By Brian Senewiratne –
I will now set out what I think about the situation, mainly for the benefit of the many countries that spoke who may not have a clue of what is going on in Sri Lanka.
I will set out some of the more serious problems facing the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
A military/police state in the North and East: The absolute need for a civilian administration
The Tamil North and East of Sri Lanka are not under the Sri Lankan government but under the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) military (99% Sinhalese) and the police (95% Sinhalese). It is a military/police state where the military and police can do what they want with no accountability.
This has now gone in for 10 years and will go on for the foreseeable future if there is no international pressure on the Sri Lankan government. This will have to be generated by those outside Sri Lanka.
It is a violation of the Sri Lankan Constitution since there is no provision for setting up a military/police state in a part of the island. This will have to be challenged by constitutional experts outside Sri Lanka.
It is a situation that the Sri Lankan government can correct but will not do so because the Sinhalese-dominated government could not care less what happens to the Tamils, especially in the North and East. The pressure to deal with this critical human rights crisis will have to come from outside Sri Lanka. What does the key international organisation, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) do? Give the Sri Lankan government another two years, to continue to do what it has done for the past decade. Is that acceptable?
It is clearly not acceptable. On 17 March 2019 tens of thousands of Tamils in the northern city of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, held a massive protest rally against attempts to give any extension of time to Sri Lanka for War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity including sexual assault and rape committed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Demonstrators urged UNHRC to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and appoint a Special Rapporteur for the war affected. I add my protest.
Demilitarisation of the Tamil North and East
There is a massive military presence in the North and East of Sri Lanka. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies February 2019 report, ‘The Military Balance’, the Sri Lankan military has 255,000 active members. This is larger than those in the United Kingdom (146,390), France (203,910) or Saudi Arabia( 227,000).
The Adayaalam Centre for policy research is a think-tank based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, and PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka) is a Tamil advocacy group based in Washington. They published a paper titled ‘Normalising the Abnormal. Militarisation of Mullaitivu’ that the ratio of military to civilians in Mullaitivu is 1:2. There is no place in the world which is so highly militarised.
The military and police are responsible for all the serious violations of human rights of the Tamils people in the area. They will simply wither away since they have no means of survival – no land to cultivate, no sea to fish, no jobs and unable to set up a business since all of these have been taken over by the Armed Forces.
If the Tamil people wither away, it is genocide.
The militant Tamil Tigers have been crushed. The question is the justification for such a massive military presence. Who is the enemy? Since there is no justification, the military must be withdrawn and the police recruited from the local Tamil population. It will not happen without international pressure.
As is well known, the Sri Lankan military were given (mainly from China) or bought, more than a dozen KFir jet bombers, scores of multi-barrel rocket launchers, helicopter gunships, thousands of assault rifles, some of which can be called ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The armed conflict is over. The question is where these weapons are being stored by the Armed Forces and why.
It is time that aid-givers to Sri Lanka insisted that Sri Lanka sold these weapons. Until this is done, there would be no financial aid to Sri Lanka.
The military getting involved in non-military activity
The Armed Forces have gone into non-military commercial activity. They are engaged in large scale property development, construction projects and business ventures such as travel agencies, holiday resorts, restaurants and innumerable cafes in the North and East. Some of these holiday resorts have been published by the British Tamils Forum (see below).
The military has no place in business activity. This non-military activity is having a serious impact on civilian life and must be stopped. This will not happen without international pressure on the Sri Lankan government.
Return land to civilian owners: Continuing land grabs
Under the previous Rajapaksa government, 70,000 acres of land were under military occupation. Only 2,000 acres (3.5%) have been released by the Sirisena government. This is only 3.5% of the total land occupied by the military.
What is being released is usually infertile land. Fertile land is still being acquired even today (2019).
The Tamil people are unable to exist since agriculture and fishing are not possible. This land grab (and ‘Sinhalisation’ – see below) will permanently change the demography of the Tamil homelands and make the Tamil people destitute in their own homeland.
The return of land to civilians is mandatory and urgent. Unless the international community, especially aid-donors, exert the necessary pressure, this will not happen.
The PEARL publication already referred to, has important points about the return of lands to the Tamil people and recent land acquisitions. It says that although the government made a handful of land releases in 2015 and 2016, land grabs continued. Statements made by the military confirmed that the security presence would not change in the North-East, and that despite the governments commitments that lands in the North will be returned by 2018, the military “would not return even an inch” of land to its rightful owners.
