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Sri Lanka: Genocide of the Tamil minority

Tamil refugees who fled from Sri Lankan military operation in Vanni

By Brian Senewiratne

January 23, 2009 -- There is a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka, where the Tamil minority in the island’s north and east are facing annihilation at the hands of the Sinhalese-dominated government. 

This article will deal with the current crisis, with the more fundamental problem of the legacy left by colonial British rule (1796-1948) dealt with in later articles. These colonial administrative structures will need to be reversed of there is ever to be peace or prosperity in Sri Lanka.

I am a Sinhalese, from the majority community, not from the brutalised Tamil minority. I quit Sri Lanka in 1976.

Who runs that country is of no concern to me, as long as it is run without serious violations of human rights. Sri Lanka was tossed out of the UN Human Rights Council in May last year due to its human rights record, and the drift of a democracy to a fascist politico-military dictatorship, none of which have been publicised internationally.

Current problem

The ethno-religious mix of Sri Lanka, with 20 million people, consists of ethnic Sinhalese (74%), Tamils (18%) in two groups (ethnic Tamils, 12.5%, and the plantation, or Indian, Tamils, 5.5%) and Moors (6.5%).

The ethnic Sinhalese and the ethnic Tamils have been in the country for at least 2500 years — the Tamils for probably much longer, given the proximity of Sri Lanka to south India from where the ethnic Tamils came.

The plantation Tamils are descendants of indentured labourers brought to the country by the British in the mid-1850s to work in the tea plantations in the central hills. The Moors are descendants of Arab traders from the 13th-15th century.

The ethnic conflict is between the Sinhalese-dominated government and the ethnic Tamils. The Sinhalese speak an Indoaryan language, Sinhalese, while the Tamils a Dravidian language, Tamil. The Moors are mainly Tamil-speaking but many are bilingual.

To add a religious dimension to an already existing ethno-linguistic one, the Sinhalese are Buddhist (70%) and the Tamils are Hindus. About 7% of each group have been converted to Christianity by Westerners. The Moors are mostly Muslims.

Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multireligious, multilingual and multicultural country. Despite this, the Sinhala-Buddhist majority claim that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country.

The main proponents of this ethno-religious chauvinism are, firstly, the Buddhist monks who claim that Buddha on his death bed nominated Sri Lanka to be the custodian of his teaching, and secondly Sinhalese politicians across the entire political spectrum who have done so to gain the political support of the Sinhalese Buddhist majority to get into or remain in power.

The major Sinhalese political parties have competed with each other to discriminate against the Tamils in language, education and employment with the clear intention of getting the Sinhalese vote.

A third proponent is the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan Armed Forces (99% Sinhalese). The head of the Sri Lankan army stated in an interview in September last year: “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese …”

The real danger is that while the ethno-religious bigots among the Buddhist clergy and the Sinhalese political opportunists are not in a position to deliver an exclusively Sinhala-Buddhist nation, the Sri Lankan army — equipped and supported by countries such as the US, China, India, Pakistan, Britain and Israel, for their own geopolitical/economic gains — do have that capacity.

If this means committing genocide against the Tamil people, the politico-military junta, which has the temerity to call itself the “Government of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri lanka”, is more than willing to do so.

Problem of ethnic cleansing

There are four options to achieve an exclusively Sinaha-Buddhist Sri Lanka.

1. Drive them out of the country. Although 1.3 million have already been driven out, there are still 2 million left.

2. Make them “non-people”, ie: internal refugees. Currently, there are 500,000 Tamil civilians living in refugee camps in the Tamil north and east or have fled into the jungles in the north to escape Sri Lankan army bombing. There are also 200,000 Tamil refugees in south India.

On November 19, Amnesty International USA, in a publication titled Sri Lanka government must act now to protect 300,000 displaced persons, stated: “In September 2008, the Sri Lankan government ordered the United Nations (UN) and non-government aid-workers to leave the region (the Tamil North). The government then assumed total responsibility for ensuring the needs of the civilian population affected by the hostilities are met.”

