By Brian Senewiratne –
The Human Rights Crisis In The Tamil North & East: An Appeal For International Intervention – Part III – [Part II of this series was published on 16 March, 2018]
Chaos in Jaffna
It is not widely appreciated by the outside world that the social situation in Jaffna is chaotic.
Drugs and alcohol
Drugs are being brought by the Navy from Kerala in South India and sold in Jaffna. Illicit drugs are freely available and sold even to school-going teenagers, some as young as 11 years. The increased use of drugs has increased the crime rate massively. Drug users commit murder, rape and all sorts of crimes. Drug dealers are openly selling them. They are also being sold in villages, creating huge issues for the community.
There is only one hospital that offers alcohol and drug rehabilitation services. There clearly needs to be more drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. Without them they cause many social issues in society.
There has been a marked increase in domestic violence after the end of the armed conflict. Drugs, alcohol, the husband being unemployed and not earning any money, the husband believing that his wife is having an affair (largely untrue), are some of the causes. There are even more serious issues which I will not deal with until I am able to verify them.
Women tolerate this violence for the sake of the children and they do not want to lose the respect of the community.
Women rarely report these cases to the Police for fear that there will be no action. When the situation becomes critical and they cannot bear the physical violence, they seek help from NGOs (Non-government Organisations) but there are too few and are poorly resourced.
The Police are 95% Sinhalese and do not know Tamil. This language problem means that many cases go unreported or if a case is reported, the process is long and drawn out and often ineffective.
Often the Police just tell people to come back because they do not have a translator. The message finally gets through that it is an exercise in futility.
Corrupt Police nd Armed Forces
The Police and Armed Forces are corrupt. The Sri Lankan Police are reported to be the most corrupt in the world.
The Police, Army and Navy are involved with in the drug problem plaguing Jaffna. As such they are not trustworthy particularly if the criminal act is drug related and involves the Armed Forces and Police.
Some of this is dealt with in my book on Sexual Violence of Tamils which I have referred to earlier.
Women-headed families (WHF)
There are 69,000 women-headed families in the Northern Province of whom 34,000 are in Jaffna.
A great deal of money is wasted by the government building houses that are of little use. If this money is given to families, they could build larger and far more useful homes for far less money.
Many of these women do hard labour to support their families. Some of their children also work from an early age to support the family. Children having to work have an adverse effect on school work.
The definition of women-headed families (those who have lost their husbands during the war) is too restricted. There are many who are unmarried women with children, divorced women with children, and women with alcoholic or unemployed husbands who do not work. However, they are not officially recognised as needing help.
Counselling in short supply
There are only one or two NGOs offering counselling, in villages. As a result, family problems relating to abuse of women, abuse of children and domestic violence are not addressed. As a result serious mental health problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are not addressed. Not surprisingly, suicide rates are high. Professor Daya Somasunderam’s address which has already been referred to, states that suicide rates in Jaffna are high and rising.
People in the Northern Province, particularly in Jaffna, have always been hard working and disciplined. This is no longer the case.
During the war, the Northern Province was cut off from the rest of the country economically and socially. After the war ended, things previously unobtainable became freely available. So did money especially from abroad. From having access to nothing, people have access to almost everything. People do not know how to handle this.
Whereas earlier, people only bought essentials they now can buy such things as smart phones which allow access to pornography which has contributed to sexual violence.
As mentioned earlier, education has suffered seriously. Adults repeatedly say that children lack motivation to study and expect parents to buy things even if they cannot afford to do so. This has resulted in serious family problems.
The caste system which was virtually stamped out by the Tamil Tigers has returned. This is particularly so in Jaffna. Many of the ‘low caste’ people are poor. Some of their children who need tuition do not have the money to pay tuition fees.
The 6th Amendment to the Constitution must be scrapped
Introduced in August 1983 by Sri Lanka’s first dictator, J.R Jayawardena, the 6th Amendment states that:
“No person shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment f a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka”.
In other words, one cannot even discuss a separate state for the Tamils.
The penalty for violating this Constitutional Amendment is severe. It includes confiscation of movable or immovable property.
While those outside Sri Lanka do not need to worry about this nonsense, those in Sri Lanka do have to worry because the full force of the law can be applied. It might, in fact, even be applied to those outside Sri Lanka who have property in Sri Lanka.
It is imperative that this absurd Constitutional Amendment is removed.
A Referendum in the North and East
It is important to have a Referendum in the North and East to ask the people what they want. Are they happy with what is going on or do they want a separate State, Tamil Eelam? It has to be a proper Referendum. A poorly conducted Referendum could be more dangerous than no referendum. It has to be a UN conducted Referendum with UN Forces replacing the Sri Lankan Armed Forces as was done in East Timor. If the result is “We want a Separate State,” then the UN will have to deliver, as was done in East Timor.
