Why we need your support
Having survived a brutal military offensive, our kith and kin in Sri Lanka continue to be subjected to unprecedented levels of suffering, left destitute to rebuild their lives whilst continuing to live in fear as human rights abuses take place with impunity. British Tamils seek your support to put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to uphold the rights of all its citizens to achieve lasting peace in the country.
End of the war in Sri Lanka
President Rajapaksa’s government launched an unrelenting campaign to destroy the Tamil rebel movement, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), at all costs to the Tamils, ignoring international calls for ceasefire, international humanitarian laws and committing war crimes. Sri Lanka’s government declared victory over the LTTE in May 2009 with up to 40,000 innocent civilian Tamils dead and over 330,000 incarcerated in camps.
No respite for the Tamils
Despite the end of the war 19 months ago, the Sri Lankan government persists with its militaristic and oppressive attitudes towards the Tamils. All promises for a ‘free’ Sri Lanka after the war remain as just that:
- Sri Lanka still restricts access to international monitors, media and aid agencies, except for guided visits for diplomats to aid the country’s image-building.
- Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) held in camps live in dire conditions, under military guard, with strong evidence of abuse, torture and rape taking place with impunity.
- IDPs released from the camps are left destitute and to fend for themselves, unable to return to their homes as part of the government’s plan to change the demography of the traditionally Tamil regions.
- Tamils in the North and East continue to live in fear under a strong military presence and amidst state aided colonisation efforts.
- Over 8,000 Tamils continue to be held in detention, on unproven suspicion of being combatants, without charge or access to legal representation, their families or independent monitors.
- Failure to withdraw wartime emergency laws more than 19 months after the end of the war.
Sri Lanka above international Laws?
Leading organisations including Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists and International Crisis Group, have strongly condemned the Sri Lankan government’s conduct and abuse of humanitarian law. In particular, The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela, including former US president Jimmy Carter and the first woman President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, have sharply criticised the government’s unacceptable treatment of the UN in Sri Lanka. Only international pressure can persuade Sri Lanka to uphold international laws and norms and Britain must take the lead.
Why the War is over but the Conflict remains?
- Lack of action by the government to address the political marginalisation of ethnic minorities that was at the root of thirty years of war.
- Persecution, intimidation, assassination and disappearance of government critics, political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders.
- Lack of an international independent inquiry into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. The government-appointed Commission of Inquiry is internationally regarded as a farce, with BBC amongst others shut out.
- Passing of the 18th Amendment, removing presidential term limits and eroding the independence of the judiciary and other key democratic institutions.
- The appointment of, even to the UK, army generals accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity as Ambassadors and High Commissioners.
Longstanding roots of the conflict
Two distinct ethnic communities, Tamils and Sinhalese, had separate kingdoms in pre-colonial Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) which were brought together during British rule. At independence in 1948 the Tamils, who made up almost 30% of the population, became a permanent minority. Successive governments have since, exploited the power of the majority Sinhala Buddhist ballot, denying equality and systematically violating the social, economic and cultural rights of Tamils and other ethnic communities. When non-violent protests were suppressed with brutal violence and the democratic route was shut for Tamils to have a political voice, the armed struggle led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began, fostered by India who recognised the injustice to Tamils.
The way forward
Foreign Secretary, William Hague, stressed the need for Sri Lanka to have a credible and independent process to address allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the conflict, when he met his Sri Lankan counterpart last month. He hoped that Sri Lanka would show clear commitment towards democracy, human rights law and freedom of the press.
In the words of the Foreign Secretary at the inaugural conference of the Global Tamil Forum earlier this year, “meaningful political reform and reconciliation should be an urgent priority. This reform will only hold legitimacy if the democratic aspirations of all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity, can be fulfilled”.