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For Tamils, UN mea culpa is meaningless without action

A UN internal review into the brutal Sri Lanka civil war has found it failed in its mandate to protect. Sam Pari from the Australian Tamil Congress says more is needed than just words.

Sri Lanka

An internal review has found the United Nations failed in its mandate to protect Tamil civilians during the final days of the war in Sri Lanka.

The report, released by the UN to the public without the executive summary, outlines that UN senior officials not only abandoned the Vanni region as the war escalated, but purposely avoided revealing casualty figures collated by its own staff, while knowing the death toll had entered the tens of thousands.

Furthermore, the UN was found to have failed to mention that the majority of killings that took place were inside government-declared “safe zones”, and chose to hide the fact that the Sri Lankan regime was responsible for these civilian deaths, instead casting blame solely on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

This recent internal review substantiates what the Tamil people had desperately tried to alert the world: the UN’s deliberate silence protected the Sri Lankan state from international criticism and allowed it to strategically conduct a genocidal campaign under the guise of a “war on terror”.

Even the death toll during the final stages of the war is unclear — some state it was up to 40,000; others¬†over 75,000. Tamil church leaders and civil society, using census statistics, have calculated it to be 146,679. Yet, over three years later, the UN still refuses to release the official figure to summate the dead.

Tamils, displaced by war, are regularly being denied their right to resettle in their traditional lands. On 24 September, 2012, over three years since the war, Sri Lanka announced it had closed its military internment camp, once one of the largest in the world, which detained Tamil survivors of the war. However, further inquiry on where those “released” were resettled revealed that many were simply relocated rather than resettled, and that too into areas that were not sustainable for life.

Like the 100-odd families of war displaced community of Keappapulavu who found themselves dumped in a burnt clearing of jungle, which had neither water facilities nor basic infrastructure. Photo and video interviews reveal conditions worse than those within the internment camps.

While the Sri Lankan regime chimes “all IDPs resettled”, civil society activists estimate that about 26,000 people remain displaced by military occupation of their land in Sri Lanka.

The military occupation of the Tamil homeland is reportedly at a ratio of one army officer to every five civilians. Data from civil officials have revealed a concerted and structural move to turn traditional Tamil lands within the former warzone into a military enclave of the Sri Lankan forces, which is comprised overwhelmingly by Sinhalese.

Systemic Sinhalisation“¬†of traditional Tamil lands is also taking place at an alarming rate. Buddhist temples are being built to cater for the changing demography, while religious churches and temples of Tamils people are being destroyed. Names of roads and villages are being converted from Tamil to Sinhala.

The heavy military presence also has other sinister repercussions such as the exponential increase in s-xual exploitation and abuse of Tamil women in the north-east of the island.

Rape of Tamil women by the military is a common threat, with several cases “reported to have been perpetrated in cells by guards or by officers usually at night, sometimes repeatedly and sometimes by more than one individual”.

Former female members of the LTTE are the most vulnerable with several cases of release and rearrest reported, with rape and s-xual abuse taking place both during detention as well as during “routine investigations” conducted on regular “summons” post-release. One such victim, a 38-year-old woman, was reported to have committed suicide as a result of repeated s-xual harassment and abuse.

A report by the International Crisis Group on the women’s insecurity in the north-east found many women to have been “forced into prostitution or coercive s-xual relationships” including being “trafficked within the country and abroad”. It added that “[p]regnancies among teenagers have increased” and that “[f]ear of abuse has further restricted women’s movement and impinged on education and employment opportunities”.

It further stated that the combination of such a large number of women-led households, heavy military and unsustainable conditions meant that Tamil women were forced to rely on the military for everyday needs, putting them at “greater risk of gender-based violence, but also prevent[ing] them from building their own capacity within communities”. There exist 89,000 Tamil widows and female-headed households as a consequence of the war.

Heavy military presence and the impunity that prevails mean not just Tamil women but men too are regularly arrested, tortured and disappeared. Sri Lankan prisons are notorious for deaths and disappearances in custody. In July this year, a young Tamil political prisoner reportedly assaulted by prison officials and died of injuries sustained.

In the scenario of such continuing abuses, for the Tamil victims and their families, the words of the UN internal review are meaningless without action. The conduct of the last war resulted not just in great loss of life for the Tamils, but also of dignity and freedom. For the Tamil people the pain and fear of war, excepting the bombs and bullets, continue even today.

