“Mum’s dead”. The gloomy faced Sujendran Gunesekaram greeted me, as we met in person for the first time. His mother died of a heart attack on September 5, after suffering for three years. Sujendran is a 27-year-old Sri Lankan Tamil originally from Muttur in Trincomalee, the war-hit town in the east. He was one of 254 asylum seekers on the Australia-bound boat Jeya Lestari that moored off at the port in Merak, Indonesia in October 2009.
Men in uniform, mainly young soldiers holding AK 47 rifles, are seen all around northern Sri Lanka, from Mannar in north-west to Mullaitivu, the last battlefield in the north-east. In Mullaitivu, there are said to be more soldiers than civilians. This is the situation in the largely Tamil north of the island one-and-a-half-years after the end of the Sri Lankan Army’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by the SLA in the last months of the conflict.
Maya M.I.A. N.E.E.T. Recordings www.neetrecordings.com Big Day Out tour January/February 2011 www.bigdayout.com It created a buzz well before its release date. For months, every pop music outlet speculated on its content. It provoked fervent anticipation among fans, censorship from the internet, and derision from elitist establishment journalists. When Sri Lankan-born Tamil musician M.I.A.’s Maya finally arrived in July, it predictably polarised critics.
It seems no one bothers about “them” in Sri Lanka. No lawyer or rights groups in the country dare to talk of “their” basic rights. Do they deserve to be abandoned or “disappeared”? Alleged former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE — popularly known as the Tamil Tigers), an armed group that fought for an independent state for the Tamil ethnic minority, have become indefinite “prisoners of war” ever since the LTTE was militarily defeated by the Sri Lankan state in May 2009.
Refugee Action Coalition NSW media release A year ago, then prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Indonesian President Yudhoyono requesting that the Indonesian navy intercept a boat carrying 254 Tamil asylum seekers to Australia. The boat was the subject of international attention after the asylum seekers refused to disembark at Merak in Indonesia. In April 2010, the asylum seekers were forcibly removed to Tanjung Pinang detention centre. Except for two families shifted to detention in Medan, all the Tamils remain in appalling conditions in Tanjung Pinang.
On July 21, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published an interview with Donald Perera, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Israel. Perera, the former Sri Lankan Air Force commander and Chief of Defence Staff, thanked Israel profusely for its support in the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
On April 9, the Australian Labor Party government, then led by Kevin Rudd, imposed a three-month suspension of the processing of refugees from Sri Lanka. On July 6, the Labor government of PM Julia Gillard announced, in the context of unveiling its pre-election tougher stance against refugees, that the suspension would not be extended.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on June 22 the formation of a three-member panel to advise him on whether Sri Lanka committed crimes during the last months of its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Reuters said that day.
More than a year after its victory over the pro-independence Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) continues to hold large areas of land in the predominantly Tamil north and east of Sri Lanka as “high security zones” (HSZ). Many of the Tamil inhabitants who were evicted from these areas to create the HSZs during the decades-long war are still unable to return to their homes.
Tamil and refugee rights groups have demanded the Rudd government reverse its suspension of refugee claims from Sri Lanka. This follows the release of an international report that provided more evidence that the decision to suspend the claims was based on a lie. The International Crisis Group (ICG) released War Crimes in Sri Lanka on May 17, a report into the Sri Lankan Army’s assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the entire Tamil population in the country’s north and east between January and May last year.