13 April, 2024


Silence Kills, In Sri Lanka And Syria

By Aijaz Zaka Syed

Aijaz Zaka Syed

There was a time when many in India, including the Tamil, identified with Tamil Tigers with the establishment and Indian agencies offering every possible support to “our boys.” The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) training camps in Tamil Nadu were a secret that no one bothered to hide.

This support proved crucial in the Tigers’ transformation into one of the deadliest and successful insurgent forces in recent history. Their breathtaking exploits on land and on high seas over an organized army became the stuff of legends. Many a Tamil filmmaker modeled his potbellied heroes on LTTE chief Prabhakaran.

More important, LTTE managed to get its goal of a separate homeland for the Tamils.  It didn’t stop there. Sri Lanka was turned into a living hell with daredevil assassinations and suicide bombings — LTTE practically invented it — targeting top Lankan leadership, security forces and ordinary people for nearly two decades.

Ironically, India had a price to pay too. Former premier Rajiv Gandhi lost his life for his apparent sincerity in trying to end the interminable cycle of violence in the island. Dispatching Indian forces to Sri Lanka however proved a spectacular disaster with the country losing 1,155 soldiers to the ragtag army trained on Indian soil —a figure that outweighs the toll in wars with Pakistan.

The civil war claimed more than 100,000 lives, including 28,000 LTTE cadres and 23,330 Lankan troops, not to mention the economic costs of the long conflict in a country dependent on tourism.

Prabhakaran was notorious for his murderous ruthlessness and cruelty, which was experienced not just by Sinhalas and Muslims but also by fellow Tamils.  While the Tamil revolt had been a response to long years of dispossession, its methods to get justice were far from just.

Yet nothing justifies the appalling savagery and all-out war that was launched against the entire Tamil population in the name of fighting Tigers’ terror. Independent estimates suggest more than 40,000 Tamils were killed and hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes in the long and bloody campaign.

Prabhakaran, who loved to pose in his military fatigues, was eventually captured and killed and paraded like a prized trophy.  And it now turns out they didn’t even spare his 12-year-old son Balachandran. A recent documentary on UK’s Channel 4 showed the bullet-riddled, naked body of a young boy identified as Prabhakaran’s son. There were five bullet holes in the young torso, fired point blank. The image of the boy sleeping the eternal sleep is incredibly moving and disturbing. What was his crime except being Prabhakaran’s son?

Last year, the Channel 4 created a storm with its first documentary detailing the extent and epic proportions of crimes against humanity committed by both sides. This month, it followed up with more horrifying documentary evidence of war crimes and state sanctioned abuse and terror.

Of course, Prabhakaran routinely visited such savagery on his victims.  But is there no difference between a group of desperate militants and organized army representing a nation governed by laws and international conventions?

The Sri Lankans had heaved a collective sigh of relief when the island nation was rid of three decades of Tiger terror three years ago. My Lankan friends say today there’s total peace and security in the country and tourists are returning in big numbers. But what price is peace and security? Are there no laws and no fair rules of engagement as nations tackle terror and insurgency?

These questions demand answers from the world community and Lankan leadership. The UN Human Rights Council resolution last week was therefore the right thing to do and a belated recognition of the horrific crimes committed in the picture perfect island. And one is proud that India added its voice, albeit at gunpoint by the DMK, to the global chorus against the Lankan war crimes.

But what cruel irony that the UN resolution was moved by a country which has repeatedly blocked all attempts to confront Israel on its seven decades of crimes against the Palestinians! Besides, try as you might, it’s a tad difficult to look beyond the shock and awe of Iraq and Afghanistan and take lectures in human rights from folks responsible for Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the continuing drone strikes at faceless targets in distant lands. A million people paid with their lives for a lie in Iraq. But of course you can’t expect the world body to ever take on the empire.

Besides, the eternal proxy battlefield that the UN is, there’s more to the UNHCR vote than meets the eye. Washington hasn’t been too pleased with the growing Lankan proximity to Beijing and massive Chinese investment and influence in the neighborhood. This is precisely why India wasn’t too keen on the UNHCR vote fearing it would force Lanka into the welcoming Chinese arms.

