both candidates are playing to the forces of ethnic nationalism in their efforts to secure a political victory, with neither side pledging concrete support for the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) which the United States, as one of the Co-Chairs for Sri Lanka’s peace process, has backed and repeatedly called for implementation.The most crucial aspect of the CFA is Clause 1.8, which demands the disarmament of paramilitary groups currently engaged in a covert shadow war against the Tamil minority. The Norwegian-led peace monitors have documented over 190 deaths due to this subversive war, as local residents report paramilitaries being given arms from the Sri Lankan Army, and residing in camps well-fortified by the military.

We call upon you to ensure that whoever wins Friday’s election comes under immediate pressure from the United States government to fully disarm paramilitaries and stop those perpetuating violence against innocent civilians.

Both main presidential contenders, United National Party Opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse are essentially ignoring the eighteen-percent Tamil minority beyond superficial claims to “consider all communities’ interests”. Indeed, Rajapakse has secured nominations from both the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, a notorious armed political group, and Colonel Karuna, head of the faction of the Tamil Tigers that split from the organization in 2004. Officials from Wickremasinghe’s government, which was in power during the signing of the 2002 CFA, recently admitted they helped facilitate this split within the Tigers, which has directly led to a cycle of violence in a ‘shadow war’ and the deaths of hundreds of people. Paramilitaries operating under the umbrella label of Karuna’s forces have since terrorized Tamils throughout the region. This has caused unbearable tension among a population already devastated by last December’s tsunami.

It is within this bleak context that many Tamils are simply refusing to participate in the upcoming elections, to show the world that “the land of the Tamils will no more trust Sinhala leaders,” as the Jaffna Student Organization of Higher Education Institutions states. This provides a dangerous opportunity for ballot-stuffing and election fraud, which may involve violence against Tamils who do decide to vote. Given the history of election violence against minorities in Sri Lanka, seen in December 2001 and April 2004 parliamentary elections in which hundreds were massacred in party conflicts and indiscriminate bombings, there is a high likelihood for indiscriminate killings. Indeed, foreign election observers have reported that “systematic intimidation” is being carried out by government ministers, using state vehicles and people in STF-style uniforms to warn Tamils against voting. Additionally, government documents have been found describing a plan to send army deserters to Tamil regions to dilute their vote.

We call upon you to ensure that the next president of Sri Lanka implements the Ceasefire Agreement, particularly the Clause stipulating the disarming of Army-backed paramilitaries, to halt the violence that has daily plagued the Tamil people.

Thank you for your concern in preserving peace and democracy in Sri Lanka.