The Unspoken Genocide: War Crimes in Sri Lanka
A colossal tragedy – and a preventable one – played out in Sri Lanka last year. Colossal, because in its brutal offensive in the name of eliminating the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan state massacred thousands of civilians and carried out the worst genocide in 21st century South Asia. Preventable, because Sri Lanka is essentially a semi-colonial country dependant on the aid of imperialist and expansionist forces and it would have stopped the offensive if pressure had been exerted. If only. But due to their strategic and economic interests in the tiny island, these forces gave complete support to a racist regime and watched as the Tamil community got butchered. It is a shame that India, which is home to 6.5 crore Tamils, was one of the partners in this brutal war and aided the racist Sri Lankan state.
The Permanent People’s Tribunal consisting of internationally renowned activists including Nobel laureates, held a hearing in Dublin on January 2010 where it found the Sri Lankan govt. guilty of war-crimes and guilty of crimes against humanity. The report brought by the Tribunal also concluded that charges of Genocide need further investigation, besides criticizing the international powers for their tacit support to Sri Lanka. The report contains extensive details on the atrocities committed on the Tamils by the Sri Lankan state.
History of Persecution Ever since it gained independence, the Sri Lankan ruling class has adhered to a majoritarian form of government and has systematically implemented measures to disempower the Tamils. The state sought to destroy all political, cultural and economical spaces of the Tamils and the major parties were playing games of competitive chauvinism. With the anti-Tamil riots of 1956, 1958, 1977 and the horrible Black July massacre of 1983, the Tamil masses realized that only a free Tamil Eelam would be a solution to their problems. And it is their genuine struggle for freedom that was dubbed as ‘terrorism’ by imperialist powers and their agents.
Intended Genocide In its so called ‘war against terror’, the Lankan armed forces committed every form of human rights violation imaginable. The Tribunal found that the Lankan Army dropped cluster ammunitions and chemical weapons like white phosphorus by war planes. There were was frequent use of heavy military artillery against LTTE forces in civilian areas which constitutes a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Between January 08 and May 08, over 40000 civilians were killed in air raids, mortar shelling and indiscriminate firing by soldiers. The aged, the disabled, women and children were not spared. Civilian areas, including schools, hospitals, camps and orphanages were deliberately targeted. Brazenly flouting Geneva convention principles, prisoners of war were killed by the Sinhalese soldiers. Recently UN sources have confirmed the veracity of a tape that shows naked, bound Tamil captives being shot by Sinhalese soldiers. It is not without reason that Noam Chomsky likened the situation in Sri Lanka to the genocide that happened in Rwanda.
Concentration Camps Over 280000 internally displaced people (IDP) have been herded into ‘welfare camps’ – which are modeled on the lines of the camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. While resettlement was promised, going by recent reports, it doesn’t seem to be happening. The detained Tamils face mental humiliation and torture on a day to day basis. On the slightest suspicion people are taken for ‘interrogation’ never to return. Besides abductions, rape and murder by the security forces, the interned Tamils are falling prey to all kinds of diseases owing to unhygienic conditions, lack of clean food and water, and unavailability of medicines. Thomas Seibert, a German human rights activist, confirmed that Tamil IDPs inside the barbed-wire internment camps in Sri Lanka Army controlled Vavuniya are not only medically underserved, but are subjected to degrading interrogations and there are reports of regular rapes and killings. Only the gas chambers are missing… Of course, media persons, except those who sing praises of the Lankan govt., and independent observers have been denied access to the camps.
Rape as a weapon of war Historically, armies of reactionary forces have used sexual violence as a weapon of war in order to physically and psychologically humiliate the ‘enemy’ women. The most recent examples of horrifying mass sexual violence perpetrated by armies are in Rwanda and Bosnia. Sri Lanka can easily be added to that list. In the course of the war, Sri Lankan soldiers raped scores of Tamil civilians. In fact, there are video accounts that show army men stripping the bodies of dead women Tigers and parading them nude. The tribunal report states that sexual abuse of the detained women was rampant in the “welfare camps”. There is also enforced sterilizations, forced pregnancies and sex slavery.
Tamil Eelam is Bound to Win It is clear that the Lankan state’s ‘victory’ seeks to crush the national aspirations of the Tamils physically, psychologically and politically. Even after the war, repression continues in other forms, this time in the name of ‘peace’. The people of Eelam who have fought relentlessly for over 70 years, will not accept living as third grade citizens in a majoritarian Sri Lanka. As long as there is oppression there will be a fight for freedom and only a free and independent Tamil Eelam can ensure permanent resolution to the national question in Sri Lanka, and only a unity based on justice and equality of the two nations can usher in peace in the island. The Struggle for Tamil Eelam is not just a movement for an independent state that the Tamils could call home. It is an idea of an egalitarian society sans bias, sans discrimination where free men and women would progress and prosper. An idea of struggle for justice and freedom. This critical moment in the timeline of the Eelam struggle signals only the end of a phase, not the struggle as such. Tamil Eelam is not over. It has reached a new beginning.
At this crucial juncture, there is a pressing necessity to discuss and deliberate on the injustices committed on the Tamil nation. There is a need not only for sympathetic ears, but also firm voices, to condemn the brutal repression on the Tamils. The need to keep the Lankan disaster in discourse is not only because of the numerous hardships the Tamils are enduring in the concentration camps, but also because of the chilling similarities with the Indian state’s war on people in Kashmir, North-east and in its own heartland. It is not a coincidence that the shameless supporters of Operation Green Hunt want a ‘Sri Lanka solution’ to crush the people’s movement in the country.