by Claudia Saba
It would seem that some people in this world matter less than others, they are a sort of disposable people. They are not worthy of basic protection, not even as prisoners of war. Such people include the Tamils in Sri Lanka, a minority group that has been persecuted for decades and recently bore the brunt of a vicious airstrike campaign led by their own government. Napalm and white phosphorous were some of the weapons used against unarmed men, women and children. The Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka held a public meeting in Trinity College on 7 October 2010 to share the findings of the People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka - a body set up to investigate war crimes on behalf of state actors that had failed to conduct their own investigations. To conduct the enquiry, Tamil victims had been brought to Ireland incognito, so as to protect their identities.
At the public meeting in Dublin, the audience was shown raw footage of civilians being attacked indiscriminately, hospitals bombed while patients were on the operating table, soldiers desecrating and in some cases raping dead victims’ bodies. We watched primary footage of white flag killings: prisoners shot dead at point blank after they had surrendered and been bound up. All this barbarity has apparently been bolstered by the so-called “War on Terror”, a bandwagon that Sri Lanka’s government was all too happy to jump on as it escalated the oppression of its Tamil ethnic minority.
The tribunal found that the Sri Lankan government had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, that the USA and UK share responsibility for the attacks perpetrated and that the international community had failed to act to prevent these crimes. We were also told, incidentally, that the planes used for bombing civilians were sold to Sri Lanka by Israel, a state that has no qualms about using such weaponry against civilians back home. The tribunal has produced a list of recommendations:
1. The establishment of an authoritative Truth and Justice commission
2. The immediate repeal of Prevention of Terrorism Act, 1979
3. Hand over of control of the refugee camps to civilian authorities, rather than military ones, allowing international aid organizations to assist, and the active participation of the refugees themselves in their own fate. Furthermore, Tamil refugees should be allowed to return to the homes from which they were displaced
4. Ensure the protection of the 12,000 political prisoners currently held by Sri Lanka
5. Disband all paramilitary forces and reduce the military presence in Tamil areas
6. Ensure the protection of national and international journalists as well as human rights defenders
7. Implement a political power sharing solution with the full participation of the Tamil people
Speakers at the meeting, Denis Halliday and Mary Lawlor, urged people in this country to write to the minister of Foreign Affairs requesting that a senior investigator be appointed to formally investigate the above mentioned crimes and, especially, act to ensure the safety of the 12,000 political prisoners still held by Sri Lanka. For further information visit www.pptsrilanka.org and www.ifpsl.org.