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article imageToronto Tamil spokesman explains the history, crisis in Sri Lanka Special

By Andrew Moran     Apr 27, 2010 in World
Toronto - The Toronto spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop the War in Sri Lanka spoke with Digital Journal about the history of Sri Lanka, the current crisis that is occurring and what he hopes to be accomplished for the Tamil people.
Last year, the crisis in Sri Lanka dominated the news headlines in Toronto. Tens of thousands of Tamils took to the streets and demanded action from the government of Canada and the international community over the actions by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sareth Fonseka.
Throughout the latter part of 2009, the Toronto Tamil community demonstrated for more than 100 days straight in front of the United States Consulate urging President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other members of the President’s administration to take action in Sri Lanka over the internal displacement camps that encamped more than 300,000 Tamils.
After the Sri Lankan President declared he would release the detainees, there are still roughly 90,000 Tamils, according to a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
How did this all begin? Why is it occurring? Will the crisis ever end? What are the goals?
Toronto spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop the War in Sri Lanka (CSTWSL), Senthan Nada, spoke to Digital Journal and presented in-depth analysis of the history of Sri Lanka, how the crisis began, the IDP situation and what he wants accomplished in “the island of tears.”
Where it all began
Nada begins by dating back to 1948 when Sri Lanka gained its independence from Great Britain and the Sinhala leaders “sought to secure dominance over government by virtue of their majority.” He says the Tamil people never expected to be made “second class citizens” spanning several decades in Sri Lanka.
Many important policies were enforced in Sri Lanka that would continue to disenfranchise the Tamils from their own country such as in 1956 when the Sri Lankan government passed a measure that would recognize Sinhala as the only official language. Other legislation approved would give preferential treatment to Sinhala, whether it would be for university or employment applications. Their new constitution even stated it would “protect and foster Buddhism.”
All of these actions by the government, says Nada, forced the Tamils to feel that they were being oppressed, discriminated against and their equal rights were being deteriorated with each passing day.
Due to the policies enacted by Sinhala leaders, the relations between the Sinhala and Tamil communities eroded and for the next 25 years “saw was not only the erosion of Tamil rights but also the erosion of the Tamil homeland. For 25 years, the Tamil leaders expressed their protest in Parliament and outside, adopting the principles of ahimsa and Satyagraha.”
The present situation
Many reports from international organizations and news outlets suggest that there are still tens of thousands of IDPs remaining in the camps; while between 10,000 and 15,000 Tamils are being held in undisclosed regions of the country because they have alleged ties to the ousted Tamil Tiger rebels. There have been numerous allegations of rape and torture, sometimes on a daily basis.
The 92,000 Tamils who did return to their place of origin found their home and or village completely demolished or their homes have been occupied by Sri Lankan army forces. Another 93,000 were staying with host families. Others were forced into rehabilitation centers where they must adapt the Sinhalese culture and learn a trade.
The Toronto spokesperson explained that many of the IDPs still in the camps are children and are being illegally held by the Sri Lankan government. The camps are militarily guarded and overcrowded, which are also “in-adequately managed” and the prisoners are “poorly fed.”
“According to the recent OCHA report, for those Tamil Internally Displaced People (IDPs) still in the government camps the provision of cooked meals at the Menik Farm centre may cease at he beginning of March due to lack of funds. The situation of the Tamil refugees is so hopeless that the International community has a responsibility in taking ownership for the decent survival of these vulnerable since Sri Lanka is not in any hurry or mood to entertain any concern for the Tamil population,” said Nada.
What is being done?
Western nations, according to Nada, are taking notable interests in prosecuting the Sri Lankan government over war and human rights crimes. Many leaders are calling for Sri Lanka to abide by the Harare Commonwealth Declaration, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and local human rights.
In its annual 2009 report, the U.S. State Department criticized the Rajapaksa government and accused them of killing or forcing disappearance of lawyers and journalists, who have also been harassed, threatened and or victimized.
An annual British report titled: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights Report 2009, the British government stated that they were concerned over the allegations made that the Sri Lankan government violated many human rights laws and “the deteriorating status of the rule of law and freedom of expression.”
Furthermore, the recent 30-page Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, which was compiled through interviews with prosecutors, humanitarian workers, detainees, relatives of detainees and others, called upon the Sri Lankan government to release the more than 11,000 Tamils who are being held in the rehabilitation centers.
Last month, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his deepest concern about the situation in Sri Lanka and “the lack of progress on political reconciliation, the treatment of Internally Displaced Persons and the setting up of an accountability process in Sri Lanka.”
Will there be an end? What are the goals?
Nada explained that the Sri Lankan government must adhere to the principles of human rights because they are “the very foundation of a decent democratic civilized world.” Even though the government has denied all accusations and allegations, Nada believes it’s quite "naïve" for Rajapaksa and his colleagues to expect financial support from the rest of the world for its programs such as the rehabilitation centers or its internment camps.
“This would be like giving the key to the chicken den to the fox. But, on the other hand the international community including the Canadian government should stand firm by not pouring the financial support into the coffers of the Sri Lankan regime to fatten its repressive arms,” said Nada.
The spokesperson for CSTWSL concluded that it is imperative that an international body implement investigations for Sri Lanka’s crimes against journalists, human rights, international humanitarianism and the violations of the Tamil people over the last several decades.
“Permanent, peaceful and acceptable solution for the long suffering Tamils need to be found soon by keeping in mind their freedom with dignity and rights to self – determination.”
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