Saturday, May 02, 2009
Green MEP speaks at Sivan Kovil temple on Sri Lanka crisis
Following the petition we organised with Tamil residents to highlight the desperate situation of those trapped in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka, today we had a meeting at the Sivan Kovil temple.
Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London was there to listen to residents' concerns and talk about her role as a member of the European Parliament's Human Rights Sub-Committee and Delegation to South Asia (SAARC). From my point of view it was particularly useful to listen to the presentation from the British Tamil Forum on the background to the long-running conflict, as my knowledge of the historical context was at best sketchy.
The meeting was packed with over a hundred Tamil residents present, including a number from Ladywell. There was considerable discussion over what the British government could/should be doing to resolve the crisis, as well as whether the decision by the European Parliament a few years ago to add the Tamil Tigers to the list of banned terrorist organisations was the right thing to do, or whether it was in fact an obstacle to negotiating a peaceful solution. There was also some debate over whether EU economic sanctions against Sri Lanka would help, or whether Sri Lanka could simply turn to other markets with similarly poor human rights records, such as China, Libya and Iraq.
Comparisons were made with the recent bombings in Gaza and the lack of media coverage of the Sri Lankan conflict in contrast, although many more have died in Sri Lanka. The point was made that there has been next to no media coverage of the recent visit to Sri Lanka by the Foreign Secretary David Milliband, where his calls for a ceasfire were resoundingly rebuffed by the Sri Lankan government. Likewise, very few column inches were devoted to covering the huge central London demonstration, while page after page was written about Susan Boyle.
People spoke of their concern at what they called the 'scorched earth' policy of the Sri Lankan government, the alleged use of chemical weapons, the indiscriminate aerial bombardment that has led to so many civilian deaths and the destruction of many civilian buildings such as hospitals and orphanages. They were also concerned about the internment camps that those fleeing the conflict zone are being forced to go to and the lack of access to the region both for aid agencies and international media. If the Sri Lankan government has nothing to hide, they said, why don't they let the world's media in so they can see exactly what is going on? Any victory of the Sri Lankan government over the Tamil Tigers will be a pretty hollow one if it comes at the cost of human rights.
Jean also talked about the number of journalists (both Tamil and Sinhalese) who have been killed for reporting the conflict, an issue she highlighted in a New Statesman article this week to mark World Press Freedom Day.
Perhaps the phrase that stays with me from today's talk was the woman who said that so many of us have become 'emotionally blunted' to the ongoing violence and horror; that we are so used to hearing stories of people being slaughtered that we no longer feel compelled to react or protest.
Tamil residents in the UK have behaved with enormous dignity over the last few months as horrors continue to unfold in their own country and the recent demo in London with over 100,000 participants was moving and impressive. The government owes it to the 300, 000 Tamil residents in the UK, as well as those still trapped in the confict region, to do all it can to stop the violence and secure a lasting ceasefire. It should also cancel any export licences for arms sales to Sri Lanka and impose a ban on any future sales until human rights are respected.