Posts Tagged ‘Sinhalese’

Sri Lanka accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Tamil areas

May 26, 2009

The Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following its victory over the Tamil Tigers in the country’s 26 year civil war.

By Dean Nelson in Trincomalee |
Last Updated: 9:14PM BST 25 May 2009

Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of

Sri Lankan government has been accused of launching a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” following its victory over the Tamil Tigers Photo: KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AP

Aid officials, human rights campaigners and politicians claim Tamils have been driven out of areas in the north-east of the country by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-government militias.

They say the government has simultaneously encouraged members of the Sinhalese majority in the south to relocate to the vacated villages.

One foreign charity worker told the Daily Telegraph the number of Tamils disappearing in and around Trincomalee, 50 miles south of the final conflict zone in Mullaitivu, had been increasing in the last three months.

He claimed to have known 15 of the disappeared, three of whom had been found dead. He said all three bodies showed signs of torture, while two were found with their hands tied behind their backs and single bullet wounds in their heads.

Another aid worker said the killings were part of a strategy to drive out the Tamils.

“Eastern province is vulnerable, there’s cleansing by the Sinhalese. There will be more problems with land grabbing. The demography changes and the Tamils who are the majority will soon become a minority,” he said.

He claimed many villagers had moved out after the army declared their land to be part of a ‘high security zone’ and Sinhalese had been given incentives to move in to provide support services to new military bases.

Many Tamils sold their homes and land at below-market prices after members of their families had been killed or had disappeared, he said.

One western human rights advocate said Tamils in and around Trincomalee were terrified because they believed the police were either complicit in, or indifferent to, the numbers disappearing or found dead. “There’s no investigation. It’s a climate of terror and impunity,” he said.

A local campaigner for the families of the disappeared said the killings were speeding the flight of Tamils from the area. “When there’s a killing other Tamils move out. Who goes to the Sinhalese police? You either live under threat or you move out,” he said.

He said much of the “ethnic cleansing” was being done in the name of economic development in which Tamil villagers were being moved out to make way for new roads, power plants and irrigation schemes, while Sinhalese workers were being drafted in with incentives including free land and housing.

“Thousands of Sinhalese are coming in, getting government land and government assistance from the south. It’s causing huge tensions,” he said.

He and others fear this model will now be applied to the north where the final army onslaught to defeat the Tamil Tigers left 95 per cent of the buildings demolished or heavily damaged.

Since the victory earlier this month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has been under pressure to ‘win the peace’ with a generous devolution package for Tamils in the north.

Ministers have said they want to break the identification of the Tamils with the northern and eastern provinces and integrate them into the Sinhalese majority population throughout the country.

In Colombo, billboard posters have contrasted the “divided” pre-victory Sri Lanka, with the Tamil north and east shaded red, and the “united” post-war island.

Ministers have said billions of dollars will be needed to rebuild the area’s roads, buildings, schools, hospitals and water, electricity and communications infrastructure. Community leaders and Tamil politicians fear this will mean a further influx of Sinhalese.

R. Sampanthan, the parliamentary leader of the Tamil National Alliance and an MP for Trincomalee said he shared these fears. A new road being constructed from Serubilla, a Sinhalese village in Trincomalee district to Polonaruwa, a Tamil village, was under construction and Sinhalese families were being settled on either side of the road as it snakes further north-east.

“It’s ethnic cleansing, and we’re concerned that this is what they will also do in the north,” he said.

The Bloodbath in Sri Lanka

April 28, 2009

Why Battering the Tamil Tigers Won’t Bring Peace

By MITU SENGUPTA | Counterpunch, April 28, 2009

Over the course of a long and brutal war with Sri Lanka’s armed forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE) emerged as one of the world’s most formidable insurgent groups.  Besides engaging the Sri Lankan government in a bloody battle for more than 25 years, the LTTE (or, more informally, the ‘Tamil Tigers’) managed to seize substantial chunks of government territory, and operated these as a quasi-state for well over a decade.  Today, however, the mighty Tigers are on the verge of  total military defeat.  Will their demise bring peace to Sri Lanka?

