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Reconciliation on hold in Sri Lanka – National Post

[MISC, Friday, 31 July 2009 12:57 No Comment]

During the recent military campaign in Sri Lanka, this newspaper was broadly sympathetic to the Sri Lankan government’s goal of confronting and subduing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), the guerilla-cum-terrorist force seeking to carve out a Tamil homeland in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka. As in any war, there were civilian casualties — but we urged our readers to keep in mind the fact that the LTTE was using hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians as human shields, and so it — not the government — was primarily responsible for their deaths.

But the war in Sri Lanka is now over: The Tamil Tigers’ last remaining forces were destroyed by the Sri Lankan military in May, and the group’s leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed.

Sri Lanka is no longer a country under siege, as it had been since the rise of the Tigers in the 1980s. Rather, it is now becoming a "normal" country — albeit one whose peace is fragile, and whose Tamil minority is restive.

This means that Sri Lanka must now be judged by the human-rights standards that typically govern developing countries. And by those standards, the country’s recent conduct should be of great concern. According to UN figures, over 280,000 people — about 10% of the country’s Tamil population — are still being detained in 30 military-guarded camps. While we do not believe the overheated theory currently making the rounds among Canadian Tamils that the Sri Lankan government is seeking to ethnically cleanse the nation, Colombo’s actions have fed Tamil suspicions that they are destined to remain second-class citizens.

As journalists, we also are particularly appalled at the brutal treatment of reporters in Sri Lanka — especially those who happen to critique the country’s military. Over the last decade, about 20 journalists have been killed — often by murderers linked to the government, the military or their supporters. In many cases, the murders were unsolved, and the government seems to have done precious little to unravel the crimes: Sri Lanka placed fifth on the recent Impunity Index circulated by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Only Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Colombia do less to track down those who murder journalists.

Even aside from these killings, there is little in the way of media freedom for critics of the government: Tamil activists and their allies have been threatened with prosecution under the country’s "Prevention of Terrorism Act," or accused of the catch-all term of "treachery."

Sadly, most people in the West don’t seem to care much about all this — even those activists who proclaim themselves up in arms over events in Honduras, western China and Iran. The silence from CUPE, left-wing churches, Naomi Klein, campus activists and all the other folks who boycott Israel at the first sound of gunfire in Lebanon or Gaza is especially puzzling: The human-rights abuses and overall death toll in Sri Lanka are orders of magnitude above those witnessed in the recent Sri Lanka fighting. Press freedom, moreover, is vigilantly protected in Israel, a country where the most vicious criticism of the state, and even of Zionism itself, routinely appears in the country’s media.

So why is it that Israel is the world’s bete noire while Sri Lanka was recently commended by the UN Human Rights Council following its victory over the LTTE? Apparently, some humans’ human rights count for more than others.

[Full Coverage]

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