“Tamil diaspora activists are very capable and able to put pressure on governments around the world. But, alongside this work, I would really like to encourage the Tamil diaspora to focus on the ‘other’ international community – which isn’t represented by these governments or institutions,” said Socialist Party and United Left Alliance MEP for Dublin, Paul Murphy MEP, in an e-mail interview to TamilNet on Thursday. The Irish MEP who played a key role in organising a hearing at the EU Parliament earlier this month also said: “For us in the Committee for a Workers’ International, the right to self-determination for the Tamil people is vital.” He urged the Eezham Tamil diaspora to join hands with the progressive Sinhala forces in the South.
“The key idea I would raise for discussion amongst the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and internationally is the idea of trying to build a mass struggle,” Mr. Murphy said.
“The Tamil-speaking people have suffered and continue to suffer hugely at the hands of the Rajapaksa regime. However, they themselves hold the key to ending it. Mass struggle entails the building of mass democratic working class organisations –trade unions and political parties, which can articulate the desires of the people and organise the struggle. I believe the building of such a movement would inspire support.”
Full text of TamilNet interview with Paul Murphy MEP follows:
TamilNet: What made you get involved in the struggle of Eezham Tamils?
Paul Murphy: It was at the time of the slaughter of the Tamils over two years ago that I became actively involved in campaigning on this issue. I was involved in organising protests in Ireland with the Tamil diaspora there against the war as it was going on, as part of the “Stop the Slaughter of the Tamils” campaign that was a forerunner of “Tamil Solidarity”.
However, even before that I have been very aware of the struggles of the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka since I became active in socialist politics over ten years ago. The Socialist Party in Ireland has a sister party in Sri Lanka called the United Socialist Party who have campaigned for decades against the oppression in Sri Lanka, especially that of the Tamil-speaking people. In discussions and meetings with my comrades from Sri Lanka such as Siritunga Jayasuriya, they have described the conditions facing the Tamils and spoken out against it.
TamilNet: How do you view war-crimes accountability vis-a-vis addressing the root cause of the conflict?
Paul Murphy: Perpetrators of war crimes, both the Sri Lankan army leaders and those in the government, should be brought to justice. But that’s definitely not enough. The response of the Sri Lankan government so far to the war-crimes allegations is less than insufficient – it amounts to an attempted whitewash of the brutality that was inflicted upon the Tamil-speaking people. The reconciliation committee set up by the government is a sham designed to pretend to the international community that the government is pursuing justice. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government has not come up with any political solution to address the rights and aspirations of the Tamil-speaking people.
What I think is needed is a campaign for a truly independent inquiry. I would like to point to the resolution passed at the hearing organised recently by the European United Left group. It reads: “for such an inquiry to be truly independent, however, it should be a people’s tribunal consisting of accountable representatives of working class and poor people from all communities, chosen by them and observed by international trade unions and human rights organisations. Only such a body could be truly free of the influence of the Sri Lankan government and their international collaborators”.
Only this sort of genuinely independent body can provide an impartial inquiry and expose the war-crimes of the Sri Lankan army.
TamilNet: Tamils world over view the slaughter of Eezham Tamils by the Sri Lankan state as genocide. Is the leftist world aware of the prevailing genocidal intent in the Sri Lankan polity?
Paul Murphy: The scale of the slaughter, with estimates of 40,000 Tamils being killed within the space of weeks, together with the systematic way in which that slaughter was carried out, with civilians being penned into tiny areas and then bombarded, certainly point in that direction. In particular, the fact that the killings were pre-planned, as evidenced by the deliberate drastic understatement by the Sri Lankan government of the number of people present in Mullivaikal, is very worrying. I think the question of whether this horrific brutality meets the international definition of genocide is something that perhaps should be determined by the kind of independent inquiry I talked about a moment ago.
TamilNet: Last month, the European Left supported for the Tamil peoples right to self-determination, including the right to a separate state if they so wish. How do you think the Eezham Tamils, both in homeland and in the diaspora, should work towards this? In what forms can they expect the support of the Left?
Paul Murphy: For us in the Committee for a Workers’ International, the right to self-determination for the Tamil people is vital. We, and others on the Left, including my colleagues in the European United Left in the European Parliament, will work to support this right through publicising the situation in Sri Lanka around the world and giving active support to the struggles within Sri Lanka. Through the delegation to Sri Lanka we have planned for October, we also aim to bring pressure to bear on the Sri Lankan government as well as publicising to the outside world the conditions facing the Tamil people.
The key idea I would raise for discussion amongst the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and internationally is the idea of trying to build a mass struggle. The Tamil-speaking people have suffered and continue to suffer hugely at the hands of the Rajapaksa regime. However, they themselves hold the key to ending it. Mass struggle entails the building of mass democratic working class organisations –trade unions and political parties, which can articulate the desires of the people and organise the struggle. I believe the building of such a movement would inspire support.
