A United Nations panel investigating allegations of war crimes by Sri Lankan troops at the end of the bloody battle against Tamil rebels in May 2009 found that there was credible evidence that government soldiers had targeted civilians, shelled hospitals and attacked humanitarian workers, according to a leaked copy of the panel’s report.
The long-awaited report, the result of an extensive investigation by Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, contradicted the government’s assertion that the war was a humanitarian effort aimed at liberating civilians trapped with the Tamil Tigers in an ever-shrinking corner of northern Sri Lanka.
“The government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive no fire zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons,” the report said, according to a leaked copy that was published over the weekend in the Island, a Sri Lankan newspaper. “Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by government shelling.”
The fact that its been published in a Sri Lankan newspaper means more internal strife and accusations. It also vindicates many of Tamils who congregated in Westminster last year saying that innocent civilians were being killed in Sri Lanka.
The UN is also criticised in the reporting for failing “to take actions that might have protected civilians.” The panel says casualty figures collected by the UN should have been made public at the time.
Releasing casualty figures isn’t enough. Why was the world happy to sit by and watch while this was going on, and ignore the pleas of Tamils everywhere to intervene?
I doubt it will have any impact really. As Robert Evans is known as a Tamil-friendly politician, this is likely to be just posturing. Plus, Sri Lanka needs aid right now to rebuild the country and to provide for the displaced Tamils. So I really don’t think a boycott would help.
No doubt some will be annoyed that a politician has actually called for a boycott of Sri Lanka – since it was a good argument to use over Israel/Palestine!
Leading Euro-MP Robert Evans has called for an immediate ban on travel to Sri Lanka for tourists and cricket teams.
Why has there been so much antagonism between Tamils and the Sinhalese in recent decades in Sri Lanka? After all, Tamils and Sinhalese have co-existed on the island for several thousand years. There are many factors involved of course, but tensions began to rise in the second half of the nineteenth century as hundreds of thousands of Indian Tamils came to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). By 1900 Indian Tamils made up around 7.5% of the population (roughly 300,000 out of 4,000,000). Why did they come? They were invited around for coffee and tea, as Roy Moxham demonstrates in his excellent book, A brief history of tea, from which this article takes its information.
Prior to the nineteenth century, Sri Lanka exported little, with high grade cinnamon being the only notable crop, albeit an incredibly lucrative one. Once the British took over from the Dutch though, they began to experiment with planting other cash crops, firstly coffee, and then tea. Coffee was planted in the mid 1820s, and the industry expanded, until 1869 when it was hit by a fungus, causing production to drop to less than 10% of its 1869 peak in 1890. Workers were needed on the coffee plantations, as very few of the native Sinhalese wanted to abandon their own subsistence holdings to work for someone else. The plantation owners (who were mostly British) turned to South India. Coffee was a seasonal crop, so Indian Tamils could travel to Sri Lanka to harvest coffee for four or five months, then return home to harvest their own rice.
Aaaaand we’re back to our favourite topic – the continuing craziness of Spectator Magazine’s greatest star Melanie Phillips. But first this: a couple of weeks ago I pointed out that many people who constantly obsessed about Muslims and Israel/Palestine had started using the Sri Lankan / Tamil as a stalking horse for their own agenda. Where is the outrage in support of the Tamils, they screamed! It’s a conspiracy that no one is obsessed about Sri Lanka and they keep talking about Israel / Palestine!
There are of course several legitimate reasons why the Israel/Palestine conflict gets more coverage than the Sri Lankan/Tamil conflict, outlined here.
The lesson to learn from all this would therefore seem to be that terrorist insurgencies can only be defeated by military means — which in turn can only work if such measures are not undermined by the queasy neo-pacifism and defeatism of the west expressed through the surrender monkeys of human rights lawyers, NGOs and the media.
Damn those cheese-eating surrender monkeys for mentioning the plight of innocent Tamils! They just hate things like democracy, freedom and err… human rights! And to think that a mainstream political magazine and a daily newspaper give prime space to Melanie Phillips.
The Tamil Tiger rebels admitted defeat in their 25-year-old war with the Sri Lankan government today, offering to lay down their guns as government forces swept across their last strongholds in the northeast.
The government rejected the last-ditch call for a cease-fire, saying the thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone all have escaped to safety and there was no longer any reason to stop the battle. The military said the remaining guerrillas were still fighting.
