Ilankai Tamil Sangam

25th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Is There No End to This Madness?

by Ellyn Shander, MD

The tragedy and horror of Black July is that it continues to be the reality day after day for so many Tamils in the North East, since 1948 when the British left and abandoned the Tamils to the Singhalese majority.  For the last 60 years Tamils have continued and continue today to be  burned, raped, kidnapped,  murdered, bombed,  marginalized, denyed medical care, given substandard education. and hunted down by premeditated murderers...

The government still  refuses to open the highway that supplies food and medicine to the North. More than 500,000 civilians are still being held hostage there. This is irresponsible, inhuman and illegal. Article 55 and 56 of the Geneva Convention states that an occupying power (the SL Army) has the duty of ensuring adequate food and medical supplies while protecting the area under its occupation.

Address by Dr. Ellyn Shander at the 25th year memorial of Black July event held at  the Scarborough Town Centre Stadium in Toronto on July 25, 2008.

Dr. Shander is  a psychiatrist and practices in Connecticut. USA. She recently received the prestigious Psychiatrists & Mental Health Association award for her work with the victims of the 2004 tsunami  in the NorthEast of Sri Lanka.   

“VANA KAM                                                                       

First, I want to say how honored I am to speak at this memorial event. The organizers of this event have brought together all of us, who have the power to change the present anguish and despair in Sri Lanka! I dedicate this speech

-to all those who have died in the senseless violence since 1948,

- to all the Tamil victims of targeted persecution and murder,

-to all the brave heroes that have fallen in the struggle for equality    AND

- to all  the Tamils in Sri Lanka, who can't be here today and are suffering now in unbearable circumstances.

Let us pray for the restoration of  hope, peace and dignity to all people who live in Sri Lanka.

The tragedy and horror of Black July is that it continues to be the reality day after day for so many Tamils in the North East, since 1948 when the British left and abandoned the Tamils to the Singhalese majority.  For the last 60 years Tamils have continued and continue today to be  burned, raped, kidnapped,  murdered, bombed,  marginalized, denyed medical care, given substandard education. and hunted down by premeditated murderers.

AND NO ONE HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO JUSTICE!!

The world has turned a blind eye…Now is the time that we must make the world listen and finally stop this madness!!!

On this day of mourning for all the victims of Black July and the other atrocities. I hope that you will allow me to speak on the present situation in Sri Lanka….. to share with you the daily horrors that continue to fuel my passion and my determination to help change the course of history for the Tamil people. A future that will NEVER have another Black July!

I am an American doctor who went to Sri Lanka for the first time, volunteering my services in the North, 6 weeks after the tsunami. I returned 6 months later for a follow up visit.

All of us remember the devastation of the tsunami, villages flattened, whole families swallowed up, and lives shattered. For a brief moment in time, the world’s attention illuminated Sri Lanka, a country that had gone unnoticed on the world stage.

The genocide of Tamils had been hidden from international view by a government that manipulates the international media with  propaganda. With a national disaster of unprecedented magnitude, devastating much of the North and East, the Sri Lankan government had the opportunity to build bridges with the Tamil people, in their hour of need. There was a ceasefire in place!!

In the face of this horrific tragedy, one expected compassion from the govt.. but instead what happened was shocking! The Sinhala government did little to help and in addition obstructed international aid from going to the North and East; which sustained 70% of the damage.

I traveled the road from Kilinochchi, through Elephant Pass up through the fishing villages that dot the shore. I met the most beautiful people. And an extraordinary thing happened to me. I fell in Love. I fell in Love with the people, their courage, their strength and their willingness to invite me into their homes and share their grief. I helped the families make sense of the incomprehensible; I treated the children, and met teachers, fishermen, moms, dads,  People just like us, trying to hold their families together in extraordinary circumstances. I took their pictures home with me… and left a piece of my heart there, in a small fishing village on the North East coast. 

When the civil war broke out again, I was sad,  But when the government closed the A-9 highway in August 2006 I was devastated! I have only outrage for the madness that has been stalking the north and east since then!!

You see for me this crisis IS personal. The Tamils who are being bombed, killed, abducted, tortured, starved and denied medical care are family to me. Their pictures are in my home, and I will NOT stop fighting for peace and justice for them. As Americans, Canadians  and Sri Lankans we are joined in our humanity!

Today NGO’s are denied access to the North and East by a stalled government process. One week ago ( July 17, 2008) the GOSL introduced new restrictions for UN and NGO workers entering the country. In response to criticism of the government by the UN and human rights organizations, the GOSL has responded by limiting visas and pressuring these “neutral organizations” to fill their positions with Sri Lankan citizens who speak the government position.  Now, we all know that means Tamils need not apply!!

Where is the justice for the 43 aid workers killed and many more missing?

John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary General for  Humanitarian Affairs, stated that “ SL is one of the most dangerous places for aid workers...”

