by ‘Tamil Guardian,’ London, January 31 and February 1, 2014
(Conference held January 31 and February 1 at British House of Commons and University College London)
Pictures at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.675928429136367&type=3&l=0d6e7c22a2
The first day of an international conference on the Sri Lankan state’s forcible and militarised procurement of Tamil land, saw a number of speakers calling for an international mechanism to halt land-grabs.
Various international delegates, including from the Northeast, expressed serious concern about attacks on the Tamil homeland, with many affirming that ongoing genocide against the Tamil nation is taking place in Sri Lanka.
The conference, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils alongside the British Tamils Forum, was inaugurated on Friday in the Houses of Parliament and is set to continue over the weekend.
Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh opened the conference, followed by Conservative MP Lee Scott who spoke of the importance of justice and also pointed out that Sri Lankan regimes “have tried to take land and change the demography” of the Tamil homeland.
Medha Patkar, a social activist representing National Alliance of People’s Movements India (NAPM India) highlighted that the colonisation taking place in “every nook and corner of Tamil land” constituted a “continued wave of genocidal attacks” and further said:
“Sri Lanka is erecting statues not to bring in diversity and religious diversity, but to impose a new culture.”
Anuradha Mittal, Founder and Director of US think-tank Oakland Institute said that the “international community has watched and fueled conflict”.
Ravi, general secretary of the British Tamils Forum, while inviting Medha Patkar to officially inaugurate the conference, reaffirmed the nationhood of Tamils in the Northeast.
TNA MP Mavai Senathirajah describing the situation in the homeland said:
“Successive governments’ idea is to initially destroy the identity of the Tamil nation. Their agenda is to destroy the continuity of the Tamil areas of the North-East – the homeland of the Tamils”
“Tamils have a will to establish their own rule in their homeland.”
“Sri Lanka says they have settled all Tamils in their own areas… this is an utter lie.”
Senathirajah also pointed out that the “military is the single most defining presence in the North-East” and made a plea to the international community to support the Tamil struggle for self-determination in their homeland.
Deputy Chief Minister for the Malaysian state of Penang, Professor Ramasamy, wrote off Sri Lanka’s claims of reconciliation as “humbug” and spoke of the “cultural genocide” of the Tamil homeland, saying:
“Diluting the Tamil population… removes the fundamental principle of the Tamil struggle for a separate nation or self determination.”
Professor Ramasamy also commented on the lack of protection for the Tamil nation and said:
“As long as there was the LTTE, whether you like them or not, it was a shield for Tamils.”
Professor Oren Yiftachel of the Ben Gurion University, Israel, said of Sri Lanka’s treatment of Tamils:
“It is a tyranny of the majority.. under the guise of majoritarianism they can pass almost any law,”
“The Sri Lankan state has been very famous for manipulating boundaries of provinces in order to enshrine majority rule,”
“Asking Tamils to re-register land is a typical neo-colonial policy seen in other countries… objectionable and undemocratic,”
TNA MP for Jaffna, Suresh Premachandran, asserted:
“The agenda is to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala Buddhist state. Whether it is SLFP or UNP, that is their agenda,”
“Tamils are a minority in the Eastern Province and they are trying to do the same thing in the North,”
“This is part of a genocide. Not only the physical elimination of hundreds of thousands of people, but now land is being taken,”
“People are now running onto boats to Australia and other places, they can’t stay there, they have no livelihood,”
Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Professor Jake Lynch, said:
“President Rajapaksa has faced serious and well attested allegations of being the worst mass murderer of the 21st century,”
“Wikileaks and coordinates of shelling shows Sri Lankan army was responsible for civilian deaths,”
Professor Lynch also commented on Australia’s attitude towards Sri Lanka saying:
“Tony Abbott has been excusing torture and becoming an apologist for the Rajapaksa regime.”
Kumarasinghe Ranath, Internal Secretary of the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) told the conference that the Sri Lankan government had been “bringing Sinhalese from south… and penetrated central and eastern villages.”
Sivananthan Sritharan, TNA MP for Vanni, speaking after P Ariyanenthiran, TNA MP for Batticaloa, detailed statistics of land grabbed from Tamil civilians. Further statistics were later provided by K Nageswaran, a TNA member of the Eastern Provincial Council.
Denis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary-General, who was part of the People’s Tribunal that found Sri Lanka guilty of genocide said,
“In Geneva… we need a resolution that will tackle the issue of genocide and land grabs in Tamil Eelam.”
The Opposition leader of the Eastern Provincial Council, S. Thandayuthapani, said that the end of the war was “gloriously celebrated” in the South. Thandayuthapani spoke of the longstanding history of Sinhala colonisation, under the “guise of archaeology, forest protection etc” and said that:
“Buddhist organisations are keen on building Buddha statues in areas with zero Buddhists.”
Mr A Edward, a retired Deputy Land Commissioner in Sri Lanka spoke of the proliferation of army camps in the Northeast, and the detrimental effect of militarisation on Tamil livelihoods, and in particular fishing.
Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, President of TNPF, addressed the conference saying:
“There is already an international narrative… As a Tamil that narrative falls short,”
“The conflict first arose due to the issue of land… The Tamil struggle arose as a reaction to this,”
“With the defeat of the LTTE the original agenda of the Sri Lankan government goes unabated,”
“The highest suicide rate in Jaffna is amongst traders. They cannot pay back loans they have taken and are forced into suicide,”
Ponnambalam called the PPT verdict a “game-changer” since “for the first time not only was genocide recognised, but recognition that genocidal process is ongoing.” He maintained that after the PPT verdict, there would be no justification to overlook genocide in any UN Human Rights Council resolution.
Ponnambalam also said that using current Sri Lankan state structures such as the 13th amendment would “wrong and dangerous” since they “give the Sri Lankan state more time and space to complete land grabs and the ultimate genocidal process,” and spoke of the need for an international mechanism to stop land grabs.
The first day of the conference concluded with a preview of “This Land Belongs to the Army”, a documentary by Tamil Nadu journalist Maha Thamizh Prabhagaran, who was arrested by Sri Lankan security forces and deported from the island last year.
The second day of the international conference on the Sri Lankan state’s forcible and militarised procurement of Tamil lands in the Northeast took place in London on Saturday.
The conference, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils alongside British Tamils Forum, opened with a screening of ‘This Land Belongs to the Army’, a documentary by Tamil Nadu journalist Tamizh Prabhagaran, who was arrested and deported from the island last year. The documentary focused on the extent of militarisation in the Northeast.
Professor Oren Yiftachel of the Ben Gurion University, Israel, delivered a talk examining ethnocracies, saying that they “might have elections and citizenship on paper… but below this facade it is about the expansion of one ethnic group”.
In a panel discussion, Dr Shapan Adnan from Singapore University, pointed out that “army of archaeologists were released [into the Northeast] after war ended, “rediscovering” religious sites” which espoused a “state sponsored rewriting of history”. Dr David Rampton, a fellow of the London School of Economics, asserted that“the international community is only now beginning to comprehend it was Sinhala nationalism that created the dynamic for many of [the island’s] problems”. Dr Jochen Hippler from University of Duisburg-Essen argued that oppression is a useful tool in Sri Lanka’s nation-building project. On the question of genocide, Hippler stated that“Sri Lanka is trying to turn Tamils from a nation into a minority.”
In a talk entitled “President Rajapaksa – biggest mass murderer of the 21st century?” Professor Jake Lynch from the University of Sydney reiterated that the TNA’s landslide victory in the Northern provincial elections was “very clear evidence of Tamil aspirations for self-determination”.
In a second panel discussion, Mr K Kurunathan, a retired land commissioner in Sri Lanka, detailed the renaming of Tamil villages into Sinhalese by Sri Lanka, and the seizing of Tamil lands sometimes under the premises of preserving wildlife sanctuaries.
President of TNPF, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, pointed out that building military camps do not benefit the local population of the Northeast, and so acquisition of private lands served no “public purpose”. Ponnambalam asserted that that the Sri Lankan constitution and legal system completed the Sinhala Buddhist nature of the Sri Lankan state and said:
“There is a clear state transformational process of establishing a Sinhala Buddhist ethnocracy,”
“The only barrier to that process was armed struggle of the LTTE… Now the process is unabated,”
“In the eyes of the Tamil people the laws itself are the cause of oppression.”
Ponnambalam also contested Professor Ramasamy, Deputy Chief Minister for the Malaysian state of Penang, who earlier advocated regime change, highlighting that the opposition were seen as weak for entering the ceasefire agreement, and that a regime’s victory in Sri Lanka was a determined by its Sinhala ethnocratic credentials.
He also emphasised the Tamil protests during David Cameron’s visit to Jaffna, which showed that the Tamil “people are willing to take risks despite oppression” and “willing to take action” but were in need of “leadership”.
Anuradha Mittal of think-tank, Oakland Institute, led the final session of the day detailing that effective campaigns have been started against companies that do business in Sri Lanka.
Former UN Assistant Secretary-General, Denis Halliday built on his earlier discussion of genocide and explained that it is a “process, a strategy and a government policy” and also discussed the many genocidal processes enacted upon Tamils by Sri Lanka. Halliday also pointed out that the “LTTE was not given the chance to show their capabilities and leadership”.
TNA MP Suresh Premachandran describing the strong sentiment among the Sinhala polity that the island belongs to Sinhala Buddhists, implored the European Union to lay down preconditions before giving any sort of assistance to Sri Lanka.
In a video recording, Jaffna University Lecturer and civil society activist Kumaravadivel Guruparan explained that the Sri Lankan state “wants to redesign and reclaim the Northeast, to make it part of its Sinhala Buddhist state” and also said:
“The narrative of a potential liberal space in Sri Lanka denies the constitutional reality of the Sinhala-Buddhist state,”
“Tamils have spent all these years trying to show attempts within the Sri Lankan state have been truly exhausted”.
Miriam Rose from Foil Vedanta spoke on sea grabs and explained that restricting access to areas of the sea were detrimental to livelihoods.
Suresh Premachandran MP, addressing a question from the audience on the TNA’s stance on genocide, said:
“I think TNA has a clear view. Me, Sampanthan and Sumanthiran have all spoke in parliament and said there is genocide.”
The conference was concluded by Dennis Halliday stating “this is a genocide. This is an ongoing genocide.”