03 February 2009
In recent weeks the Sri Lankan military has begun massacring Tamil civilians in Vanni. Hundreds of people, including many children, have been killed or maimed in widespread and intense artillery and rocket bombardments. Hospitals, refugee camps and settlements have been targeted and hit hard. Having maintained a complete silence for months amid the killings, abductions, mass displacements and so on, the self-styled Co-Chairs of the 'peace process' (the US, EU, Japan and Norway) spoke up this week. If the Tamils had expected these custodians of international law, liberal norms, global justice, etc to condemn Sri Lanka's slaughter, they were quite mistaken. The underwriters of the 2002-2006 'peace' intervention instead told the LTTE to surrender its weapons and fall at President Mahinda Rajapakse's feet - so that the Tamils may be spared further suffering. This then is the simple choice the international community has left the Tamils: 'die on your feet or live on your knees'.
The Co-Chairs' statement is required reading for all Tamils. It is worth remembering these are the same international actors who swaggered up in 2001 to make liberal peace in Sri Lanka. To this end, they armed the Sri Lankan state (engaged in some 'security sector reform' along the way), revived the economy (in the Sinhala South), withheld aid from the Tamil northeast, and did their best to corner and weaken the LTTE. Because to them it is the LTTE, not six decades of Sinhala state chauvinism that is the problem. It is therefore worth remembering that the suffering heaped on the Tamil people in the past few years was prepared, funded, facilitated and encouraged by the international custodians of the 'peace process'.
On the one hand, the Co-Chairs statement this week - note that it was co-signed by the peace facilitator, Norway also - can be rightly seen as callous disregard for the suffering of the Tamil people. But it was ever thus, as those Tamils who refused to place their faith in international commitment to a just peace kept pointing out - even in the halcyon days (anyone remember the fuss about federalism?). It should be recalled that it was only aid to the Tamil areas that these donors made conditional on 'progress on the peace process', that international monitors point-blank refused to accept the military' continued occupation of tens of thousands of Tamil homes, schools and so on as breaches of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement, and how they dismissed out of hand entire the agitation for self-determination staged by the Tamil people.
On the other hand, the Co-Chairs statement can also be seen as the final collapse of the international liberal project in Sri Lanka. Faced with the unmasked vehemence of Sinhala nationalism, they have no challenge, only accommodation, to offer. In other words, for all their rhetoric about human rights, democracy, pluralism, and such, when faced with the implacable hostility to all this by the Sinhala people (remember Rajapakse is universally popular amongst them), the international custodians of global liberalism are now merely seeking ways to get along, to 'make peace', with Sinhala chauvinism. No talk of now of 'conflict transformation' or 'peace-building'- unless, of course, it is teaching the Tamils to speak Sinhala or funding the Sinhala colonization of Tamil and Muslim lands (it's still called "development")
The point is this. These international actors never had the stomach to take on the Sinhala state's chauvinism. Instead they long pretended it doesn't exist, even as the signs were all around. Now, when it's in their faces, they simply bow to its ferocity - and ask the Tamils to do the same. Once the LTTE surrenders to Dutugemenu, the Co-Chairs will apparently "ensure an inclusive dialogue to agree on a political settlement so that lasting peace and reconciliation can be achieved." Well, we know how that’ll go.
The Co-Chairs have thus reduced the possibility of Tamils securing their rights - and their survival as a people - to the outcome of the battlefield. Having done all they can to stack the odds in favour of the Lion, they are leaving our future up to the Tiger. As we have argued before, it was Sinhala chauvinism that brought war to the island: armed struggle emerged as Tamil resistance. In that sense, the ferocity of the conflict is a test of two people's wills: the Sinhalese strive to crush the Tamils (and other minorities) and the Tamils, on the other hand, refuse to go quietly into the night. Therefore the crucial lesson for the Tamils is this: if we successfully stand firm against Sinhala hegemony, the international community will simply accept the outcome of the struggle. They have now lost all hope in a harmonious Sri Lanka - just as we did a long time ago.