Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Embargo on Sri Lanka

by S. Sabesan, October 16, 2006

Consequently, the Tamil Diaspora must collectively adopt the same type of embargo against Sri Lanka as has been successfully imposed by the United Nations against certain other countries.

While loudly declaring its commitment to peace talks, in reality the Sri Lankan Government is hell bent on its undeclared war against the Tamils. To aggravate matters, there is an economic embargo against the Tamil areas, coupled with stringent travel restrictions. The government-enforced economic embargo, together with restrictions on health care facilities and provision of essential food items, is causing immense hardship to the Tamils. It is obvious that the intention of the Sri Lankan government is to break the Tamils' spirit and bring them to their knees.

Consequently, the Tamil Diaspora must collectively adopt the same type of embargo against Sri Lanka as has been successfully imposed by the United Nations against certain other countries.

Freezing of the assets of a welfare organisation like the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), which has provided commendable service to the displaced Tamils, is one prime example of the state’s intention to cripple the normal livelihood of the Tamils.

The present economic embargo by the state on the Tamils and the current medical and travel restrictions are not a new phenomenon. Tamils have been subjected to such discrimination for decades. Singhalese Buddhist chauvinism is all out to wipe out a whole community by subjugating the Tamils to all sorts of suffering and humiliation.

The Tamil Diaspora living in civilised quarters of the globe have an express duty to bring the atrocities of the Sri Lankan government to the attention of their respective governments, thereby urging these governments to act against the Sri Lankan government from imposing  such inhuman acts.

The aim of this article is to discuss ways and means the Tamil Diaspora can fight such injustices without breaching the law of the country in which they reside. It is imperative that foreign countries impose an economic embargo on Sri Lanka like the embargo imposed by Sri-Lankan government on its own minority Tamil citizens. All of us living in foreign soils have to take a unified effort to make this happen.

Before discussing future actions to achieve this, it is important to appreciate the impact of economic embargos and their effects.

We have witnessed the international community imposing economic embargos on other countries. This is often instigated for political or military reasons. These actions often result in hardship to the people of a county affected by the embargo. Even though these actions may have no direct impact on the ruling elite, it often results in immediate and direct hardship to its citizens. This will eventually result in these countries adopting an action acceptable to the international community. For this reason, an economic embargo on a recusant country is a punitive tactic by the international community to force that country to adher to internationally accepted norms, not to punish the people of that country.

The economic embargo imposed on the Tamil community by the Sri Lankan government is done for a different reason. The actions taken by the Sri-Lankan government is solely to annihilate the Tamil community. We should, therefore, influence the international community to impose economic sanctions on Sri Lanka. It should be appreciated that this course of action is to influence or compel the Sri Lankan government from doing things which are detrimental to the Tamil community. To illustrate this, we will discuss later in some detail the economic embargo adopted by Mahatma Gandhi to fight British imperialism.

If we look into the recent past, it was severe hardship and economic instability due to the impact of the war which made the Singhalese people vote for a government which would talk peace. With the advent of this temporary peace, the Singhalese enjoyed an excellent life style and tranquillity with no restrictions on their daily life, but the Tamil minority was not given that opportunity by the Sinhalese government. Peace and the new found tranquillity resulted in economic growth in the Singhalese areas and their natural instinct was then to elect a government to fight a war against Tamils and crush them into submission.

It is a sad sate of affair that the majority of Singhalese want to prolong the war against Tamils. The harsh reality is that the cycle of oppression against the Tamils continues. Tamils are subjected to intense hardship by economic embargo by the Government while on the other hand new developments are being undertaken in the Singhalese areas.

It is a reality that the taxes levied from the Singhalese get wasted due to the mismanagement of resources. Arms procurement is a lucrative business in Sri Lanka that cannot be questioned or challenged as it involves defence secrets.  Therefore, money provided by Singhalese taxpayers goes into the pockets of middle men and corrupt officials, while the chauvinistic Singhalese are kept happy with the futile war. The state propaganda machine, assisted by other media, works hard and the ignorant Singhalese people are made to feel proud by rumours of success in the impending ethnic war. No doubt the drain of wealth is hurting every Singhalese, but they are ignorant to believe in communalism while shrewd politicians and the communal press thrive with this lopsided propaganda to make the Singhalese to believe that an all- Singhalese, Buddhist nation is a reality.

It is true that the Singhalese people will be affected badly when an economic embargo is imposed on Sri Lanka. When the desire to wipe out a minority community is the burning desire of the Singhalese, they should face the consequences. It is unfortunate that people realise the ramifications of war only after a long time. The same is true in the Sri Lankan ethnic war. Singhalese people who prosper during peace time often unwittingly get involved in the war efforts of the government. This is their natural trait. Peace and prosperity often blind them from reality and make them to forget the past and the futility of war.

We say that economic embargo can bring pressure on the Singhalese. Such pressure can make its people realise reality and look for the cause of their trouble. Economic embargo on them will act as a catalyst to awaken the Singhalese people. It will induce right thinking and sensible approach from the government and will pave way for a sensible approach to the ethnic problem. Economic embargo on the country will make the economy decline and it will make the Singhalese nation feels the pinch due to their monetary burden. Prices of commodities will shoot up and scarcity of goods will increase. This will put pressure on the government to come to its senses and to act democratically.

