14 November 2006
In the past week there has been another series of attacks on Tamil civilians and prominent Tamil leaders.
Last Wednesday an artillery barrage by the Sri Lanka Army targeted at a refugee shelter in Vaharai that housed thousands of displaced Tamils killed over 60 people, most of them women and children, and injured a hundred more. Tens of thousand of Tamils already driven from their homes in Trincomalee are now in a panic.
Two days later, gunmen assassinated Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian, Sasikala Raviraj, a vocal supporter of Tamil self-determination, who had recently been vociferous in challenging the Sri Lankan. The state sanctioned this killing. It is part of the wider effort to destroy the Tamil challenge to its rule.
The shelling of civilians at Vaharai was followed soon after by a Sri Lankan military ground attack there. No doubt the offensive will yet again be justified by Colombo as a pre-emptive strike to prevent an offensive by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Such bouts of violence against the Tamils have been repeated time and again during Sri Lanka’s decades’ long ethnic conflict whenever the state has reverted to its favoured efforts to crush the Tamil struggle for self rule by military means.
The difference on this occasion is the how more obviously assistance is being extended by the international community to Colombo’s onslaught.
The Tamils had hoped that the most recent peace process would be unlike past efforts at negotiating with the Sri Lankan state. The unprecedented intense participation of the International Community, as facilitators, Co-chairs and financiers of the peace process was intended to ensure a fair settlement to the long running and bloody dispute.
Instead this engagement proved to be yet another futile negotiation with an intransigent state secure of international support. Promises to resettle the third of Tamils who are displaced from their homes by military action were never kept.
Even the internationally-brokered agreement to share tsunami aid was obstructed, conveniently blamed on a judicial system whose inherent bias is one of the core sources of the ethnic conflict.
Instead of utilising the political, financial and military tools at their disposal to rectify the Sri Lankan state’s failings, the international community has continued to fully support and engage with it.
This support has continued to be forthcoming in the face of a blatant campaign of terror targeting the foundations of Tamil society, especially those brave enough to voice their support for the Tamil cause of self-determination (an aspiration which has already been deemed illegal within Sri Lanka’s constitution).
Tamil politicians, academics, human rights activists, aid workers, students and members of the judiciary have been systematically ‘disappeared’ or nurdered by the security forces or allied paramilitaries.
Hundreds of individuals are ‘disappearing’ in the custody of Sri Lanka’s armed forces or the paramilitaries. The victims’ ‘crimes’ could be as dangerous as being vocal in their support of the Tamil cause (say by participating in the Pongu Thamil rallies), or even that they are a friend or relative of someone who is supportive.
The onset of starvation amongst hundreds of thousand of people amid the government’s blockade in parts of the Tamil homeland has had little visible impact on foreign policy towards Colombo. Sri Lanka continues to enjoy economic, diplomatic and military ties with the rest of the world.
The continuation of international political support is most clearly evident in the lack of condemnation of Colombo’s atrocities. The armed forces meanwhile continue to receive training from states far and near.
The odd human rights watchdog condemns Sri Lanka’s actions but there is little by way of tangible action as a result.
Sri Lanka has received no ultimatum; no deadline to cease these crimes against humanity.
Last week the UN finally commented on the Sri Lankan state’s now long running policy of abducting Tamil children to fill the ranks of Army-backed paramilitary groups.
This chilling operation has finally received some public rebuke by international actors, but well over a year after the incontrovertible evidence of it taking place was revealed to the world.
And despite these most fundamental abuses against its own citizens, the Sri Lankan state is hailed as a democracy. Just week ago the US again lauded Sri Lanka as an ally.
The Tamil community had long held the view that Sri Lanka would not hesitate to commit genocide in order to crush the Tamil struggle and turn the Sinhala mythology of an island bequeathed into reality.
In fact the Tamils believe that slow genocide has long been the intent of the Sri Lankan state’s many discriminatory policies and violence.
The surprise, however, has been the International Community’s complicity in this ongoing effort.
Unlike Rwanda or East Timor, Sri Lanka’s genocide, whilst slower in killing rates, continues to be reported daily by Tamil and even English-language media.
Almost every detail of the past efforts at subjugation of the Tamil people has been highlighted.
No member of the international community in is able to claim ignorance.
The only question that needs to be addressed is the reason why powerful international actors would arm and finance a chauvinist majoritarian state bent on the violent subjugation of a minority.
From the Tamil perspective, the usual soul searching that may follow in Western capitals in the aftermath of this effort at destroying a people is irrelevant.
The question that needs to be answered now is how the Tamil nation should proceed from this point.
Any political effort to address the Tamil question has been systematically and violently closed off. Even Tamil politicians who are supposedly meant to address the issue within Sri Lanka’s ‘democratic’ framework are being silenced by the state.
In any case, the state has already ruled debate on the core issues unconstitutional.
The International Community, far from being a force for peace, is prepared to be fully complicit in the genocide of the Tamil people.
Those within the Tamil community who have been urging the heeding the calls and sentiments of international community are now being drowned out by the anguished cries of large sections of our community .
That the Tamil people need to take responsibility for defending themselves has become self-evident now.
The international community has already crossed (back) over the line from tacit observer to active accomplice in the onslaught against the Tamils.
The democracies of the Western world have failed to produce audible voices of opposition capable of and willing to challenge current foreign policy towards Sri Lanka.
We cannot rely on the international community to restrain the Sri Lankan state.
Quite the reverse – even the current unabashedly Sinhala-chauvunist government appears to be receiving increasing amounts of military and financial assistance, the more successfully it seems to prosecute a war against the Tigers.