Friday, September 04, 2009

Tamils in Concentration Camps Continue to Suffer

by Minnalkodi Sivan
BASICS #15 (Sep/Oct 2009)

As of mid-May of this year, the war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the chauvinistic Sri Lankan regime came to an end after over 25 years of brutal battle. Yet, while Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse uttered the words “equality” and “unity” during his national post-war speech, Tamils continued to endure terrible hardships and oppression. Tamils are back to where they were before the armed resistance movement and are being treated as second-class citizens with no active body on the island advocating their aspirations.

Despite the end of the war, the ground reality in Sri Lanka does not look promising, whether you are a Tamil, a critical journalist or a member of any party that disagrees with the establishment. There are 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) still imprisoned in detention camps that would remind most people of the holocaust. The camps are cramped with people who have no access to running water, a bare minimum of food, severe cases of malnutrition, improper sanitation and inadequate medical services.

Despite these conditions, the government still demands aid agencies to cut back in services as they claim they can handle the situation on their own. The media has very little access to the camps. Perhaps the fact that cases of rape, sexual abuse, disappearances, torture, child trafficking and death tolls are at a rate of 1,400 per week in the camps is the motivating factor behind preventing journalists and NGO workers from doing their jobs.

Regardless, Sri Lanka is far from being competent to provide for these people and have cut back on resettlement goals. Initially it was announced that 80% of the IDPs will be returning home before the end of the year, however that number was cut to 60% and even this goal seems unrealistic given the current circumstances.

There have been various calls from different parties to cease the current approach that violates international humanitarian law, and as usual they are ignored. But more and more evidence of war crimes is leaking out of the country. Recently, Channel 4 News released a video of 9 men, 8 stripped naked, all hand bounded and blindfolded, being executed by Sri Lankan Army soldiers. The footage was smuggled out of Sri Lanka by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka and took 8 months to emerge. This is just an iota of what Tamils are facing in a country that promised them equality and freedom.

The armed resistance might have come to an end, but the war on Tamils persists. Without Tamil Eelam, the voices of Tamils will always be drowned by the ultranationalist Sinhala chauvinists that refuse to create space for minorities unless they are willing to be treated as second class citizens and conform to their “social democracy”. As individuals living outside the country we have the obligation to advocate for human rights and speak out against the normalization of such crimes against humanity. One of the effective steps that can be taken is to economically isolate Sri Lanka by boycotting their products. One can visit for more details. ∗