Sri Lanka: Small concessions, but Tamils still facing oppression

There has been no accounting for tens of thousands of people who have disappeared after being arrested or abducted by the Sri La

The Global Tamil Forum issued a statement on May 1 evaluating the first months of in office of Sri Lanka's new president Maithripala Sirisena.

In presidential elections in January, Sirisena defeated the incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had presided over a genocidal war against the Tamil people and then kept them under military occupation.

The GTF praised Sirisena for amending the Sri Lankan constitution to cut the power of the president and increase the power of parliament.

But on the situation for Tamils, the GTF's comments were mixed: “We also recognise the positive steps the government has taken to address certain immediate concerns of the Tamil people.

“These include removing of military Governors and appointing civilians as Governors for the [predominantly Tamil] Northern and Eastern Provinces, transferring of small sections of land back to the rightful owners, releasing of a few Tamil political detainees and the review of the proscription of Tamil diaspora individuals and entities. Though limited in scope they are still significant.

“However, large swathes of private land are still illegally occupied by the military, disproportionate numbers of military personnel still remain in the North and East, intimidation and arbitrary arrests still continue, [the] military remains engaged in [the] day to day life of Tamils in [the] North and East, sexual violence continues against the tens of thousands of war widows and others, Tamil men and women still live in fear … in the Northern and Eastern provinces, several hundreds of political prisoners still remain in custody without being charged, the Prevention of Terrorism Act [has] still not [been] repealed, above all the Tamil National Question remains unresolved.”

Other Tamil voices are much harsher in their condemnation of the Sirisena government. The Tamilnet website described the government's policies as “unabated structural genocide”.

Tamilnet reported that, while a small amount of land has been returned to its Tamil owners, in other areas Sinhalese colonisation of land taken from Tamils continues.

There has been no accounting for tens of thousands of people who have disappeared after being arrested or abducted by the Sri Lankan army.

For example, Tamil National Alliance member of parliament Suresh Premachandran has called for an investigation into a notorious detention centre at the Trincomalee naval base, where more than 700 Tamils are known to have been held. The government simply denies the detention centre ever existed.

The Tamil press has been harassed by the army and police. For example, on April 26, four Tamil journalists were summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department office in Demattagoda for questioning.

The journalists were issued with summonses in the Sinhalese language and were not told the subject matter of the investigation. There have also been threats of violence against people distributing Tamil newspapers.

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