Every day the Rajapaksa government shows its brutality and its disregard for democratic and workers’ rights. This ‘elected dictatorship’ is using the post-war period to drive through a further trampling of hard-won rights. Just recently a worker from one of the new Free Trade Zones, areas of super-exploitation, was killed while protesting against the planned pension attacks. But, despite the nationalist rhetoric pedalled by Rajapaksa, there will be a response from the Sinhala workers and young people against the government.
So, I believe that despite the disgusting chauvinist propaganda that has been used to whip up opposition to the Tamils among the Sinhala population, Sinhala workers and young people, who in general do not agree with killings took place against Tamils, could be won to support for Tamil rights.
Developing a joint struggle of Tamil and Sinhala workers and young people would be a very powerful movement to fight for the right to self-determination and also for a better society, a socialist society, where the resources of Sri Lanka could be used to raise the living standards of all, rather than for the benefit of tiny rich elite. People in the diaspora can support this by raising awareness about the struggles of all oppressed and working people in Sri Lanka.
TamilNet: How do you view the work of the Tamil diaspora, especially its engagement with the international community?
Paul Murphy: The organisation of the Tamil Diaspora internationally is extremely impressive to me. I saw a glimpse of the breath and depth of organisation during the hearing we organised in Brussels. The activists are very capable and able to put pressure on governments around the world.
Alongside this work, I would really like to encourage the Tamil diaspora to focus on the ‘other’ international community – which isn’t represented by these governments or institutions. What I mean by that is trade unionists and activists internationally. For me, winning these activists to involvement in campaigning and protesting for the rights of the Tamil people is more important than trying to convince right-wing governments who have no real interest in supporting them.
Getting motions passed in the trade union movement, in the student movement and generally raising awareness within working class communities is vital in my opinion to broaden the struggle internationally so that there is an active involvement of ordinary people in protests against the Sri Lankan government alongside the Tamil diaspora.
Across the world, in the Middle East, North Africa, across Europe and beyond, trade unions and young people are starting to show their strength; dictators have been toppled and some government attacks pushed back. A growing internationalism is also starting to be expressed. This opens up the potential for greater solidarity too. Tamil Solidarity is explaining to workers in the UK who are striking over huge attacks on their pensions that the Rajapaksa regime is also attempting this.
TamilNet: Sri Lanka’s government is well known for restricting access to international journalists and activists. How far do you think you will be able to break these barriers when you visit the conflict-hit areas for a fact-finding mission later this year?
Paul Murphy: I understand that Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places on the planet for journalists but only the Sri Lankan government knows the answer to that question.
However, we intend to build major pressure on the government to demand that we are given full access to the North and East, and to the places of our choosing. We do not intend to be part of a government-sponsored visit. We will be independent visitors, meeting with opposition groups and activists and seeing for ourselves the situation on the ground.
If this is not granted, it will be because they are trying to hide the human rights abuses that are on-going, and we will publicise that fact internationally.
TamilNet: Efforts are underway to lift the international ban on the Tamil Tigers. How do you view this?
Paul Murphy: I am in favour of the democratic right of those who supported the LTTE to be able to organise politically and argue for their views, both within Sri Lanka and internationally. And I support the right of workers and oppressed people to defend themselves, and to organise, democratically, including armed mass self-defence if necessary.
However, I fundamentally disagree with the approach and tactics of the LTTE. Those tactics, basing themselves on the Tamil people alone and implementing a guerrilla strategy of ‘individual terror’ have failed in my opinion. In addition, it is also clear that the Tamil Tigers were guilty of trampling on the rights of many Tamil people who did not agree with their position.
However, the Sri Lankan government is trying to shut down any political activity of Tamil Diaspora, trying to legitimise this with its banning of the LTTE and its propaganda against the LTTE. I oppose that kind of branding and systematic false propaganda of Sri Lankan government. As far as I understand, most Tamil activists in the diaspora understand the mistakes of the LTTE and hopefully through discussion and debate they can arrive at a clear perspective of how best to advance the struggle of the Tamil-speaking people.
TamilNet: Although the Channel4 documentary Killing Fields exposed the brutal war-crimes against Eezham Tamils, the British Government continues to deport asylum seekers. How do you react to this?
Paul Murphy: It is outrageous that Tamils who fled the brutality of the Sri Lankan army are deported right back to face the threat of new brutality and repression by that same army. The British government is guilty of putting these asylum seekers’ lives at risk as a result of their actions. I condemn them for doing this and call on it to immediately reverse its policy.
Unfortunately, however, this is not an isolated incident. The Tamil people, forced to flee Sri Lanka by the war, have been treated disgracefully by international governments, for example the Australian government which requested the Indonesian authorities to intercept boats carrying refugees who were then forced to stay on the boats in horrific conditions for six months at Merak in West Java.