Unsurprisingly, the LTTE’s hammering has come at an enormous price.  Since its beginnings in the early 1980s, the war has claimed more than 70,000 lives, rendered some half a million Tamils refugees in their own country, and driven an equal number out of Sri Lanka. The last six months of fighting have been particularly intense, with the Sri Lankan government at its most aggressive in decades.  Reports from the United Nations, Red Cross and several other reputed humanitarian organizations indicate that the country is on the brink of a colossal humanitarian disaster.  Some 6,500 civilians have been killed since January, and another 100,000 are caught – facing carnage, and without adequate food, shelter and medicine – in the crossfire between the Tigers and government forces.  An additional 40,000 or so that have fled the war zone are being held in military-run camps, where conditions, according to the most recent reports, are similar to those in Nazi-run concentration camps (journalists and humanitarian workers have been banned from these camps for over a month).

Led by the United Nations, concerned voices in the international community have repeatedly pleaded for a halt to the fighting, or even a ceasefire of a reasonable length, in which more civilians may be moved to safety, and aid workers allowed access to the sick and wounded.  Determined to run the Tigers to the ground, however, the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has remained undeterred, apparently confident that a full purging of the LTTE – now perhaps only days away – will have been worth the carnage and dislocation, and the palpable damage to his country’s international reputation.  Rajapaksa evidently believes that a Sri Lanka free of the Tigers will be a Sri Lanka whither all good things will come.

Over the years, the LTTE has earned the reputation of being a ruthless organization; one that turns children into hardened soldiers; that has perfected suicide bombing as a tactic; that relies on extortion and smuggling for funding, and that has zero tolerance for critics and competitors.  While there are no reliable measures of the extent of support for the LTTE among Tamils in Sri Lanka, or within the vast diaspora, Tamil human rights activists both inside and outside the country have spoken out against the LTTE’s cruel ways, totalitarian structure, and uncompromising, maximalist demands.  The LTTE has duly assassinated many of these detractors.  Indeed, given all of this, it is tempting to presume that Sri Lanka will be infinitely better off without the LTTE, and that its elimination will necessarily steer the country towards order, stability and reconciliation.  But though appealing, this conclusion ultimately rests on a wrongheaded view of the Tigers’ role in the conflict.  The LTTE is the product, not the cause, of Sri Lanka’s deadly politics.

To begin with, the conflict, if not the war, predates the LTTE by a few generations.  Its origins may be traced to the effects of the nefarious “divide and rule” policies devised by British colonial administrators to govern Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The British used the island’s Tamil minority to keep its Sinhalese majority in check, and in return, gave Tamils the best government jobs and the benefit of English education.  With independence in 1948, however, the Tamils were deprived of their patrons, and found themselves outnumbered and marginalized inside the new Sri Lanka’s unitary state and majoritarian institutional framework. With the Tamils rendered politically irrelevant, short-sighted politicians competed with each other for the Sinhalese vote, and soon discovered that the political party with the stronger anti-minority stance was almost always guaranteed electoral success.

Such “ethnic outbidding,” as scholars have characterized the dreadful process, led to the rise of a ferocious Sinhala nationalism that demanded revenge for the Tamils’ supremacy during the colonial period, along with a revival of Sinhala language and culture.  It saw Sri Lanka as for the Sinhalese alone, and insisted that the Tamil minority submit to its second-class position or, better still, simply leave the island.  In the first few decades following independence, Sri Lanka’s Tamils were systematically stripped of their erstwhile social and economic privileges, with the demotion of their language (Tamil) to secondary status, and the imposition of strict quotas that shrank their employment and educational opportunities.  Sinhalese farmers were encouraged to settle in and around the island’s north-east, in an obvious attempt to reduce the concentration of Tamils in these areas.

