Thursday, 12 August 2010

Judgement by the accused

In early 2009 thousands of Tamils – some second generation exiles, others refugees from their homeland – took to the streets of Westminster in protest. For weeks they blocked roads, organised sit-ins and held hunger strikes. As the protests dragged on some even threw themselves into the Thames.

They were trying to draw attention to events in Tamil Eelam that practically amounted to genocide. For in those weeks the Sri Lankan Army was carrying out its final assault against the Tamil Tigers – and was doing so with stunning brutality.

The Tigers, an ethnic rebel group seeking independence for Tamil Eelam (the region covering the North and East of the state of Sri Lanka), had held varying degrees of control over the territory for a quarter of a century. Regularly carrying out horrendous human rights abuses including ethnic cleansing and the recruitment of child soldiers, they were once one of the most powerful rebel forces/terrorist groups in the world. They even had a primitive air-force, and at their peak ran a pseudo-state complete with schools and a postal service. Their lasting legacy to the world has been the introduction of suicide-bombers; a tactic often wrongly attributed to Islamist groups, but that was actually devised in the Tiger’s war against the Sri Lankan state.

Little wonder then that the Sri Lankan government had wanted to finally end the gruelling civil war and destroy the Tigers forever. However, their means of doing so were utterly unjustifiable. Whilst the international community stood on the side lines, President Mahinda Rajapaksa oversaw a push that wrenched rebel territories from the Tigers’ control but concurrently cost the lives of
twenty thousand Tamil Civilians. Meanwhile images emerged of concentration camps and extrajudicial executions as the government sunk to (and some would argue, below) the level of their enemy.

The Tamil Tigers were an abhorrent force that needed to be defeated – but nothing can excuse the actions of the Sri Lankan leaders and military during those months.

It is against this background that calls for an independent international enquiry, examining Crimes Against Humanity by both sides, is being called for. However, the Sri Lankan government has consistently resisted this and yesterday
began its own enquiry, overseen by the very people who should be facing international tribunals. This shambolic farce will produce no other outcome except for exoneration of Sri Lankan forces and condemnation of the Tigers. It will do nothing for justice, for reconciliation or for unveiling the truth of what happened during that period.

The international community, which offered little more than vocal calls for restraint during 2009, now has a duty to pressure Sri Lanka into submitting to a genuine enquiry and to handing over senior officers and government officials who may face charges of War Crimes. This can be done through trade embargos, political force, individual indictments or even by beginning the enquiry without Sri Lankan cooperation. Whichever route is chosen, it needs to happen.

Such atrocities cannot be ignored.

No comments:

Post a Comment