Home 2009: 2 Genocide and ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka

Genocide and ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka

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Countless innocent Tamil lives were lost in the wanton and indiscriminate aerial bombardment of the Tamil areas, reports the World Tamil Relief Fund

The first victim of Sri Lankan government’s ethnic cleansing were the Indian Tamils, brought in by the British more than a hundred years earlier to establish the plantation industry in Sri Lanka.  The labourers were sent to clear malaria-infested jungles to start these plantations and, in the process, a high proportion of them succumbed to diseases.  Within two years of independence the survivors were disfranchised and made stateless.  Most of them were repatriated to India.

The passing of the ‘Sinhala Only’ act of 1955 set in motion a process that would make the Tamils, who had been living in their homeland in the north-east of the island for more than 2,500 years, second-class citizens.  Successive state sponsored riots from 1956 to 1983 sent more than a million Tamils out of the Sinhalese as well as their Tamil homeland as refugees the world over, including the United States.

Cultural genocide

Depriving Tamil children of their education and the burning of the Jaffna Library, which was a repository of the culturall heritage of the Tamils, constituted cultural genocide.  A Tamil child had to obtain higher grades to seek admission into any seat of higher learning.  Bombing of schools and other educational institutions in Tamil areas was a deliberate attempt by the Sinhala government to obliterate the intelligentsia, quite reminiscent of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia.

All attempts by the elected Tamil representatives to negotiate an agreement with the Sinhalese leadership came to naught.  The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 and the Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965 were signed to seek a solution to the ethnic problem.  On account of the pressure from the opposition leaders, who led the Sinhalese masses against these pacts, both these pacts were abrogated unceremoniously by the Sinhalese leadership.  Peaceful protests, that followed, were broken up and crushed by Sinhalese thugs and police.

Frustrated and disillusioned the Tamil party, Tamil United Front, met at Vaddukkodai under their veteran leader, Chelvanayakam, and reconstituted their party under the name, Tamil United Liberation Front.  In their first convention on 14 May 1976, they passed a resolution to create a separate State of Tamil Eelam.  This was the beginning of their quest for separation.

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

Meanwhile the impatient Tamil youths, who were disappointed with the slow process of the negotiations, opted to take up arms to fight for their rights.  Thus the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged in the late seventies.

Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, who led the resistance against Sri Lankan opression, was always mindful of the fact that seeking a military solution would only aggravate the sufferings of the civilians.  He made every effort to seek a political settlement that would enable the Tamils to live in a confederate state, if not an independent one, in peace, dignity, security and progress.  With this in mind he entered into ceasefire agreement twice; once in 1994 and again in February, 2002.  His efforts came to naught, as the Sri Lankan government used the ceasefire to strengthen itself and at an appropriate time broke it.

The policy of successive Sinhalese governments had been to impose a settlement on the Tamils that would reduce them to a state of second class citizens.  To date the Sri Lankan Government has not produced any meaningful solution to the ethnic crisis, and this has brought untold sufferings to the Tamils and destruction of their properties and livelihood.

The economic embargo imposed by the Sinhala government further exacerbated the hardships faced by the Tamils.  Food, medical aid and other essentials were denied even to the sick in the hospital.  Prolonged enforcement of this embargo, coupled with the miseries of the war, brought untold sufferings to the civil population.  Patients, who were transferred to main hospitals for emergency surgery, were prevented from doing so.  This is a violation of Geneva Convention.

Norwegian-brokered ceasefire

When the Norwegians brokered the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002, the Tamils expressed a sigh of relief, as this would address their daily existential problems.  Unfortunately, agreements reached at the negotiating table could not be implemented and the Norwegian negotiators made strenuous efforts to get both the warring parties to reach a settlement.  The Tamil negotiator, Anton Balasingham, tried his utmost to reach a settlement that would bring immediate relief to the civilians.  He even renounced the Tamil desire for a separate state.

The December 2004 tsunami brought a window of opportunity for the three communities to cooperate.  Although most of the victims were Tamils and Muslims, the Sinhalese were also affected.  Food, medicine and tents sent in by the overseas Tamil Diaspora to their brethens in Sri Lanka were prevented from reaching the victims and were distributed among the Sinhalese or turned up in the black market in Colombo.