Initially, the Tamils attempted to resist these changes through democratic means, forming political parties that pressed for federalism and various minority guarantees.  While many sensible Sinhalese politicians warmed to such appeals, the forces of majoritarianism always seemed to triumph.  Any government seen as making too many concessions to the Tamils was swiftly pulled down, a disheartening ritual that eventually left most Tamils alienated, and the Tamil parties largely discredited.  By the late 1970s, the conflict had taken a violent turn, with the surfacing of several militant outfits, including the LTTE, which called for armed struggle and secession – the creation of a Tamil ‘homeland’ (‘eelam’) out of the Tamil majority areas in Sri Lanka’s north-east. The LTTE proved the strongest of these militant groups, and, out-powering its rivals, became locked in bitter conflict with the Sri Lankan state.

As an insurgent force, the LTTE has been remarkably successful.  By the early 2000s, it had captured much of the north and east, and was governing these territories as though they were already a separate state (the LTTE provided schools, postal services, and even rudimentary hospitals).  The LTTE brought forth a harsh and authoritarian regime, but one that was, perhaps, an inevitable response to the harsh and authoritarian regime that the Sri Lankan government had become.  Human Rights Watch has characterized the Sri Lankan government as one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances.  Indeed, in many ways, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state have been reflections of each other’s total lack of generosity.  Both have squandered numerous opportunities for peace, though it is unlikely that the Sri Lankan government would have agreed to negotiate at all – as it did in 2003, following a ceasefire – had it faced a lesser organization than the Tigers.  The annihilation of the LTTE will mean that only one of the two fearsome, unbending contenders in the country’s long and bloody war will have left the arena and, that too, probably not for good.  Far from being a recipe for peace, this will probably ignite a new cycle of grotesque injustice and pitiless retaliation.

One danger that looms heavily is that the Sri Lankan state will try to use its victory to seek a permanent solution to its “Tamil minority problem.”  The government might begin by preventing Tamil civilians interned in its military camps from returning to their villages.  These camps have already taken on an air of permanence, with the government arguing that no-one can be moved until the LTTE is fully flushed out, and the military demines the conflict zone. This could take months, if not years.  It is entirely possible that while tens of thousands of Tamils languish in these camps, encircled by razor-wired fences, the government will move large numbers of Sinhalese settlers into the island’s north and east, thus stamping out, once and for all, the geographical rationale for a separate Tamil homeland.  The counterpoint to the government’s expected belligerence might be an even darker phase in the Tamil resistance; one with a more lucid and focused fury that will bring great disquiet to Tamils everywhere.

To most governments, the bloodbath in Sri Lanka is the consequence of a sovereign power besieged by a brutal domestic insurgency.  This is to be expected in a world where states are generally considered legitimate, no matter what they do, and those that challenge their authority are immediately viewed as criminal – a distinction that’s been sharpened, of course, by the menacing language around the “war on terror.”  Indeed, following Sri Lanka’s success in having the LTTE proscribed as a terrorist organization by 31 countries, including the United States, the sense that the Sri Lankan state is on the right side of history has gone from strength to strength, which might explain the muted condemnation of its actions in the rapidly unfolding tragedy.

It’s probably too much to expect the US government – or any other government for that matter – to accept the argument, however rigorously advanced, that the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE have mirrored each other’s unyielding attitudes and methods, and, that ultimately, the noble sovereign power and the sinister terrorist organization are two sides of the same bloodied coin.  The one, small opening for peace that the LTTE’s retreat may provide, however, is that without its looming spectre, the Sri Lankan government will be less able to shield its decaying democracy and ugly human rights record from the eyes of the world.  It will, hopefully, be the subject of an international initiative that helps rein in the country’s majoritarian forces, thus barring any further acceleration of the vicious cycle of injury and retribution these tend to set in motion.

