By Ron Ridenour
“The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is able to commit these crimes [referring to 2009 war atrocities, including brutal internment of 300,000 Tamils] actually unveils the deeply ingrained racist prejudice that is precisely what led to the marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism has a long history – of social ostracism, economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The nature of the decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful protest, has its roots in this,” wrote author Arundhati Roy. (47)
“`This is something similar to what occurred in Gaza or worse, because neither observers nor journalists had access to the war zone, ´ stated a UN source who asked for anonymity. The army acknowledges that 6,200 soldiers and 22,000 guerrillas died in the last three years of the longest civil war in Asia. The UN affirms that between 80,000 and 100,000 persons died in the conflict,” wrote Elisa Reche of Prensa Marea Socialista. (48)
“During the war,” Reche continued, “the army had 200,000 troops. Now with peace, 100,000 are being incorporated…A strange peace it is that requires more troops than in actual combat.”
More troops are needed because systematic ethnic cleansing is now the order of the day for the Tamil people. Their Homeland will be obliterated by introducing more Sinhalese settlers. The same strategy, as John Pilger pointed out, that Israel uses against Palestinians.
This is what M.K. Bhadrakumar, an ambassador for India who served in Sri Lanka and other countries, wrote about the day after Sri Lanka declared victory.
“See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces…The Tamils are no more the majority community in these provinces. Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonization program of the Northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more remain as Tamil provinces…Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the bloody history of the Indian sub-continent.” (49)
Ethnic cleansing goes hand-in-hand with the policy of imprisoning and mistreating hundreds of thousands of Tamils. For more than a year before its military victory, the Sri Lanka government enticed Tamils, wishing to flee the war zone, into so-called “welfare” centers or villages. Tens of thousands became “Internally Displaced Persons” (IDP), and are thus subject to United Nations regulations concerning decent living conditions, food and water, freedom of movement and the right to leave and rejoin families. All these rights and necessities have been denied them.
“Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy,” President J.R. told the Daily Telegraph, (UK) on July 11, 1983.
A quarter-century later, the current president is striving to fulfill his predecessor’s genocidal intentions. Mahinda Rajapakse has claimed that no IDP is held against his/her will and all are treated well. However, the few United Nations visitors—there are no official investigators into abuses since the Human Rights Council majority blocked such a possibility—who come to observe have quite another picture.
When UN’s political chief, Lynn Pascoe, visited camps in September he said people were not free or well treated…”this kind of closed regime goes directly against the principles under which we work in assisting IDPs all around the world.” (50)
Rajapakse told Pascoe another tale about “free movement”. He said that detention was necessary because the army was clearing the area for mines, and it was still looking for guerrillas hiding among civilians. However, as the UN resident coordinator reported, and Amnesty quoted (50): “Under international humanitarian law, captured combatants…may be held pending the cessation of hostilities. Once active hostilities have ceased, prisoners of war must be released `without delay´.”
At of July, there were 9,400 individuals with purported links to the LTTE held separately from the rest of the population. They have not been released nearly half-a-year after internment.
Amnesty also reported that the camps are clearly militarized. The 19-member Presidential Task Force established in mid-May “to plan and coordinate resettlement, rehabilitation and development of the Northern Province” is headed Major General CA Chandrasiri, who was also appointed governor of the province. All inmates are enclosed by barbed-wire fences, guarded and brutalized by well-armed soldiers.
“Arrests have been reported from the camps and Sri Lankan human rights defenders have alleged that enforced disappearances have also occurred,” wrote Amnesty.
“Sri Lanka’s history of large-scale enforced disappearances dating back to the 1980s, and the lack of independent monitoring…raises grave concerns that enforced disappearances and other violations of human rights may be occurring…Previous research [shows] that [persons] suspected by the government of being members or supporters of LTTE are at grave risk of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, and torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”
“Although the government calls these facilities `welfare villages´ , they are effectively detention camps…”.Amnesty also reported that not only are people not free to move as they wish, women and girls are raped by soldiers, and people live in sewage, disease-infested conditions, with little food and water and medical attention. They die in droves because of these imposed conditions.