On December 23, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) came out with a 49-page report entitled Besieged, Displaced, and Detained. The Plight of Civilians in Sri Lanka’s Vanni Region, which detailed the Sri Lankan government’s responsibility for the plight of 230,000 to 300,000 displaced people in the Vanni (northern) conflict zone.

It documents that thousands of Tamils fleeing the fighting in the north are trapped by the government and are being denied basic provisions.

Brad Adams, HRW Asia Director, one of the people who wrote this report, said: “To add insult to injury, people who manage to flee the fighting end up being held indefinitely in army-run prison camps.” He went on to make the situation abundantly clear: “The government’s ’welfare centers’ for civilians fleeing the Wanni are just badly disguised prisons.”

3. Make them “disappear”. Today, Sri Lanka leads the world in “involuntary disappearances”. On November 24, HRW published report entitled Sri Lanka: Human Rights Situation Deteriorating in the East in which Adams stated: “The Sri Lankan government says that the ‘liberated’ East is an example of democracy in action and a model for areas recaptured from the LTTE. But killings and abductions are rife, and there is total impunity for horrific acts.”

4. Kill them — i.e. commit genocide. “Genocide” is defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as “an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Genocide has nothing to do with numbers killed, it is the intention and the act(s) to achieve this intention that defines it.

Bombing, shelling and shooting are not the only ways to kill. One could starve them, withhold essential medicines, prevent survival activity (e.g. fishing and agriculture), destroy businesses, markets, homes, hospitals and schools. Once the intention is there, the ways to achieve genocide are endless.

There are also different types of genocide. I have called these, “educational genocide”, “cultural genocide”, “economic genocide” and “religious genocide” — defined as the intention, backed by the act, of destroying in whole or part the education, culture or economy and religion of an ethnic group.

The Sri Lankan government is guilty of all of these.

A war on Tamils

The “war” that is going on in Sri Lanka is a liberation struggle of the Tamil people for their right to self-determination, which would enable them to exist with equality, dignity and safety in the area of historical habitation of the Tamil people — the north and the east of Sri Lanka.

This war could not continue without foreign aid going to the Sri Lankan government. Without this aid, Sri Lanka would be forced to the negotiating table. Imperialism today takes the form of foreign aid.

No discussion of what is going on in Sri lanka is complete without a comment on the question of suicide bombings and child soldiers, issues used to demonise Tamil resistance to the Sri Lankan regime.

Suicide bombings have been a hallmark of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in its decades-long armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state. The latter has used and promoted extreme violence in its attempt to enforce Sinhalese (the majority ethnic group) domination on the island.

I will quote the Booker prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy in her book The Ordinary Persons Guide to Empire. Substitute Sri Lanka for Israel and Tamil for Palestinian.

“Young Palestinians who cannot contain their anger turn themselves into human bombs and haunt Israel’s streets, blowing themselves up, killing ordinary people. Suicide bombing is an act of individual despair, not a revolutionary tactic.

“The world is called upon to condemn suicide bombers, but can we ignore the long road they have journeyed on before they arrived at their destination?”

The psychology of the suicide bomber is: “You shot my father, raped and killed my mother, hanged my brother, tortured and killed my sister. I have nothing left. When I decide to leave this planet, I will take you with me.”

Also, the LTTE has, for years, recruited children as fighters. What is new is that there are several recent reports that the Sri Lankan army is doing the same thing.

Allan Rock is a Canadian diplomat working with the United Nations sent to Sri Lanka in 2006, who issued a report that confirmed that the LTTE was recruiting child soldiers.

He also stated that Tamil paramilitary groups working with the Sri Lankan army were doing the same thing, conscripting child soldiers in the eastern province.

A December 2 report by the US-based Human Rights Watch stated that the leaders of the Tamil paramilitary groups working with the Sri Lankan regime, one of them recently appointed a member of parliament by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, “have been implicated in serious human rights abuses … The abuses included abducting large numbers of children and forcing them to serve as soldiers … Escapees often must go into hiding to prevent being abducted again. In some instances, their families have faced pressure to give a ’replacement’ child soldier to the group.”

