Sri Lanka

“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.

The Bracegirdle Incident: How an Australian Communist Ignited Ceylon’s Independence Struggle
Alan Fewster
Arcadia/Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2013
173 pages, $39.95 (pb)

In 1937, Ceylon’s British Chief of Police reported that “it is clearly dangerous” to allow the Australian communist Mark Bracegirdle, to remain in the country “stirring up feelings against employers of labour and against the British Government”.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the main party representing Tamils in Sri Lanka’s parliament, has selected 36 candidates to contest the Northern Provincial Council elections, to be held on September 21.

Sri Lanka’s northern province, which is mainly inhabited by Tamils, has been under military rule since the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009. The LTTE fought for nearly three decades for an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the island.

Towards the end of 2008, I joined thousands in Toronto to protest Israel’s attack on Gaza. At York University, where I was a student, we mobilised the campus to defend Palestinian rights.

A few months later, bombs were falling on my own people ― in the predominantly Tamil Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka. And once again, we hit Toronto’s streets in protest.

I realised then that even though our homelands are oceans apart, Palestinians and Tamils have much in common.

Through the “war on terror”, the Israeli and Sri Lankan armies have waged war on civilian populations.

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