Acts of genocide can take different forms. The Sri Lankan regime’s strategy of eradicating the Tamil people through various avenues is only being abetted by the super powers’ silence. What is required is a longer term solution that deals with the root cause — an oppressive force, the racist Sri Lankan regime, intent on erasing the identity of a people, the Tamils.

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  • 1
    CML
    Posted Friday, 23 November 2012 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Sam - Didn’t your lot (LTTE) start the war in the first place? And didn’t most Tamils come from India originally? While nothing excuses the excesses of the Sri Lankan armed forces, they could probably argue that they were just protecting their country from “interlopers”, who wanted to annexe a large portion of it.
    I don’t know why you are surprised that things turned out this way. There may be lots of nice sounding documents to protect civilians and others in war, but it hardly ever turns out that way anywhere in the world. Just look at the abuse of power that is going on in the middle-east. Far, far worse than anything that is happening in Sri Lanka. There is a saying about war: “To the victor go the spoils”. History shows that this is exactly what happens to the defeated in all wars. Best not to start one!
    I am also somewhat disturbed that as an “Australian Tamil”, you are seeking to bring the conflict from your homeland into our country. I believe that we have both Tamils and Sinhalese migrants in Australia, so perhaps you could all learn to “get along” if you are going to stay here. We DO NOT WANT other people’s wars continued in this country. That kind of behaviour will not win you many friends in Australia. The war is over - just get on with your life.

  • 2
    Gerry Hatrick, OAP
    Posted Friday, 23 November 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Tamils, Whoops guys, sorry” ~ White Men

  • 3
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    CML, there is a distinct possibility that the writer, like many migrants, has been a resident of Australia for longer than you or your forebears have. You may have noticed that almost all Anglo-Australians of the first 150 years of settlement subscribed to and enlisted to participate in any and every war that our European forebears initiated. Australia’s modern history, right up to today and continuing tomorrow, is one of continuing other people’s wars in this country. Our governments are ready to have a view about every war from Israel to Syria and Libya, will enter Iraq, Vietnam or Afghanistan at the drop of a hat and will try to pick winners from Irian Jaya to Sri Lanka to Cambodia. Thousands of successful migrants from those countries have traditionally joined the previous thousands from Europe in investigating, resourcing and potentially participating in political struggles, both social and military, emanating from within Australia. Australia is not a land of peace, love and vegetables and you well and truly know it. Why pretend otherwise?

  • 4
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Saturday, 24 November 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    CML, while I’m at it, you demonstrate a serious ignorance of Sri Lankan history if you really meant to describe Sri Lankan Tamils as “interlopers” and “coming from India originally?”. Didn’t all of us come from Africa “originally”? Do a tiny bit of research - like, read Wikipedia or something simple and straightforward so that at least you understand the 2-3000 year history of kingdoms and customs involving Tamils in the island culture of Sri Lanka. Get to know that before the British knocked over India and Ceylon the Dutch and Portuguese had a fair crack at Sri Lanka too. And before them there were several series of cultural exchanges that embedded Tamil languages and religion in the culture of Sri Lanka going back before Christ. You see things in black and white when it is quite clear there’s a whole lot of grey. That’s global cultural history. You can’t just dismiss it as some 21st century “war” that people should just get over.

  • 5
    Senior Ardneham
    Posted Sunday, 25 November 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    I will deal with your last paragraph which relates to hidden genocidal activities of the Regime.
    In Jany. 2011 the Ministry of Defence under which the subject of Citizenship comes, put on hold unilatteraly the granting of “Dual-citizenship”. This has not been reversed or amended yet. This ofcourse took place immediately after the Presidents debacle on his “Oxford Univarsity visit”.
    It is well known that 95% of the applicants are diaspora
    Tamils. Such a stoppage prevents Tamils who yearn to
    invest in their home-towns and villages, thereby making
    their relatives etc economically poorer and the community
    further sinking into despair. This is a form of
    structured genocide and will have long term effect. Their
    future generations will not have any hold on their home
    villages etc.
    No one appears to have studied this aspect, as a further
    step arising from this “on hold” is the regulations under
    Legislative Act No. 18 of 1948 - Citizenship,which provides for the registration of all children born overseas to Sri Lankan parents at their respective Embassies, is not fully
    implemented. They are not provided with the Certificate
    of a Registered Citizen, however the application is
    accepted, compulsorily when Birth Registration is made at the Emabssies. For the sake of the revenue it gives, the
    Application & Fee is accepted. The back-log of non-issued Certificates may have reached over 90,000 (?) The Controller of Immigration - Overseas Mission Dept. may reveal the truth I guess, for the periof Jany.2011 to-date?.

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