International interests

Violations of human rights can no longer be considered an “internal affair” of that country. That is why the world got involved in the issue of apartheid in South Africa (indisputably an “internal affair” of that country).

Sri Lanka cannot say it is not our business. It is.

These “internal affairs” cause refugees that seek safe havens in other countries such as Australia. Tamil civilians brutilised by the Sri Lankan regime contact “people smugglers”, are put into leaking boats that sink off the Australian coast, or arrive here to be locked up as criminals.

Rather than creating inhumane ways of dealing with these people, the source of the problem, the human rights violations in Sri Lanka, must be addressed.

What is more, all conflicts come to an end. The conflict in East Timor did come to an end, as has the conflict in Ireland and so many others. The Sri Lankan conflict will come to an end in five years, 10, or longer. It might do so with Sri Lanka reduced to a shell, as East Timor was.

The rebuilding of Sri Lanka when the conflict is over will fall on the “international community” (as it did with East Timor). To prevent this catastrophe, action must be taken.

It is not appreciated that there are two conflicts in Sri Lanka.

First, between the Sri Lankan regime and the Tamil people to force the Tamil people to accept Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

Second, between the US, India and China for control of the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is not the largest ocean on this planet, but by far, the busiest. Forty per cent of the world’s population is in countries around the Indian Ocean. Seventy percent of the world’s oil shipments, and 50% of the world’s container cargo, travel across this ocean.

As US admiral Alfred Maher commented 100 years ago, “Whoever controls the Indian Ocean, dominates Asia”.

This international “war” is a peculiar one. These interests compete with each other to control the Indian Ocean, and cooperate with each other to prevent a solution to the problem in Sri Lanka. Just as oil is the problem in the Middle East, the geographical position of Sri Lanka, astride the Indian Ocean, is the problem in Sri Lanka.

The “prize” is Trincomalee, the fourth largest natural harbour in the world, in the Tamil north-east. Trincomalee remaining in the hands of a corrupt Sinhalese regime in Colombo is a better option to it falling into the hands of an independent Tamil state.

To negotiate with a corrupt regime is a far easier task than negotiating with the much more disciplined Tamils.

China has a special interest in safeguarding its crucial oil supply from the Middle East, which passes just below Sri Lanka.

India has a special interest in preventing any other power from “interfering” (even if this means solving a problem) in its “area of control”.

For India to get a foothold in Sri Lanka is crucial. That would be easier to achieve with a corrupt, disorganised, despotic regime in Colombo, than with an independent Tamil state.

What has to be done

International human rights monitors must be admitted into Sri Lanka, now. Tomorrow might be too late for the Tamils.

Sri Lankan disinformation that the problem is “Tamil terrorism” must be exposed. The problem is Sinhala-Buddhist ethno-religious chauvinism and state terrorism aimed at turning Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

I have DVDs that set this out in detail, which I have donated to the Socialist Alliance in Australia.

Sri Lanka must be isolated, as was apartheid South Africa. Economic sanctions should be imposed. We should stop buying Sri Lankan goods. A boycott should target tourism and point to the blood-stained beaches of Sri Lanka. Trade union action to stop handling goods, to and from Sri Lanka, should be implemented.

Public protests need to be organised internationally.

We should pressure our governments to force Sri Lanka to the negotiating table and to make clear that a military “solution” to the Tamil question is not acceptable.

[This article first appeared in Australia's Green Left Weekly, in two parts on January 23 and February 4. Brian Senewiratne is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Brisbane, Australia. Many of his articles on the Tamil question can be found at http://www.tamilcanadian.com.]