Mitu Sengupta, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Politics at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. She may be reached by email:

Sri Lanka’s war

April 15, 2009
Socialist Worker Online, April 14, 2009

The Sri Lankan state is waging a brutal war on the island’s Tamil population. Yuri Prasad looks at some of the background to the conflict

A vicious and increasingly one-sided war is taking place on the island of Sri Lanka – a few dozen miles off the coast of south east India.

Utilising its own interpretation of the “war on terror” the Sri Lankan government is determined to crush the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are better known as the Tamil Tigers.

In the process the military has effectively declared that all Tamil civilians are “terrorists”, hemming them into a strip of coastal land, the Jaffna Peninsula, while repeatedly bombing their schools, hospitals and shelters.

According to a recent United Nations report, up to 190,000 civilians have been sealed into this tiny area.

Last week the army’s guns targeted a makeshift hospital in the village of Putumattalan, killing dozens of the sick and injured. Countries in the West, including Britain, the island’s former colonial master, have supplied the weapons for this offensive.

On the rare occasions that the media cover the conflict it is presented as an unfathomable and ancient religious-ethnic rivalry, with the Buddhist Sinhalese government on one side, and the Hindu Tamils on the other.

But rather than an age-old clash between clearly defined groups, the civil war reflects the way that rival bands among the ruling class, and the middle classes that stand beneath them, have sought to use ethnic nationalism to further their own positions.

Just over 20 million people live in Sri Lanka, on an island about a quarter the size of Britain. The majority describe themselves as Buddhists and speak Sinhalese, but there are significant minorities of differing religions and languages.

Tamils in Sri Lanka, despite speaking a common language, are not a homogenous ethnic or religious group.

Sri Lankan Tamils, who make up around 4 percent of the population, have lived on the island for more than 600 years, and have, at various times, been represented in the upper echelons of society.

Indian Tamils were shipped into what was then British-controlled Ceylon in the middle of the 19th century. They were put to work on the tea plantations, and largely remain poor. The majority of Tamils are Hindu, but there are significant religious minorities among them.

Repeated and violent conflicts among the Sinhalese majority prove that it is also wrong to regard them as a single identity.

The British regime helped to lay the foundations for today’s conflict by using divide and rule to aid in its exploitation of the mass of the population.

It favoured the Tamil minority in order to encourage their loyalty. They were given preferences for lucrative jobs in government and were disproportionately represented in the island’s universities.

Nevertheless, there were few signs of animosity between Tamil and Sinhalese speakers prior to 1948, when Ceylon obtained its freedom from the British Empire.

As in so many countries, the collapse of the exiting authority led to a mass scramble for power among those who wanted to become the new elite.

To win elections, and divert attention from the acute class divisions on the island, politicians of all backgrounds attempted to cultivate support by appealing to people as ethnic and religious groups.

In Sri Lanka the key method of division was language. At the time of independence, English was the country’s official language.

The election of a new government on a ticket of replacing English with Sinhalese was a covert attack on the Sri Lankan Tamil middle class, who generally spoke English and Tamil.

The new government also proposed to deport hundreds of thousands of Indian Tamils back to India, while depriving those who remained of their right to vote.

This was an explicit attack on the left and the trade unions, which had successfully organised heavily among Indian Tamil plantation workers.

These acts marked the creation of a new and distinct Sinhalese identity.

In an effort to present a united response to the state’s discrimination, middle class Tamil speakers attempted to create an all-embracing Tamil identity. Both groups utilised and transformed religious symbols and legends to lend justification to their project. Initially there was little evidence of a mass following for these newly-constructed ethnicities.

For most people, the growing conflict remained a quarrel within the establishment. But within a few years the battle that began over language became the basis of a civil war.

Following a landslide election victory in 1956 the Sri Lanka Freedom Party made good on its promise to make Sinhalese the sole official language – a modest amendment to allow the “reasonable use of Tamil” led to a violent demonstration by Buddhist monks.