The government still  refuses to open the highway that supplies food and medicine to the North. More than 500,000 civilians are still being held hostage there. This is irresponsible, inhuman and illegal. Article 55 and 56 of the Geneva Convention states that an occupying power (the SL Army) has the duty of ensuring adequate food and medical supplies while protecting the area under its occupation.

Conditions in Jaffna are getting worse by the week. Shelling by government troops continues to rain on civilian areas. Last November,  eleven schoolchildren were killed when their bus hit a mine, laid by the military, 25 km west of Kilinochchi. Recently, a doctor from Jaffna told us that the roadblocks force ambulances carrying deathly ill people to stop so many times that it takes more than 2 hours to go 12 miles.The patient is often dead on arrival at the hospital. If you are sick in the middle of the night, you must wait for the buses to run in the morning and it might take a half a day to reach the hospital.  If the hospitals are closed and have limited medicines and few doctors, how does a maimed or burned child get help??

I ask myself what is this madness?

When I visited the North, the kids would follow us in a trail from one tent to the other, practicing 'Hi,' and then running away to shyly hide. They played in the schoolyard with our games and laughed with us. They cried when we left. Where are those children now?

In a recent report a journalist commented on how only women and children were crossing the checkpoints.  He pointed out how odd the scarcity of young boys and men were. Where are they? Where are the brightest and best of the Tamil youth? Hiding, avoiding kidnapping. Fighting in the LTTE, trying to protect their families from GOSL troops and the paramilitary thugs…or have they just “disappeared?” Sri Lanka has the highest incidence of involuntary ‘disappearances’ in the world in 2006 and 2007.

I ask the govt of SL what is this madness?

Tamils are being forced to return to areas that have NOT had mine clearance. Adults and children are being blown up.. They are forced from one camp to the next as the fighting spreads; they have no income and have to depend on food handouts from aid agencies. Industrious and hard working people are being reduced to begging, their self respect destroyed.

Last week ( July 19, 2008) the displaced families from the northern Mannaar district fled their villages after artillery and mortar barrage from the SL army. I have seen their pictures... mothers and children sitting under trees, being drenched with rain, scorched by sun. and no shelter being provided by their own government.

I ask the international community, what is this madness?

Refugees are living in a pathetic situation. A recent report stated living conditions in most camps were cramped, and sanitation facilities were dismal. Some camps have an irregular supply of food, leading to deteriorating health conditions among inmates, especially children, and pregnant and lactating mothers…the most vulnerable in the community

I ask the United Nations, what is this madness?

International agencies are reporting rampant malnutrition in the North and the East. The medical repercussions will be felt for generations. Most fishermen are denied access to the sea. Some… get permits before they are allowed to fish,  a few hundred meters from the shore. Prohibiting deep sea fishing prevents them from adding to the food supply. The price of fish has skyrocketed. Some of the best agricultural areas in the peninsula have been declared to be “High Security Zones” inaccessible to civilians.  This is not security, this is starvation!!

I ask the humanitarian organizations of this world, what is this madness?

Last year the SL Army launched heavy, sustained rocket fire on the Pulliankulam Hospital in Vavuniya. 2 shells exploded right inside the hospital. That hospital used to serve the needs of 15,000 people. Schools are being bombed with jets: we all remember with sorrow the bombing massacre of 61 innocent girls attending a health class at the  Villipunam Senchcholai Complex.  They were 61 jewels in the crown of beauty called the Tamil people.

I ask God, what is this madness?

What government kills and tortures its own civilians?

The government of Sudan, the former government of Saddam Hussein, the government of Burma, to name a few - and the government of Sri Lanka. The Tamils are citizens of Sri Lanka.

I ask the governments of the civilized world, what is this madness??

The war is reported as a fact sheet of military conquests. Very little is said about the real victims of this war. The Tamils who are dying in the thousands and the more than half million Tamils who have been displaced,. The international news is selective and the anguish in the Tamil community is rarely reported.  And when it is noted in the news, nothing is done.  The Tamils have been dehumanized.

I ask the international news media, what is this madness?

From the continued warfare, the family and cultural ties are broken.  Elders and community leaders have been treated by the authorities with contempt. The children no longer respect or listen to their elders. And the elders are traumatized and can no longer be effective in their relationships and parenting skills. The entire family structure is being destroyed.

It is a systematic breaking apart of the culture with collective trauma like the Chinese have done in Tibet.

A psychiatrist at the Jaffna Hospital stated that the increasing helplessness and uncertainty is damaging an entire generation. This is cultural genocide.

Is anyone going to pay attention to the madness of extinguishing an entire people?

Children cannot go to school, medical students in Jaffna - the future pride of the Tamil people - cannot finish their studies, and the youth are being kidnapped and torn from their families. Prior to the conflict, 40% of the medical and engineering undergraduates came from Jaffna schools. In 2006, 10,201 students dropped out of Jaffna schools because of fears of kidnapping, bombed schools, lack of transportation, or having to work to keep the family alive. I watched a principal of a school in the Vanni area cry after his newly opened school had just been bombed to the ground, books and equipment destroyed. In Kilinochchi, a report from last week (July 17. 2008) reported that the schools are absorbing the displaced students from surrounding areas. With so many extra students, one school’s well dried up causing an acute shortage of water. Students do not have adequate toilet facilities…

Is there no end to this madness?

