Ilankai Tamil Sangam

25th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lanka Needs Our Leadership

by Harini Sivalingam, The Toronto Sun, February 4, 2008

By using soft diplomacy, Canada can support the call for a United Nations Special Envoy to Sri Lanka to monitor the human rights situation and encourage the negotiation of a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

By taking a more proactive approach to the conflict, Canada can condemn the human rights violations of the Sri Lankan government and impose trade and aid restrictions on Sri Lanka if it continues to fail to abide by its international human rights obligations.

This year started off with a bang in Sri Lanka. Literally. Not the firecrackers we are accustomed to in Canada, but the sounds of guns and bombs. On Jan. 1, Tamil parliamentarian Thiyagarajah Maheswaran, was shot dead while attending a New Year's service at a Hindu temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Shortly after this assassination the government of Sri Lanka announced its intentions to withdraw from the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement, igniting a chain of events that will ultimately lead to the full resumption of war and bloodshed.

On Jan. 16, the six-year-old ceasefire came to an abrupt end.

This year not only marks the 60th anniversary of Sri Lanka's independence from colonial rule, but also the 25th anniversary of the 1983 anti-Tamil riots.

Of these 60 years of independence, 25 years were marred by a bloody civil war that has left more than 70,000 dead.

Over the past several years, the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated. With the collapse of the cease fire, the situation will only get worse. The United Nations, international human rights NGOs and several Western democracies have condemned the gross violations of civil liberties and human rights by the Sri Lankan government.

In the last 18 months we have seen the erosion of all the pillars of democracy in Sri Lanka, from the suppression of the media and free speech to assassinations to erosion of the rule of law.

Obligation to engage

Canada is home to the largest Tamil Diaspora outside of Sri Lanka. It has an obligation to engage with Canadian Tamils. Most of the 200,000 Canadian Tamils have come to Canada as refugees fleeing the ethnic war in their homeland. They have strong emotional and family ties to their homeland.

While Canadian Tamils are grateful to Canada for offering many refugees from Sri Lanka a safe haven, they cannot be expected to simply "leave their baggage behind."

Canadian Tamils should expect their government would take an interest in a global human rights situation that impacts Canadians.

Canada certainly has a role to play in the Sri Lankan conflict. Sri Lanka is among the top 10 donor recipients of Canadian development aid. Sri Lanka relies heavily on Canada economically and therefore can be influenced by Canadian condemnation of their human rights record.

By using soft diplomacy, Canada can support the call for a United Nations Special Envoy to Sri Lanka to monitor the human rights situation and encourage the negotiation of a peaceful resolution to this crisis.

By taking a more proactive approach to the conflict, Canada can condemn the human rights violations of the Sri Lankan government and impose trade and aid restrictions on Sri Lanka if it continues to fail to abide by its international human rights obligations.

Canada not only has a responsibility, but also a moral and ethical duty to undertake a greater leadership role in bringing about a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

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