Women and children are especially mistreated, which was the subject that James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, complained about to Sri Lankan authorities, who then expelled him from the country. Elder described the “unimaginable suffering” of children caught in the fighting, including babies he had seen with shrapnel wounds. (51)
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had refrained from criticizing Sri Lanka’s government, leveling his critique only at LTTE for carrying out atrocities. But when he briefly visited one camp less than a week after the end of the war, he said:
“I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes I have seen…I sympathize fully with all of the displaced persons,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told CNN after visiting Manik Farm, the most presentable of Sri Lanka’s squalid and dangerous internment camps for Tamils civilians. The UN Chief has also promised international action regarding the heavy shelling of civilian populations during the recent fighting. (52)
Out of the 280,000 IDPs after the end of the war (there were nearly one-half million over a year’s period), only between 15,000 and 40,000 had been released by November 1. Half of them, perhaps, have been ransomed. The “Sunday Times” wrote about “human trafficking at the internment camps”. Relatives were made to pay camp authorities in order to secure their release. (53)
A week after the end of the war, the LTTE communicated that several of its leaders were killed, but the organization would continue struggling for an independent Tamil Eelam in peaceful ways. July 22, the LTTE announced that its chief of international relations, Selvarsa Pathmanathan—known as KP—was made the new leader, and that a new strategy for a “free Tamil Eelam” would occur. (54). On August 8, England’s The Independent wrote that Pathmanathan was under arrest by Sri Lanka and held incommunicado. (55)
For us solidarity activists, left-wing organizations, and governments considered to be progressive-socialist-communist-revolutionary, I believe that our task must be to press for the lives and rights of the Tamil people. Australia’s Democratic Socialist Perspective and Socialist Alliance said it well in its October 2009 international situation report:
“Now the Tamil struggle has entered a new phase. The immediate campaign must focus on defence of basic human rights, release and resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons currently held in SL government concentration camps, an end to murders, torture, rapes, and provision of basic housing, food and drinking water to the Tamil people under brutal occupation.” (8)
As a solidarity activist, who advocates the right to resist and the necessity to conduct armed struggle once peaceful means fail to induce oppressive and terrorist governments to engage in a process aimed at peace with justice, I condemn all perpetrators of terrorism and demand they change tactics to ones that are morally in accordance with our ideology for socialism, for justice with equality.
I find that most if not all armed movements commit acts of atrocities, even acts of terror in the long course of warfare. This has sometimes been the case with FARC and PFLP, for instance. But I support them in their righteous struggle. They are up against, as was the more brutal LTTE, much greater military and economic forces that practice state terror endemically. Remember the ANC in South Africa’s war for liberation. They committed much the same.
The main reason why I am on their side, why I have been a leftist solidarity activist and writer for nearly half-a-century is a matter of basic ethics. I define ethics in this way: Life shall not be abused or destroyed by our conscious hand—without being attacked, invaded, oppressed beyond bare. A moral person, organization, political party, government acts in daily life and in the struggle for justice with that ethic in mind. These are my thoughts on morality.
1. We act to so that no one person, race or ethnic group is either over or under another.
2. In combat against oppressors and invaders, we do not kill non-combatant civilians nor forcefully recruit them, or use them as hostages.
3. We struggle to create equality for all.
4. We abolish all profit-making based upon the exploitation of labor or the oppression of any person, group of people or class. Instead, we build an economy based upon principles of justice and equality, one in which no one goes hungry, sharing equitably our resources and production.
5. We struggle to create a political system based upon participation where all have a voice in decision-making of vital matters, in local, national and international policies.
6. We struggle to eliminate alienation in each of us.
After following liberated Cuba for half-a-century, having lived and worked there for eight years, I find that during its guerrilla struggle, which fortunately only lasted two years, it acted in a moral manner. Cuba’s revolutionary armed struggle was exceptional in this way. The Vietnamese struggle against the invaders of France and the USA was so conducted as well. There are a few other examples: the original Sandinistas is, perhaps, one.
I think that the key reason why so many millions of people the world love and respect Che Guevara is because of his moral stance, of his example as a just revolutionary leader. I conclude this all-too-long essay with these oft-quoted words from Che’s “Socialism and Man”.
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love…Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, the most sacred cause, and make it one and indivisible…one must have a great deal of humanity and a strong sense of justice and truth in order not to fall into extreme dogmatism and cold scholasticism, into an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”
53. “Doing the Right Thing in Sri Lanka”, Rohini Hensman, 1/10, www.dissidentvoice.org
November 22, 2009