The campaign by Tamils living in the UK against holding the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Sri Lanka was vigorous. There was huge opposition to the participation of David Cameron, the British prime minister. But unfortunately the campaign was not able to stop him from visiting Sri Lanka and shaking the bloody hand of the war criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa.
However, Cameron came under enormous pressure from the international protest movement against Chogm in Sri Lanka. And hopes were raised that this was effective when they saw Cameron’s speech in Colombo.
Cameron was forced to declare that the Sri Lankan government should conduct “a credible, transparent, independent inquiry into alleged war crimes”. He also made a specific statement, saying: “Let me be very clear. If an investigation is not completed by March then I will use our position on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to work with the UN Human Rights Commissioner and call for a full, credible and international inquiry.”
Undoubtedly this message will have hit home with many Tamils, desperate for a sign of improvement in the situation after the genocidal slaughter that ended the lives of up to 100,000 in 2009. Number 10 was in full propaganda swing, getting this message out. The intention was to secure the electoral support of the 300,000-strong Tamil population in Britain.
But, in the cold light of day, we must examine what actually happened and what’s taking place now?
Firstly and as Tamil Solidarity predicted, the promise didn’t last long. As early as 18 November a press communique from Number 10 stated that: “If these investigations are not begun properly by March then I will use our position on the UN Human Rights Council to call for an international inquiry”.
Look carefully at how the words have changed. Now the position is not that the investigation should be ‘completed’ by March, instead it’s ‘begun properly’. Credibility ditched, surely! Also note how ‘international independent inquiry’ has changed into ‘international inquiry’.
This was expected by many campaigners. Tamil Solidarity also predicted that the Sri Lankan government would start another sham ‘investigation’ for the purpose of propaganda and to evade the pressure. The Sri Lankan government is now talking about a ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ (TRC). This will apparently be based on the South African model.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg South Africa’s experience is a ‘blueprint’ that Sri Lanka should follow. He managed to bundle this advice to Sri Lanka into his tribute to Nelson Mandela in the UK parliament on 9 December. He urged the Sri Lankan government to ‘emulate’ the South African Truth and Reconciliation Process – to which David Cameron nodded heavily with a loud ‘mmm’ of approval.
Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, was given a platform during Chogm to brag. The Sri Lankan government claimed they are “interested in learning”. The Sunday Times in Sri Lanka reported on 24 November that Zuma not only advised the government on this, but also met TNA leaders such as Rajavarothayam Sampanthan and MA Sumanthiran, probably to urge them to accept it. What blood boiling hypocrisy!
But far from establishing reconciliation in South Africa the Zuma government has presided over the most unequal country in the world. Instead of the TRC ushering in a new era of democratic rights for all, the black population has continued to suffer discrimination and exploitation. Worse, the Zuma-led ANC government was the author of the massacre of unarmed striking mineworkers in Marikana in August 2012.
The ANC is likely to receive a punishment of historical proportions in the next election. An indicator of the mood was the humiliating booing Zuma faced at the Mandela memorial.
In Northern Ireland, where ‘success’ on the basis of the South African model is vaunted, so-called peace talks have just broken down. In fact further problems are emerging, aggravated by huge cuts in services led by the Con-Dem (Conservatives and Liberal Democrats) government.
Whatever model is adopted, the Sri Lankan government has made it absolutely clear it has no intention of acting in a way that brings justice and reconciliation to the Tamils in the north and east. It’s not a lack of evidence that has held the Sri Lankan regime back from doing anything for the last four years. A number of reports and documentaries provide an abundance of evidence. There is no political will. Even the puny recommendations of the LLRC are not implemented by this regime.
Tamil-speaking people across the world have no illusions that the Sri Lankan government will do anything to bring justice to the victims of 2009 and the aftermath, let alone make a genuine attempt to meet the national aspirations of Tamils.
Such clarity does not, however, exist when it comes to how many Tamils see the so-called ‘international community’, world governments, particularly the US and India. Geopolitical developments in the south Asian region and economic interests dominate the foreign policies of all capitalist governments, who in turn only reflect the big businesses which they serve.
The Sri Lankan government also cultivates relationships with specific parties and politicians. The London embassy boasted that at least 14 MPs are prepared to defend the regime. Following this embarrassment, under ‘advice’ of the foreign office, the Conservative party banned tory MPs from visiting Sri Lanka during Chogm. Previously they had travelled with their families under the guise of ‘understanding the ground situation’ – in effect a free luxury holiday. Through such activities, Tory parliamentarians such as disgraced former defence secretary Liam Fox became close allies of the Sri Lankan regime. They fulfil their loyal duty by defending the regime at every opportunity.
Notorious right-wing Conservative and Member of the European Parliament Geoffrey Van Orden is well-known for his anti-Palestinian and pro-Israeli state views. He is also a chairman of the ‘Friends of Sri Lanka’ group in the European Parliament. Every single effort made in the European parliament, even to ‘softly’ question the Sri Lankan regime, is vehemently opposed by Van Orden and his Conservative colleagues. The recent attempt at the parliament to pass a resolution on the situation in Sri Lanka is the latest example.