There is evidence of ongoing land grabs, with the Navy giving notice in October 2017 that it acquired 672 acres in Mullivaikkal and is taking private lands in Keyts. Military facilities continued expanding in the Vanni, Killinochchi and Mullaitivu (all of them in the Tamil North and East), with new acquisitions occurring as recently as March 2018.
Harassment of Tamil civilians living in a military/police state
The presence of military in the Tamil areas has a profound impact on civilians’ daily lives. The military and police continue to harass and intimidate Tamils in the North and East.
Civilians who protest demanding information about the ‘disappeared’ and the return of their lands are threatened. Repression extends to those who commemorate Tamils who died during the armed conflict.
Resettlement of Tamil civilians is a farce
Three years after the election of President Sirisena, only 3,996 people have been resettled. As of October 2017, some 40,938 members of 12,674 families remain internally displaced.
The centralisation of power in Colombo must end
Sri Lanka is a British colonial construct that has failed – as have so many colonial constructs.
For hundreds of years there were three separate Kingdoms – a Tamil Kingdom in the North and East, a Kandyan Kingdom in the centre (Kandyan Sinhalese) and a Kotte Kingdom in the South (Low country Sinhalese).
It was the British who in 1833, the Colebrooke-Cameron ‘reforms’, unified that which was divided with no consent from the people, and worse still, centralised power in Colombo. This has had a disastrous effect on the country. To make things even worse, when the British left Ceylon in 1948, they handed over the country to the Sinhalese despite serious protests from the Tamils that they feared discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese. The very least the British could have done was to have left a Federal State for the Tamils.
If what the colonial British did was wrong, what followed after the British left was worse. From Independence (1948), the Sinhalese governments totally isolated the Tamil homelands from all economic development programs undertaken with massive foreign aid from donor countries. As a result, over the last seven decades, while the Sinhalese people and their homelands have prospered and flourished, the Tamil people and their homelands in the North and East have suffered and become the backyard colony of the Sinhalese.
It is essential that all of this is reversed and power to govern is returned to where it was, if there is ever going to be peace and justice in Sri Lanka. This will simply not happen unless there is massive pressure from the international community, especially the aid-givers and organisations such as the UNHRC.
Fear and Insecurity in the Tamil North and East
The overwhelming problem facing the people in the North and East is fear and insecurity. They are justifiably afraid of the Armed Forces, Police, Sinhalese who have been settled there and are supported by the Armed Forces and Police, Tamil paramilitaries working with the government, and, alarmingly, fear of each other. No one is confident that what is told to someone might not be conveyed to someone else for monetary gain.
Living in insecure homes is another major problem. Armed Forces and Police can kick the door down (if there is one) and sexually assault those inside – including children. A photograph of one such case is in my book on Sexual Violence.
Until the Armed Forces are removed from the North and East, this fear and uncertainty will remain. This will not happen unless there is massive international pressure on the Sri Lankan government
Asylum seekers and displaced people
There are thousands of Tamil asylum seekers and displaced people in and outside Sri Lanka, who are unable to return to their homes. The Government is simply not interested is addressing this major problem.
It is not widely known that there are 150,000 Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu alone. They have been there for scores of years with nothing to do. They are ‘non-people’.
Australia, where I live, has the worst record of any country in the world in the handling of refugees, and the situation is deteriorating. The policy of the Australian government, past and present, is to “stop the boats” – ie stop asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Even the number of people arriving by boat is now suppressed. From what is known, some 90% of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka (almost all of them Tamils from the North and East) are being returned to Sri Lanka. This is a gross violation of the UN Refugee Convention, signed by Australia as far back as December 1973.
Given the fact that the area in Sri Lanka that (Tamil) asylum seekers are being returned to is the Tamil North and East which is under the Sri Lankan Military that can do what it wants to anyone without accountability, and there is well-documented evidence that the victims are Tamil civilians, it is a clear violation of the Refugee Convention.
The fact that refugees from other countries do not have such a staggeringly high percentage of rejection as Tamils from Sri Lanka, Australia’s policy is not only a violation of the Refugee Convention, it is also racist.
High Commissioner Bachelet, as an asylum seeker yourself, you should know this better than others. You were born in Chile. Your father died after being tortured for his opposition to Augusto Pinochet’s regime and support for Salvador Allende. You and your mother were also imprisoned in a torture centre at Villa Grimaldi.
You and your mother came to Australia (where I live) as asylum seekers. What if you were refused asylum (as is being done to Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka) and sent back to where you came from (Chile)?
Violation of the UN Refugee Convention is a serious matter and this must be reported to the United Nations and the UN Human Rights Council for further action. Will you act?
 The Island “Security Forces: No more releasing of lands from Palaly cantonment” 11 September 2016
*To be continued……