Oppression and resistance; Sri Lanka's unchanging reality

Last month in the dormitories of Jaffna University, a group of students humbly lit candles in a modest yet daring act of remembrance. The brutal crackdown that followed and the ongoing state of heightened terror across the Tamil homeland, is yet another indication of the enduring ethnic conflict that has driven the island’s politics and will also shape the politics to come. The events surrounding the Jaffna University students’ remembrance present a microcosm of the ground realities; a paranoid ethnocracy attempting to forcibly establish Sinhala-Buddhist order upon an unyielding Tamil nation...

Militarisation: a state of terror

The Sri Lankan state has relentlessly continued to consolidate its militarisation of the North-East since the armed conflict drew to a close in 2009. Regardless of international efforts at closed door diplomacy and the occasional public wrist slapping, the Sri Lankan state has shown no signs of relenting. The burgeoning military budget, the grabbing of civilian lands for military housing and establishments, and the military’s saturating presence within everyday civilian life has continued; not only contrary to well-trodden paths of post-conflict reconciliation, but in brazen defiance of international criticism. The significance of militarisation of the North-East however, goes beyond these measurable markers and tangible concerns. The end of the armed conflict has not proved to be a window of opportunity, to ensure equal rights for all citizens or create a ‘terrorism’-free liberal democracy. Instead it has been exploited by the Sri Lankan state as an opportunity to orchestrate the unhindered expansion of Sinhala Buddhist hegemony. Delirious with victory, the state, armed with its military, has embarked on an uncompromising goal of asserting a Sinhala Buddhist identity throughout the island and ruthlessly erasing any expression of an Eelam Tamil one.

Remembering sacrifice

Today, the 27th November, in every corner of the world, Eelam Tamils join together in an act of remembrance. From a Gloriosa lily proudly affixed onto a coat lapel, to the collective events of remembrance held in capitals worldwide, to the daring posters reported in the North-East, today the nation remembers. For the Eelam nation, there are of course many days of national remembrance and reflection across the year. After all, it should come as no surprise that a nation ravaged by persecution, genocide and armed conflict, is in a state of frequent grief and mourning. Yet today - Maaveerar Naal - is set apart from all other occasions. It remembers not the finality of death, but the solemnity of sacrifice.

No more excuses, it is time to act

Now that Sri Lanka's farcical attempt at accountability - the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report - has finally been published, there can be no more excuses. The LLRC has for too long been the international community's fig leaf, used by governments across the world, including the US and the UK, to stall calls for accountability and a credible investigation into allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The commission's inquiry, its findings and its recommendations serve only to further vindicate the overwhelming justification for an independent,...

Just Desserts

The resignation of British Defence Secretary Liam Fox following revelations about his unauthorised and dubious foreign policy-related activities will be welcomed by all those committed to a just and lasting peace in Sri Lanka. However the serious questions raised – once again – by last week’s media reports about Dr. Fox’s activities must also be answered. Dr. Fox resigned because, in his own words, “I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred.” Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Sri Lanka.

One farce too many

Sri Lanka's announcement of the appointment of yet another commission to investigate human rights abuses should come as no surprise. Following the release of report by the UN expert panel, calls for an international, independent inquiry into the final stages of the conflict are gaining momentum on a global level. This new commission, like its predecessors, including the infamously impotent Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is a farce. Its announcement is a insolent retort at the UN report and all those advocating accountability, as well as another of Sri Lanka's habitual ploys to buy time for international attention to fade.

Exposed Core

Two years after Sri Lanka's genocidal onslaught against the Tamil population reached a zenith in a tiny enclave in the island's north, the horrors unleashed between January and May 2009 have come under international scrutiny. The United Nations expert panel's report on the closing stages of the armed conflict has set out in harrowing detail how Sri Lanka's 'systematic persecution' resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands, through mass bombardment amid a blockade on food and medicine. The report has been welcomed by the US, UK and EU, among others, who have called for action over the war crimes and crimes against humanity. The furor within Sri Lanka that followed the release of the UN report, however, has underlined the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the country's crisis. Whilst the Tamils have collectively welcomed the UN report and its call for an independent inquiry into the conduct of the war, the Sinhala polity, with overwhelming support from its constituents, have united in fierce opposition. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has drawn support from the other Sinhala parties, including the main opposition UNP, in resisting an independent inquiry, as well as action over the mass crimes.

Parvathi Amma

Whilst Sri Lanka and its international allies labour to present an image of emerging 'post-conflict' normalcy - and even of 'reconciliation' in the offing - events in Jaffna this week made clear the country's future is exactly the reverse. The military's desecration of the ashes of LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan's mother, and its anxious, violent efforts in preceding days to prevent public mourning of her death underline not only the popular sentiment amongst Tamils, but the state's unshakable insecurity. In short, the seventy-year long antagonism between the Sinhala ethnocracy and the Tamil people will endure and grow. This is not a matter of ancient hatreds, but of state policy and the politics to come.

Powder Keg

In the run up to last month's referendum in South Sudan, it was widely accepted that the overwhelming majority would opt for independence. Similarly, even before Kosovo unilaterally declared independence two years ago, it was widely agreed that the majority of its people endorsed the move. What is striking, therefore, is what went before in these places. Sudan's civil war raged for four decades before the 2005 peace agreement. And when the international community ended the post-Cold War firestorm in the Balkans with the 1995 Dayton Accords, the Kosovars, despite their pleas, were actively excluded. Instead, they were told to make the best of it under Serbia's rule.

Cases in Point

Oppression is not forever, but resistance is.