Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

War Crimes for Wickets

by Dave Pan, July 19, 2011

Disturbingly, we play cricket with [Sri Lanka]. Zimbabwe never traded anything of value with Australia. Yet, as notorious as the actions of Mugabe against his own people are, they pale into insignificance alongside the sheer bloody slaughter of Sri Lanka's current President and his cronies. Yet Zimbabwe is off our list of cricket opponents. Given that Australia's politicians appear mute and blind to all this, perhaps our cricketers and our public need to step in? We want to cheer our cricketers too, but on green grass, not on the "killing fields of Sri Lanka".

By April 18th 2009, we had already been on a hunger strike for four days,
no food or drink having passed our severely parched lips. We slumped into
wheelchairs, and were pushed towards the Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade in Canberra. The previous four days had made our bodies weak.
Eyesight occasionally shifted in and out of focus, our minds and thoughts
often becoming erratic. Our skin had never felt so burned by the sharp
Australian sun.

Over 9,000 protesters were marching behind us and chanting loudly,
condemning the slaughter of thousands of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan
Armed Forces. They were yelling desperately for an immediate ceasefire to
the conflict the Sri Lankan State had embarked upon, and in support the
establishment of an independent Tamil Homeland, the only thing that could
stop such violence recurring in the future.

Our protest generated an unprecedented amount of media coverage in
Australia as representatives from the nation’s major newspaper and
commercial broadcast outlets descended upon the event to publicise the
outcry of grief and emotion by the Tamil Diaspora in Australia.

Our wheelchairs had reached the entrance of the DFAT building. We were
here because we hunger strikers and our aides had been invited by DFAT
officials to meet with one of the senior officers from the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. As we entered the office, our relatives, friends and
fellow protestors looked on towards us like their own children, given our –
dedication to non – violent protest.

Assistant Secretary Mr David Holly introduced himself and cordially
chatted with us about our condition, and his smooth diplomatic manner drew
out our desperation and sadness. We expressed our horror at the sheer
cruelty of the Sri Lankan government's war, which was reaching its zenith
at that time, and we handed Mr. Holly a memorandum which we hoped would
pressurize the Sri Lankan government to:

1. enter an immediate and permanent ceasefire

2. immediately allow food, medicine and aid into the conflict zone;

3. allow vital services, including medical services into the conflict zone;

4. allow the Tamil people, both in the conflict zone and those
indefinitely detained in concentration camps in government-held areas, to
decide independently where they wish to reside.

Most specifically, and tellingly, we stated to DFAT in this meeting
that “There would be no point attempting to bring the current Sri Lankan
government and its leaders before the War Crimes Tribunal ten years later
in the name of the justice. You have to act now to exert maximum global
pressure to halt the civilian causalities and bring the situation under
the control and monitoring of the international community, as we Tamils
have no hope of ever receiving justice from the war-mongering Sri Lankan
government”

Assistant Secretary Holley response to our requests was simply that "the
Minister of Foreign Affairs was not available in Australia, at that time,
and our communities' concerns would certainly be passed on to the Minister on his return."

Given the Assistant Secretary's reluctance to accept our genuine concerns
at least on moral grounds, I felt like I was back in Sri Lanka, where
the politicians regularly addressed Tamil grievances as "currently being
looked into". As much as it pains me to say it, I couldn’t distinguish
much difference in the responses of Mr.David Holly.

That was the extent of the meeting. All these things happened, and one
month later, the civil war came to the end in Sri Lanka. For the two years
prior, all international parties, including the government of Australia,
attempted to “band aid the fracture” by providing the Sri Lankan regime
anything it demanded. Sri Lanka fed off this piece-meal appeasement, and
continued on its brutal way.

In many ways, the government of Australia went one step beyond all other
countries and recognized Sri Lanka’s ex-navy commander as the new
Ambassador to Australia, who had been directly responsible for deliberate
attacks on IC Red Cross humanitarian ships in the last phase of the war.
This was confirmed by a UN report authorized by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released months ago. And yet despite the seriousness of this man's
alleged war crimes, he enjoys diplomatic immunity here because of the
deliberate turning of a blind eye by the Australian government.

I did not narrate this simply to prove that our meeting with David Holley
was prophetic, and that in that final month of the war, we hunger-strikers
somehow had better military intelligence than DFAT, and had proved the
Australian government's faith in the Sri Lankan regime wrong. The Sri
Lankan government has been deceptive and belligerent towards all western
governments since the end of the war, refusing all international calls for
an independent inquiry.

Has Australia inadvertently supported one of the greatest war crimes ever
committed? Sri Lanka, a third-world nation, which lives on international
aid and IMF loans, now appears to dictate terms to Australia and its
neighbors, displaying complete disregard for the values of human rights
as set out in the UN charter.

Australia allows Sri Lankan military men under UN suspicion for rape,
torture, murder and attacks on Red Cross ships and UN hospitals into our
country as ambassadors.

Australia continues to allow trade with Sri Lanka in items such as tea,
which our government knows perfectly well is plucked and packed by Tamils
forced to live on less than a dollar a day, with little or no political or
human rights.

Disturbingly, we play cricket with them. Zimbabwe never traded anything
of value with Australia. As notorious as the actions of Mugabe against his
own people are, they pale into insignificance alongside the sheer bloody
slaughter of Sri Lanka's current President and his cronies. Yet Zimbabwe
is off our list of cricket opponents. Given that Australia's politicians
appear mute and blind to all this, perhaps our cricketers and our public
need to step in? We want to cheer our cricketers too, but on green grass,
not on the "killing fields of Sri Lanka".