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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2585

The Effects of Globalization on Tamil Ethnic Issues in Sri Lanka

By Jesudason Atputharajah

Globalization is having a lot of impact on the ethnic issues in Srilanka. Mostly in the 20th century, the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka was essentially an internal problem, though the beginnings of globalization were already felt during the latter stages.

India, Norway and several other countries began to be interested in the domestic conflicts in Sri Lanka . With the migration of Sri Lankan Tamils to other parts of the world, the internationalization of the problem naturally came into being. The militants had always sought foreign help to add to their strength in their efforts to fight the government. They had got down military aid as well as diplomatic help to realize their ends. On the other hand the Sri Lank government too had approached India, Norway and several other countries to get the problem solved in the manner that would be advantageous to them. Even with the efforts made by the international intervention, the problem has not been solved yet.

A. The Role of Foreign Countries: It could be asserted that globalization has escalated the crisis as well as found some partners in getting the ethnic divide to be bridged in some way or other. The United States and Norway has been important countries outside the region to have been interested in finding an amicable solution to the conflict. Others who wielded some kind of influence are Israel, Canada and Japan.

It was USA which designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. The US applied pressure to the LTTE , focusing on its use of child soldiers and human rights violations. In addition they provided security assistance to the Sri Lanka government.

For example in March 2008, the US donated $220,000 worth of anti-terrorism equipment to the Srilankan police. Sri Lanka also benefitted from the Millennium Challenge Account of the Bush Administration. It received assistance from 2004 to 2006. Even during the time of the previous UNP administration ,US helped Sri Lanka in military and development projects. US also took interest in promoting the peace process in Sri Lanka . It had meetings with the former Prime Minister Wickremasinghe in 2002 and 2003. US also engaged with other ethnic groups in Sri Lanka , such as the Tamil National Alliance as well as the Muslim political parties. US barred its citizens from providing funds or materials to the LTTE. Though US recognized LTTE as a negotiating partner in the peace efforts, it did not invite it to the May 2003 Washington Peace Conference. The US senate criticised the government for supporting the Sri Lanka government whose security forces were responsible for human rights violations.

Norway played a significant role in the peace process on the invitation of the Srilankan government. It was invited as mediator by both the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE in 1999 . Though the peace talks stopped in 2003, Norway ensured that the peace process continued through other means. As a co-chair with the European Union , the US and Japan, Norway joined the 2003 Tokyo Donor Conference, which was attended by 51 countries and 22 international organizations to support the peace process and reconstruction-development activities. However, Norway found it difficult to be a mediator as well as a cease-fire monitor. Yet it managed to maintain its dual role until 2008.

The other nations that were involved in the ethnic issues in Sri Lanka were Israel,Canada and Japan. On the other hand the LTTE has bought weapons from China,North Korea, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, Eritrea, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Other countries have also sold weapons to Sri Lankan government,like Israel. Since the Sri Lankan government and Israel share the same kind of enemies, the latter naturally supports the former. With a significant proportion of Tamil diaspora in their soil, Canada has played a relatively minor role in the Sri Lankan conflict. In 2006, the Canadian government banned the LTTE and labeled it as a terrorist organization after discovering that Tamil funding has been an indirect cause for the violence in Sri Lanka.

Canada always advocated a peaceful solution to the conflict and had donated $10million in development aid to Sri Lanka . Most Tamil activists felt that the banning of the LTTE by Canada gave a strong boost to the Sri Lankan government to go for a military solution. Japan also played a role in the conflict by organizing the Tokyo Donor Conference in 2003. The conference was aimed at the development and progress of peace in Sri Lanka .

B. The Role of the Diaspora and the Global Society: Apart from States, the diaspora too plays an important role in the efforts at solution to the ethnic issues in Sri Lanka. Diasporas can play an important role in this regard, as they offer a source of financing, external lobbying towards host countries and internal influences. The establishment of the Tamil diaspora is intrinsically linked to the ethnic conflict that broke out into open war in 1983.The tensions and eventual unleash of violence led to a protracted exodus of Tamis from Sri Lanka to escape persecution. The establishment of the diaspora led to the founding of numerous community groups that have become a key source of funds for aiding the deveopment of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka , while also being linked to militant groups as fund-raisers. The Sri Lankan conflict enterd a new phase in 2009 with the apparent victory of the Sri Lankan government over the LTTE.

Tamil diaspora communities throughout the world have founded community organizations as well as web-sites, newspapers, radio and TV stations that have helped maintain their culture and contact in Srilanka. During the pre-2009 period, the LTTE was able to get massive support from the diaspora for their so-called liberation activities. With the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2011, a new terror legislation came into effect globally. LTTE's ability to raise funds abroad became severely hampered. Major front organizations like the World Tamil Movement in Canada were investigated and shut down. After the defeat of the LTTE in 2009, the diaspora has to change its structure and goals. The transnational Government of Tamil Eelam and the Global Tamil Forium are some of the newly structured organizatiioos seeking to press for the rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka . There is an urgency for the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of the Learnt Lessons and Reconciliation Committee. The government should take steps to grant Tamil rights and proportionate representation in the light of the new findings. The diaspora is also a key factor in the current deveopment after the end of the civil war. The Tamil diaspora remains a major contributor to the Tamil community within Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government should make use of the opportunity to stabize peace enactments in order to ensure ethnic harmony and peaceful co-existence in Sri Lanka . The global society depicts that the conflict will continue to have grave implications for humanitarian aid given to post-war Sri Lanka , the detriment of refugees and IDPs both nationally and internationally. The international element in all its forms should complement the efforts to solve the ethnic problems in Sri Lanka .

The Sri Lankan Diaspora has taken on added significance because a greater number of them left the shores 'aggrieved' either due to discriminatory language policies or following the violent ethnic pogroms of previous regimes. The campaigns of the diaspora have drawn the world's attention to Sri Lanka’s human rights situation, plight of internally displaced persons and alleged belligerence of Armed Forces towards civilians. The representations mad by members of the Diaspora at international forums are also significant.

The Sri Lankan Diaspora has gained a reputation in their adopted countries for diligence and dedication to their employment together with academic and professional attainments. The overall perception is that they make a useful contribution in their adopted country. The diaspora who migrated have not assimilated otr integrated into their country of adoption. They remain distinguishable in their language, food, culture and habits. This is due to the patronage they get from the liberal democracies of the West.

The diaspora wish to retain their 'identity; to 'exhibit their high culture and in some cases because they see Sri Lanka as their eventual point of return. The failure to integrate has both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side it means regular foreign currency remittances to help family and friend, endowment of charities back home, frequent holiday travel, investment in business, real estate in Sri Lanka . On the negative providing financial support for causes dear to them and in some cases influencing western governments to support these causes. In any case the issues relating to resettlement and reconciliation have to be seriously tackled by the status quo of Sri Lanka for the sheer matter of preserving the reputation of Sri Lanka as a resplendent island without allowing the tigers and the lions to be at each other’s throat. The ethnic divide in Sri Lanka is manipulated by power minded propagandists from both ethnic groups; it is left for a future mature political leadership to carve out a lasting solution.

- Asian Tribune -

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