During a recent visit to China, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa signed an agreement to give China 1200 acres of land in the Trincomalee area on a long term lease for “defence-related development”. Part of this land is occupied by temples, mosques, schools and houses. The Tamilnet website said about 450 families will lose their homes. Those affected are mainly Tamil-speaking Muslims. China’s plans for the area are unknown. However, Trincomalee’s renowned natural harbour, situated on the north-east coast of the island of Sri Lanka, was used as a naval base by the British.
Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Sri Lanka, gave a talk on “The challenge of moving from post-war to post-conflict in Sri Lanka” at a June 21 meeting held in the Darebin Intercultural Centre in Melbourne. The following is a summary of his talk compiled by Michael Cooke. *** The end of the war [between the Sri Lankan state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2009] does not mean the end of conflict. The guns are silent, but the sources of conflict remain, and are being reproduced.
Sri Lanka has confirmed plans for asylum seekers from its persecuted Tamil ethnic minority to be directly handed over by Australia at sea. Although the Australian government has refused to confirm or deny such plans, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on July 3 that Sri Lanka was “a society at peace” that had made “much progress” on human rights. That day, the Tamil Refugee Council released a statement explaining the true situation in Sri Lanka that included the ive points below. * * *
Three Muslims were killed and about 10,000 made homeless after attacks by Sinhalese Buddhist mobs during the week starting June 15. Violence began in the town of Aluthgama after a rally by the Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinist group Buddhist Power Force (BBS). It then spread to several other towns. Muslim-owned shops, houses and vehicles were burnt by the mobs. Police were sometimes present, but did nothing to stop the violence. The BBS has been engaging in a campaign of anti-Muslim propaganda and violent attacks for several years.
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.
Last month, the High Court heard a case brought by lawyers for Ranjini, a Tamil woman who was accepted as a refugee but is being held in indefinite detention because ASIO considers her a security threat. Ranjini is one of 47 people in this situation. They face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in detention because ASIO claims that they are “likely to engage in acts prejudicial to Australia’s security”. Ranjini’s lawyers said detaining people for life without charge, trial or conviction for any crime is illegal. The High Court has reserved its decision.
The Tamil National Alliance won an overwhelming majority in the Northern Provincial Council elections held on September 21. TNA leader C. V. Wigneswaran is expected to become chief minister of the Northern Province, a predominantly Tamil area in the north of the island of Sri Lanka. The TNA, with 78% of the vote, won 30 of the 38 positions on the NPC. The United Peoples Freedom Alliance, the party of Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, won seven positions, while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one.