Indian foreign policy establishment and ever-vigilant media warriors also obsessed over the UN vote opening the door to similar calls on Kashmir. Tellingly, Pakistan and many of India’s neighbors voted against the Lanka vote because of their close ties to Colombo.  As they say, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter and vice versa.

But regardless of all the cynical politics and diplomatic shadowboxing over this issue, it’s a shame if appalling crimes like these go unaccounted for. Desperate people resort to desperate measures. The Tamils took to arms only when they had had enough of persecution and injustice at the hands of the Sinhala majority.

While injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, as Martin Luther King would insist, it’s all the more unacceptable when the dispossessed groups and vulnerable minorities are at the receiving end. There comes a time when in the life of a nation as well as individuals, you have to rise above your narrow national interests and petty tribal loyalties to speak the truth, and more important, show which side you are on with your actions. Especially when silence and inaction could endanger precious lives.

We have seen it happen repeatedly in the case of Palestinians over the past seven decades. Armed with the US-issued license, Israel has killed and killed with impunity, incarcerating and torturing a whole nation.  And these are the folks who claim to have suffered the same fate not long ago.

In recent times, international inaction cost nearly a million lives in Rwanda.  Tens of thousands perished in the Balkans.  Ten years ago, more than 2,000 people were butchered and burnt and women raped in Gujarat for three months while the moderate, peace-loving prime minister in Delhi wrote poetry.

Thousands have been done to death in Syria and are still getting killed right now at the hands of their government because of the silence and overriding geopolitical interests of some world powers.

While the past has passed and perhaps there’s little anyone can do about it, it’s a disgrace if in today’s globalized, interconnected times the world with its fine institutions stands and stares while governments and despots kill people in the name of peace and security. Every time we remain silent and shut our eyes and ears, we send innocents to their death. Silence kills. Literally.

 *Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf based writer. Write him at aijaz.syed@hotmail.com ( Arab News)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    What happened & happening in Srilanka is a systematic method of ethnic cleansing.. and destroying the identity of a minority which feels it has the legitimacy over the land.

    The sad thing is.. it is still continuing.. and the international community just pretends that it doesn’t know any thing about it..

  • 0

    Thank you for speaking out and not staying silent.

  • 0

    Aijaz Zaka is right.

  • 0

    This the letter I wrote the paper and copied it Aijaz syed

    Dear Sir ,

    I read the article which appeared in Arab News today. Some of the comments are correct but their are some which you have inferred on the basis of hearsay . The writer states that some information have been gathered from your Sri Lankan friends. Most probably they would not have give you the correct information in context to what took place during the last 30 years in Sri Lanka.

    I dont know whether you are aware that, LTTE thugs in October 1990 expelled more than 75,000 Muslims men, women and children with only the clothes they were wearing and requested to never return under pain of death. Even the jewellery the women were wearing was wrenched out from their ears and neck by these thugs. Once thriving community of Muslims of North were reduced to penury and living as refugee in camps in the South. Prabakaran the megalomaniac wanted to have a ethinically pure Tamil state in the North called ELAAM.The LTTE Diaspora in the west are hiding this from the world and want to show as innocent victims of government terror.This was not the only brutality, the border villagers where Poor farmers who are Sinhalese were killed whilst sleeping and also the infants were buthchered and the mud huts were set on fire. This was a lesson to the villagers so that others villagers who are living in border areas would run away. More than 300,000 civilians were killed in Colombo and vicinity due to terror enforced in the main cities in order to achieve his ELAAM. India has to face the blame for this for it was India to establish the INDIRA DOCTRINE sowed terror in the hearts of its neighbors. RAW recruited these LTTE thugs and gave them training in tamil nadu. This was done by Indira due to our former government establishing close ties with USA and VOA station was established plus Trincomalee was offered to USA Navy. NOw USA has turned the other way about, someone said that USA does not have friends but only interest.

