‘It is an open jail for Tamils in Sri Lanka’
(By Radhika Gir) “Open your I’s on Sri Lanka / In 2009, over 40,000 killed, 1,46,679 Tamils unaccounted for, over 80,000 widowed, over 25,000 children orphaned / We demand an International Independent Investigation NOW!” goes a British Tamils Forum (BTF) poster demanding independent investigation into the situation in Sri Lankan Tamil areas.
The coordinator of the ‘iiicampaign’ (International Independent Investigation Campaign), Shanmughanathan Kaviraj, from the BTF was in Tamil Nadu recently to seek the support of Indian legislators to push for what they have termed “genuine investigation” into human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
The BTF supports an ‘international independent investigation’ into charges of war crimes against the Sri Lankan govt. (Photos courtesy: BTF)
An UN report released in April 2011 had indicted the Sri Lankan government for human rights violations on civilians and surrendering LTTE cadres. The issue is expected to be raised at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session scheduled to begin in Geneva February 27.
The Sri Lankan government’s LLRC Report which admitted to civilian casualties however said the army or its top brass cannot be held responsible for violations and contended that allegations of civilian torture had to be investigated further.
“The intention of our current campaign which is on since December last is to make life livable for Tamils in that country. The Tamils in Sri Lanka are living under strict monitoring by the army. They can’t speak or move about freely.
“To conduct any ordinary family function Tamils need to inform the army beforehand. Civilian phones are tapped. Any kind of congregation is seen with suspicion. The media is heavily censored.
“The land of Tamils in Sri Lanka is now an open jail for the Tamils. Relief is possible only if international agencies step in,” says Kaviraj.
Kaviraj had left Sri Lanka when he was 17 years old and has been living in Britain for 13 years. He returned to Sri Lanka briefly when his father passed away. He was detained by the Sri Lankan police under suspicion before he gained his release and then fled the country.
Excerpts from an interview with him:
What is the situation in Sri Lanka for the Tamils now?
Tamils in Sri Lanka are in a dire situation. They have been completely silenced and they cannot speak for themselves. That includes the elected representatives of the Tamil people as well as other Tamil politicos.
To our knowledge the government is holding two Tamil activists Yogi Yogaratnam and V Balakumaran in secret custody right now. Their whereabouts are unknown even to their families.
Journalists working in Tamil areas are being hit or abducted if any critical reports of the government are published.
In May it would be three years after the war ended, but there is still heavy army presence in Tamil areas. Whether it is a temple festival or a marriage function at home, one has to obtain the army’s permission. It is an open jail for Tamils there.
What do you have to say on India’s actions so far?
We are unhappy. But the expectation is that India would turn around its policy on Sri Lanka. We are aware that India has been supporting Sri Lanka shielding it from war crime charges. At least now it must remain silent when the UN Human Rights Council takes up the Sri Lankan Tamil issue.
The Sri Lankan government itself has said that India had a role to play in their victory against the Tamil Tigers in the war and there is information that the Indian army took part in the last days of war in Sri Lanka.
In the post-British liberation struggle of Tamils, this is the first instance of India exhibiting a strong anti-"Eelam Tamils" mindset.
Are you critical of the United Nations too?
The role that United Nations played vis-à-vis Sri Lanka was not correct. It failed to stop the war and then its secretary general appointed a panel to investigate the allegations of war crimes in Sri lanka. After the panel report came out, he failed to implement its recommendations. Now that the issue is to be taken up by the HR council, if the UN acquires – true to its established intentions – the vision of humanism, then I would say Tamils who died and those who lost them can hope to secure justice.
Why are you critical of Sri Lanka?
Since 1948 till date the government of Sri Lanka has been engaged in various acts of violence against the Tamils that continues to this day but in a more aggressive manner in the form of appropriation of our land, unleashing oppression, racial discrimination, and murder.