Siritunga Jayasuriya, one of the Tamil solidarity presidents spoke at the EU parliament On Wednesday 8th of December. This meeting was organized by GUE/NGL and environmental group at the parliament under the title ‘the rise of national conflicts and religious tensions in Asia and Africa’. Siri gave a brief historical background and then highlighted the current situation. Following is the full text of his speech.He also spoke again answering to number of question raised by the MEP’s and those attended the meeting.
Thank you for inviting me to speak at this meeting.
I am here representing the Civil Monitoring Commission, a body set up to counter a wave of killings and kidnappings of mostly Tamil people, for which I am a chairman.
I’m also a founding member of the ‘End the dictatorial regime’ campaign.
We initiated this campaign recently to counter the increasing attacks on all democratic rights by the Rajapakse government – which is on its way towards dictatorship.
Attacks on the minorities, which have been continuing since Sri Lanka won independence from Britain in 1948, have now reached an all-time high.
Attacks on the rights of the Tamil-speaking minorities – who constituted around 26% of the population – were carried out by all the governments who claimed to have based themselves on the 74% Sinhala-speaking majority population.
The introduction of the Sinhala only language act in the late 1950s – a law that discriminated against the minority Tamil language – resulted in many Tamil-speaking people losing their jobs
Similarly the introduction of standardisation in the universities in the 1970s – which discriminated against Tamil students’ entry into universities – kept lots of Tamil students away from education.
Attacks against the minorities reached a peak in 1983 when the Tamil-speaking people who lived in the south were brutally attacked by government thugs. A number of people were killed, many injured and their properties were burnt.
It was an ethnic cleansing, an attempt to drive out all the Tamil-speaking people from Colombo city and the south.
The right-wing neoliberal government took no action against these pogroms against the Tamils.
The same right-wing government was also attacking the rights of majority Sinhala workers and poor.
In order to carry through those neoliberal attacks they whipped up Sinhala chauvinist forces against the Tamils.
Instead of bringing the criminals to the court of law the president unleashed the same communal forces against those political parties, activists, and trade unions who opposed the pogroms.
The arrest of key activists was also ordered. I was one of those who opposed the pogroms against the minorities vigorously.
I was forced to work ‘underground’ for a year after the 1983 July pogroms.
Tamil-speaking people who had lived in the south fled to the north and east and to other countries.
At this time and prior to that the Tamil political leaders were not able to give a political expression to the anger of the youth. The young people felt that they were let down by all – both Tamil and Sinhala political leaders.
This is what led to the rise of armed struggle, out of which emerged the armed guerrilla force called Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who fought a bloody battle with the Sri Lankan armed forces for the last 26 years.
While withholding the right of the people to fight back against pogroms, I argued against the methods of individual terrorism. Instead we argued for political struggle – a united struggle of all oppressed masses – including Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslim masses.
Democratic struggle with the support of the oppressed Sinhala majority is the correct way to fight with the aim of achieving the right to self determination of the Tamil-speaking minority.
The war between the LTT E and the army came to a brutal end last year. At least 30,000 innocent Tamils were slaughtered in the final weeks alone. Around 50,000 people are today still living in horrible detention camps.
Over 11,000 young people remain in secret camps. Many times we have demanded the release of, at least, the list of names of people who are held so that the families will know whether they are still alive or not.
The government is still refusing to let the families know the details of the thousands of youth they are keeping in these horrible camps. This is very inhuman and against Sri Lankan and international law.
I would like to cite the evidence given to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) by Ananthi Sasitharan, the wife of one of the LTTE commanders.
The LLRC is a whitewash commission set up by the government itself. However, Ananthi’s evidence was very brave and was also reported in the BBC.
She said that she and her husband with their kids and a few others surrendered to the military. She was taken to a separate camp with her kids.
She witnessed her husband and many others being taken by the military. Now the military and the government deny all whereabouts of these people.
This is just one example to give you an idea of how many people are still missing and unaccounted for.
This is a major genocide carried out by the Sri Lankan military. Anyone who speaks against this is also persecuted. Even the former General Sarath Fonseka, the very general who prosecuted the war itself, participated in the last presidential election and won around 40% of the vote, was arrested immediately after the election. He is now held indefinitely.
A number of journalists and activists have been killed or brutally attacked. Many of them left Sri Lanka to save their lives.
One of the worst tragedies is that the Sri Lankan government is still refusing to come out with any political solution.
After the long war and the immense sacrifice of thousands of lives there is still no settlement offered to satisfy the minority aspirations.
Instead the ethnic divisions are even further aggravated by the government. In the current budget the government allocated Rs215 billion – around €1.7 million for the defence budget.
Even during the war the Sri Lankan government did not spend such an amount of money on defence!
This is another indication that this government is planning to militarise the state more and more. They are building new permanent army camps in the north.
The brutality can be felt in every aspect of the day to day lives of the Tamils in the north - the Sinhala Buddhist government is changing the names of the streets and places in the Tamil areas to Sinhala names.
They are building Buddhist temples where there no Buddhist people live.
I appeal to you to help with our work in whatever way you can. I welcome the initiative that the EU took on the GSP+ tax relief which had put the Sri Lankan government on the defensive.
The work we do is about saving thousands of lives –protecting essential democratic rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of press, the right to live etc. We defend trade union rights and workers’ rights.
I hope you understand how crucial this is – and how extremely difficult it is. Even participating in this meeting is putting my life at risk.
The Sri Lankan government can unleash the communal forces against merely because I just have participated in this discussion. So any help that you could give to those who are fighting for the oppressed masses in Sri Lanka is extremely important.