Tamil people have begun mobilising again with the first of weekly Friday protests outside Downing Street in response to the horrific conditions in internment camps in Sri Lanka. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils, including elderly people and young children, are being held under armed guard in filthy camps with inadequate sanitation, water, food, shelter and medical facilities.
Janani Paramsothy of the Tamil Youth Organisation, which organised the protest, explained to the socialist how the Tamil community felt betrayed by the inaction of the British government and other agencies: “With all the protests earlier in the year we expected the British government to do something. With all the killing – 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, no one knows – the people in Vanni [where the final army assault took place] expected the government to do something, too.”
The protests she refers to had been massive. In Britain, the majority of the Tamil population came onto the streets in demonstrations which reached 200,000 at their height. And 24-hour vigils in Parliament Square were maintained for nearly two months. Numerous Tamils lost their jobs, while students failed or underperformed in exams as the relentless protests took their toll.
Understandably, when the Sri Lankan army overran the Tamil areas and the people were rounded up into the camps, dismay and exhaustion kicked in. “Over the summer,” Janina said, “we knew we had to continue but the demos were not sustainable. Then, the Channel 4 footage came out [apparently showing the summary execution of Tamils] and we knew we had to respond, that now, we can’t stay silent. Of course, we knew those things were happening – info always gets out, at great risk – but when we saw it, it was shocking.”
Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, denies all allegations against the military, as well as the suffering in the camps. But, as Janina points out: “If it’s not true, why won’t they let the media in?”
Under pressure from mounting international anger and the reports from human rights organisations, which are not allowed into the area, the UN is now threatening to withdraw funding for the camps. And the EU has warned that it will cancel a $1bn trade concession to the Sri Lanakan government. However, Rajapaksa feels he can resist such pressure, bolstered by its links with China and India, as well as Libya and Burma among others. Many British and western companies continue to hold important commercial interests in Sri Lanka. As ever, big-business interests dominate Gordon Brown’s agenda.
The latest leaflet by Tamil Solidarity: for the rights of workers and all oppressed people in Sri Lanka, distributed by Socialist Party members, was well received. The Downing Street protests mark an important new stage in the struggle against the oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka. One of the big issues to address is how to widen its support, to help overcome the isolation felt by many in the Tamil community. Taking the campaign into the trade unions would make a significant contribution, and Tamil Solidarity will do all it can to assist in this task. That working-class based approach is why Tamil Solidarity also defends Sri Lankan socialists, union activists and the journalists brave enough to challenge the censorship of the regime against severe state repression, whether they be Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim or from other ethnic and religious groups.
Following is the content of the Tamil Solidarity leaflet used
There is no justification whatsoever for the horrific treatment of the internally displaced people (IDP) in Sri Lanka by the government of Mahinda Rajapakse. Since the official declaration of the end of the war on 18 May, which only came after over 20,000 people were massacred in the final weeks alone. Their war on the Tamil-speaking people’s basic rights still continues, with around 300,000 men, women and children incarcerated under the most horrific conditions and starved.
Conditions in the so-called ‘welfare camps’ were described as a ‘vision of hell’ by the BBC in May. Since then the situation has deteriorated. More than 15,000 people are reported to be missing from the camps. At least 40 people die every day. There is no reason to keep these innocent people in the camp, the majority of whom are children, women and elderly people. Over 35% of the imprisoned children under the age of five are said to be suffering from malnutrition. Surely, even this brutal government cannot claim they pose a security threat!
The government is still refusing entry to any independent organisations, reporters or individuals. These notorious camps exist only to make Tamil people suffer more. Meanwhile, government officials and military commanders make millions from the suffering. Recently a leading military commander was accused of profiteering from the sale of shell brass scrap from spent shell casings. The Sri Lankan Times reported that a parliamentary group is making millions from smuggling out the IDPs, at a reported cost of 600,000 to 900,000 Sri Lankan rupees per person released. The Guardian recently criticised the bullying attitude of the Sri Lankan government regarding aid. In fact, corruption is said to be at an all time high.