The new law brought a decline in the number of Tamil speakers in public employment. In the civil service Tamils went from being around 30 percent of all employees in 1948 to just 6 percent by 1970.

Many upper and middle class Sri Lankan Tamils now found themselves excluded from decent jobs, while their children stood little chance of getting a university education.

There were widespread anti-Tamil riots in 1958. Three years later, during a general strike by Tamils against discrimination, the government declared a state of emergency and sent troops into the Tamil heartlands in the central highlands and the north of the island.

Tamils became legitimate targets for pogroms and repression by the state.

The left in Sri Lanka should have been able to undercut the wave of ethnic tension unleashed by the government. Ordinary Sinhalese speaking workers and peasants had nothing to gain from the chauvinism of the ruling class.

The strongest socialist party on the island, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), was a Trotskyist party with a mass membership among all linguistic groups. For a time it was the country’s main opposition party.

But rather that appealing to working class unity, the LSSP, together with the Communist Party, joined the government and declared itself to be the authentic voice of nationalism.

In 1970 a new government made up of the UNP opposition party, in alliance with the left and a number of Tamil parties, took power promising an end to the conflict.

It planned a degree of regional autonomy in which Tamils would be given some power. Soon after coming to office the government faced a rebellion by educated Sinhalese youth demanding an end to Buddhist caste discrimination that excluded them from jobs. Some 10,000 people were killed in the fighting and state of emergency that followed.

The fragility of the ruling class was sharply exposed. The government’s response was to increase its vilification of Tamils in the hope of diverting attention away from its record.

At roughly the same time, younger Tamils, angered by the lack of change and the compromises made by their mainstream parties, started to take up arms against the state.

They formed a variety of groups, the Tamil Tigers chief among them, to demand a separate state in the north of the island. Within a few years they controlled much of the territory.

Sri Lankan authorities launched a crackdown in which thousands of Tamils were jailed and tortured. The Tigers responded with kidnappings and bombings. So began a spiral of violence that engulfed much of the country.


Rather than seeing possibilities in the rebellion sweeping the south, the Tigers characterised all Sinhalese speakers as complicit in their oppression.

Having neither mass support across the country nor enough firepower to defeat the state, the Tigers looked to India for backing. But the Indian state was to play a duplicitous role.

Having initially helped to arm the Tigers from bases in the Indian city of Madras, the Indian government later helped broker a peace deal that involved the sending of 75,000 “peacekeeping” troops to the island.

India feared that the collapse of the state in Sri Lanka could spread instability across the region and instructed its forces to disarm the Tigers. This resulted in fierce fighting and the scattering of Tamil refugees across the world.

Since the 1980s successive governments have used a mix of diplomacy and military offensives in an effort to break the Tigers.

Meanwhile, neoliberal economics and the 2004 Tsunami have laid waste to the livelihoods of millions of the island’s poor – regardless of their religion or language.

The government was recently forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund for a £1.3 billion loan, which is demanding austerity measures and privatisation in return.

The military defeat of the Tigers, far from bring a new era of peace and prosperity, looks certain to usher in a new era of attacks on the working class.

Rather than massive spending on the military, the country desperately needs health workers, engineers, and teachers. There needs to be a massive programme of public works to house, feed and tend to all those displaced by the conflict and environmental chaos. These are among the demands of the left in Sri Lanka.

We should demand that our governments condemn the military action and halt all arms sales to Sri Lanka.

Halting the Sri Lankan assault and winning vital improvements for the poor requires a united fight. But only a movement that is prepared to challenge the discrimination of the state, and the culture of chauvinism that has been encouraged by it, is capable of winning this struggle.

The following should be read alongside this article:
» Sri Lanka map
» Massive Tamil demonstration in central London demands Sri Lanka ceasefire
» Photos of Tamil demonstration in London, Saturday 11 April 2009

© Socialist Worker (unless otherwise stated). You may republish if you include an active link to the original.

