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Genocide Replaces Separatism in Tamil Diaspora Vocabulary

This article is the second of a two-part series on the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in the years since the civil war ended in 2009.

Tamils protest Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2013. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 2013 (IPS) - Sri Lankan Tamil hopes for a separate state – Tamil Eelam – in the north and east of the island were dashed when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were summarily defeated in May 2009 by government forces.

Allegations of war crimes during the final months of the Sri Lankan Civil War have offered an agenda to a diaspora groups struggling to find their place in a post-separatist political scene.

But for a diaspora that was largely responsible for financing one side of a three-decade war, questions remain about what role these groups should play.

Charges of Ethnic Cleansing

For months leading up to the conflict’s final battle, the army of President Mahinda Rajapaksa used large-scale weapons to shell the LTTE as it pursued the Tamils across the northern state of Vanni, pushing the rebels and an estimated 330,000 civilians, many of them held hostage by the LTTE, into ever smaller areas of crossfire.

In the final days, 130,000 injured, sick and terrified Tamil civilians found themselves trapped on a narrow, one-square-mile spit of sand in Mullivaykkal.

Visvanathan Rudrakumaran of the TGTE says a process of ethnic cleansing continues after the war as the Sinhalese military colonises Tamil areas, something Pillay has also alleged.

“Time is running out. In the next two or three years the international community has to act," he said. "The government is aggressively colonising the land.”

But in diaspora communities, the clock is ticking just as fast. For the children of refugees who’ve grown up in Western countries built on the premise of multiculturalism, separatism and charges of genocide aren’t always endorsed.

JP*, a 21-year-old of Tamil descent who works as a legal assistant at Rudrakumaran’s law office, told IPS he knows what’s at stake in Sri Lanka, but mostly from studying international law on his own.

“My generation isn’t as connected with the movement,” he said.

JP says he is frustrated by a lack of self-awareness among diaspora leaders and hopes his generation can start a dialogue they cannot.

“I definitely believe in what they [LTTE] fought for, but I think that maybe at this point that’s not what we should be asking for," he said. “In the end, the main thing is that we get to live with respect and dignity, that’s why we fought in the first place."

*Not his real name.

Excoriating their own lack of action during those months, a 2011 U.N. Panel of Experts Report found that the Sri Lankan government repeatedly attacked “No Fire Zones” where it had told civilians to congregate and “systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines.”

The report concluded that most of the estimated at least 40,000 civilian deaths “in the final phase of the war were caused by government shelling.”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a commission of inquiry in 2010 to investigate the war but it was heavily criticised by international human rights groups for lacking independence.

This September, the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated she had “detected no new or comprehensive effort to independently or credibly investigate the allegations which have been of concern to the Human Rights Council.”

Pillay will submit a full report with recommendations at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2014. She has given that month as a deadline for the Sri Lankan government to carry out a credible national enquiry. If they do not, she will recommend the international community establish its own.

Visvanathan Rudrakumaran, the prime minister of the Transnational Government of Tamil Elaam (TGTE), one of the groups most closely linked to the remnants of the LTTE, said what took place was genocide and alleged war crimes should be recognised as such.

“Our struggle is to demonstrate to the world that what happened in Sri Lanka is an act of genocide, so that will convince the international community that reconciliation is not possible,” Rudrakumaran said in an interview with IPS.

He believes the ill-treatment of Tamils under the current Sinhalese Buddhist government isn’t likely to stop and the only solution is a separate state.

“Rajapaksa is the latest manifestation of Sinhalese chauvinism” he told IPS. “Sinhalese oppression did not start with Rajapaksa… it’s been going on since independence.”

For Rudrakumaran, proving genocide is a natural evolution from a separatist ideology, and a means to an end. How that could come about is unclear.

Other groups, like the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), have toned down their words.

“If you ask a Tamil person, they would love to see a separate state,” said David Poopalapillai, national spokesperson of the CTC. “But having said that, normalisation is our policy.”

The CTC and the umbrella Global Tamil Forum (GTF) have supported Northern Council Elections in September, which despite heavy voter intimidation, were won handily by the moderate Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

The TNA is seen as moderate, but many diaspora groups point to their late adoption of LTTE rhetoric and imagery as evidence a hardline is still necessary.

CTC press releases published before and after the election make no mention of war crimes or genocide.

“Any solution that the TNA comes up with, the diaspora should be happy with,” said Poopalapillai.

Without the leverage afforded by Tamil Eelam, the diaspora worries its voices will be relegated to the chorus of marginalised groups around the world. Refusing to let up pressure has had the effect of discouraging self-reflection.

“It’s sort of a human truism, Tigers don’t change their stripes,” said Gordon Weiss, the U.N. spokesperson in Sri Lanka at the war’s end.

“It really requires a big leap for people to completely drop the things people have believed and repeated and lived among groups of people who have repeated as well and suddenly turn around and say a separate state won’t work.”

But claims of genocide are difficult to prove to an international community hesitant to become embroiled in the moral prerogatives that accompany the term.

And because such a massive element of the diaspora was in some way linked to the LTTE – a group that pioneered suicide bombings and conscripted children to fight the state – it is potentially weakened by the very organisational unity it once boasted.

