Friday, 17 June 2011

Deportations and double standards

The Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka's Killing Fields could not have been any more hard hitting - or any more condemning for Mahinda Rajapaksa's government. Whilst the UN Report on the Sri Lankan states' final assault against the LTTE presented an abundance of evidence to suggest that War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity may have been committed, nothing could prepare anyone for watching the raw footage of executions, sexual abuse and indiscriminate slaughter.

Harrowing as it was, the programme showed impartiality, professionalism and expertise. The inconvenient scheduling may have produced lower viewing figures than were hoped for, but nothing could detract from the unprecedented level of exposure that is now being cited as further evidence of international law violations. Predictably, as they have consistently done, the Sri Lankan authorities issued an audacious denial of the footage's authenticity before going on to cite LTTE abuses. This is both fallacious and absurd: their refusal to accept solid evidence of heinous crimes has come unstuck time and time again, whilst LTTE abuses- long recognised by virtually the entire international community, provide absolutely no justification for abuses on the other side - which incidentally appear more vicious, coordinated and widespread.

There is growing pressure for Sri Lanka's leaders- particularly President Rajapaksa and General Fonseka, to face international justice. Structurally and personally their influence over and contact with those who carried out the extrajudicial killings, raped civilians and shelled no-fire zones, are beyond doubt. However, whilst the UK government has joined calls for fresh investigations and hinted at endorsement of War Crimes proceedings, they have shown outrageous double standards by sanctioning the deportation of Tamil civilians to Rajapaksa's Sri Lanaka. Despite pleas from Amnesty International and Human Rights watch, the twenty six failed asylum seekers and 'overstayers' were placed on an overnight flight and touched down in Colombo today where they were met and investigated by security officials from the very regime that carried out the 2009 slaughter.

Like Sweden's recent deportation of a Kazak dissident to the state where people are currently facing torture for the exact same activities he was involved in, the UK's deportation of Tamils to Sri Lanka is both bizarre and unjustifiable. Right now torture by the Sri Lankan authorities is rife and gatherings of Tamil groups are being violently broken up. Evidence of extrajudicial executions is abundant - as recognised by the UK government. And no member of the Sri Lankan authorities has yet been internally charged for the murder of any of the 40 000 Tamils killed in the closing stages of the war. At best, those being returned will enter a state where they are second rate citizens facing institutional persecution. At worst, those amongst them accused of having links to the LTTE will face the same fate as other suspects. A hood? A field? A bullet in the back of the head? Certainly not a fair trial.

It is hypocritical, dangerous and frankly unforgivable to recognise the abhorrent abuses being committed by a government, then deport perceived opponents of that government back to face them. The UK should be pursuing War Crimes charges against those involved in what could well amount to genocide against the Tamil people -and should be providing compassion and shelter for anyone lucky enough to escape those horrors. A blanket ban on deportations to Sri Lanka, at least until more thorough investigations have been carried out, is the minimum standard that any dignified nation should strive for.

Unfortunately - given the UK's track record of deportations both under the current and previous governments, the double standards are hardly new or surprising. Still, this does nothing to erode the culpability of Cameron's government. Unless urgent changes are made, Rajapaksa and the LTTE will not be the only ones with blood on their hands.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for writing this article.

    Petition calling for UK Prime Minister to stop deportation of Tamil asylum seekers, and put real pressure on the Sri Lankan government to allow a fully independent investigation into war crimes. Please read, sign and share!