Students and staff at Jaffna University lit candles on May 21 to remember the Tamils who died in May 2009 when the Sri Lankan army carried out a genocidal onslaught in the final days of the island's decades-long civil war. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were killed as Sri Lankan government forces bombarded them from land, sea and air.
The fifth anniversary of the end Sri Lanka's civil war will be marked on May 18. In 2009, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who fought for nearly 30 years for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island, were defeated. In the final days of the conflict, tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed in a horrific aerial, naval and land artillery bombardment carried out by the Sri Lankan armed forces.
The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a US-sponsored resolution on “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” on March 27. But the resolution makes no mention of the plight of the Tamil people. The word “Tamil” does not appear once. The resolution expresses “serious concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including sexual and gender-based violence, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly”.
Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on March 14, Ananthi Sasitharan said: “We request this assembly calls for an international investigation on genocide, and as an immediate step, to come out with a mechanism to stop the ongoing genocide of Eelam Tamils.” The Tamil ethnic minority in Sri Lanka is largely based on the island's north and east. With Tamils facing discrimination and violent pogroms, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam waged a decades-long armed struggle for an independent state.
Throughout March, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will be reviewing the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, among other countries, at it meeting in Geneva. At last year’s session, the UNHRC passed a resolution calling on the Sri Lankan government to “conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law”.
“Contrary to popular belief, the end of the war has actually deepened the ethnic conflict. This is because the underlying causes for the conflict have not been addressed and in certain ways exacerbated”. These were the words of C. V. Wigneswaran, chief minister of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) in Sri Lanka, addressing an academic conference in capital, Colombo, on February 13.
More than 1000 students protested against the closure of the Jaffna University on December 2, TamilNet said. The university was reopened that day after several weeks of closure. All universities in Sri Lanka had been closed during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to prevent them being used as organising centres for protests. But in the case of Jaffna University, situated in the predominantly Tamil north of the island, the closure was prolonged to prevent students from marking Heroes Day on November 27.
Nearly 1000 workers at the Ansell Lanka factory in Sri Lanka’s Biyagama Export Processing Zone have been on strike since October 11 in protest against the sacking of their union branch president. Later, 10 other union members were also sacked. The striking workers set up a camp at the bus stop outside the factory. The company obtained a court injunction banning the camp.
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo on November 15 — boycotted by India and Canada in protest against the Sri Lankan regime's crimes against humanity towards the Tamil people — Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said of the regime's crimes: "Sometimes in difficult circumstances, difficult things happen.”
At long last the reality of the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka is appearing in the Australian media. Not just the fact that more than 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed by the Sri Lankan army in a month in 2009, but that Sri Lankans of all ethnic backgrounds continue to be subject to torture, rape, arbitrary detention, disappearance and death. The Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which opened in Sri Lanka on November 15, has meant special attention is being paid to these human rights abuses.