Academics, legal experts, activists, journalists, and Eezham Tamil politicians gathered in London to discuss Sri Lankan state facilitated land grabs in the Eezham Tamils homeland, its nature, its effects, and possible solutions, at a conference on Saturday. While all of the presenters were in consensus that land grabs in the Tamil homeland was a phenomena that was a genuine and pressing issue, many expressed their support for a strong international campaign to put a halt to this. Likewise, some of the participants also criticised the international community’s silence and complicity in the process. There was also heated debate on whether the process could be termed “genocide”, with former UN official and Bremen-PPT judge Dr. Denis Halliday along with Tamil activists from both the presenters and the audience arguing in its favour.
Speaking at the British Tamils Forum (BTF) organised conference, Anuradha Mittal, and Indian activist based in the US, opined that UK, US and other countries that have aided the GoSL must pay reparations to the Tamils who were affected by the war and that Tamils should take up this campaign.
In an exclusive interview to TamilNet, she said that “The government of Sri Lanka was able to do what it did with complete impunity while rest of the world watched on,” noting how the UK and US provided types of military assistance to Sri Lanka, and thus, they were responsible for the plight of the Tamils in the island.
She also said not just Tamils world over, but also every Indian, every British and every American, “should be organizing and demanding justice from international state actors and non-state actors who abetted the crimes that took place and continue to take place.”
The conference was part of a 2 day event on the subject.
The first day of the conference, on Friday, saw noted Indian social and environmental activist Medha Patkar recognising the genocidal nature of the land grabs.
The event on Saturday, held at Kennedy Theatre, University College London, was divided into three sessions with the panellists discussing themes related to land grabs in the Tamil homeland.
A documentary by Tamil Nadu journalist Thamizh Maga Prabhagaran “This Land Belongs to the Army” was screened at the conference followed by a presentation by TNA MP Sritharan on the land grabs in Jaffna and Ki’linochchi.
[L-R] Anuradha Mittal, Denis Halliday, Nirmanusan Balasundaram, Suresh Premachandra
The first panel, which was on “Comparative Land Issues in Ethnocratic Regimes”, involved presentations from Prof. Oren Yiftachel from Ben Gurion University Israel, Dr. Shapan Adnan, National University of Singapore, Dr. David Rampton from London School of Economics, and Dr. Jochen Hippler from University of Duisburg-Essen.
Dr. Adnan, drawing comparison between the Tamils and the tribes in Chittagong, said that the “massive decomposition and recomposition of ethnic composition” in the Tamil homeland was linked to the destruction of the idea of a Tamil homeland and the Tamil identity.
Prof. Jake Lynch, University of Sydney, Prof. P Ramasamy, Deputy CM of the Penang, Malaysia, K. Kurunathan, retired land commissioner from the island, and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, president of the TNPF, spoke on the topic of “Advocacy and Legal Mechanisms”.
[L-R] Jake Lynch, K. Kurunathan, Christina Williams, P Ramasamy, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam
Mr Gajendrakumar was of the opinion that legal process within unitary Sri Lanka will not work as there was a structural element to the land grabs. He also highlighted the importance of mass mobilizations of Tamils in the homeland, Tamil Nadu and the diaspora to check this.
Ms Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of Oakland Institute, USA, Tamil academic K. Guruparan, Dr. Denis Halliday, and Suresh Premachandran parliamentarian from the TNA addressed on “Activism and Strategies.”
[L-R] Oren Yiftachel, Jochen Hippler, S Rajkumar, Shapan Adnan and David Rampton
Mr Guruparan was of the opinion that the terminologies of ‘reconciliation’, ‘rule of law’, and ‘liberal individual rights’ was completely inadequate as far as the Tamils were concerned. He also said that militarization in the North-East was qualitatively different from military presence in the south, referring to how the military in the Tamil areas was engaging in a process of dismantling Tamil society.
Mr Suresh Premachandran talked about how the pervasiveness of the Sinhala military in the Tamil homeland facilitated the easy exploitation of women affected by war, connecting it with the genocidal intention of the Sri Lankan state.
British Tamil journalist Gopi Ratnam, referring to TNA’s NPC recent statement terming the condition of the Tamils in the island as “equivalent to genocide”, asked Suresh Premachandran why can’t TNA openly accept that what happened is genocide?
Premachandran replied that Wigneswaran was new to politics and that TNA has a clear view that there is a genocide taking place in Sri Lanka.
Political activist Sasithar Maheswaran, also raised a point that there was deceit from the TNA as a collective entity that gives varying messages at varying platforms.
In the Q and A session, a member from the audience raised a question to Dr. Jochen Hippler on why he refused to term what happened to the Eezham Tamils as genocide. Dr. Hippler’s reply was that while he agreed that Tamils were victims of war crimes, the word “genocide” can be used only for crimes on a greater magnitude.
However, Dr. Halliday refuted Dr. Hippler’s argument asserting that “This is genocide and an on-going genocide.”
Dr. Andy Higginbottom said that the land grab argument should be seen linked to genocide. PPT was a paradigm shift because it showed Western Powers have been intervening in the island of Sri Lanka thus resulting in the genocide of the Eezham Tamils, he said.
Mr Rajkumar from the BTF said that Tamils should be very clear on using the term genocide and that what is happening to the Eezham Tamils in the island now is structural genocide.