Monday, May 25, 2009

Genocide in Sri Lanka while Australia looks on

By Brian Senewiratne

23 May 2009

I am a Sinhalese from the majority community in Sri Lanka, not from the brutalised Tamil community. I have campaigned for five decades for the right of the Tamils to live with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth.

I am releasing this statement as a concerned Australian (here for 32 years), and as a member of the Socialist Alliance — one of the few non-Tamil organisations to support the struggle of the Tamils for justice.

Last week the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka succeeded in its immediate aim of ending the armed resistance of the Tamil people, who live in the north and east of the country.

The Sri Lankan government of president Mahendra Rajapaksa claims it has triumphed in a “war on terrorism”. What it has really been doing is fighting the Tamil people to force them to accept Sri Lanka as a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

It is about the alliance between religious fundamentalists and state chauvinists who together — with the backing of key Western countries — have denied the Tamils their rights.

There had been progress on a negotiated settlement between the government and the Tamil Tigers, and even discussion about a federal structure for Sri Lanka. But Rajakapsa terminated the talks and resumed the fighting. Now the world is witness to the dreadful consequences.

UN Conventions define genocide as “an act committed with intent to destroy in whole, or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. In Sri Lanka, this “part” is the Tamils.

Sri Lanka’s government is prepared to commit a genocide of the Tamils, similar to Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question”.

It is a genocide when a war against more than 10% of the population over three decades culminates in the death of 10,000 people in a few months, about 100,000 in the past 32 years.

It is genocide when governments try to wipe out a people’s political voice and drive half a population into the diaspora.

Sri Lanka’s Tamils are now facing genocide or internment in concentration camps that masquerade as “refugee camps”. The Tamil civilians were supposedly “liberated” from the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan army.

But if they are liberated people, why keep them behind barbed-wire fences, and why are international observers, including the media and humanitarian workers, still prevented from visiting these camps?

There are 154,000 Tamil civilians, some in tents, others under trees, in 24 camps, behind barbed-wire fences. The tents are for five people, but house between seven and 21.

Living conditions are appalling, including deliberate starvation and the denial of adequate medical help.

The women and girls are raped by the armed forces, pregnant women are forced to abort and some are even sterilised. The Sri Lankan government would deny all this.

Can foreign observers check these allegations? No they may not. It is an “internal affair”. We beg to differ.

Even hospitals have not been spared. The defence secretary, the president’s brother, in an interview with British media, said that bombing of hospitals is “acceptable”.

More than 6000 Tamil civilians have been slaughtered in just the past four months.

Recently, the only obstetrician in the area was gunned down by the armed forces. Why? Genocide.

Kfir jets, bombers, multi-barrel rocket launchers and helicopter gunships have been used by the government. Along with a conventional arsenal, cluster bombs and white phosphorus bombs have been dropped.

The government will, of course, deny this. But the photographic evidence, including UN aerial photographs, recently leaked to the outside world, leave no doubt that these banned weapons are being used.

In May 2008, Sri Lanka was tossed out of the UN Human Rights Council on account of its outrageous human rights record. However, little or none of this gets mentioned in the Australian media. Australians have a right to ask why.

Indeed, in giving “aid” to the Rajapaksa government in the middle of its killing spree against the Tamils, the Rudd government has been in political solidarity with Rajapaka’s military mission.

This is simply not acceptable, and damages the image of Australia. Australia has failed to condemn a murderous regime and has failed to put sanctions on Sri Lanka until the killing stops.

The Australian government and the Australian media have a serious case to answer for their silence and indifference towards a horrendous genocide. This must stop.

The Australian government has a duty not only to Tamil Australians, but to all those with a conscience. They must make every effort to assist the Tamils now.

This must include:

•Demanding that the Sri Lankan government be tried before the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

•Pressuring the Rajapaksa government to allow Tamils the right to decide where they live, including settling in Australia if they wish.

•Ending all aid and support to the Rajapaksa government while it continues its genocidal policy against Sri Lanka’s Tamil people.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #796 27 May 2009.