Leaked video evidence has revealed the extent of the war crimes and the conditions in the camps. The president and all the government officials keep the camp and the warzone under military control. The military is also taking control of some civil operations in the name of ‘hunting underworld criminals’.
No freedom of speech
Anyone raising dissent in the country is putting their lives at risk. More than 12 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006. Many more have been attacked and imprisoned. Many have fled the country. A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Sri Lanka number one with regards to violence against the media, well above Iraq. JS Tissanayagam, a Tamil journalist, was recently sentenced to 20 years hard labour for articles which contained mild criticism of the government’s war policies. Unicef chief officer James Elder was expelled from the country after he openly talked about the appalling conditions in the camps. Channel 4 has also been threatened with legal action by the Sri Lankan government. We cannot allow this to continue. Continued persecutions and attacks on dissent cannot hold back the fightback. We must join forces with those who fighting against Rajapakse regime.
The British government, while prosecuting war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in reality supported Rajapakse’s war. They merely requested that the Sri Lankan government respects international standards! They have done nothing to put pressure on the government to stop the war or to close down the camps and continue to export arms to Sri Lanka. No opposition was raised to an IMF loan for Sri Lanka. Economic ties are maintained and the only concern is that Iran and China may take economic advantage and develop stronger trade ties, squeezing British companies out.
If it were not for the brave actions of Tamil youth and activists protesting on the streets around the world this massacre could have gone unnoticed. Despite the government’s boasts of victory and claims to be ‘saving’ the people, in the recent election they suffered a defeat in Vavuniya, in the north, where the camps are located. A clear message of what the people think of the government was sent. Despite the horrific conditions and constant fear, there were reports of riots in the camps. It is more important than ever that the fight against the brutal regime in Sri Lanka and the against the British capitalist parities who will never stand up for the poor here or anywhere in the world is continued.
What are the lessons of the brave demonstrations and activities for continuing the fightback? We should not rely on the rotten international organisations such as the UN, merely a stooge for the oppressing governments. Despite overwhelming evidence and the condemnation of almost all of the humanitarian agencies, the UN refused to take any action. In fact, disgustingly it passed a resolution clearing Sri Lanka from any human rights violations! Sri Lanka doesn’t have to listen to the UN as its knows very well that there will be no action taken. The UN will never represent the interests of the poor and the oppressed Tamil people. Nor will the pro-war and pro-rich western governments.
We in Tamil solidarity want to help organise the fightback. We are working with Socialist Party of England and Wales and its sister organisation in Sri Lanka, the United Socialist Party (). Both fight to change the society for the benefit of all. The USP is the only party in Sri Lanka now that stands for the right to self determination, up to and including for a separate country if it is what the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka want. The USP is the only alternative force in Sri Lanka that stands for the rights of minority and continues to fight despite the intimidation and death threats from Rajapakse thugs.
Tamil Solidarity: fight for the rights of workers and all oppressed people in Sri Lanka. Originally set up as Stop the Slaughter of Tamils: campaign to end the war and fight for democracy in Sri Lanka, we have organised protests against the Indian government’s support and arms sales to Sri Lanka, against the IMF loan, participated in all the major protests in London, and around Britain, supported the Parliament Square protests, and raised the issue in trade union and youth conferences around Britain.
We stand for the unity of workers and poor people in a fight for their rights and for a future without war. We are part of an international campaign, which is supported by the Committee for a Workers’ International, the Socialist Party, and the USP. It won the support of Booker prize winning author Arundhati Roy, John McDonnell MP, Coventry Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist and thousands more. The honorary president of the campaign, Joe Higgins, from Dublin, Ireland, was elected as a Socialist Party MEP in the recent European elections. Tamil Solidarity is also sponsored by a number of trade union branches
We stand for
• No to detention camps! – Let the IDP control the aid!
• Withdraw the troops! – Stop the disappearances!
• Democratic rights for all!
• Freedom of speech! –Freedom of press!
• Support independent trade unions! – Organise all workers – Unity is strength!
• For the right to self-determination!
• For the mass movement of the workers and oppressed in defence of Tamils rights.