    Callum Macrae who directed the Channel 4 video when challenged about its authencity by independent experts admitted that it was put together with the aid of photograpic stills, LTTE websites and video clippings and Sri lanka Army video footage. The screening of this video was timed to coincide with the hearings UNHRC for maximum benefit which they archieved their purpose. Channel 4 had time and again requested to submit itself to an impartial investigation about the production of “Klling Fields” video but has ignored it to date.Channel 4 has been challenged so many times on other productions but it has always refused it.

    With regards to 40,000 civilians had died during the final war, a leaked document from the UN put the figure at 7,000. Then comes Sir John Holmes undersecretary who repudiated the figure. Afterwards a journo from london by the Name of Jeremy Page increases the figure to 20,000 and various other Journos give different figures under the prompting from the LTTE diaspora. Then comes the infamous Gordon Weiss who holds a candle for LTTE diaspora comes out with a figure of 40,000. When asked to state from where he got this figure he does not explain it.

    The government of Sri Lanka has stated that nobody believes our figure but states that the UN, ICRC and the WFP were their till the very end and request that to verify idependently from them as too how many died during the war. The Sri Lanka state says it less than 3,000 including the LTTE combatants.

    LTTE Supremo’s 12 years old son was also found dead, and Channel 4 made a hew and cry about it, but already a UN report exist that children as much as 10 years were carrying weapons and handling bombs during the war. The report goes on to state that the Sri Lanka soldiers would not shoot at them seeing they are very young and due to that these innocent children boys and girls were pushed into the front line.

    Whats is happening today is due to the chinese coming into Sri Lanka USA and India has got wary and want them pushed out, The resolution proposed by USA to teach a lesson to Sri lanka. The beauty of it is that the country which has worst Human rights record is sponsoring it. A interesting fact was another resolution was passed against Israel which was carried 46 in favor and 1 against. The 1 against was USA and Hillary Clinton announces to the world after the vote that if Sri Lanka does not implement the resolution further drastic action would be taken. But not a word about the other resolution, she knows if she speaks her future in politics would be over and AIPAC would wash her dirty linen in public.

    • 0

      We live in 21st century, noone needs to give information to the author

  • 0

    Syed, beleive as a journalist, one thing they may have taught you at journalism school is to “get your facts straight”! To expand on this comment below are a few such historical and glaring inaccuracies found in your article above and i just quote only a few due to time constraints:

    “…More important, LTTE managed to get its goal of a separate homeland for the Tamils…” (Correction: LTTE did not manage to get its goal for a seperate homeland, this is far from the truth and as innacurate as comparing day and night! The LTTE may have been able to set up an administrative capital in killinochchi manned by their own police, kangaroo (judicial) courts with lawyers and judges who underwent no form of formal legal trainning but appointed by the ‘Sun God’ (velupillai prabhakaran) and had some ramshackle set-ups such as these, but in no way can you make that initial claim! If they did achieve their separate homeland, then what was all the fightining about??!!) LOL!!

    “…to the ragtag army trained on Indian soil…” which “army” are you referring to here?? The IPKF or the LTTE?? Your terminology has much to be desired. One hopes that you are not referring to the LTTE because that would bring about the assumption that the LTTE was in possession of an army akin to a sovereign state such as India or SL. The only claim that the LTTE can be proud of (in its own jargon) is having a highly disciplined, ruthless, brainwashed militia, whose young child-cadres would lay down their lives or blow themselves up for their Supremo (aka Sun-God aka Velupillai Prabhakaran). Since you have highlighted the highly questionable channel4 news reel, maybe you could do a story on why Prabharkan decided to allegedly send his young 12 year son and tried to negotiate terms of surrender for him and his family, without having the guts to take the same cyanide capsule which he forced his cadres to wear around their necks! why did he and his family not swallow it rather than surrender to the Army? It just goes onto show that the LTTE dreams of a separate homeland was just a wet dream in the mind of its meglomanica leader, nothing to do with furthering the hopes and aspirations of the tamil people. Like the proverbial ‘tiger’ with nine lives, he may have thought he would be able to live to fight another day! Pure coward that he was!)

