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Australian State MP supports Tamils’ struggle for self-determination

[TamilNet, Friday, 13 March 2009 07:51 One Comment]

 “It is important that the Government of Australia and the international community recognise the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people and acknowledge the legitimacy of their struggle for self-determination,” said Hon. Ian Cohen, Member of Legislative Council and Greens Party during a speech he delivered on Thursday 5 March 2009 in New South Wales Parliament, Australia. "Too many lives have been lost, and each day we keep silent we allow more deaths to occur. It is important that the Government of Australia and the international community recognise that the’ targeting of a minority’ has been taking place for decades. What we see taking place today is but a culmination of successive attacks targeting the Tamils."

 

In his address to the Parliament, Ian Cohen also highlighted that "as early as 1977 the Tamils voted for autonomy, when the Tamil United Liberation Front, with its platform for a separate state, won all seats in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Effectively, this meant that the Tamils of Sri Lanka had voted for separation. Numerous agreements between the Tamil and Sinhalese leaders have not been honoured by successive Sri Lankan governments due to political pressure from the Sinhalese." and urged that the it was "important that the Government of Australia and the international community pressure the Sri Lankan Government to renounce its military campaign and embark on political negotiations to resolve the conflict".

Ian Cohen also addressed a rally in held in Sydney on 4 February 2009, which saw up to 5,000 Tamil and non-Tamil Australians calling on the Australian government to support international calls for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka as well as highlighting the need for an independent Tamil homeland in response to continued acts of genocide by the Sri Lanka Army upon Tamil civilians.

Full text of his speech follows:

SRI LANKA AND TAMIL CONFLICT

Mr IAN COHEN [5.03 p.m.]: The almost three decades old conflict between the armed forces of the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] has reached a phase that has been described as genocide and is catastrophic for the Tamil people in the north and east of the island. In January 2008 the Sri Lankan Government unilaterally withdrew from a ceasefire, choosing a military offensive over political negotiations and forcing the Nordic-led Sri Lankan monitoring mission out of the Vanni region, which is the area controlled by the LTTE. Since then the Government of Sri Lanka has also banned media personnel from visiting LTTE-held areas and the front lines. Those who report the information otherwise obtained or found to be accusative of the Government are deemed to be traitors of the State.

In June 2008 Sri Lanka’s defence ministry, on its official website, labelled journalists critical of the Government as “enemies of the state”, warning that it would take all necessary measures to stop this journalistic treachery against the country. Over the past few years several journalists have been killed and scores attacked. Media rights groups have blamed the Government. In September 2008 the Government of Sri Lanka ordered all United Nations and international aid agencies to quit LTTE areas, abandoning over 250,000 internally displaced Tamil civilians with no access to food, medicine or aid. Since then the military offensive has escalated, with no international independent witness to comment on the ground realities, and the internally displaced people in the Vanni region are facing a humanitarian crisis.

While the number of Tamil civilians killed varies substantially, the most reliable estimates indicate that more than 2,000 have been killed in the past several weeks alone. An estimated 7,000 are left with life-threatening injuries and the casualty figures can be expected to rise dramatically in the next few weeks due to a lack of medical care. Evidence has emerged of repeated indiscriminate shelling and bombing by the Sri Lankan army and air force targeting hospitals and refugee camps. Furthermore, cluster bombs have been used in these attacks. Indeed, in defending military actions against hospitals, the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse said:

No hospital should operate outside the Safety Zone … everything beyond the Safety Zone is a legitimate target.

Government health officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross have estimated an average of 40 Tamil civilians are being killed each day both inside and outside the safe zone that the Government unilaterally declared. The injured are being denied medicine and medical attention due to the embargo imposed by the Government. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health recently ordered doctors and other health staff to leave the conflict region immediately. While the local Red Cross is still operating within the conflict area, its presence is threatened by the ongoing conflict. The denial of humanitarian access and humanitarian relief and the targeting of hospitals and refugee camps are violations of international humanitarian law.

There are also accusations that the LTTE is not letting civilians flee the conflict zone. However, the LTTE claim that civilians chose to stay back with them. With no independent witnesses in the conflict area, it is difficult to verify these accusations. Any journalists given access to the refugee camps in Government-held areas are accompanied by military personnel and interviews conducted with civilians who have fled the conflict zone are conducted in the presence of military personnel. The available food and water at refugee camps in the Government-held areas is also grossly inadequate. There is also controversy over the Government’s plans for Tamils leaving the Tamil-controlled areas. The Government originally announced that they would be kept in detention camps for three years, but after a rather strong reaction from the international community—especially from United Nations officials and the United Kingdom—the Government is now claiming that Tamil civilians would be in camps for a shorter, unspecified period. Tamils were discriminated against in the education system and in the workforce, with the national language being changed to Sinhala. In March 1986 the Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International stated:
Some 6000 Tamils have been killed altogether in the last few years … These events are not accidental [but] a result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Sri Lankan government … Democracy in Sri Lanka does not exist in any real sense.”

That confirms the State’s involvement in ethnically motivated attacks. As recently as September 2008 the Sri Lankan Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka said in an interview:
I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities … They can live in this country with us but they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.

That confirms the Tamils’ repeated concerns of discrimination and injustice under Sri Lankan Government rule. As early as 1977 the Tamils voted for autonomy, when the Tamil United Liberation Front, with its platform for a separate state, won all seats in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Effectively, this meant that the Tamils of Sri Lanka had voted for separation. Numerous agreements between the Tamil and Sinhalese leaders have not been honoured by successive Sri Lankan governments due to political pressure from the Sinhalese. It is important that the Government of Australia and the international community pressure the Sri Lankan Government to renounce its military campaign and embark on political negotiations to resolve the conflict. Too many lives have been lost, and each day we keep silent we allow more deaths to occur. It is important that the Government of Australia and the international community recognise that the targeting of a minority has been taking place for decades. What we see taking place today is but a culmination of successive attacks targeting the Tamils. It is important that the Government of Australia and the international community recognise the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people and acknowledge the legitimacy of their struggle for self-determination. [Time expired.]

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One Comment »

  • S.V.Ramanan said:

    High time International community intervened.It must take the following steps.
    1.Deploy International Peace Keeping Force in the war zone.
    2.Make SriLankan Government declare cease fire.
    3.Ask LTTE to surrender with a dead line,failing which Peace keeping force should treat them as combatants and deal with them militarily.
    4.Simultaneously, under the the aegis of International force, the civilians trapped are to be evacuated to a place designated by the force and their administration must be with the international force, possibly led by UK/USA,as UK took over Palestine after II world war till at least regional autonomy is granted and starts working for Tamils in SriLanka.
    5.If SriLanka remains recalcitrant, treatment should be meted out to them a la Saddam Hussain for his treatment of Kurdish Rebels.
    6.India must join this operation.
    Unless these proposals are carried out, the Tamils will be wiped out and India in particular and world in general may have to pay a very heavy price.