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'Don’t Forget the Tamil Genocide'

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In an article for the Jacobin, former Australian senator Lee Rhiannon, draws upon Ben Hiller's new book "Losing Santhia: Life and Loss in the Struggle for Tamil Eelam", and argues the need to stand in solidarity Tamils who have faced genocide by the "exclusivist, chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhist state".

Rhiannon maintains that the post-war years have not been of peace but are effectively a "silent genocide". In recounting her visit to Sri Lanka in 2013 as a federal senator she states;

Military bases were scattered along the east coast where there once sat fishing villages, Hindu temples, schools, and other public facilities. In the north, the occupation was more intense. Forced Sinhalization has seen the military running preschools. Thousands of Tamils have been pushed from their traditional lands in the north and east of the island to make way for state-aided Sinhalese colonization.

In her critique, she also lambasts the Sinhala left for not standing by the Tamils struggle which they perceived to be simply “reactionary bourgeois nationalism”. In responding to this claim, she notes the revolutionary ideology of the Tamil Tigers and the steps they took in eradicating gender violence, the caste system and in empowering women.

"The Tigers resolved to abolish the dowry system, opening the way for greater freedoms for individuals, particularly women, to enter relationships on their own terms.”

Whilst she noted criticism levied at the LTTE with regards to tactics she also stood by the rights of all people to resist occupation under international law.

Quoting Hiller she argues; 

“It remains the island’s greatest political catastrophe [...] that the once powerful Sinhalese left failed to stand with the Tamils and launch . . . a united fight for the liberation of all exploited and oppressed people in Ceylon.” 

In her piece, she also takes aim at Western states who have been complicit in this genocide. She notes that in part these current divisions arose from when Britain took colonial control of the island in 1796 and created divisions between groups on "national, linguistic, and religious lines". She also exposes the hypocrisy of Western states who willingly supplied the Sri Lankan state with arms and military training only to decry the "excess" of the Sri Lankan government whilst refusing to change their foreign policy.

She maintains that:

 if we are to eradicate these injustices and help survivors rebuild their lives and their societies, genocide needs to be examined not in terms of individual evil but in terms of the historical and structural evil of colonization.

She further critiques Australia's response to Tamil asylum seekers noting;

"there are thousands of Tamils living in Australia under temporary protection visas — and thanks to the conservative government’s cynical use of racism and xenophobia to win votes and consolidate power, these refugees of genocide are in immediate danger of deportation.

The risk to Tamils who return to Sri Lanka is real. In 2017 the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism maintained that the use of torture “ remains today, endemic and routine". Rhiannon writes in her article that over "one hundred unconvicted prisoners reportedly remained in detention" under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which the Sri Lankan government had stated it would repeal. 

The article further refuses to draws the connection between the Sri Lankan genocide and the plight of Tamil refugee stating; 

If self-determination were won in Tamil Eelam and Tamils were safe there, they would not have to risk their future and their lives fleeing to other countries.

Read the full text of her piece here.