Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Protection of Civilians

by Visvanathan Rudrakumaran, September 24, 2008

The glaring and inhuman disparity of the Sinhala government’s response in 1971 and the present and the disproportionate use of force by the GOSL clearly manifest the intent of the Sinhala government to destroy the Tamils in whole or in part.

Speech given at UN rally by Eelam Tamils on September 24, 2008

V. Rudrakumar Rudrakumaran speaking at UN rally September 24, 2008
Rudrakumar speaking at rally. Photo: TamilNet

Today, more than 200,000 Tamil civilians have been rendered Internally Displaced People by the Sri Lankan government, which is permanently and overwhelmingly dominated by the Sinhalese; Tamil civilians have been subjected to indiscriminate aerial bombing and shelling by the Sri Lankan armed forces - 99% Sinhalese - killing innumerable Tamil civilians, not to mention serious bodily and mental harm, along with the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and civic institutions of the Tamils, and institutions built by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an authentic representative of the Tamils during the peace process. Presently, more than 300,000 Tamil civilians have been denied relief by the Sinhala-dominated government. International NGO’s, which have been providing relief to those in need, have been ordered by the Sinhala government to vacate the Tamil areas in which active conflict is occurring; thereby denying food, shelter, medicine and other essentials to innumerable innocents. This is a calculated effort to bring about the Tamils’ physical destruction in whole or in part, a genocidal act.

At this juncture, the GOSL’s action should be compared with its response when the Sinhala youths took up arms in 1971. When the Sinhalese took up arms, the Sinhala armed forces did not engage in indiscriminate aerial bombing or random shelling. When the Sinhala youths took up arms, the government of Sri Lanka did not order the Sinhala civilians to vacate their villages. When the Sinhala youths took up arms, the Sinhala armed forces did not use food and medicine as weapons of war. When the Sinhala youths took up arms, the Sinhala armed forces did not destroy the civic institutions of the South.

The glaring and inhuman disparity of the Sinhala government’s response in 1971 and the present and the disproportionate use of force by the GOSL clearly manifest the intent of the Sinhala government to destroy the Tamils in whole or in part.

The humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding before the passive eyes of the international community; the systematic and pervasive human rights and humanitarian violations and the widespread deprivation of internationally recognized human rights take precedence over the concept of sovereignty. As former Australian Foreign Minister Honorable Gareth Evans aptly stated, sovereignty does not give ‘license to kill.’ Sovereign right is not tantamount to the right to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity with impunity. In the words of Gareth Evans, “there is something fundamentally and intolerably wrong about state murdering or forcibly displacing a large number of their own citizens.”

Tamils do not consider the GOSL as the sovereign power vis-à-vis them. Through its cruelties, through its persecution, the GOSL has forfeited whatever semblance of sovereignty it claims over the Tamils.

I paraphrase Luis Montero-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, to say that the GOSL’s intent is genocidal and its alibi counterterrorism.

Thus, the GOSL cannot justify its war crimes and crimes against humanity as a “war on terror” and cannot keep the international community at bay. The international community, starting from the Genocide Convention and moving recently to the emerging concept of Responsibility to Protect, has a legal and moral obligation to stop the GOSL from committing atrocities against the Tamil people.

It is pointed out that two years ago Gareth Evans rightfully feared the GOSL’s military adventurism in the Tamil Homeland inhabited by more than 500,000 Tamils. Unfortunately, however, that early warning did not trigger any preventive action by the international community. Political expediency on the part of the international community has taken the place of moral fortitude and protection of the persecuted.

The inhumanitarian inaction of the international community reinforces the Tamil belief that only a balance of power, a power equilibrium, will guarantee self-preservation. The silence of the international community reinforces the Tamil belief that only coercive diplomacy will guarantee their right to life.

Empty statements and mild action by the international community have been rebuffed by the GOSL. The GOSL’s demand for the evacuation of INGO’s from the conflict zone is the latest manifestation of the GOSL’s aggression.

In the words of UNHCR, “access to humanitarian agencies to those in need and access of internally displaced persons is a fundamental principle.” The UN agencies’ withdrawal runs counter to the 1987 December General Assembly resolution that “the abandonment of the victims of emergency situations without humanitarian assistance constitutes threat to human life and an offense to human dignity.” In 1990, the General Assembly again affirmed the importance of humanitarian assistance and access, and endorsed the establishment of humanitarian corridors to provide assistance to persons in need. Security Council Resolution 688, passed in 1991, demanded that the government of Iraq allow immediate access to humanitarian organizations under its umbrella. It should also be recalled that at the time, the fear of independence of Kurdistan and geopolitical considerations, initially prevented the international community from acting on the situation and treated the denial of humanitarian access as an internal affair. However, the public outcry compelled the international community to act upon it.

We understand that the presence of the UN in a state is conditioned upon the consent of the latter in the absence of Chapter VII Mandate.  We are also aware of the fact that the UN is not an autonomous actor.  However, it is a shame upon the part of the member states to allow the UN to be seen as caving in.  It undermines the credibility of the UN as a guardian of human rights.

We urge the UN to invoke its Chapter VII power, impose an arms embargo and a no-fly zone over the Tamil homeland, and establish relief corridors for humanitarian assistance. We are also mindful of the real politick at the Security Council. Given that, we urge the member states to take unilateral actions or action on an ad hoc coalition basis to realize the above goals.

We call upon the international community to stop the genocidal attack on the Tamils. We call upon the international community to condemn the GOSL for the employment of disproportionate use of force and flagrant disregard for humanitarian laws. We call upon the international community to take actions to create conditions conducive to resolve the conflict through the rule of law. We call upon the international community to put an end to impunity.