The Tamil Youth Organisation UK (TYO) has condemned the Oxford Union’s invitation to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is set to speak on the ‘geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region’ later today.
“Whilst Sri Lanka’s political institutions continue to target the dignity, liberty and livelihood of Tamils with anti-Tamil policies, and with Sri Lanka’s commitment towards transitional justice being questioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Commissioner, it seems distasteful for such an offender to be given a platform at a prestigious institution to speak on a subject far removed, avoiding his own ongoing contributions to such pressing matters,” said the TYO in a press release on Monday.
The granting of such a prestigious platform “only serves to weaken the international pressure on Sri Lanka, and its institutions, to commit to justice and a lasting long-term peace,” it added.
“Sri Lanka tends to use these platforms to alleviate the public and international community’s pressure away from evident anti-Tamil policies in Sri Lanka, thus allowing the Sri Lankan government to deviate from United Nations’ criticism over human rights violations and the lack of process in transitional justice thereafter.”
In particular, the TYO highlighted Wickremesinghe’s role in overseeing rights abuses, stating that he “has played many parts in abusing the basic rights of Tamils”.
They note that he “held a top ministerial position during the Black July pogrom in 1983, when the Sri Lankan government organised mobs and security forces to kill and rob Tamils in the State’s capital, Colombo”.
“A great many of the Tamil diaspora residing in the United Kingdom today fled the nation during Black July and its aftermath” the organisation added.
See the full text of the statement here.
In 2010, then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa was set to address the Oxford Union, before mass protests and pressure from the Tamil diaspora led to the speech being cancelled. Tamil societies from sixteen British universities wrote to the Oxford Union protesting the invitation and hundreds of people demonstrated at Heathrow airport as Rajapakse’s plane landed.
The Oxford Union eventually announced that it was cancelling his address due to the “sheer scale” of protests expected.