One might argue that an economic embargo on Sri Lanka can affect all its inhabitants, which include the Tamils as well. As far as Tamils are concerned, they have been surviving under harsh conditions for decades and it is nothing new to them. Currently they are facing inexplicable hardship due to a travel, food and medical embargo by the Government. Any action to put economic pressure on the government will not further deteriorate the current plight of the Tamils as at present they hardly receive any assistance form the Sinhalese government. In short, the conditions of Tamils in Sri Lanka are appalling and hardly can get worse.

Therefore, an economic embargo on Sri Lanka is a tool to make the Singhalese realise their mistake. Such action will eventually bring prosperity to the country and its result will be beneficial to both the Singhalese and Tamils. History tells us that there were occasions when economic embargo has been used as a tool in other liberation struggles.

As mentioned earlier the economic embargo adopted by Mahatma Gandhi against the British is an ideal example to be considered in this context.

Mahatma Gandhi adopted several ways to apply pressure on British in the days of the Indian independence struggle. He urged his people not to buy British clothes and encouraged them to wear Indian clothes. “Why can’t we wear our own hand woven clothes? Why should our money go to Britain by buying their goods? ” argued Gandhi. Later, this action grew into a mammoth liberation struggle. Furthermore, Gandhi advocated many other ways to free India from British rule. For example, we can quote his protest march to Thandi against the British tax on salt. The protest turned into a civil disobedience of collecting salt. This was aimed at depriving the British of the taxes paid by Indians to the British Raj. A protest march which started with a few hundred people mobilised millions of Indians, and turned out to be a nationwide protest to paralyse the British government. In fact, Gandhi’s action had the effect of killing two birds with one stone. His action not only deprived the British of the taxes, but also unified all the Indians towards the freedom struggle.

There is an important point we should note here. Whether Ghandi’s actions were successful or not, Gandhi was successful in creating a mass movement of Indians, to create a huge wave of protest against the British Raj.

In this context the Tamil Diaspora is in a better position today than Mahatma Gandhi then.

Displaced Tamils living all over the world are in a better position to unleash an effective and efficient economic embargo against the government of Sri Lanka. Globalisation of the consumer market and the current economic trend in Sri Lanka is ideally suited for the Tamils to impose a successful boycott of Sri Lankan goods. Charity begins at home, they say. We Tamils should start our boycott by not buying Sri Lankan goods first. This will spread to people who are living around us and then to the country we live in.  It will be easy then to influence foreign governments to impose economic sanctions on Sri Lanka. This will be a small step in the right direction.

You may ask whether foreign governments will participate in such an embargo. Will countries put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to be impartial towards all its citizens? These are secondary matters. First and foremost, we have to unify in our efforts towards imposing an economic embargo on Sri Lanka. Then we need to propagate the idea to others in the countries we live in. This will eventually make the foreign governments follow the trend.

There is a Chinese story to illustrate the impact of mass movement. There is a mountain blocking two main roads and the geographic position is that a tunnel needs to be bored into the mountain to connect both roads. An old man starts to chip off portions of the rock. An amused crowd asks the old man how he can accomplish this mammoth task. He says: “Well, let me start first; others will follow, and it will be a success story at the end of the day”. He continues“If I don’t start, the mountain will remain a mountain and the next generation won’t use it”.The moral of the story is that it is necessary to break the rock. It could be a mountain or Mahinda’s “chinthanaya” (thoughts). It could be done today or tomorrow, but needs to be done one day.

We have the ability to impose a stringent embargo on Sri Lankan goods. Let’s do it. Remember, the road of a thousand miles begins with one step.

One example of embargo is to avoid using Sri Lankan banking services for foreign currency transactions. The remittance of foreign currency benefits Sri Lanka tremendously. Money is being sent as direct investment or as drafts into that country. The money thus earned by the state never reaches the Tamils or for the development of Tamil areas. Instead this money received by the state, through Tamils living in foreign countries, exclusively goes to purchase arms and in the development of Sinhalese areas.

Therefore, Tamils living outside Sri Lanka should impose their own forms of sanctions on Sri Lanka economy. In addition to their personal commitment not to assist the Sri Lankan government to prosper with their own foreign currency remittances, they need to propagate at all levels for others to boycott Sri Lankan goods. Such activities should be seen by the countries they live as a reasonable and justifiable protest by the Tamils against Sri Lankan hegemony. Our own economic experts can suggest the most effective way to hurt the Sri Lanka economy.

In respect to the proposed economic embargo, the European Federation of Tamils has suggested the following:

  • Arms exported to Sri Lanka to conduct the war against innocent Tamils should be stopped altogether.
  • Economic aid from foreign donors to Sri Lanka should be stopped until Sri Lanka relaxes its own restrictions on Tamils and does away with harsh emergency regulations.
  • Urge foreign tourists not to visit Sri Lanka.
  • Discourage foreign entrepreneurs against investment in Sri Lanka.
  • Avoid patronising Sri Lanka airlines.
  • Avoid using Sri Lanka banking services.
  • Withdraw all foreign currency deposited in Sri Lanka banks.

It is the duty of Tamils living all over the world to provide whole-hearted support to all initiatives proposed by the European Tamil Federation.

Dear readers,

We discussed the importance of imposing economic sanctions on the Sri Lankan government. It is our desire to implant our line of thinking in your mind. It is in your hands to act. Let us put our hands together to break the hard rock.

The above article is an English transcript of a Tamil broadcast made on the  “Thamilkural” programme on  16-10-2006, 3CR Radio, Melbourne.

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