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"A whole people is likewise being destroyed here" -Interview with SJ Emmanuel on the Forgotten War in Sri Lanka

AUTHOR:   Zeit-Fragen

Translated by  Current Concerns

Forgotten by the International Community
Bloody conflict in Sri Lanka continues

Professor Dr S.J. Emmanuel, former vicar general of the Jaffna diocese and President of the International Federation of Tamils

CC: Professor Emmanuel, western media report only little or nothing at all about the situation in Sri Lanka. As a Catholic priest, you have been able to stay in close contact to your homeland so far. What is the situation in the Tamil areas?
Today, in Sri Lanka we have the worst head of government you can imagine. He governs, together with his three brothers, and Singhalese Buddhist extremism prevails. The government does not aim at a political, but a military solution; it denies the ethnic conflict and only wants to fight “terrorism”. There are 350,000 internally displaced people in the region Vanni today and every day civilians are bombed and kidnapped. On 25 December 2008, government troops even bombed a church and killed or wounded several believers. The situation of the refugees is disastrous; they have no humanitarian assistance since the Singhalese government expelled the international relief organizations. The government wants to wage their war without any witnesses. In addition, there has been a continuing rain period for several weeks, and the refugees are at the mercy of the rain, unprotected under the trees. The injuries inflicted on the civilians are horrible – and the majority of the victims are civilians – since cluster bombs and thermobaric bombs among others are being used just like in the Lebanon war.

The government announced that it would have solved the “Tamil problem” by the end of 2008. What does that mean for the civilian population there?
“Tamil problem” for the government means that it is a problem of “terrorism”. They know that the conflict actually needs a political solution, but until today the government has not yet made a meaningful proposal. The government claimed that a parliamentary election had taken place in the eastern province and a Prime Minister had been assigned to this region, but the truth is different. A brother of the President governs and he does not care about the population there. Every day, Tamils are killed and kidnapped. The administration wants to attain a similar solution in the north now, after having destroyed the LTTE. The Government’s “solution” for the Tamils is to install two representatives of the Government as ministers and to bring the whole population under army control. Thus, it means a return to the worst colonial age.

What does that mean?
Arbitrary suppression. For me, as a clergyman, who knows much about the world and the wars, the situation for the Tamils is shocking. It is a 60-year-old ethnic conflict. From the beginning the government has tried to react to the non-violent Tamil protest by state terrorism. As a response the Tamil Tigers movement developed in order to defend the homeland. As a consequence, we have experienced a 30 years’ war with more than 60,000 victims and 1 million refugees all over the world. The conflict has not yet attained the attention of the world. A long conflict involving a war on a far away island has nearly become a forgotten war. We Tamils are deeply frustrated – on the one hand about the late developments in Sri Lanka, and on the other hand about the attitude of the international community, in particular that of the great powers with their double standards and their interest-oriented policy.
Everything began in the post-colonial era with the “British Blunder” when they left the island. The Tamils which had their own kingdom in former times became a minority under the Singhalese. The English made a mistake by putting together two ethnic groups in a state and handing over the power to the majority. Today, England behaves as if it had nothing to do with the conflict and supports the Singhalese government in this war.
Second, the superpowers like the USA and India pursue their own geopolitical interests in Sri Lanka with its ports. They back the Government and treat us like terrorists.
Third, Sri Lanka has a Singhalese-Buddhist majority democracy. The Singhalese are in the majority, thus they can suppress the Tamils. Moreover, they have a Singhalese army with which they can enforce the power. The Tamils have been fighting for 30 years, and they have hoped and resisted non-violently. Whereupon the other side reacted with state terror. We know, there will only be a peaceful solution, but we must defend ourselves against this state terror that knows no limits.

Eranga Jayawardena/
AP Photo

What does the daily life look like for the people at the moment?
The greater part of Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka, the part that constitutes the Tamils’ homeland, is under absolute control of the Singhalese army with – their daily curfews and hundreds of  checkpoints, daily renditions of people, murders and similar crimes. In the northeastern part – the so-called Killinochchi region – a brutal war prevails with bombings of civilian population and public buildings like hospitals and schools. People live in great fear; they have no work and no food. 40,000 children cannot go to school. All NGOs left the region. There are no physicians, Tamils are not allowed to study, there are hospitals, but there is no medicine or bandaging material.
For more than 2 years, there has been a total economic blockade in the Tamil areas, and it is a miracle if people survive. Even at the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration Against Genocide, Sri Lanka is specified as one of the eight endangered states. People always think of the 3rd Reich when they hear the word genocide, but a whole people is likewise being destroyed here, its language, its culture, its traditions – all under the pretence of democracy.

