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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2615

Huffington Post - “The Tamils in Sri Lanka: From Tigers Into Lambs”: A Response

By Mariathas Loganathan

It pains me to read the article “The Tamils of Sri Lanka: From Tigers Into Lambs”, which portrays one of the deadliest terrorist group in the world, proscribed by most of the world’s democracies, to be helpless and innocent.

Jack Healy, the writer of the article, portrays the Sri Lankan Government as insensitive and indifferent to the many allegations of marginalization, rape, and killings. Let us look at these allegations through a factual prism, while taking the historical backdrop in to consideration, instead of spewing emotionally charged misrepresentations.

Throughout the colonial period (1815 - 1948) the British oppressed the majority population of Sri Lanka and favored the minorities as they sought to divide and rule. Years of manipulation took a toll on the social fabric of the country and caused serious rifts among the communities that had previously lived in relative ethnic and religious harmony. The introduction of democracy in 1948 turned things around, giving the Sinhala majority a democratic voice which they used to realign the opportunity equation. The “privileges” enjoyed by the minority, specifically the over representation of Tamils (12% population, 1946) in the government and in the civil service (50% representation: 1938) underwent change. The changes resulting from democracy caused dissatisfaction among the English educated Tamil community which feared a substantial decrease in power and influence. However, the said changes continued, including the 1956 Sinhala Only Act, which recognized Sinhala as the island’s official language.

The Tamil Tigers who evolved into a force in the 1970s under the charismatic leadership of Prabhakaran added a violent dimension to the differences. Violence sparked by the LTTE escalated with the assassination of the influential moderate Tamil political leader and Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Thambirajah Duraiappah. Since 1975 the LTTE continued to eliminate all other Tamil moderate leaders who did not fall in to line with their violent ideology. LTTE’s plans for a mono ethnic separatist state in the North and the East included the slaughter of thousands of Sinhalese and Muslim men, women, and children living in the North and the East. Otherwise forced to flee their homes. It must be noted that it was NOT the Sri Lankan government that carried out pogroms against its civilians, but the LTTE. The gross violence in the North and the East against the Sinhalese and the Muslims by the LTTE had the effect that they desired. By 1991, in an unprecedented act of ethnic cleansing, the LTTE rid the North of all other communities. Contrary to Healy’s belief, Sri Lanka’s systematic marginalization and communal genocide is reflective of the actions of the LTTE and NOT its democratically elected Government..

Just as the Tamil community, the Sinhala community too comes from diverse faiths and cultures. Mostly Buddhist, there is a substantial Christian (mainly Roman Catholic) and Hindu population among the Sinhalese. The Muslims in Sri Lanka identify themselves separately from the Tamils and Sinhalese, although depending on where they live they speak Tamil or Sinhala as their mother tongue. The Sinhalese and Tamils have much in common culturally; including the celebration of the Sri Lankan New Year and the worship of Hindu Gods in Buddhist temples. Therefore any military action taken by the Government of Sri Lanka against the LTTE was NOT based on a “peculiar Buddhist mythology”, but as an act of self-defense against a bloody terrorist group.

Despite Sri Lanka being a poor third world nation, up until 2009 when the conflict ended, the Government of Sri Lanka had continued to provide essential supplies, services (education and healthcare), and billions of rupees to LTTE controlled areas in order to ensure that all its civilians had their basic needs.

Contrary to the misinformation purveyed, various NGOs and bilateral aid donors operating in LTTE controlled territory, including the ICRC, had access to the LTTE’s final beachhead almost till the very end of the conflict.

Under government protection the ICRC transported over 15,000 sick, wounded, and carers from the LTTE controlled areas to areas of safety. The Government created Safe Zones and imposed restrictions on the use of heavy weaponry and air strikes during the final stages of the conflict in order to minimize civilian casualties.

These restrictions were self-imposed by the Government of Sri Lanka and should have been acknowledged as exemplary for no other country or organization, including the United States and NATO, had taken such extensive measures to protect civilians.

The government has continued to take firm action against reported cases of violence against women and girls during the conflict and in the post conflict period. The involvement of Security Forces personnel, as a percentage of the total accused of sexual violence, stands at 5.6% (January 2007- May 2009) during the conflict period and 3.3% (2009 – 2012) in the post-conflict period for the Northern Province. Legal action has been taken by the Government through military tribunals in all of the above cases in which the Sri Lankan Security Forces personnel have been involved. Furthermore, prosecutions have been lodged in criminal courts regarding case of rape and sexual harassment. In majority of these cases, the perpetrators have been close relatives or neighbors of the victim, not strangers from the security forces. Along with the application of the law to service personnel who breach military rules, the Sri Lankan military continues to provide large scale human rights training to service personnel with the assistance of the ICRC.

Equally, the Government has given special consideration to uplifting the social and economic status of war widows. Already bilateral assistance has been obtained to initiate a self-employment program for war widows in Batticaloa in collaboration with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) based in India. A local NGO called the Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action and the Association of War Affected Women educates soldiers, youth, and community leaders about international standards relating to war and promotes the economic and social development of women across conflict lines.

The scars of 27 years of violence and destruction will not disappear in three short years. However, the Government and the people have taken many positive strides. The northern Ireland Parliamentarian for North Antrim, Ian Paisley, commented that Sri Lanka has made more gains post-conflict than Northern Ireland during a UK parliamentary debate of “Sri Lanka and the UN Responsibility to Protect.” He added, he has visited Sri Lanka on a number of occasions both as a private individual and on a cross-party parliamentary trip. His experience with the people on the ground in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka (former conflict affected areas) was very different from the “out-of-touch message” he has heard from the “self-appointed diaspora in Canada and in the United Kingdom”. Australian parliamentarian and deputy opposition leader, Julie Bishop, too affirmed exactly this, and commented that “we were heartened by the steps that have been taken on the issue of reconciliation”.

After a mission to Sri Lanka, OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Director of operations, Mr. John Ging said that “the scale of what Sri Lanka has accomplished over the past three years- the pace of resettlement and development of infrastructure- is remarkable and very clearly visible”. Even UNICEF’s Executive Board concluded after a visit, that “Sri Lanka has moved from a state affected by conflict to a state deeply committed to reconstruction, reconciliation and development”. Given the positive feedback Sri Lanka has been receiving from respected leaders and professionals, on her efforts in accountability and reconciliation, Mr. Healy can rest assured that Sri Lanka is NOT systematically marginalizing, raping, or killing its citizens.

“The Tamils in Sri Lanka: From Tigers Into Lambs”

- Asian Tribune -

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