Comments

Genocide of Tamils in SriLanka

HAPPY TO FIND THAT DSP HAS COME OUT IN SUPPORT OF TAMILS OF SRILANKA. THE PLIGHT OF TAMILS IS MUCH WORSE THAN PEOPLE OF PALESTINE WHERE GOVERNMENT OF SRILANKA (GOSL)IS WAGING A GENOCIDAL WAR AGAINST IT OWN CITIZENS. DSP SHOULD TRY TO APPRISE PSUV AND COM, HUGO CHAVEZ TO SNAP DIPLOMATIC TIES WITH GOSL FORITS GENOCIDAL ATTACK ON TAMILS. INDIAN GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE STRONGLY CONDEMNED FOR AIDING AND ABETTING GENOCIDAL WAR. MANY OF SRILANKAN TAMILS FEEL THAT INDIA IS CONDUCTING A PROXY WAR AGAINST TAMILS BY SUPPLING ARMS AND AMMUNTION AND MILITARY MANPOWER TO GOSL. CHINA,PAKISTAN AND JAPAN ARE ALSO ACTIVE COLLOBARATORS IN THIS MASS MURDER OF TAMILS .

Genocide In Sri Lanka

Genocide In Sri Lanka.

Help us!
http://www.slhr.org

SOS FROM A TAMILAIN LIVING IN VANNI

HIS MAIL TO ME:
The following letter is from a person iliving n Vanni. The report is based on his first hand experience .
His Appeal;
I kindly request you to take this genocide to the medias and the human rights organizations. As you know we are helpless and we are in a death trap here.
We can't do anything, even we can't see Makkal T.V channels and some websites. If it is possible please try to pass it Makka T.V channel which telecasts from India.

His report: Genocide Committed by Sri Lankan Government.

The prevailing situation in Northern part of Sri Lanka where the Tamils are brutally killed by the Sri Lankan government by heavy artillery shelling, cannon attack and air strike on civilian areas. The Tamil ethnic genocide committed by the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksha is obviously seemed that the people forcibly evicted in their homeland being taken them on the way detaining camps, the adults are separated from the families in two places namely Kilinochchi and Omanthai have been transferred to unknown military camps, the parents who kept in the camps know nothing information about their lives. They have no way of searching them even talk to anyone because of the threatening by government intelligence and military. There is no any information or entry maintaining by the authority on people regarding who are now in the camps (names, place, no of children etc). No one can talk displaced due to prevent brutalities and violence which have taken place all the camps. The camps are placed here and there in and around the military cable like barriers passing electricity at night, they seem to be military bases.
And another brutal ethnic genocide by raping the young adults girls are targeted in camps where the Sri Lankan intelligence and military taken saying for inquiry mostly at night, the adults have been raped and some of them are killed. The incident at the Nellukulam camps where six girls had taken as usual, two of them to committed suicide by hanging themselves after leaving in the morning 10 days ago. The autopsy done by the doctors depicted the victims had been raped by many forcibly and tortured. The sperm were found the amount in grams seen from 250 to 400. Recently another incident near by camps two girls taken one has been released other one still nowhere. Another incident recently happened, one girl was raped by 21 men the doctor’s medical reports depicted. Nearly one months past the dead body fell down from the forces vehicle
found that the tightened her hand the goddess of Gowry.
Nearly 5 days ago, 10 boys were taken from Vavuniya Tamil Madhiya Maha Vidyalayam School around 1 o’clock midnight for inquiry but nothing known about their lives. These are the common thing happening everyday but nobody dare to open the mouth, the medias and civil are voiceless due to death threatening by the forces. The autopsy done by the doctors depicted the victims had been raped by many forcibly and tortured. The sperm were found the amount in grams seen from 250 to 400. The young ladies are living there with fear when it gets dark. We have known the above, nothing more.

Now the people in war zone have realized and stated that whatever death fear they wouldn’t leave the Sri Lankan government forces control area, and they are ready to die by the forces brutal attacks on public in war zone.

Thank you Mr Seneviratne for

Thank you Mr Seneviratne for the very informative analysis; we are very grateful to you.

Situation in Vanni is grave-- people are killed in 100`s everyday; most of the injured people are crippled for life.

Even people coming to Vavuniya are taken for questioning by the govt and the young men and women go missing.The diplaced people in vavuniya are held like prisoners ; even their realtives are not allowed to visit them.

What is the so- called intenational community is doing? do they want to wait till the entire tamil race is wiped out?

