Tamils are outraged that Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has been invited to the queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations. His regime is responsible for a genocidal war against Tamil-speaking people in the north and east of Sri Lanka. At least 40,000 people were slaughtered in the final weeks before ‘victory’ was declared on 18 May 2009.
Tens of thousands were rounded up into prison camps, lacking adequate shelter, food and medical supplies, abused by the troops. The orders for these atrocities came from the very top – as numerous reports, including two Channel 4 documentaries, have shown.
Yet Rajapaksa will wine and dine with Britain’s royals and leading establishment figures. Coming only a fortnight after the emotional commemoration of the end of the war – known as Mullivaikal – it is another kick in the teeth to this long-suffering community.
A placard on the protest outside Downing Street on 26 May put it succinctly: ‘Don’t shake this murderer’s bloody hands.’ But the links between Sri Lankan rulers and British capitalism and its state run deep. Sri Lanka is due to host next year’s Commonwealth summit, for example.
At the Mullivaikal event, politicians from the main parties promised support for Tamil-speaking people and demanded an international investigation into war crimes. In practice, successive governments have backed the regime, or looked the other way when the genocide was taking place. This includes New Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as today’s Con-Dem coalition.
Not so long ago, Tory MP, Liam Fox, was defence secretary. His dodgy connections with shady middlemen eventually forced him to resign. His close friendship with Rajapaksa, however, ensured that the interests of the Sri Lankan regime were reflected in Britain’s foreign policy.
Rajapaksa is due to visit Britain for four days (3-6 June). He is booked to deliver a speech at the Mansion House, in the City of London, on 6 June, reinforcing the ties between his regime and big business.
The continual links between the military top-brass is further proof that it is business as usual between both countries. As are the ongoing deportations from Britain of Tamil-speaking people, back into the hands of the brutal regime. The next charter flight (from an undisclosed airport) is due on 31 May.
The situation throughout Sri Lanka is bleak. The massive arms expenditure has actually risen since the end of the war. Price rises, cutbacks in public services and attacks on trade union and left-wing activists affect all working-class and poor people on the island.
In the predominantly Tamil north and east, conditions are truly horrific. Land has been seized for military use. Tens of thousands of people remain unaccounted for. Workers are super-exploited in so-called free trade zones. The regime is developing Sinhala settlements to divide up the land – copying the Israeli state’s carve-up of the Palestinian West Bank.
Tamil-speaking people internationally have a proud tradition of solidarity with their fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka. An important part of the struggle for self-determination is strengthening the links with the organised working class. Gaining the support of the trade unions, with their huge potential power, is now more vital than ever – as is increasing the participation of Tamil workers in the union struggles in Britain.
Tamil Solidarity will be joining with others to protest against this visit, including outside the Mansion House on Wednesday 6 June from 9am. Join us there to give Rajapaksa the reception he really deserves.
Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary