Brian Senewiratne: Genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka while Australia looks on

A Tamil community protest in Sydney,April 27, 2009. Photo by Jamie Kim.

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Dr Brian Senewiratne

May 7, 2009 -- Socialist Alliance (Australia) -- I am a Sinhalese from the majority community in Sri Lanka, not from the brutalised Tamil community. I have campaigned for some five decades for the right of the Tamils to live with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth.

I am releasing this media briefing as a concerned Australian (here for 32 years), and as a member of the Socialist Alliance, the only non-Tamil organisation [in Australia] to support the struggle of the Tamils for justice.

The Sinhalese-dominated Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) claims it is fighting a "war on terrorism". What it is really doing is fighting the Tamil people to force them to accept Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. To this end, it is prepared to commit genocide of the Tamils, similar to Hitler’s "final solution of the Jewish question".

The Tamils are now facing genocide or internment in concentration camps that masquerade as "refugee camps". The Tamil civilians were supposedly “liberated” from the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) by the GoSL. But if they are liberated people, why keep them behind barbed-wire fences, and why are international observers, including the media and humanitarian workers, prevented from visiting these camps?

There are 154,000 Tamil civilians, some in tents, others under trees, in 24 camps, behind barbed-wire fences. The tents are for five people, but house between seven and 21. Living conditions are appalling, with deliberate starvation and the denial of adequate medical help.

The women and girls are raped by the armed forces, pregnant women are aborted and some even sterilised. The GoSL would deny all this. Can foreign observers check these allegations? No they may not. Why? Because it is an "internal affair". We disagree.

There are some 120,000 Tamil civilians left in the government "safe zone", which is regularly bombed by its armed forces. Even hospitals have not been spared. The defence secretary, the president’s brother, in an interview with British media, said that bombing of hospitals is "acceptable". This contravenes the first and fourth sections of the Geneva Convention, signed and ratified by the GoSL.

The UN Convention defines genocide as "an act committed with intent to destroy in whole, or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". In Sri Lanka, this "part" are the Tamils who live in the North and East.

The GoSL expelled all humanitarian workers and agencies, including UN agencies, from the conflict zone so that genocide could be done without witnesses. This has not been done in any other country in the world.

More than 6000 Tamil civilians have been slaughtered in just the past four months. Last week, the only obstetrician in the area was gunned down by the armed forces. Why? Genocide.

Kfir jets, bombers, multi-barrel rocket launchers and helicopter gunships have been used by the GoSL dropping, in addition to conventional arsenal, cluster bombs and white phosphorus bombs. The GoSL will, of course, deny this, but the photographic evidence, including UN aerial photographs, recently leaked to the outside world, leave no doubt that these banned weapons are being used.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Sweden tried to get into Colombo to discuss the humanitarian disaster with the GoSL. The Swedish foreign minister could not even get a visa to enter the country. The other two got there and returned saying that they had “tried very hard” but achieved nothing

In the face of increasing international concern at the civilian casualties, the Tamil Tigers declared a unilateral cease-fire. The GoSL refused to reciprocate saying that the offer was a "joke".

On May 21, 2008, Sri Lanka was tossed out of the UN Human Rights Council on account of its outrageous human rights record.

However, little or none of this is mentioned in the Australian media. Australians have a right to ask why.

The Australian government has failed to act in condemning a serious abuse of human rights by a country with which it shares an ocean. Commercial and geo-political considerations are clearly more important than humanitarian ones, however serious.

This is simply not acceptable, and damages the image of Australia by its failure to condemn a murderous regime that has the temerity to call itself a "government", and for failing to institute sanctions on Sri Lanka until the killing stops.

The Australian government and the Australian media have a serious case to answer for their silence and indifference towards a horrendous genocide.

[Brian Senewiratne is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia and a leading campaigner for the rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. This article was first released as a press statement bt the Socialist Alliance.]