Thank you sir.

EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT FROM VANNI

CAN ANYTHING BE DONE TO STOP THIS GENOCIDE IN MANY FORMS?

Eyewitness account on Vavuniyaa internment camps

what is happening here is genocide in many forms. Needless to say scattering people all over to unknown and unfamiliar places will ultimately lead to a weak population and result in damages done to our culture, education, and relationships. I can foresee a maimed Tamil generation with no hope in the future. The international community can make statements. But none will pay heed. For me the future looks dark and gloomy," reveals a letter written by a professional eyewitness, who visited the barbed-wired internment camps and hospital in Vavuniyaa couple of days ago.

TamilNet brings out the letter, sent to a relative abroad, removing personal details:

My trip to Vavuniya

Though I have been following the news about the war in Vanni, and the damages made to human lives and properties, I never thought it would be so bad until I went in person. I got a call from one of our [...] members from one of the interim camps saying our [...] was killed in the war. The first time I experienced the steps in grief, which I had [...] several times to my [...]. “No, No, it can’t be” I cried. I straight away went to the [...]'s office. I couldn’t control my tears when I saw [...]. They told me that he was safe and is in one of those camps.

The next day I booked the seat and took the train to Vavuniya. I started early morning and reached Vavuniya in the afternoon. My [...] was waiting for me at the station. We straight away went to the camp. Nobody was allowed to get into the camp.

The schools are being used as the interim camps. But they were putting up sheds which I would call tents about 5-6 meters in length. They had put barbed wires around the camps like those around the army camps. People could see those inside only from the other side of the road. The security was very tight. I went to the army person who was in charge of the camp ignoring the shouts from other soldiers, “You dare not get closer… run away, run away!” I approached him, and spoke in English as my Sinhalese was very bad. I told him I just wanted to see my [...] who is a [...] and that I was sure he was in that camp. He was kind enough to send word for him, but asked me to wait on the other side of the road, and said he would give me only five minutes. In ten minutes time [...] came out. He looked haggard tired and traumatized.

They had been running for their lives from place to place. The shelling was so intense that they hardly came out of the bunker. Every now and then there was bombing and gunfire. He was in charge of [...]. They had [...]. On Sunday morning (15th Feb.2009) they had a [...], and in the evening they had decided to leave. However they left around 1.30 a.m. I could just imagine how terrified they would have been. Since we worked in Vanni, I could imagine the dangers they faced besides the rain of shells and bombs. They had to watch out for ‘all creatures great and small’ from elephants to poisonous snakes in the thick jungles. They walked for hours in the dark, trying not to stumble on the dead bodies of those who got killed and the parts of the limbs of the human here and there. They finally saw buses which could take them to Vavuniya. As they got into one of the buses, here comes a shell and the other bus got blasted. Fourteen of the inmates were missing he said. (Later, I heard six of them were found).

As we were waiting, luncheon packets were brought in a van. We noticed the packets looked very small for a lunch. Later I heard from a reliable person that they were expected to give a parcel of minimum 650 grams. But each parcel weighed not more than 300 grams. As I went to the other camps, I noticed of course from the other side of the road, hundreds of men were having shower, may be for the first time after a long time. Ten showers were there in the open space and they all had to push and shove each other to get to the water. After some time the water would be stopped. I wondered how the women were going to manage! In the open space in the presence of the men and army! What would they do for toilet facilities!

The hospital visit was heart breaking. Almost all of those in the accident wards had undergone amputation. By standers were not allowed to many. The patients didn’t know where their family members were. They looked traumatized. In the nights used to scream and cry because of pain and of nightmares. Many had lost both legs, and some had lost their hands. A pregnant mother had lost both legs and both hands, and was lamenting that the nurses should help her die. Quite a few had been paralyzed because of the severe damage done to their vertebras. I was drawn to one of the boys. His head was shaved. When I went towards him tears started to roll down his cheeks. He had undergone surgery in the brain. He asked me whether I could find out where his father and youngest sister were. His mother and two brothers got killed. He didn’t have any one with him. “Now that I have survived, what is my future going to be like? They say they are going to transfer all of us to Trincomalee” he said. I had no answer for him except to listen to him empathetically.

