By Trevor Grant –
It was a scene that has been played out many times since the brutal end to the civil war in the Tamil homeland.
Last year the Sri Lankan defence secretary and accused war criminal, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, stood alongside one of Sri Lanka’s richest men, Merrill Fernando, cutting a ribbon to open a new war memorial that purports to be about peace and reconciliation but, in reality, glorifies the murderers of at least 70,000 innocent civilians in 2009 and enhances the process of genocide and ethnic-cleansing in traditional Tamil lands.
Partly-financed by Fernando, it is yet another triumphalist edifice built by a ruthless regime that is under an official UN investigation for war crimes and crimes against humanity and which, five years after the war, continues to torture, rape, and jail thousands of Tamils as well as steal their land and reduce them to abject poverty.
To add to the Tamils’ misery, while these memorials are placed in Tamil areas which have been renamed in Sinhala, any recognition of fallen Tamil fighters has been expunged from public view. Tamil war memorials and cemeteries have been bulldozed and Tamils are banned from commemorating their dead, under threat of retribution from the military occupiers of their land.
What is important here is to acknowledge the collaboration of Fernando, who is in lockstep with the Rajapaksa regime and, as a result, benefits significantly from its genocidal program.
Fernando is the founder and owner of the Dilmah Tea company, which is one of the country’s most prominent and successful exports. It fills the supermarket shelves in Australia, the UK and many other countries, branding itself as a “family business built on family values”.
Yet, as you sit sipping a cup of Dilmah tea, you may wish to know that by buying this product you are helping support a regime that, according to many widely-respected human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, engages in rape, torture and disappearances of innocent people every day of the week.
Indeed, armed with these facts, you may begin to question the so-called “family values” of the likes of the Dilmah Tea Company and even choose another brand.
It is with this goal in mind that the Tamil diaspora – through the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam — has launched “Say No to Sri Lanka”, which aims to raise awareness to the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka through a Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions campaign similar to the very successful worldwide BDS campaign against Israeli products.
The anti-Israel BDS movement began back in 2005, to a chorus of detractors. These included supporters of Palestinian statehood who didn’t think it could be effective against the might of US-backed Israel. Today, it goes from strength to strength, as it continues to pick up credible support from so many quarters, and, of course, increasing harassment from worried Israelis and their supporters who fear the economic impact.
Recently in Australia, we have seen the Israeli lobby take an Australian academic to court for daring to support the global BDS campaign against Israel. It’s a sure sign that BDS is making a big impact and it’s interesting to note that US authorities are moving to try to stop academic institutions from giving support to the BDS movement against Israel.
They wouldn’t be doing it unless it was working. Indeed, some Israeli academics have criticized the court action saying that all they are doing is promoting the BDS movement and shining a light on Israel’s apartheid policies.
The fact that the genocide in the north and the east of Sri Lanka continues to gather pace means that new methods, new strategies and new tactics must be developed and engaged, and this constant development and engagement must become part of the everyday struggle. Without intelligent new ways of peaceful, direct action, the nation of Tamil Eelam has a very grim future, indeed, for, as we have discovered on so many occasions, waiting for the duplicitous world powers to render genuine assistance is the surest way to guarantee the continuation of the genocidal ways of the Sri Lankan government.
One of the pro-Palestinian BDS movement’s strongest supporters has been South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said recently: “Whether used in South Africa, the US south or India, boycotts have resulted in a transformative change that not only brought freedom and justice to the victims but also peace and reconciliation for the oppressors. I remain ever hopeful that like the non-violent efforts that have preceded it, the BDS movement will ultimately become a catalyst for honest peace and reconciliation…”
“Say No to Sri Lanka” aims to do the same for the Tamil people in Tamil Eelam as they seek freedom from a brutal military occupation, freedom from the oppression that they have suffered for generations and the freedom to exercise the inalienable right of all peoples to self-determination.
*Trevor Grant is a former chief cricket writer at The Age and now works with the Refugee Action Collective