crossposted on guardian.co.uk
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The island’s tyrannical government cannot continue to ignore international law – the world must stop supporting it
David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said in his speech at the Global Tamil Forum conference in February: “It [political reconciliation] will require you to speak up for a vision of a decent Sri Lanka that respects all its people and it will require you to speak up for a spirit that recognises that if people can not find a way to live together they will drift apart.”
However, Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, at one of his election campaign rallies in the north of Sri Lanka – which is part of the Tamil homeland – raised his voice in anger last week and shouted in Sinhala: “We are Sinhalese and I am Sinhalese – you listen Tamils!”, as the crowd hooted at him to express their frustration and despair about his policies.
The tone and the words used shows the president’s attitude towards a community that he claims to represent. Imagine a similar utterance by America’s Barack Obama, Britain’s Gordon Brown – or for that matter, India’s Manmohan Singh – against a ethnic minority community in their respective countries.
At the same time, one of Rajapaksa’s cabinet colleagues, Keheliya Rambukwella, compared the US military operation in Iraq to what happened in his backyard and demanded similar actions by the UN against the US.
“These are the world’s so-called superpowers. They have always tried to bully developing countries but have ignored the blood on their own hands. This is nothing new, it has been happening for years. They say we are guilty but we all know what happened in Iraq,” he said.
What the minister forgets – or conveniently ignores – is that in countries like the US there is an independent judiciary and general military governance that will investigate any alleged abuse according to the rule of law.
The lack of this in Sri Lanka allowed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to be killed by the military’s actions, surrendering cadres to be killed in cold blood and suspected members of the armed resistance movement to be shot at close range with their hands tied behind their back while military colleagues laughed and filmed these atrocities.
This is the backdrop to the imposed general elections in Sri Lanka, where it is being claimed that the Rajapaksa regime is leading in most of the election results that have been published, and perhaps is even nearer to winning the two-thirds majority the parliament requires to change the constitution to extend his power for more than two terms, as restricted by the existing constitution.
Additionally, it is no surprise that the International Monetary Fund has delayed the third tranche of a $2.6bn loan after Sri Lanka failed to achieve its budget deficit target to reduce deficit to 7% of GDP. An IMF mission to Sri Lanka in February concluded that it was unable to “complete” its review until the pending parliamentary elections in April. It is important to note that Sri Lanka’s last two IMF programmes ended with missions that were unable to “complete reviews“, effectively staying suspended. Despite this, the government is seeking another $345m to fund the military – a 20% increase.
The Rajapaksha regime is set to rule the island for another six years, and his government looks like it will run the country’s economy into dark ages. If the international community continues in its approach of soft diplomacy with Sri Lanka to try and curtail its human rights violations, and let it go in the path of economic ruin to keep peace with India and China, it will not be too long before a tyrant like Rajapaksa and his mob make another Iraq or Afghanistan in the Indian Ocean.
It is about time that leaders like Obama and Brown stand up for justice and against tyranny. Impose economic sanctions more vigorously and urgently so that a regime like Rajapaksa’s will realise he can not continue to ignore international laws, conventions and covenants indefinitely. As part of its campaign to create worldwide awareness of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the Global Tamil Forum has called for a worldwide boycott of Sri Lankan products and services.
Suren Surendiran is a senior member of the British Tamils Forum and the official spokesperson for the Global Tamil Forum.