“I think that the issue of accountability for what happened during the war has not been helped by the past associations with the Tamil Tigers or the ongoing goals of some Tamil groups for a separate state and raising allegations of genocide,” said Weiss. “Combined, they have not necessarily advanced Tamil aspirations.”

Focusing so greatly on genocide puts a full reckoning of the war at risk and muddies chances for reconciliation, said Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka analyst at the International Crisis Group.

“It is certainly possible that one might someday be able to prove in a court of law what happened in Sri Lanka was genocide,” Keenan told IPS.

“But the current use of the genocide framework makes it harder for Tamils to have a discussion about the various ways that the LTTE contributed to their community’s catastrophe. And by painting things in such a black and white fashion, it also makes it harder for Sinhalese to accept their own community’s responsibility for atrocities.”

Weiss, whose book, “The Cage,” lays out a detailed case for charging the Sri Lankan government with war crimes, believes no lasting solution can be reached without an investigation and eventually a truth and reconciliation process that puts the crimes of both sides out in the open.

Yet the current political set-up, fueled in no small part by the diaspora, gives the Rajapaksa government little incentive to cooperate.

“Part of the problem is their culpability is intimately entwined with allegations of war crimes,” said Weiss. “It makes it very unlikely that the current government will be going down the path [of a true investigation] unless they can sell an amnesty package.”

This leaves diaspora groups in a painful bind. Do they prioritise engagement via the TNA and national politics or focus their attention on a distant and slow-moving international system, beholden to the whim of unfriendly U.N. Security Council members?

The diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka can postpone self-reflection in part because the government has continued with land grabs and human rights abuses and exhibited a general intransigence when it comes to reconciliation, said Keenan.

“If the Sri Lankan government gave reforms that would treat Tamils as equal citizens, that would give Tamils more space to criticise their own past leadership,” said Keenan. “As long as the government is being so harsh, it’s hard for Tamils to look at their own leaders’ mistakes.”

Part One of this series can be found here.

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  • marlon

    hay, thambi poopalapille,there is no separete state in sri lanka or buddhist govenment,thats one country,one flag,one national anthame,like where you live at the moment(canada),like one day you will ask scabrough erea also a separete state,dont forget there is state lande in south india thamil nadu,lern to live together with evry body the way you live now.bye…..

  • Mahesh

    So true ,marlin,tiger terrorists never understand that,punde tiger terrorists,

  • terry perera

    this guy should tell Indian government to give Tamil Nadu a separate state so sl can offload Tamils back to where they came from. why quote this Ltte lover Weiss he was just an office helper at UN office in Colombo before he being sacked and deported. he is like frog thing like to become a cow. he doesnot have enough education to understand whats happening in SL LOL

  • Dan

    ungrateful bunch of Tamils… VP killed and maime thousands of Tamils, Sinhalease and Muslims all over the island … Now this merciless killings has stopped and development has begun yet still these idiots wants to see more blood to quench their thrust….Elections after 30 yrs , development in North and East some places better than other parts of the island ….. Still not happy concocting mythical stories of genocide which never took place…. Killing VP is not a good this the best this ever happened to Tamils of Sri Lanka

  • DE Silva

    Yes, let me be clear ,Sir Lanka is not the place for a separate state and we will not allow this in its soil. The Sri Lankan Government cured this cancer permanently and we are free of it now, no more bombs. No more unnecessary deaths who ever it be. We don’t want it back. Every peace loving Sri Lankan expect the Government to give the most potent medicine if it tries to lift its head again. Its my beloved country and I must safeguard it. This country is not a state or part of another country. We are an independent state.

    The remaining diaspora LTTE terrorist rump is directly responsible and accountable for their lunatic genocidal boss Pirabakaran’s genocidal war that killed nearly 100000 people including innocent children and pregnant women and disabled millions over the 30 year period. They are the ones who provided money and material to the LTTE.

    Sad to say those western countries who speak about war crimes against Sri Lankan forces for eradicating terrorism is strangely silent about LTTE’s 30 year’s of war crimes. They are habouring them and has allowed them to wage their war against us to separate our tiny beautiful island. But If the so called GTF, CTC members land in our soil, we will give them the correct chemotherapy.

    Many western countries support this Genocidal Diaspora’s ideology of a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka is a bit suspicious. Why Sri Lanka?? Either they have succumbed to their propaganda which is so powerful or they ignorantly and knowingly doing so for their own political reasons ( Eg Votes) . And one important thing is Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean. West knows that this a stratgically very important location and a bit irked by the Chinese presence in Sri Lanka.

    Let me remind you, LTTE have their agents in most of international organizations( I will not mention their names) and some western government’s parliament as well. So the HR reports submitted by them are severely biased. One TV channel in UK made a propaganda movie on behalf of the LTTE rump against Sri Lanka for millions of pounds paid by them.

    Through out history Sri Lankans have fought many battles against invaders. The spirit is there in their blood. Its Lions blood. It is not new to us. What we expect id peace and harmony among all communities. Everyone should think as Sri Lankan.