Paul Murphy MEP put forward a resolution on behalf of the GUE/NGL group in December last year. This is not the first time Paul initiated such work. He is a well-known human rights defender. His work in Kazakhstan and Palestine is very well-known and has made a difference to tens of thousands of people. He is also a strong supporter of the struggle of the oppressed masses in Sri Lanka. He has constantly spoken against the war and the brutal Rajapaksa regime. Despite repeated requests, the regime is continuing to deny him entry into the country. Paul’s initial resolution contained the following point on the war crimes investigation:
“Welcomes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ announcement to set up and independent international inquiry to investigate the war crimes committed in the final months of Sri Lanka´s civil war if the Sri Lankan government continues to fail to take significant steps before she submits her final report to the UN Human Rights Council at the end of March 2014; calls for that investigation to be established during the March 2014 session of the UN Human Rights Council; however, is of the opinion that for such an international inquiry to be fully independent, credible and transparent, it must involve trade unions and human rights organisations and be accountable to all the conflict’s victims and their families; “
Is this hard to accept? The so-called defenders of ‘human rights’ then swung into action – to work out how they could dilute the resolution. Geoffrey Van Orden and his Conservative colleagues on behalf of the Conservative group in the parliament changed the emphasis in the following way:
“Urges the Sri Lankan Government to act on the calls for accountability for alleged wartime violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by initiating an independent and credible investigation into alleged violations by March 2014, and considers that otherwise the UN should initiate an international investigation;” (our emphasis)
In addition they managed to add several ‘welcoming’ points about the Sri Lankan regime such as the following:
“Notes the progress which has been achieved in attaining the Millennium Development Goals”
“Hopes that the peace dividend will pay off, further enhancing the country’s development agenda and allowing its citizens and increasing numbers of foreign visitors to take full advantage of the natural and cultural potential it has to offer; stresses that long-term stability demands genuine reconciliation with full participation by local populations;”
“Notes with concern that, according to Europol’s recent ‘EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report’, the LTTE, which has carried out indiscriminate terrorist attacks in the past, is still active internationally;”
Note carefully how they managed to soften the resolution and how it talks of a ‘peace dividend’ when military spending is actually increasing. Also note how they carefully refer to the LTTE as ‘active internationally’ – a vile way of casting a slur against campaigners like that of Tamil Solidarity.
Defending or providing cover for oppressive forces is not new to the Conservative party. Never can it claim to have stood for the interests of the oppressed and hardworking people – either in Britain or internationally. Margaret Thatcher is internationally renowned for her neoliberal offensive against all poor and the working people of the world and her strong stand defending the big business interests. Her tory government backed the apartheid regime in South Africa. In response her death was actually celebrated by millions across the planet. Contrast the response to her death to those of socialist Hugo Chavez and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. But Thatcher’s heir David Cameron, is keen on carrying out her legacy. The level of cuts in jobs and services taking place in the UK is without precedent.
Tamils living in the UK are at the forefront of the onslaught of cuts that are now taking place. However, some still hope that this government could do something ‘good’. This hope against hope is nurtured by groups such as ‘Tamils for Conservatives’ (TfC). It is absolutely ridiculous that such a group even exists among ethnic minorities in Britain. Unsurprisingly and correctly this group does not enjoy widespread support among the community – they cannot point to one good thing that the Conservatives have done for ordinary Tamil people. That party seeks to destroy the NHS, and run down state education to make a degree a luxury only available to the rich and to continue racist policies of war and deportations. TfC will not be able to organise anything in the community on their own.
They do, however, attempt to build backing for themselves and their scandalous cause by giving the false illusion that their ‘lobbying’ of Conservative MPs will result in something good for Tamils living in the UK. This is absolutely false. Historical evidence proves the contrary. Their false promises must be rejected and instead demands made for a concrete result. Tamils need a form of struggle that will work – not merely assist in the career-building of a few!
Will the UN call for an international investigation in March? Will the British government work with the UN to push for such an inquiry by March? Even if these unlikely events take place it will be with extremely limited results. The so-called ‘International Community’ of governments will be satisfied with UNP coming to power and certain ‘token’ hand outs are made to the victims. But this is not why Tamils demand a war crimes inquiry. Demand for an investigation into war crimes is linked to the demand for all democratic rights, including national rights.
We shouldn’t be trapped by the ‘inquiry’ spectacle that can drag on for decades without any substantial results. We must consciously link this demand to the demand for the right to self-determination. Without addressing the origin of the problem there can be no solution. Accepting the right to self-determination of Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka will be first step towards finding a long-term solution.
This is why Tamil Solidarity continues to argue for a different kind of an inquiry. We demand that any investigation must involve accountable representatives of the victim community and from the trade unions and international human rights organisations, etc. Only through such an investigation can we unearth the real horror that took place and point towards the real long-term solution to make sure such horrendous killings and abuses do not take place again.
This is why Tamil Solidarity puts forward the demand of right to self-determination as a key demand. In our view all human rights concerns are not serious if they are not connected to providing long-term solutions. Those who lobby the UN or parliamentarians should demand that this right of Tamil speaking people be respected.