Tamils without a leader
After the death of S.J.V. Chelvanayakam, there has been no Tamil civilian leader worth talking about. The TNA (Tamil National Alliance) is a joke and the Sri Lankan government treats it as such. The TNA spokesman is effectively supporting the Sri Lankan government, not the Tamil people who elected him.
For several years the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph was the unofficial leader of the Tamil people. I was worried about his survival and wrote an entire booklet: “Sri Lanka: Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph and others in danger”. He had a devastating stroke and is unable to speak. Whether this was due to medical causes or whether he was poisoned I do not know. What I do know is that the Tamils lost an invaluable leader.
An upcoming leader is the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, a former Supreme Court judge, C.V.Wigneswaran. I gather that M.A.Sumanthiran, the spokesman for the TNA, has demanded that Wigneswaran be removed from his position.
At a recent event in the Jaffna Hindu College, three young Tamil boys with exceptional courage, got on to the stage and said, “Sumanthiran must resign from Parliament since he does not represent the Tamil people any more. He is with the Government”. These are, hopefully, the future leaders of the Tamil people.
The absolute need to have human rights monitors in the Tamil areas
When there is a violation of human rights such as rape by the Armed Forces, Police or paramilitary Tamil groups working with the government, there is nowhere that the victim, a Tamil woman or girl, can lodge a complaint. To go to the Police is not only useless but might even be dangerous. In my book on Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces, I have said that if the victim goes to the Police station or the Army Camp, there is a risk that the victim or whoever accompanies her, getting raped or the details taken, not for any action but for a midnight ‘visit’ by the Police or the Armed Forces.
The claim that international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group are allowed into the country is not good enough. For a start, if/when these organisations visit the Tamil areas they are accompanied by members of the Armed Forces or Police who take notes of who was visited and what was said. This even happened when the former UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Navaneetham Pillay, visited the area. Before her visit, people were told that any complaints to her would be noted and the consequences could be serious.
There is no alternative to having set places manned by Tamil civilians to whom victims of human rights abuse could complain without fear.
It will take years before this serious problem is resolved and it will not be resolved until the Armed Forces are removed from the area and Sinhalese Police are replaced by Tamil Police.
The potential for development of the Tamil North and East
There are several economists who have said that the Sri Lankan North and East have the greatest potential for development. It is this that has been, to a large extent, taken over by the Armed Forces to run commercial projects.
The Sinhalese Armed Forces in the North own a 180 acre farm, many hotels and resorts, a golf course, three cricket stadiums, a ferry service, two whale watching tours, two air lines and numerous cafes that dot the roads in the North and East. These are just the ones we know about. Many have been opened after President Sirisena got into power.
Some of these can be seen in the outstanding publication by the British Tamils Forum that I have referred to.
The land for all this has been seized from the Tamil people without the payment of compensation.
Sri Lanka is up for sale
Sri Lanka in general, the Tamil areas in particular, are up for sale. The buyers are mainly from China and India. When Sirisena came into power some of these Chinese projects were put on hold. The Chinese government simply said that the projects were run by Chinese banks and that stopping them might result in legal action. The order was promptly withdrawn.
Today there are thousands of Chinese in Sri Lanka so much so that I gather some street signs are in Sinhalese and Chinese. Sri Lanka owes China some US$ 8 billion.
The Economy in crisis
Inheriting large budget deficits and dangerously high debt, the Sri Lankan government has been unable to deliver election promises of jobs and improved standards of living. Money borrowed from the International Monetary Fund always comes with conditions which adversely affect those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Raised food prices and cutting down on subsidies (always insisted on by the IMF), have serious social and economic effects on the people. Facing a balance of payments crisis, the Government has been forced to do a U-turn on its campaign pledges and cancel what it calls “wasteful Chinese-funded infrastructure projects”.
The Government plans to lease the new port and much land for a Chinese-controlled industrial zone in former President Rajapaksa’s home area in Hambantota. However, this was met with violent protests in January 2017. Finalising the long-term lease would have paid off US$ 1.1 billion of the 8 billion owed to China.
Sri Lanka’s debt has risen from Rs 120 billion in 1981 to Rs 10,500 billion (US $ 685 billion) in November 2016. Export earnings are declining. There has also been a collapse of the States income from 23% of GDP in 1996 to 11.3% in 2014.
There has also been a sharp fall in Sri Lankan production and widening inequality of income distribution.
Given this economic crisis, a well-planned economic boycott of goods and services going in and out of Sri Lanka till the Tamil people get their rights is very important.
To be continued…