Once the patients are ready to go, they would be sent to the camps. Permission was denied to those who had relatives in Vaviniya who were willing to take them. Hardly any had all their family members living. They were being sent to different places like Kinniya, Polannaruwa, Mannar etc, which means even the slightest chance of a family reunion was questionable.

A mother sat with a blank look. As they started to run, one of her children got killed. She had the guts to wait there, got the mammotty (Shovel) and buried the child. She didn’t want her child’s body to be eaten by the wild animals. She didn’t cry but sure she was in the stage of dissociation. There are incidents where shells landed directly into the bunkers. I have no doubt that thousands would have got killed. Those who remain in Vanni are scared to come out for various reasons. For them getting killed is better than getting tortured.

Elsewhere in the island, especially in Colombo, the army checking has been increased. If a person has the national identity card, with the birthplace from Vanni or Mullaitevu or Kilinochchi or even Jaffna, he/she will be in trouble. Our apartment was checked thoroughly [...], and my [...]year [...]’s room was checked including [...] wardrobe and [...] cupboard and [...] was questioned. So even if the people want to come out of Vanni, they are aware of this problem as well.

Now, what is happening here is genocide in many forms. Needless to say scattering people all over to unknown and unfamiliar places will ultimately lead to a weak population and result in damages done to our culture, education, and relationships. I can foresee a maimed Tamil generation with no hope in the future. The international community can make statements. But none will pay heed. For me the future looks dark and gloomy!

[...]

Why India so Silent....

Thousands of Indian Tamils are struggling there, and India – the only one country in world which is supposed to support this people is sitting doing nothing… at least India can give immediate humanity and medical aids our brothers and sisters. But our government is trying to take the revenge against the assassination of Hon. Rajiv Ghandi with this sufferings of the poor. This is not an evidence of Indian Culture, which we are so proud of. Ghandiji taught us that if somebody hit you on one side of your cheek show the other also, but the same party which claims the ancestry of Mahatma is doing this.
Jaago India Jaago…. Uthistathaa Jagratha…..

International Community exclude India in action on Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has lifted the emergency laws in order fool and misleads the international community as the voting on Human rights and war crimes investigation at the UN Human Tights council is expected next month.

There is no transparency in any process in Sri Lanka and the human rights abuses and attack on innocent Tamils are committed even after two years of ending the war.

Tamil Land is a fully occupied land by the Sri Lankan state forces and its criminal gangs that continue to commit crimes against humanity. Innocent Tamils lives are worse than a life of a slave in their own homeland.

There are no free and unrestricted access to any media, journalists, NGOs and Human Rights groups to collect information independently as the regime continue to deny access and threaten the media. Recently the Chairman of the Sunday Leader newspaper was threatened personally by the President Rajapakse. The murdered Lasantha Wicremathunge was a Journalists with the same newspaper. 34 Journalists were murdered under this regime and many more attacked, threaten and intimidated.

Hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamils have been raped, tortured, murdered and simply disappeared. The Rajapakse regime continues defy international law (R2P) and deny unrestricted access to media, journalists, NGOs, human rights groups and diplomats to Tamils areas to report independently. There is a culture of impunity and no history of any investigations or justice delivered to hundreds of thousands of crimes committed against Tamils.

Will anyone still trust this regime and its motives?

Ashamed to call myself an

Ashamed to call myself an Indian. A government totally lacking in moral fibre . This --- the country of the Mahatma!!

Buddha was one of the greatest Asian who ever lived on this Earth. Buddha the bringer of the light--whose heart bled for the poor and the unfortunate--and these people have the temerity to call themselves Buddhists!!

This long war is entirely a creation of the Sinhala majority denying the Tamil minority their right to live in peace and dignity. After all ancient Ezham was a seperate kingdom , older then the Sinhala kingdom.

Like aborigines in Australia and the Redindians in America and like our own poor tribals in India the Tamils are being oppressed and suppressed.

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