Who says it isn't genocide in Sri Lanka?
By Satheesan Kumaaran
May 1, 2009
No civilization wants to see the deaths of thousands regardless of where they were born, to whom they were born, and to what ethnic, religious, linguistic, or racial groups they were born into. However, thousands of people die in the hands of their own state-armed forces who should actually protect them while the rest of the civilized world looks the other way. The world will wait for hundreds of thousands of people to die before they declare it a genocide in Sri Lanka.

How long will the people in the Sri Lanka's Northeast have to suffer? The world has turned a deaf ear to the dire consequences that await the people in the Northeast, replicating the events of Rwanda in 1994. After the death of 500,000 people in Rwanda, the world called it 'genocide'. When will the world recognize that the Tamils are also facing genocide? Or will they only decide to speak out against such massive killings before Sri Lanka becomes another Rwanda?

Sri Lanka ignores world concern
The global powers as well as the international organization the United Nations urged the Sri Lankan government to stop the hostilities against the Tamils in the north in order to save tens of thousands of Tamils from being killed. According to the UN report, more than 6,400 people died and over 15,000 have been injured since January 2009. However, fearsome reports reveal from the 'safe zone' that nearly 15,000 people had died since January 2009. The LTTE unilaterally declared ceasefire after the appeal from the international community. However, Colombo reacted hastily with more military pressure upon Tamils in the North, rather than embracing the unilateral truce declared by the LTTE in order to make it bilateral truce. But, the Sri Lankan government leaders described the LTTE's unilateral truce as a 'joke' saying that the LTTE declared it because they wanted to regroup or they wanted to escape from the Sri Lankan military advancement.

The global community welcomed the LTTE's stand and urged Colombo to do the same on the basis of humanitarianism. But, Colombo flatly rejected it. On the other hand, the neighbouring India gave diplomatic pressure to Colombo for its own benefits. New Delhi government led by Manmohan Singh with the support of southern Indian Tamil Nadu political parties, especially with the support of Tamil Nadu state government led by Karunanidhi of DMK, exerted pressure upon Colombo to do something to stop hostilities, as the Opposition political and other interest groups launched a massive campaign against the DMK and the Congress party of Manmohan Singh because Tamil Nadu is home to about 70 million Tamils and they will go to the polls on May 13 to elect 40 seats of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to the Lok Sabha. New Delhi, after the pressure from DMK, acted hastily, especially after DMK leader Karunanidhi staged a fast-unto-death campaign which began on April 27 at 8:30 a.m. but ended at 12: 30 p.m. on the same day because New Delhi sent a message to Karunanidhi to pull back from the protest since the Sri Lankan government declared truce. Karunanidhi, too, went back home after meeting the press saying that he had won. However, Colombo flip-flopped, saying it never declared truce with the LTTE. Rather, it said it would not use heavy weapons and aircraft against the LTTE.

However, the Tamils the world over were outraged and Tamil Nadu Opposition political parties and interest groups mounted a campaign against DMK, New Delhi, and Colombo. Reports coming from the North are also heartbreaking. The SLA fired 5,600 shells within 15 hours beginning April 27 at 6 p.m. until April 28 at 11 a.m. Reports also claim that more than 200 people were killed in this shelling alone. Further, Sri Lankan air force jets are pounding through the bunkers where the people have sought refuge. The wounded, elders, children, and women, among others, are staying in the bunkers for days and nights without medication treatment, food, and water. Tens of thousands of people will die within days if that continues. Although the UN puts the estimate that around 50,000 to 60,000 people are staying inside the 'safe zone' along with the LTTE fighters, reports from the safe zone say that around 160,000 people remain. However, the Sri Lankan government says only 15,000 to 20,000 civilians are there. However, the world communities cannot count the exact figure as the Sri Lankan government has barred NGOs, reporters, and any others.

Internment camps mean slaughter houses
The UN reports that around 200,000 civilians are sheltered in internment camps surrounded by barbed wire set up by Colombo. Colombo tries to compromise its action saying these arrangements were made in order to prevent the LTTE fighters from hiding among the civilians and then regrouping. However, Colombo says they will be kept there for years.