And just when I thought I couldn’t have my heart broken anymore, I read that the doctors in Jaffna, many of whom I met, are being threatened with death, or abduction of their children if they take care of patients. So who will take care of the sick and wounded?

Now I ask YOU, what is this madness??

You know --

The opposite of this madness is a dream that I have.

Martin Luther King, a great American, shared his dream with us.

America and Canada are places of dreams.

Today I want to share mine with you!!

I have a dream that every Tamil can feel the breeze on their cheeks without worrying about being killed.

I have a dream that every Tamil can look up at the sky and check the weather without checking to see if their government is raining bombs on them today.

I have a dream that every pregnant Tamil will have access to a hospital and only be concerned if she is having a boy or girl and NOT whether a SL Army shell will take her life and her newborns'.

I have a dream that every Tamil child can laugh and go to school in freedom and not worry that her family will be dead when she returns home or to the refugee camp.

I have a dream that the fishermen I met can go out on their boats again and bring home their catches, and not worry about being tortured and kidnapped.

I have a dream that no Tamil person will ever have to be on rations, or be without doctors or medicines.

I have a dream of Tamil weddings, birthdays, and festivities in a peaceful self governed state called Tamil Elam.

Land does not belong to people!!

It is people that belong to land.

The Tamils belong to their land.

I have a dream that the Rajapaksa gang of four are brought up on charges of crimes against humanity. And I have a further dream that they will be convicted for genocide against the Tamil people!!

Let us work towards Justice and Freedom for every human being in Sri Lanka. Denying the right to self determination is a violation of human rights! The Tamil struggle must not be crushed by military might.

On November 29th, 2007 the former Canadian Premier of Ontario at the inaugural meeting of Canadians for peace stated, “There is no military solution to this problem.. the ball is in the court of the GOSL..  We are waiting for you to tell us what is your plan to recognize human rights. What is the plan to recognize the collective rights of the ( Tamil) people.  We’ve been waiting and we are still waiting.

We are still waiting because such a plan has not been forthcoming.”

I have a dream that the whole United States government stands up behind Vermont Sen. Leahey’s recent powerful statement requiring the Sri Lankan government to end human rights abuses and agree to an international human rights presence, under the auspices of the United Nations for an end to this madness!!

I have a dream that the Tamil-sponsored rally in Washington DC yesterday protesting China’s unconditional financial support of this fascist military regime of Sri Lanka will be heard around the world and force China to stop their funding of genocide!!

China shame on you!!

I have a dream that a Tamil woman, will be the next UN human rights commissioner. In fact , this dream came true last week, when the daughter of a Tamil bus driver in Durban , South Africa,  Navanethem Pillay, a lawyer, trained at Harvard, was named for this powerful post.  Let us hope and pray that she can stop the humanitarian abuses of the Tamil people.!!

Today, I ask the Sri Lankan government a question...

If you don’t want to treat the Tamils equally, fairly, or humanely

Then what is wrong with a 2 state solution?

TWO STATES IN PEACE are BETTER THAN ONE STATE IN WAR!! With that in mind ..

I have a dream that Brigadier  Thamil-Chelvan, who was assassinated, will still get his hope. He wanted a repeal of the Sixth Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution. This amendment bans peaceful promotion of a separate state through democratic means. When a person like Thamil Chelvan dies, it is not good for the world. We have lost a voice of reason!!!

We must all work to stop the persecution of the Tamils!!!

WE MUST DEMAND A UNITED NATIONS  MONITORING PRESENCE IN SRI LANKA TO STOP THE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES,

AND NUMBER 2 -- WE MUST DEMAND A FREE TAMIL ELAM!!!!!

If every person in the Tamil Diaspora wrote a letter to their congressman, or government representative, we would effect change!!

If every person in the Tamil Diaspora would boycott products from Sri Lanka we would effect change!

If every person in the Tamil Diaspora wrote letters to their local newspapers about the conditions back home, it would effect change.

Every one of us can make a difference.

Tamils in Sri Lanka work hard, only to be crushed again and again. Life for them is Black July everyday.

Sometimes in life we get the rare opportunity to fight for integrity, and truth, and we are forced to go outside, really outside, our comfort zone. That is when it is a privilege to do service for a people and a cause.

We have been given this privilege.

We must demand that the Sri Lankan government stop the genocide…..AND

Let us call today for an independent state for the Tamils before it is too late,

BEFORE there are no more Tamils left in Sri Lanka.

TODAY, let us truly honor those who have been murdered with

our voices ever louder and

our efforts ever greater.

Saying in unison !!!

NO more genocide!

We must stop the madness!!

Peace NOW for A FREE Tamil Elam!!!!!

Thank you.”

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