Sri Lanka: A nightmare for Tamils

One of the camps used to hold Tamils after the end of the decades-long war in 2009.

When Tamil asylum seeker Dayan Anthony was deported back to Sri Lanka by the Australian government last month, his immediate arrest and interrogation did little to allay fears he would not face harassment from authorities.

His subsequent government-arranged press conference appeared to be staged for the benefit of the Sri Lankan and Australian governments.

After 14 hours in custody and flanked by government officials, Anthony said: “Sri Lanka has become the safest place on the Earth after the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] was wiped out from the country. I did not face any type of harassment at the hands of Sri Lankan authorities after I returned to the country.”

Such a statement is incredible given the many reports of human rights abuses by the Sri Lankan government, especially after the its victory over the LTTE that ended the civil war in 2009.

The LTTE was the main armed group fighting for an independent state in the north and east of the island, known as Tamil Eelam, and had created infrastructure for government and services in the area. Despite the LTTE’s human rights abuses and use of terrorism, many Tamils saw it as the defender of their interests against the brutality of the Sri Lankan government.

Amnesty International’s submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, released in April, detailed arbitrary detentions, torture, enforced disappearances of Tamils and government opponents. The report also showed the ongoing impunity of security forces in committing these crimes.

It detailed the widespread use of detention without trial against “suspected members of armed groups … against their family members and colleagues, outspoken critics and other perceived political opponents of the government, including journalists”.

This detention can last years and most are eventually released due to lack of evidence.

Torture of prisoners remains “common and widespread”, said Amnesty, and cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by security forces continue to be reported.

These abuses follow on from end of the decades-long armed conflict between Tamil independence forces -- of which the LTTE became the largest group -- and the Sri Lankan government. The government’s final onslaught in 2009 saw up to 50,000 Tamils killed as the Sri Lankan army bombed civilian areas.

Following the end of the war, government forces engaged in further collective punishment of Tamils by holding up to 300,000 in concentration camps. There were reports of widespread torture and rape, and mass executions of those suspected to be linked to the LTTE.

Those lucky enough to be released found many Tamil areas heavily occupied by the military. The government implemented a program of Sinhalese migration to break up Tamil communities, leaving many war victims displaced.

Day-to-day persecution of Tamils remains despite the government’s crushing of resistance. Tamilnet.com provided an example on July 30, saying former Tamil fighters released from prison faced harassment from the military in Vanni for their refusal to collaborate with the military.

Tamilnet.com also said on July 26 that paramilitary forces in Vaakarai aligned with the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) threatened Tamils would be driven out if they did not vote for the UPFA in provincial elections.

Tamil political prisoners also face harsher treatment, with the defence secretary ordering their transfer to the notorious Boosa prison in Galle, Tamilnet.com said on July 25. The government has reneged on its promise to release details of all Tamil prisoners, with claims of secret detention camps holding Tamil prisoners of war.

While there has been some international criticism of the Sri Lankan government, it has sought to deflect this through its “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC), composed of government-appointed officials, ostensibly to investigate claims of human rights abuses during the war.

However, its report largely exonerated the government and talked up “reconciliation” between the two sides.

Academic RM Karthick said at jdslanka.org on June 18: “The real message of the devisors of the LLRC seems to be that Tamils have learnt a lesson and must reconcile to the fact that they are a minority at the tender mercies of the state, not a nationality, and that the there is no imagination beyond the unitary Sri Lanka.”

However, the underlying cause of the conflict -- ethnic discrimination -- still remains.

The conflict stemmed from racism against Tamils by the Sinhalese majority that arose in the early 20th century when the ruling British colonists spread racist ideas as a way to divide the workers movement, Asia Left Observer said in June last year. This racism bloomed into institutionalised discrimination when Sinhalese chauvinists took control of the country after it gained independence in 1948.

Sinhalese was eventually declared the sole national language and Tamils were discriminated against in terms of access to resources, services and jobs.

After decades of peaceful campaigning against discrimination, the 1970s saw the emergence of armed Tamil groups. These were mainly led by frustrated youths who saw no other way to oppose growing repression.

The LTTE became the dominant group in the 1980s when it organised the killings of leaders of rival Tamil groups, especially targeting those with progressive politics. Asia Left Observer said: “Their objective of a separate Tamil state became the sole proclaimed objective, separating it from the question of the rights demanded by Tamils and mortgaging any democratic resolution of the civil war.”