Which solution do the Tamils suggest?
Tamils have always wanted a political solution and have made several proposals during the past 60 years. From the beginning, they wanted a federal system for all of Sri Lanka.
That was categorically rejected, however, by the Government. The Tamil rebels took up arms to defend themselves against this state terrorism. However, they never believed in a solution achieved by terror.
The international community, too, has all the time spoken of a political solution; however, it still supplies weapons to the Government and supports them in their military proceedings. Recently military representatives of some countries were sent by them to the northeastern part of the country (among them representatives of the USA, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, and India), in order to demonstrate the military progress, but the representatives were not shown the 300,000 refugees.

At the beginning of December 2008, there was a Europol seminar in Germany about the LTTE? Who was the Tamil representative at this conference?
There were no representatives of the Tamils, but only representatives of the Singhalese government, who campaigned for an inhibition of Tamil organizations in Europe and a limitation to their activities.

How do you judge that?
It is absurd to invite those to a conference, who are responsible for state terror and 500,000 Tamil refugees in Europe, in order to discuss with them how to behave towards the Tamil refugees in Europe. Such events lead to the result that the hunted go on to be hunted. Many of these expellees are today citizens of the respective country and have integrated themselves, just like me. What is the point of this procedure? Objectivity requires to invite the Tamils and ask them about the situation in their homeland.

What can the people of European states contribute to an amelioration of the situation?
The Tamils are very grateful that they could come over here and stay in security. Sri Lanka exerts some influence on the European governments, but we Tamils are not consulted although we are citizens of the host countries, they apparently plan to take action against us? The European citizens must demand from their governments to do all they can to achieve a fair peace in Sri Lanka but stop to offer support for any military solution.

Professor Emmanuel, thank you for the discussion and we wish you a lot of success and support with your efforts for a peaceful solution of the conflict.

Member of the Special Forces fighting a dirty war.
Reuters Pictures


SRI LANKA: SOS – Agonising Cry of the People of Vanni

A letter from a group of concerned persons to the United Nations Secretary General forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission
January 19, 2009

His Excellency Ban Ki Moon The secretary General, United Nations
Your Excellency,
The Agonising Cry of the People of Vanni, Sri Lanka
We, the Roman Catholic Priests and Religious serving the people in Vanni, the theatre of ongoing vicious battles, make the following ardent and urgent appeal.
1. The „uncleared“ area of Vanni which consisted of Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, parts of Mannar, parts of Jaffna and parts of Vavuniya districts has now shrunken to parts of the Mullaitivu district alone, as a result of the ongoing military operations carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
2. About 491,000 people from the above-mentioned districts are now forced to live in the shrunken Mullaitivu district alone. Day after day, displacements continue unabated, as a result of the aggressive artillery poundings and aerial bombardments in and around civilian settlements.
3. In these indiscriminate attacks, babies in mothers‘ wombs, infants, children, women and men, young and old are killed and maimed and wounded every day. Even schools, hospitals, places of worship, civilian settlements etc., the security and safety of which are guaranteed in the Geneva Convention on the Conduct of War, are not spared in this aggressive war.
4. The merciless Economic Embargo imposed on Vanni and the Eviction of the INGOs worsen the predicament of the innocent civilians. A shortage in fuel, food supply, medicines, shelter materials and drinking water weigh heavily upon an already beleaguered people.
5. As the geographical territory occupied by the people keep on shrinking daily, it is becoming almost impossible for the people even to move towards “safer” areas, away from the battle fields. A GREAT HUMAN TRAGEDY HAS EXPLODED IN Vanni. Such a gruesome experience is unprecedented in the recent history of these people.
6. In times of war, the parties in conflict, particularly the Government which is a signatory to the Geneva Convention on the conduct of war has the bounden duty to uphold the Convention. The safety and security and human dignity of the innocent civilians cannot and should not be trampled upon by anyone, particularly by the Government, waging a war.
7. What is at the root of this ongoing war is the STRUCTURAL INJUSTICE, a vehement denial of EQUALITY and DIGNITY of the Sri Lankan Tamils, perpetrated by the successive Sinhala dominated Governments of Sri Lanka for decades.
8. Therefore, we earnestly urge Your Excellency to take immediate action to stop this senseless war and put an end to the untold sufferings of the innocent civilians in Vanni whose lives have become a real struggle for survival. And kindly take the necessary steps to bring the parties in conflict to the negotiating table in order to find a humane and just and lasting political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

Yours sincerely,
(Signed) Rev Fr. James Pathinathar,
(On behalf of the Priests and Religious of Vanni)
St. Jude’s Church,
Mullaithivu-Paranthan Road,
Mullaithivu District,
Sri Lanka,

The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Original Source: Von der internationalen Gemeinschaft vergessen

Source of this translation : Current Concerns Nr.2, 2009

Original article published on Jan. 26, 2009

About the author

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TYPHOON ZONE : 12/02/2009