With a war that has killed well over 70,000 people nearing its end, Sri Lankans poured into the streets in spontaneous celebration. President Mahinda Rajapaksa scheduled a nationally televised news conference for Tuesday morning at Parliament, where he was expected to tell the nation the war was over.
Two thought occur to me. Will the LTTE Tamils really stop fight now? We’ll have to see.
Secondly, the Sri Lankan government has generated an enormous amount of resentment and anger amongst its ethnic Tamils due to its merciless operations, funded thanks to the Chinese government. Unless it takes strong measures in acknowledging its mistakes and making amends, then the resentment and anger will remain and Sri Lanka will not become united. The battle may be over but the war hasn’t yet finished.
British Tamils took over Westminster again today, blocking off traffic from all sides, by conducting a sit-down protest. The protest came the morning after heavy fighting in Sri Lankan killed hundreds of people in the country, and was a dubbed “a bloodbath” by the United Nations.
There is some sign the British govt is saying more on the crisis in the country, with David Miliband today saying he was “appalled” by what was going on in Sri Lanka.
Diplomats on the 15-nation Security Council have said Japan, China, Russia and Vietnam oppose formal council discussion of Sri Lanka, arguing that it is an internal matter for the Sri Lankan government but Miliband disagreed. “I believe very, very strongly that the civilian situation in the northeast of Sri Lanka merits the attention of the United Nations at all levels,” he said, calling it a “civilian catastrophe.”
He deserves credit at least by trying to raise the issue. Shame on China, Japan, Russia and Vietnam for opposing the discussion. Here are some pictures from today.
An article in the Economist summed up the behaviour of the two sides very well.
“A well-organised and vicious terrorist group, expert in brainwashing and suicide-blasting, the LTTE has maintained its fiefâ€”which until late 2006 extended over almost a third of the countryâ€”by murder and fear. Moreover, having sabotaged a peace initiative of the previous government, and helped it lose an election by imposing a boycott on Tamil voters under its sway, Mr Prabhakaran has had the war he was asking for.”
“In its rush to exterminate the Tigersâ€”partly in justified fear of their skill at manipulating foreign opinionâ€”the army has shown a cruel disregard for Tamil civilians crowding the battlefield. Earlier this month the UN estimated that since early January, when the Tigersâ€™ fled their northern capital, Kilinochchi, driving perhaps 200,000 civilians before them, some 4,500 had been killed and 12,000 wounded. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has evacuated over 10,000 wounded civilians and their relatives from the no-fire zone, said on April 20th that hundreds more had been killed or wounded since the army made its breach.”
The question is, how does the international community ensure that the Tamils are treated well in the post-war period?
I went to Westminster today to check out the Tamil protest – where they’d taken over the entire area to entirely stop any traffic. A policeman said they had tried to move them several times but the number were too many. I suspect the high numbers of women with kids also made it very difficult for them to take any strong stance.
In 1996, Gaddafi Stadium Lahore was the scene of Sri Lankan cricket’s greatest triumph. Beating Australia in the final of the World Cup meant that they had finally gotten rid of their status as cricketing minnows. Not only did they win, but they did so playing exhilarating cricket which won the support of neutrals everywhere.
What added extra spice to the final (not that it needed it), was the fact that earlier in the tournament, Australia had refused to play against Sri Lanka in Colombo because of security concerns.
Ironically, it was Sri Lanka’s history of having to deal with reluctant tourists that influenced their decision to play in Pakistan, when India pulled out of their tour after the Mumbai atrocities.
Suddenly, certain people are interested in the Sri Lankan conflict. Thatâ€™s not because theyâ€™re generally interested in highlighting human rights abuses by the SL government or the LTTEâ€™s brutality, but because it offers a cheap shot as a comparison with the outrage the Gaza invasion to the relative silence over SL. Apparently it illustrates how evil the â€œanti-imperialist leftâ€ is.
This is the point made by David T on Harryâ€™s Place, who usually hates making comparisons because it implies â€œmoral equivalenceâ€ but has made an exception here for the required cheap shot.
So why might the outrage in Britain over Gaza be higher profile than the conflict in Sri Lanka?
This article on Comment is Free, from the former editor of the Sri Lankan Sunday Leader was published in the that newspaper three days after he was shot dead in Colombo. It’s extraordinary. But he makes one sanguine point, in Sri Lanka there are no baddies and goodies. There are no winners, only losers: the Sri Lankan people.
I was watching Al-Jazeera English this morning and it appears that the Sri Lankan government is stepping up its attacks against the Tamil Tigers in an effort to finally ‘defeat’ them (Reuters story). On the other hand, it seems the Tigers aren’t giving in and also continuing with suicide attacks.
As someone whose main contact with Sri Lanka is through watching their cricket team, my mind still boggles that a seemingly idyllic island is home to such a brutal and long-running war. My impression on the politics is that the Sri Lankan foreign minister’s argument, that the Sri Lankan Army is trying to liberate the Tamils from the LTTE is nonsense and that there needs to be a political solution.
However, I’d be interested in hearing more about this from people who know more than I do. Also, if anyone wants to publish a longer guest post on this please e-mail us.
An attack by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) to kill Sri Lankan cabinet minister Douglas Devananda on wednesday last week was caught on CCTV camera there and then released to the media. If you so wish, you can watch it on YouTube. Complete madness.
[hat tip: James, in the comments]
In the Hindu epic the Ramayana, the hero Lord Ram sets out to destroy the terrible demon Ravana, who resides in what is now Sri Lanka. To cross from India to Sri Lanka, Ram constructs a bridge by quelling the sea, and uses monkeys to help him build it. I enjoyed reading the (shortened version of the) Ramayana greatly, but could not say whether this story was true or not. Some people however, are more certain of the accuracy of this book:
“Protest rallies have been held across India by hard-line Hindus to campaign against a proposed shipping canal project between India and Sri Lanka â€¦Protesters say the project will destroy a bridge they believe was built by Hindu God Ram and his army of monkeys.”
Indian archaeologists have argued that there is no basis for the belief that the â€˜bridgeâ€™ was constructed by Lord Ram. Despite the lack of evidence produced by the protestors though, the minister in charge has still offered to resign. Does it matter whether the bridge was built by Lord Ram or not, since it has become a holy site? Should it be protected on this basis alone, even if the protestors can produce absolutely no evidence to substantiate their claims? Can epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, whichÂ feature gods and demons, be used as evidence?
Human Rights Watch has just published an extensive report on the worsening situation in Sri Lanka.
Human Rights Watch has long documented abuses by the LTTE, particularly the LTTEâ€™s systematic recruitment and use of children as soldiers, the targeted killings of political opponents, and its abusive fundraising tactics abroad. We will continue to report on LTTE abuses and press the LTTE to change its practices.
This report, however, focuses primarily on abuses by the Sri Lankan government and allied armed groups, which have gotten decidedly worse over the past year. As the hostilities have increased, the governmentâ€™s respect for international law has sharply declined, with it often appearing indifferent to the impact on civilians in the north and east.
The LTTE is the world’s most brutal and successful terrorist group (going by sucide attacks). But at the launch, the report’s author made an interesting point about the Sri Lankan government. She said it had started using the phrase “war on terror” as an excuse to cover up its own brutality, saying it was a necessary side-effect and knowing that western governments would be more sypathetic. She quoted a government official who stated that since the Americans were flouting international law when dealing with terrorists, so could they. And again, they knew other governments would be unwilling to point fingers.
And it has worked. While most western governments know the situation has gotten worse because SL authorities have become careless about antagonising or killing innocent Tamils, nothing much is being said by the US or UK to bring both sides to the negotiating table. Just what we bloody well need – more governments taking lead from American foreign policy.
Sent to me recently
As you may know, Human Rights Watch is one of the largest human rights organizations in the world. We investigate human rights abuses, publish reports on our findings and mount campaigns to put an end to the abusive practices we have exposed. By engaging the media, the public and policymakers, we generate intense pressure to confront human rights abusers and promote human rights protections.
As major fighting between the Sri Lankan military and rebel Tamil Tigers has resumed, so have serious abuses committed by both sides. On Tuesday, 31 July at 7 pm, Charu Hogg, our South Asia researcher will be discussing her most recent fact-finding mission. Her report documents how Sri Lankan forces are violating the laws of war by indiscriminate attacks on civilians and forcibly returning the internally displaced to their homes. At the same time, the government has cracked down on critics in the media and civil society who criticize its approach.