The Tamil Nadu Opposition leader and former Premier Jayalalithaa asks how can the Tamils on the island live peacefully if even Colombo does not trust its own citizens? So, she publicly declared that if the Tamil Nadu people vote her and her allies in the upcoming election, she would help Eelam Tamils to create an independent 'Tamil Eelam', further saying that Sri Lankan armed forces be driven out from the Tamil homeland. But in contrast, the "foreign forces" are forcing the inhabitants of the land into internment camps.

The UN secretary general dispatched UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes to Colombo, especially after the Security Council's recommendation in order to urge Sri Lankan government to declare a truce and allow UN humanitarian monitors to be sent to the affected areas. However, the government has rejected it.

The National Security Council declared "combat operations have reached their conclusion" and "security forces have been instructed to end use of heavy calibre guns, combat air craft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties". Operations would be confined "to rescuing civilians who are held hostage". The announcement has no credibility. It is not clear what the Security Council will do in the aftermath of Colombo's failure to uphold its assurance.

On April 27, Paul McMaster, a Médecins Sans Frontières surgeon, said "all hospitals are struggling to cope with casualties". At the Vavuniya hospital, the number of emergency operations dropped to 44 on April 23-the first time it was below 100 in five days. On April 24, the figure fell to 18, but only because the military diverted emergency patients to other hospitals. "There are still people crowded in the wards, in the corridors, on the floor, with fractures, open bullet wounds, and blast injuries... There are many people who have been waiting on the wards to go into theatre, some of them for up to 24 hours," McMaster stated. He visited the 350-bed Mannar hospital and found 1,000 patients-some in tents outside the hospital building.

McMaster continued: "We also drove to Menik Farm, 40 km south west of Vavuniya. There are now 100,000 displaced people. Bulldozers are clearing more land to make more room and UNICEF is putting tents up by the hundreds... One man who had arrived at Menik Farm from the north a few days ago came up to us saying, 'I have nothing, I have nothing.' He was just standing there, shell-shocked, just telling us: 'I have nothing'."

World turns towards Sri Lanka
The Obama administration in the U.S. held a closed-door interagency meeting to review the situation in Sri Lanka, just a day before Colombo issued a statement that it would not use heavy weapons against the LTTE with senior officials from the state department, Pentagon, National Security Council, USAID, and several other agencies attending. The President ordered the officials to brief him on a daily basis about the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka. Also, the U.S. State Department issued a statement on April 26 after a meeting of the so-called co-chairs-the U.S., the EU, Norway and Japan. Far from demanding the Sri Lankan government pull its troops back to the previous ceasefire lines but instead the statement condemned the LTTE for preventing civilians from leaving the no-fire zone and called on it to "lay down arms to a neutral third party". None of these countries, however, have condemned the crimes of the Sri Lankan government, which were responsible for restarting the civil war in July 2006 and waging offensives with complete indifference to the impact on the civilian population. For nearly three years, the international community has tacitly supported Rajapaksa's genocidal war, turning a blind eye to the military atrocities and the government's gross abuses of democratic rights. When the government formally abrogated the 2002 ceasefire in January 2008, the co-chairs made not the slightest protest.

Asia Director at Human Rights Watch in New York, Brad Adams, said on April 27 that by finally admitting Sri Lanka has been using heavy weapons all along, Sri Lanka has shed light onto its official deception as well as its brutal military tactics. He said: "The UN Security Council should stop burying its head in the sand on Sri Lanka and urgently create an international commission of inquiry to look at abuses by both sides."

All the pleas and pressure on Sri Lanka does not bear fruit. Sri Lanka is ignoring and rejecting the international communities' call to stop the hostilities and allow the people to live free. It is like an echo on deaf ears.

The international countries have the option to end the war just as they did in Rwanda. The time has come for the world to recognize the deaths of Tamils as genocide in this Sri Lankan Rwanda instead of aiding and abetting in the genocide of Tamils.

(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)