Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lanka Has Failed to Protect All of its Citizens

by Manjula Selvarajah, Op-Ed, The National Post, Canada, April 23, 2008

It is the role of a government to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of its citizens; it is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to live up to these responsibilities. We applaud the efforts of the National Post and the Canadian media as a whole in criticizing rogue regimes around the world. When will the media start holding the Sri Lankan government accountable for its actions in this conflict?

In the editorial Taking On The Tamil Tigers (April 15), the National Post praised the Canadian government for taking a tough position on the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). Unfortunately, while focusing solely on the actions of the LTTE, general news coverage of the conflict has neglected the recent and historical atrocities that the Sri Lankan government has committed against the minority Tamil population.

Media reports often correctly state that the civil war in Sri Lanka has resulted in over 70,000 civilian deaths. However the one-sided coverage leads readers to falsely believe that it is the LTTE who are responsible for these deaths, which is simply untrue.

Thankfully, international organizations have stepped in to voice their concerns. Human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and donors such as the U.S. and the European Union have heavily criticized the Sri Lankan government. In a March 2008 report on Sri Lanka, Humans Rights Watch, a New York based group, stated that "the Sri Lanka government is responsible for widespread abductions and disappearances that are a national crisis."

Most recently, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), an international and Canadian-funded group, to which Canada appointed Professor Bruce Matthews, stated in its concluding report that the Sri Lankan government showed a "lack of political will to support a search for the truth" and investigate serious instances of human rights abuses. One of these cases was the 2006 murder of 17 local Tamil humanitarian workers employed by the French based Action for Hunger (ACF), an attack that human rights groups claim was perpetrated by state security forces and one that ACF has referred to as a war crime.

Perhaps a better understanding of the conflict in Sri Lanka could be achieved if readers knew the history of the conflict and past attempts by the Tamil minority to achieve political and non-violent solutions. In the 1950s, after being subject to years of discriminatory programs from disenfranchisement to unfavourable language laws, the Sri Lankan Tamils appealed for a federal system, creating provinces such as those that exist in Canada. That idea was rejected. Some Tamils responded by forming armed groups, such as the LTTE while others continued to advocate peacefully for increased political autonomy.

The anti-Tamil pogroms still continue today and political killings and disappearances have increased. In the past four months alone, two Tamil parliamentarians were assassinated. Earlier in April, the All India Catholic Union condemned the Sri Lankan Army for their shelling of the 400-year-old Madhu shrine, a sacred site for Tamil Catholics.

In July 2008, the global Tamil diaspora will mourn the 25th anniversary of Black July, an infamous 1983 Sri Lankan state-sponsored attack that killed hundreds of Sri Lankan Tamil civilians over a few days. In that same month, the Canadian Tamil community will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of their acceptance and integration into this kind country.

Many members of the Tamil community in Canada endured the killing of family members, harassment and the loss of home and livelihood in Sri Lanka -- and they worry about the well-being of loved ones left behind. Where are the media reports on their continued suffering?

It is the role of a government to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of its citizens; it is clear that the Sri Lankan government has failed to live up to these responsibilities. We applaud the efforts of the National Post and the Canadian media as a whole in criticizing rogue regimes around the world. When will the media start holding the Sri Lankan government accountable for its actions in this conflict?

-Manjula Selvarajah is a member of the Canadian Tamil Congress.