With Tamil resistance now shattered, the Sri Lankan government is pressing its advantage to crack down on any dissenters. Australia should be assisting those fleeing this situation as a basic act of human decency, not using them as political footballs to assist racist regimes at home and abroad.


Comments

Eelam Country was a separate country. The Eelam country was occupied by their neighbors Srilanka, with the help of India. Eelam country had its own Banks, Hospitals, Schools, Churches, Temples, Language and Culture. The Eelam country had its own defense forces like Navy, Air force, and Army. Notably they have defended their territory using their air force on the Srilankan Air force. They have defeated the Srilankan air force on several occasions. The Eelam country has been occupied, and the tamils are massacred. Freedom is not far away. Tamils have the quality to rise again.

It has been and continues to be nightmare for Tamils in Sri Lanka but why is it so in Australia for those fleeing persecution under war of terror?

This is a good article, but I have some disagreements with a couple of points.

1. Ash Pemberton says: "The LTTE became the dominant group in the 1980s when it organised the killings of leaders of rival Tamil groups, especially targeting those with progressive politics."

Actually the LTTE wiped out rival armed Tamil groups regardless of their politics. Some of the rival groups claimed to be Marxist, others were purely nationalist. Hundreds of members of these groups were killed. Many of them were murdered after being taken prisoner.

Why did this happen?

The brutal Sri Lankan state gave rise to enemies (the armed Tamil groups) that themselves became increasingly brutal. Eventually this brutality was applied in disputes amongst the armed Tamil groups themselves. As Ron Ridenour, in his new book "Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka", says: "Then those who are the victims of violence....eventually pick up arms and become brutal in their defence. Anaesthesia to brutality sets in. They kill each other".

One factor contributing to conflict amongst the Tamil armed groups was the machinations of the Indian government.

Following the July 1983 massacre of 3,000 Tamils by racist gangs instigated by the Sri Lankan government, India began giving some aid to the Tamil armed groups. However India did not want an independent Tamil state, so it tried to pressure the Tamil groups to abandon this goal and accept a plan whereby Tamil areas would remain part of Sri Lanka, but would have some degree of autonomy.

The LTTE's perception that India was favouring other groups that would accept this plan was probably a factor in its decision to attack these groups.

In 1987 India sent troops to the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka to impose its solution. The remnants of the groups that had been attacked by the LTTE previously became part of a puppet administration that violently repressed LTTE supporters. As Ridenour says, "....brutality breeds more brutality...."

2. Pemberton quotes the Asia Left Observer saying, in reference to the LTTE: "Their objective of a separate Tamil state became the sole proclaimed objective, separating it from the question of the rights demanded by Tamils and mortgaging any democratic resolution of the civil war.”

I am not completely sure what point the Asia Left Observer is trying to make here. Is it saying that the LTTE should not have fought for an independent Tamil state, but should have fought for democratic rights within a united Sri Lanka?

But the whole reason why the LTTE and other Tamil armed groups came into existence was because of the failure of several decades of peaceful protest to win Tamil rights within Sri Lanka.

Is it saying that the LTTE should have been willing to compromise on the demand for an independent Tamil state, accepting instead an autonomy deal such as that proposed by India? At various times (e.g. following the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement) the LTTE did indicate a willingness to consider something less than full independence, but Sinhalese chauvinists blocked any steps towards real autonomy. The attempt by India to impose such a solution by armed force proved disastrous.

Chris Slee

Lets deal with some FACTS you glossed over:

1. The UN estimates that only 6,500 people were killed in May 2009 - NOT 50,000 - check your stats. The biggest number estimated so far before your imagined 50,00 was 20,000

2. The LTTE was a terrorist organisation that used most of 6,500 people as human shields. Yes, walking into Army camps pretending to surrender in civilian clothing and then blowing themselves up.

3. The LTTE is on record for shooting civilians and then trying to pin it on the army.

4. The IDP camps have closed. Yes closed. All of them. There are about 300 people to be resettled. That is it. Again, check your facts.

5. The language issue that comes up. The Singhala Only Act was put in place in 1956 and repealed in 1958. All offficial govt docs are printed in English, Singhalese and Tamil. Tamils are not discriminated against in education, business or politics. Have a look at the number of Tamils in corporate roles in Sri Lanka, heads of business, leading education institutes and the like.

6. STOP swallowing the LTTE propaganda machine and regurgitating it enmase.

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