13 March 2007
This week Sri Lanka unleashed a massive bombardment of Tamil Tiger-controlled parts of Batticaloa. The targets were not LTTE camps, but Tamil villages. Within days 150,000 Tamils have been driven out of their homes, seeking safety in areas where the shells are not following - those held by the government. They join another 80,000 Tamils in the district and 150,000 elsewhere that the Colombo government has blasted from their homes since April last year. The targeting of Tamil villages and towns is not new. Every Sri Lankan President, beginning with J. R. Jayawardene in the early 80's has punished the Tamils for their defiance of Sinhala rule. President Mahinda Rajapakse's cruelty is not novel.
International aid agencies and NGOs have expressed alarm and are pleading for financial assistance. The Sri Lankan state, which starved and bombarded the Tamils of Sampur and Vaharai throughout much of last year, is unconcerned by the humanitarian crisis unfolding this time in western Batticaloa. But here is the rub. The international community has endorsed this collective punishment. The rhetoric of the 'war on terror' legitimizes the deprivations being visited on our people. The deliberate inaction by the international community is brought into stark relief by events in the east. For once the international community is a visible witness to what Sri Lanka is doing to our people. During President Chandrika Kumaratunga's ruthless 'war for peace' the international community endorsed and assisted the state's campaign of collective punishment. But this time it is different. The international community, led by the very actors who preached non-violence and negotiation to us for the past few years, has a grandstand view.
For many years now the Tamil Diaspora has actively sought the support of the international community for their struggle. This has been particularly so since the 2002 Ceasefire. International support was sought not only for the political demand of Tamil self-determination, but for practical steps towards Tamil wellbeing: to restrain the state's chauvinism, to end the impunity enjoyed by the Sinhala security forces, to ensure international aid was equitably distributed across the island, and so on. Across the world our people have lobbied government leaders as well as media and NGOs. We have been received and listened to. The sufferings of our people were sympathized with. We were told that the matters we raised would be taken up with the Sri Lankan state.
In our hearts we knew this would not happen. The selfish interests of international actors are not served by pressuring the state on our behalf, but by courting the state and sacrificing us. That is why throughout the past three decades Sri Lanka's security forces were able to murder, disappear and rape with brazen impunity. It was only when the Sri Lankan military exhausted itself in the 'war for peace' (but not before spurring the LTTE's ascendancy) that the international community decided to take our interests into consideration. But that was not to ensure our future, but to blunt our progress towards self-rule.
Those Tamils who denounced the Norwegian peace process as a project of containment, designed to weaken and emasculate the LTTE, were dismissed as sightless hardliners wedded to violence. But they have been vindicated. Nothing gives their analysis greater resonance than the complicity of the international community in the horrors the Tamils are being put through by the Sri Lankan state today. There is no media blackout or lack of information which we can tell ourselves was the reason the world stood by during the 'war for peace' until the Tigers defeated the Sinhala military. Nor is there confusion about what the Tamils want. Nor why there is a major war in the island. Everything has been explained at length. The facts and figures have been placed before the world.
It was only the sense of the insurmountability of the LTTE's military power that produced the Norwegian peace process. It is a sense the LTTE can be defeated that has ended it. The rhetoric is that the interests of the Tamils are separate to the interests of the LTTE. But nothing reveals the invalidity of that premise than how, in the cause of defeating the Tigers, it is the Tamils on whom pain is primarily inflicted. We know all the talk of a political solution being needed is nonsense: it cannot be offered at the end of a bayonet. And we know under what circumstances the international community will again insist Sri Lanka negotiates a peace with the Tamils.