This event is being put on by the Human Rights Watch London Network, a young professionals group, that helps support our work by putting on events such as the one with Charu. We would be delighted if you were able to join us.
Contact: on 020 7713 2773 or email email@example.com.
No really, they do actually exist. A Sri Lankan peace rally in which “saffron-clad Buddhists monks and Catholic priests and nuns in white [were] joined by Muslim and Hindu leaders” was disrupted by angry pro-war Buddhist monks. Fistfights ensued. A tragic-comedy perhaps? [via Akram's Razor]
The ceasefire in Sri Lanka, brokered by Norway in 2002, has been breached repeatedly since last December, even as the Sri Lankan Government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) both insisted that it remained in force. The ferocity of the fighting that has now engulfed much of the countryâ€™s northeast, preceded and accompanied by Tamil Tiger bombing atrocities in the capital, Colombo, has reduced to rubble the latest and most promising effort to reach a mediated settlement.
The country is again at war. In the past month, at least 550 people have been killed and 100,000 civilians rendered homeless. Among them are at least 30,000 Tamil-speaking Muslims, who make up a third of the population in the eastern part of the territories claimed by Tamil Tiger separatists and are the most voiceless and helpless victims of its murderous agenda.
Since 1983, when the Tamil Tigers took up arms, most of the 65,000 people killed have been non-combatants. [via Moju]
I’m not sure what difference the editorial will make, but there needs to be international pressure to reign in both sides before the violence spirals out of control.
A veteran political opponent of the Tamil Tigers was wounded yesterday and three people were killed when his vehicle was torn apart by a bomb in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.
The bomb, the first in Colombo in nearly four months, coincided with the funerals of 17 local tsunami aid staff shot dead in north-eastern Sri Lanka at the weekend, and brought the death toll over the past fortnight to 440.
Yesterdayâ€™s remote controlled bomb marked a change in tempo in the fighting which, since it erupted last December, had been confined to the north and east, and raised fears that a tattered three-year-old ceasefire had finally given way to all-out war. [The Times]
I hate to be the constant harbringer of bad news and writing about one bombing after another but, as Raz pointed out earlier, let’s not lose track of the escalating violence in SL.
Update: I didn’t know at the time of posting that 60 people have died in SL because of a landmine bomb on a school bus. Truely sad.
BBC Online has an article on the culture of discipline, death and martyrdom amongst the Tamil Tigers and their fight for “liberation”. There is some talk about how everyone carries a little cyanide capsule with them because death is better than capture.
“We need to bite into the glass so that it will cut the skin on the inside of our mouth.” His calm, detached explanation is unsettling.
“Then the cyanide goes into the bloodstream. We’ll be feeling a fizzing at the back of our mouth after about seven seconds and then we die.”
They are led by the reclusive Velupillai Prabhakaran, accused of building an organisation around a personality cult. He is called the great leader and his picture is everywhere in rebel held areas.
Anyone who wants to join the suicide Black Tiger squad has to write him a letter of application. Before they carry out their suicide missions they are granted a meal with him. Religion is banned, as is alcohol and smoking. By claiming to be the sole representatives of the Tamil people, he has steeped the entire culture into one of self-sacrifice and martyrdom.
Many Tamils see the Tigers as a necessary evil. Time and again I have heard this view expressed: “I don’t agree with them totally, but as a Tamil we would have been wiped out without them putting our cause on the map.”
The last paragraph is interesting in the way it can relate to every murderous organisation, whether state sanctioned or some religious nutters.
My view is however that tolerating “necessary evil” is a bad idea. You either forge a path with the right ideals from the beginning or you will forever be enveloped in evil. Hence I don’t buy any ideology that says suicide bombers are necessary to make the people’s voices heard. The violence ends up being so central to the struggle that it takes over and finds justification even if the goal has been achieved. Just say no kids.
BBC News is back to calling the Tamil Tigers “rebels”. Let’s see, they’re designated in the USA and the UK as a terrorist group, but the T word does not come up once in the article despite quite clearly referring to the LTTE. Not amused.
Ravi4 made some excellent points in the previous thread on the violence in Sri Lanka, regarding the British angle. So I’m posting part of it here, to concentrate on how all this affects British Sri Lankans and Tamils.