    If India or the west is so concernes about a seperate state for the Tamil people the best place is India’s Tamil Nadu. There’s 70 million Tamil’s there and Mrs Jayalaliha will be very happy about it. ( For years this poor lady has nothing to do but attack Sri Lanka for the Tamil issue).

    Sri Lanka is not the place my friend ! That’s only a dream.

  • AndrewGS

    This report is high inaccurate. If you would read the Panel Report 2011 (the so called Darusman Report) which was not a UN sanctioned report (but was a private report commissioned for the consumption of Ban-ki-Moon), admits that the source of casualty figures may be highly unreliable as they can not be verified. UN itself estimated the total death toll during the last six months of war being 7000, which includes LTTE combatants (Est about 5500, natural deaths, and the civilians who were victims of cross-fire, and LTTE’s shooting of the defectors).

    Several Doctors who served in the LTTE later testified that LTTE bloated the death toll to showcase a crisis situation and to get an international intervention at the 11th hour.

    Those who visited Sri Lanka know what the international LTTE lobby of LTTE telling as blatant lies. The most simple example is that when the war was in the north, Tamils sought refuge with Sinhalese in the south. If Sinhalese prosecute Tamils or discriminate them, there is no way they would come to the south.

    However, if you would go to Embassies of UK, Canada, etc., you find many Tamils work there as customer facing agents, because they are tri-lingual. They treat Sinhalese very badly, and do whatever possible to making their visa applications to these countries rejected. New VSF offices also employ the same Tamils who played this game at the embassies in the past.

    Tamils’ homeland is TamilNadu, where 60 million Tamils live. Sri Lanka is for everyone to live peacefully.

  • DesiOz

    Sri Lanka is one country and should remain one. All communities need to accept that. If the Tamil people or anyone else have issues they should fight it democratically. If someone feels there is no democracy in Sri Lanka then they should fight for it. Separateness can be maintained in a multicultural environment. It’s called unity in diversity. This all is difficult but possible if one has the will.

  • Nallathamby Yoganathan

    Another evidence for isolating the racist Srilanka from all world bodies until Srilanka come clean on peace, harmony and investigation into war crimes and genocide

  • Sinniah Sivagnanasun

    That ONE day must come soon.

  • Alex Pandian

    The father of modern day Singapore Lee Kuan Yew.made this statement during a conversation with author Thomas Plate, the actions taken in 2009 by the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil minority as ‘ethnic cleansing’ who wrote the book ‘Citizen Singapore: How to Build a Nation

    Since independance There are many programs and massacre happened in North and South thousands of people have died ,murdered and disappeared so far a few have brought to books ,and many more won’t see their justice. Questioned journalists are in troubble and their deaths are mistry. Ad Hog Commisions were waiting without resuls for a long time won’t achive anythig in the end too Human rights watch said. Sri Lankan Law and Order are core values ,and are most important than sovereginity for its citizens. Nooooo Body want to compromise on it , Law and order were werst effected in sri lanka for a long time and thats is the root cause of the conflict.

  • Obamasal

    There is a Sinhala Buddhist government which is obvious as it encourages BBS to destroy Mosques, Churches and temples. his has never happened before. Canada allows French speaking people of Quebec to administer in their language whereas Sinhala only imposes an alien language on Tamil speaking minorities with colonial military governor and Sinhala speaking military.

    You must get into your thick cranium that Tamil Nadu is a province or state of India which will not allow any other citizen of any other country to live there, let it be an American, Sri Lankan or Pakistani who need visa to enter. There are 110,000 Sri Lankans who speak Tamil languish in camps in India because of the atrocities of the occupying military in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

    Muslims and Tamils are natives of Sri Lanka. Whenever the majoritarian government oppresses the minorities there will be calls for separation.

  • Obamasal

    Who killed 146,000 Tamils between January and May of 2009 after prolonged starvation? Only an independent investigation by the representatives of all the parties concerned can establish the facts of allegations of war drimes and genocide, interested parties cannot be judges.

  • Alex Pandian

    Democracy loving Tamils are only asking to fix the Sri Lanka’s miserably failed LAW and ORDER ,This lawlessness going unleashed and failed to protect them since independence this is the root cause of the conflict nothing else. Asking justice isn’t luxury or separation or against Sri Lanka.

  • Lord Shiva

    Rajiv Gandhi has signed the 13th Amendment in 1987 that should have paved the way for harmony, rule of law, democracy, freedom and justice to the minority but the successive Sri Lankan regimes deliberately ignored it as the regime’s hidden agenda is to eliminate the Tamils from Eelam.

    Since signing the 13th Amendment Tamils have been oppressed on a higher scale including the genocide in 2009 and 26 long years passed and no progress towards peace, accountability, rule of law and justice.

    No one will have any trust in the Sri Lankan Rajapakse regime that has no respect for humanity, mankind, human rights, dignity, Rule of law, justice and democracy.

    Kamalesh Sharma’s version of investigation will never be meaningful and only a credible independent international transparent investigation on the human rights abuses and war crimes will bring a closure to this issue, bring the perpetrators to the ICC to deliver Justice and it will be meaningful and acceptable to everyone except the war criminals and those who committed the genocide.

flock ravenhood