Bloodletting in Sri Lanka ignored

In the small south-Asian island, government forces maim civilians in a war without witness. The world looks on.

Last December, the government of Sri Lanka held a day of national festivities to commemorate the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. In April, intense fighting continues between government and LTTE forces. But the escalating humanitarian crisis of the Tamil civilians remains unnoticed by the international community. The war on the island of Sri Lanka is commonly misunderstood as one between a terrorist group and a legitimate state. Its status as AsiaâÄôs longest continuing civil war âÄî lasting 26 years âÄî with deeply rooted ethnic tensions is not properly considered by the United Nations, the United States or any other nation. The proscription of the LTTE as a terrorist organization by the United States âÄî followed by the United Kingdom, the European Union and others after Sept. 11 âÄî has legitimatized the Sri Lankan governmentâÄôs indiscriminate military attacks on areas populated by civilians without impunity. Since the governmentâÄôs official withdrawal from a ceasefire agreement in 2008, its military campaign has internally displaced more than 200,000 Tamils in the northeast of the island, killing and injuring thousands. With its proclaimed goal of rooting out terrorism, the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka has systematically destroyed and taken control of nearly all of Tamil Eelam. This is the minority TamilsâÄô homeland, rightfully defended and governed by the LTTE following the 2002 Norwegian-led ceasefire agreement. Caught amid the Sri Lankan armyâÄôs continued offensive against the LTTE, the displaced Tamil civilians are currently subject to moral degradation, hunger and numerous acts of genocide. In the name of security, the government continues to effectively exploit the LTTEâÄôs terrorist designation to confine Tamil civilians to âÄúwelfare villages,âÄù a euphemism for internment camps. In early March, 38 members of the U.S. Congress sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighting the fact that Sri Lanka is one of eight âÄúRed AlertâÄù countries experiencing ongoing or imminent genocide, referencing a ranking produced by the New York-based Genocide Prevention Project. Human Rights Watch had reported that, from early January to the end of February alone, more than 2,000 Tamil civilians had been killed and more than 5,000 injured. Government forces continue to kill or maim an average of 100 civilians a day. Yet it remains a war without witnesses, and independent reports are rare. Foreign journalists, monitors and aid workers are banned from the epicenter of the fighting. The LTTEâÄôs continued call for a ceasefire and insistence on international monitoring and aid for civilians goes unheeded by the U.N. In mid-March, the LTTEâÄôs political head, B. Nadesan, put out a call for the United Nations to directly investigate the situation instead of taking the word of the government of Sri Lanka. The call of the global Tamil diaspora is similarly ignored and consistently fails to be put on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council. In his recent address to the World Tamils Forum in London, the Rev. Jesse Jackson reiterated the right to self-determination and the importance of an immediate ceasefire before any political solutions can follow. Similar expressions of concern uttered by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the president of East Timor and Noble Peace laureate José Ramos-Horta, remain meaningless to the government of Sri Lanka âÄî which considers the systematic subjugation of Tamils the only solution to decades of racial tension. This column, accessed via UWire, was originally published in the Harvard Crimson at Harvard University. Please send comments to [email protected]