The Sri Lankan government took advantage of the 9/11 tragedy and the US government’s policy on the war on terror’ to list the LTTE as a terrorist group.  This excuse was used to get aid and armaments. Instead of continuing with the momentum of the peace initiative, the Sinhala Government unilaterally terminated the ceasefire in January 2008 and launched an all out military offensive to bring the conflict to an end.

Countless innocent Tamil lives were lost in the wanton indiscriminate bombardment of the Tamil areas.  Thousands of civilians lost their homes and became displaced refugees in their own country.  These innocent people are not combatants in the conflict.  Sri Lanka is the only country in the world that bombs and maims its own citizens.

Freedom fighters, not terrorists

The fact is Tamil freedom fighters are not terrorists although they might have retaliated in Colombo for attacks on their homeland.  It is the Stri Lankan regime that used inhuman methods of torture, indiscriminate shooting, mass arrests, rape of peasant women and girls.  Richard Boucher had accepted that LTTE was not exporting terrorism and was not a threat to any foreign government.

“The most problematic issue relating to terrorism and armed conflict is distinguishing terrorists from lawful combatants” emphasised UN Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K Koufa.  You have also acknowledged that painting all libration groups with the same brush was not helpful in solving problems.

Wayne Madsen, an on-line journal contributing writer has highlighted the danger of regimes using the anti-terror slogan to suppress genuine freedom fights, such as the one the LTTE has been waging against with the Sri Lankan regime.  “Forces of repression have been emboldened by this new global context.  The language of anti-terrorism has been used to smear and justify violating the rights of ordinary political opponents.” This is precisely what has happened in Sri Lanka.

The year 2008 brought nothing but misery to the Tamils.  Their agriculture, farming, fishing and other economic activities were purposely wrecked by the army.  Their homes, built by them with their life’s savings, were bombed under the guise of flushing out the LTTE.  It was reported in a Tamil daily that 57,000 houses had been damaged in Kilinochchi alone.

Consequently, the Tamil population had been reduced to the status of beggars who depended on relief aid from the UN and other NGOs from countries that are sympathetic to the Tamils.  Even these NGOs, other than the Red Cross, are barred from the war zones of Vanni and Mullaithevu, further aggravating the plight of the refugees.

Bring an end to misery

We humbly request that the new administration in the United States, which is committed to change, to do all within its power to find a speedy resolution to the conflict and bring an end to the misery and suffering of the Tamils, and put them on the path to peace, progress and prosperity.  We request the following:

•    Start a process through international organisations, such as the UN, to declare a ceasefire between the warring parties to facilitate the movement of food and medicine to the exhausted and desperate victims.

•    The year 2009 commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is therefore all the more imperative to examine the human rights violations, which are well documented in Sri Lanka and bring the culprits to justice.  Also, a political solution must be found to the conflict, so that the right to self determination of the Sri Lankan Tamils can be firmly established.

•    As in Kosovo and East Timor, start a process to examine a system that would give the minorities the right to govern themselves.  The Tamils have exhausted all avenues of negotiating a settlement with the Sinhalese.  In a referendum 90 per cent of them opted for a separate state.  In any case, the Tamils lived in their own kingdom all throughout history, until in 1833 when the British brought them under one roof for administrative purposes.  Restoration of that status quo should be in order.

Today the Sri Lankan Tamils are international orphans.  In addition to the deaths of 100,000 Tamils, the war has created 30,000 widows and 20,000 orphans.  Geopolitical priorities of the International Community and India has brought them to this state.  The deafening silence of the International Community, including the United Nations is baffling and imcomprehensible, especially when there is such a hue and cry internationally over the Israeli bombing in Gaza.  In the case of Gaza, it can be argued, the Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel prompted Israeli bombings.  In Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa starting the war was totally unprovoked.

The Tamils and also the LTTE have always longed for peace.  We only want a place under the sun to live in peace and happiness.  Many US officials in the past have accepted the fact that the only ideology the LTTE fights for is to be masters of their own destiny.  As we had been in the past, we would continue to be honest friends of the United States.  Sooner rather than later, the Tamils will have to seek US protection.

The Tamils stand has always been that “fighting for survival, dignity and self respect is not terrorism”.

The cost to the civilians has been documented as follows:

•    over 100,000 Tamils have been killed
•    over 28,000 Tamils have disappeared
•    over 12,600 Tamil girls and women have been raped
•    over 30,000 women widowed
•    over 20,000 children orphaned
•    over 1.2 million Tamils have been displaced
    (internally and externally)
•    over eight billion USD worth of property owned by Tamils has been destroyed

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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