Genocide in Sri Lanka

February 15, 2009

By Bruce Fein | The Boston Globe, February 15, 2009

THE BARRAGE of media reporting of the grim conflict in Sri Lanka has captured popular imagination, but has overlooked the grisly Sinhalese Buddhist genocide of innocent Hindu or Christian Tamil civilians by a US dual citizen and US green card holder. The two should be investigated and prosecuted in the United States.

Acting on behalf of Tamils Against Genocide, I recently delivered to US Attorney General Eric H. Holder a three-volume, 1,000 page model 12-count genocide indictment against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka charging violations of the Genocide Accountability Act of 2007. Derived from affidavits, court documents, and contemporaneous media reporting, the indictment chronicles a grisly 61-year tale of Sinhalese Buddhists attempting to make Sri Lanka “Tamil free.”

Rajapaksa and Fonseka assumed their current offices in December 2005. They exercise command responsibility over Sri Lanka’s mono-ethnic Sinhalese security forces. On their watch, they have attempted to physically destroy Tamils in whole or in substantial part through more than 3,800 extrajudicial killings or disappearances; the infliction of serious bodily injury on tens of thousands; the creation of punishing conditions of life, including starvation, withholding medicines and hospital care, humanitarian aid embargoes, bombing and artillery shelling of schools, hospitals, churches, temples; and the displacements of more than 1.3 million civilians into camps, which were then bombed and shelled. This degree of mayhem inflicted on the Tamil civilian population because of ethnicity or religion ranks with the atrocities in Bosnia and Kosovo that occasioned genocide indictments against Serbs by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

During the past month, a virtual reenactment of the Bosnian Srebrenica genocide of more than 7,000 Muslims has unfolded. Sri Lanka’s armed forces employed indiscriminate bombing and shelling to herd 350,000 Tamil civilians into a government-prescribed “safety zone,” a euphemism for Tamil killing fields. There, more than 1,000 have been slaughtered and more than 2,500 have been injured by continued bombing and shelling.

As a preliminary to the horror, roads and medical aid were blocked, and humanitarian workers and all media were expelled. During a BBC radio interview on Feb. 2, Rajapaksa declared that outside the “safety zone” nothing should “exist.” Accordingly, a hospital has been repeatedly bombed, killing scores of patients. Rajapaksa further proclaimed that in Sri Lanka, any person not involved in fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is a terrorist.

The United States assailed and sanctioned Serbia for noncooperation in apprehending genocide defendants Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, and Ratko Mladic. The United States should be no less scrupulous in prosecuting suspected genocide by its own citizens or permanent residents. Further, under Article 5 of the Genocide Convention of 1948, ratified by the United States Senate in 1986, the United States is obligated to provide “effective penalties” for genocide. That imposes an obligation on signatory parties to investigate and to prosecute credible charges – a benchmark that has been satisfied by TAG’s 1,000-page model 12-count indictment of Rajapaksa and Fonseka.

The predictable defense of counter-terrorism will not wash. Not a single Tamil victim identified in the model indictment was involved in the war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The lame excuse of defeating terrorism was advanced by Sudanese President Omar Bashir to a genocide arrest warrant over Darfur issued by chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo of the International Criminal Court. The chief prosecutor retorted that although Bashir’s pretense was counterterrorism, his intent was genocide.

The State Department lists Sri Lanka as an investigatory target in the Office of War Crimes. The New York-based Genocide Prevention Project last December labeled Sri Lanka as a country of “highest concern.” President Barack Obama has made the case for military intervention in Sudan or elsewhere to stop genocide. All the more justification for the United States to open an investigation of the voluminous and credible 12 counts of genocide against a United States citizen and permanent resident alien assembled by Tamils Against Genocide.

A genocide indictment would probably deter Rajapaksa and Fonseka from their ongoing atrocities against Tamil civilians. There is no time to tarry.

Bruce Fein is counsel for Tamils Against Genocide and former associate deputy attorney general under President Reagan.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.

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