    “…While the Tamil revolt had been a response to long years of dispossession, its methods to get justice were far from just…” (Question: what “Tamil revolt” are you talking about? You need to be more specific with your claims. And try not to generalise everything. It would help to keep your focus on the ground situation and realities from a historical perspective of the issues that you write upon).

    And this my friend, is the most glaring misrepresentation in your entire article “..Yet nothing justifies the appalling savagery and all-out war that was launched against the entire Tamil population in the name of fighting Tigers’ terror. Independent estimates suggest more than 40,000 Tamils were killed and hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes in the long and bloody campaign…” (Question: where are your sources to say that a war was fought against an “entire Tamil population”? Did you ever or have you ever visited SL? This was no war against a “Tamil Population”, it was a war against one of the world’s worst, ruthless, blood-thirst terrorist groups who introduced the concept of suicide bombers to the world! Born in the home soil of Sri lanka and trained and armed as you have correctly pointed out in India! With the overall generalisation through your comment in quotes above, you have with one swipe made this issue in SL to be an ethnic problem akin to Ruwanda or Yugoslavia. If you actually visit SL you will realise that the Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslims and other races live day to day in peace and harmony and the fightining that took places was in the North and East of the country against the aforementioned terrorist group. Yes and people lost their lives, homes and loved ones and yes, the LTTE took steps to ethnically cleanse Muslims and Sinhalese from their traditional lands in the North and East, so that they could lay claim to their concept of “homeland”.

    In conclusion, the Sri lankan issue is far more complex than such generalisation which your article sadly aims to cover; and further, it merits indepth analysis and a historical perspective into the problems; not just by gathering information from your friends who feed you information on SL or by reading random articles. So please give your readers the respect that they deserve and next time publish an article which considers the all of the above factors. Writing from distant shores with a remote-controlled mentally does not help you nor your readers at large.

  • 0

    ”Former premier Rajiv Gandhi lost his life for his apparent sincerity in trying to end the interminable cycle of violence in the island. Dispatching Indian forces to Sri Lanka however proved a spectacular disaster with the country losing 1,155 soldiers to the ragtag army trained on Indian soil —a figure that outweighs the toll in wars with Pakistan.”
    I totally disagree with the writer as Rajiv Gandhi did not have sincere intention to end the violence in this paradise island SRI LANKA, started by his mother training the LTTE in Himachal, U P, Kerala, Thmilnadu and Palestine,
    Both of them got what they deserve.
    As how many thousands of humane died and how many thousand still suffering from their deeds,
    Indian bureaucrats [past and present] also are to be taken to responsible for these crime against humanity.

  • 0

    New Delhi: Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the man who India blames for 26/11, $10 million reward that has been offered by the US for assistance in capturing the militant.



  • 0

    Countries which find fault with Srilanka’s record on human rights are the biggest violators,themselves.Journalists from these countries are no different.No point talking about the #1human rights violators in the world,the US,who kill in millions.Now comes the new kid on the block,India!Not only in Kashimir but also many other places in India,minorities are murdered by government forces on a daily basis.In the past it was wholesale butchery at Golden Temple where over a thousand civilians were slaughtered in cold blood.Need to say more?

  • 0

    I feel that Ramzie Sanoon’s letter has some merit in response to Aijaz Zaka’s account of events. If both are considered, one can make a better set of conclusions of the realities of this unfortunate period of Sri Lanka’s recent history…

  • 0

    As an ex-member of the Sri Lanka Army, I will say we abused the bodies. A lot of us were gay, myself included. Being away from the home gave us a chance to do what we could not at home. I am not sorry we did these things. They were Tamil terrorists, terrorist is the same alive or dead.

    • 0

      If one of these days i wouldn’t be surprised if Velupillai Prabakaran himself turns up and claims that he was an ex srilankan army man!I like CT for providing us with fantasy stories.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.