TG View: A step in the right direction for Peel

On Wednesday evening, the Peel District School Board in Canada made a welcome reversal. It retracted a tweet that was sent out ‘clarifying’ their position on the Tamil genocide, following pressure from Sri Lanka’s foreign office. Peel has now acknowledged that it was wrong to do so and accepted that its actions “resulted in pain to Tamil students, their families and the Tamil staff,” whilst pledging to recognise and support efforts around Tamil genocide education going forward. The move is a promising gesture and marks a victory for activists in Canada, in the Tamil homeland and around the world in their fight for accountability and justice.

At home and abroad: accountability, reconciliation and Sinhala Buddhism

Sri Lanka announced recently that it would launch a domestic probe to investigate war time mass atrocities in time for the release of the UN mandated investigation due in September. The announcement, made in the wake of a high profile visit to the island by the US Secretary of State John Kerry late last month, suggests that Sri Lanka is responding to international demands. However, it is not clear that this new international engagement necessarily translates to real changes on the ground. The government’s behaviour is notably contradictory. While it reassures international audiences that it is taking accountability seriously and is committed to reform and reconciliation, it says quite another to domestic Sinhala Buddhist constituencies. This duplicity is worrying and suggests that the government is intent on continuing with business as normal rather than committing to the deep changes in governance that are needed to secure a just and lasting peace.

Land and development in the North-East

This week, Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister Wigneswaran lamented the lack of economic development in the North, berating the Sri Lankan state for its “conqueror” mindset and festering militarisation that has come to engulf the Tamil North-East. In particular Wigneswaran highlighted the forcible acquisition of land by the government, a pertinent issue that has gained international attention, as the world ponders on how to bring about a long lasting stability to the island. The issue of land itself is central to the Sri Lankan state’s ongoing efforts to disrupt development in the...

TG View: Erasing the dead

Sri Lanka last week announced a census to ascertain the number of war casualties; an attempt to counter increasingly insistent international demands for a credible accountability process at the next UN Human Rights Council session in March 2014. But Sri Lanka’s intention is not to establish an accurate count of civilian casualties. The clue rests in census officials’ assertions that only those cases where relatives can produce a death certificate will be counted as officially dead. Sri Lanka has however stalled and delayed certifying the deaths of large numbers of Tamil civilians,...

TG View: Representing 'extremism'

The TNA MP S Sritharan's comments in Parliament the day before Maaveerar Naal have ruffled more than a few feathers within the Sri Lankan state. Amidst the Sri Lankan state's attempt to quash any acts of remembrance, defending the right of Tamils to commemorate fallen LTTE cadre on Maaveerar Naal, Sritharan said the majority of Tamils in the North-East see the LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran as the nation's leader. The condemnation and criticism from the government has been predictably ferocious . Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accused Sritharan of intentionally provoking the government and the...

Britain’s departure from colonial attitudes must also extend to the Tamil question

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt shooting a video for the British mission in Colombo earlier this year, endorsing the Sinhala regime whilst standing on the Mullivaikkal beach, the site of the Sinhala military’s slaughter of at least 40,000 Tamils in the final stages of the war in April/ May 2009. (Picture: British High Commission in Sri Lanka) William Hague’s announcement this week acknowledging responsibility and expressing regret for the crimes committed by British colonial authorities in Kenya against the Mau Mau rebellion is yet another instance of the certainties that legitimised...

Remembrance and reconciliation in Sri Lanka

The ethnic divide in Sri Lanka is ingrained in all aspects of life, even mourning the dead. The conflict between Tamils and the Sri Lankan state has cost over 100,000 lives, the vast majority of which are Tamil. The 18th of May, the day the armed conflict ended, has become one of the most important days in the Tamil calendar. Tamils across the world, including relatives of the tens of thousands of those that died, commemorate this day, in private or in public gatherings. However the rest of Sri Lanka celebrates this day, as the day the ‘terrorists’ were vanquished and Sinhala Buddhist rule securely extended throughout the entire island.

More questions than answers: Minister Alistair Burt on UK arms to Sri Lanka

Following The Independent newspaper’s report on the British government’s approval of licences for the export to Sri Lanka of over £3m worth of arms - in just one three month period last year – the UK minister responsible for Sri Lanka, Alistair Burt has written to the paper seeking to clarify the transfer of hundreds of assault rifles and large quantities of ammunition amongst other weapons. However, Mr. Burt’s response raises as many questions as The Independent’s article.

How meaningful is Sri Lanka's UPR?

As the 14th Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session gets under way at the UN Human Rights Council this week, the spotlight will once again fall on Sri Lanka and its human rights record - but just how meaningful a process will it be? Last time Sri Lanka faced a review at the Council was in 2008, when Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had been elected on a tidal wave of popular Sinhala support for a renewed war effort, was intensifying his military offensive against the LTTE. Whilst the reports of paramilitaries, torture, abductions, killings, and the targeting of human rights defenders, journalists and humanitarian workers were acknowledged in the recommendations, the scale of human rights abuses, war crimes and genocide that Sri Lanka unleashed less than a year later, made a mockery of the entire process. Re-visiting the 2008 recommendations, in light of what has happened and continues to take place, should be a sobering read to any within the UPR Working Group.

Sri Lanka's isolation only way forward

Nivard Cabraal’s bold claim , that events like the T20 Cricket World Cup will make the war crimes issue ‘fade away’, clearly shows that the international community’s continuation of ‘normal’ relations with Sri Lanka are critically undermining the possibility of creating a lasting peace, based on accountability and justice. The Central Bank governor’s conviction that war crimes can be made to disappear behind a facade of cultural and sporting festivity is shared by the rest of the Sri Lankan government. The continuation of normal international relations makes it unnecessary for Sri Lanka to take any meaningful steps in addressing the issues that are now central to international and Tamil demands. Sri Lanka will not need to pay any heed to repeated calls for meaningful accountability if it continues to enjoy a normal range of diplomatic contacts and indeed is even rewarded by being allowed to hold major sporting and political events.