- Created: Thursday, 16 June 2011 09:48
- Written by FRFI
Two years after the Sri Lankan government with British and US support defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the British government continues to be complicit in the oppression of the Tamil people. On 16 June the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) plans to deport around 60 Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka by charter flight, and a second charter flight has been booked for 21 June. London Law firm Ravi Solicitors have compiled evidence that in at least 14 cases, the names and documents submitted by a Tamil asylum seeker as part of their asylum claim have been handed to the Sri Lankan High Commission. UKBA have not denied this accusation.
On 14 June Channel 4 aired a documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, featuring devastating video evidence of horrific war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government in the final stages of its war against the LTTE. The documentary was shown to diplomats at the UN on 3 June, and has been cited by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, as evidence of ‘definitive war crimes’. This follows a report published in April by the UN Secretary General concluding that as many as 40,000 people were killed in the final weeks of the Sri Lankan army’s offensive, double previous UN estimates.
While the Sri Lankan government talks of unity and peace, the horror for the people of Tamil Eelam continues. Several thousand Tamils continue to be held in ‘reintegration’ camps in the North and East of Sri Lanka, where reports are rife of sexual abuse, forced labour and torture. Harassment, denial of work and re-arrest of those released is common. Family members are routinely denied visiting rights or information about their detained relatives. On 13 June the British Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Mark Gooding, visited the Thellipalai detention camp near Jaffna to announce a pledge by the British government to provide £500,000 towards the running of such camps.
Outside the camps, in the main Tamil areas, the Sri Lankan army is in permanent occupation, systematically harassing and detaining Tamil youths. By the end of April nearly 18,000 Tamils were still being held at the notorious Manik Farm camp, while settlers from the Sinhalese majority have been settled in Tamil areas in the North and East. In coastal areas near Batticaloa in the East, Tamils have come under pressure from the army to move off their land to make way for Sinhalese settlers. There are also reports that the Sri Lankan army are engaged in extortion of Tamil residents and that the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary and President’s brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has established groups of thugs in the North who are terrorising civil society groups with impunity.
The Sri Lankan state is also increasing repression against other sections of the population. The Rajapaksa government is forcing down wages, attacking pensions, accelerating privatisation and removing democratic rights. Sri Lanka ranks fourth in the world for the number of unsolved murders of journalists. The offices of an opposition media group, Siyatha, were firebombed by an armed gang in July 2010, and a news website LankaeNews.com had its offices attacked in January this year, its editor arrested in March, and was banned in May.
In April an IMF representative spoke approvingly of the ‘progress’ being made by the Sri Lankan government in implementing its austerity programme, as living costs soar. On 30 May workers at the Free Trade Zone at Katunayake were fired at by police as they protested against a private sector pensions bill which will require 10 years continuous employment to qualify for a pension which is 15% of wages. More than 200 workers were injured, 100 arrested, and 22 year old Roshen Shanaka was killed.
The government is driving privatisation in higher education through the establishment of private universities and is cutting resources for state universities. In March and April the government banned several student unions and temporarily closed the Sabaragamuwa, Eastern and Ruhuna Universities in an attempt to stop protests. On 12 June four students at Sri Jayewardenepura University were arrested on charges of ‘conspiring against the state’. A legal challenge has been lodged against government plans to send students to compulsory military boot camps. University lecturers, normally a reliable part of the Sri Lankan establishment, are fighting pay cuts.
The British Labour government branded the LTTE a terrorist organisation, licensed sales to the Sri Lankan state of machine guns, small arms, communications equipment and armoured vehicles (£7 million of arms exports in the months leading up to the military defeat of the LTTE) and built up a racist immigration apparatus within Britain which prevented many Tamil asylum seekers from securing refuge, and carried out the first deportation charter flights to Sri Lanka in January 2009. Today the ConDem coalition is continuing with mass deportations of Tamil asylum seekers and is financing the detention camps were many are likely to be imprisoned. Any concern they claim to express over the evidence of war crimes exposed in the Channel 4 documentary and the UN report is sheer hypocrisy.
Stop deporting Tamil asylum seekers!
End British complicity in Sri Lankan state repression!
For more information read:
Barbarous assault on the Tamils (FRFI 209 June/July 2009)
Tamils Held in Camps (FRFI 210 August/September 2009)
Update 17 June:
The mass deportation went ahead on the evening of 16 June. The plane took off while an appeal on behalf of several of those being deported was still being heard in the High Court. At least one person had their deportation ruled unlawful, but by this time they were already in the air on the way to Sri Lanka. On the same day, the Sri Lankan army attacked a public meeting with rifle butts and batons organised in Jaffna by the Tamil National Alliance, a legal political party, ahead of local government elections which start on 23 June. At least two Tamil asylum seekers have attempted suicide rather than be sent back. A further mass deportation to Sri Lanka has been confirmed for 30 June.