…and Keeping the Freedom Flame Alive
by Jeevini Sivarajah & Pragash Pio – BASICS Issue #20 July/Aug 2010
At the end of May 2009, the Sri Lankan army brutally murdered tens of thousands of Tamil civilians with heavy artillery, mortars, bombs, rockets, and even chemical weapons in the name of ‘fighting terrorism’. While thousands of Tamils were protesting in Toronto and around the world, the Sri Lankan army had mercilessly corralled, starved, and then bombed tens of thousands of Tamils out of existence in what has come to be known as the massacre of Muilivaaykkaal.
In the so-called government-declared ‘safety zone’ at Muilivaaykkaal, where 350,000 fleeing Tamils had been crowded, thousands died by both heavy bombardment and a Sri Lankan government blockade of food, water, and medicine. Even after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the surviving Tamils were forcibly interned in SLA-run concentration camps. These camps were noted for their deplorable conditions, while UN aid agencies weren’t allowed full access to provide assistance or monitor conditions.
In all, more than 30,000 Tamil civilians, out of a population of 350,000, were slaughtered by the Sri Lankan government while for months the Tamil Diaspora tried to warn the world about the looming genocidal atrocity. Gone is the naïveté in the Tamil community that Western governments will act to stop such genocidal atrocities. Rather, we have come to realize that Western imperialist governments play a central role in enabling governments such as Sri Lanka to carry out the genocidal atrocities. In the past, we have been told that these atrocities occur too quickly or in parts of the world to remote for the West to know about and to intervene. But examples abound where the international community had both the knowledge and the ability to act and didn’t. In 1994 Rwanda, UN peacekeepers were present as the bloody civil war unfolded. The international community has done little to stop Israel’s blockade of Gaza. And during the Muilivaaykkaal massacre, hundreds of thousands of Tamils were protesting continuously in every major Western capital for months in advance. So exactly why does the unthinkable keep happening?
The truth is that imperialist countries like Canada are very much complicit in these horrendous atrocities, often supporting the perpetrators, explicitly or implicitly, for strategic and geo-political reasons. In Rwanda, European powers and the U.S. incited ethnic tensions for the sake of the control of rich resources in Central Africa; the U.S. and Canada unconditionally support Israel as a strategic ally; and in Sri Lanka’s case the west openly tipped the military balance in favor of the Sri Lankan state, strategically located in the middle of the Indian ocean, by funneling millions of dollars of aid to the government and even approving an IMF loan in the midst of the massacre to prop up the Sri Lankan state.
Now a year after the massacre at Muilivaaykkaal, the pain of the massacre is still very much present and marks the lives of Tamils around the world. Tamils and their allies will forever commemorate the month of May as the May Massacre Remembrance, highlighting the peak of the genocidal massacre committed by the Sri Lankan government. On International War Crime Day, globally commemorated on May 18, Queens Park was once more filled with thousands of Tamil Canadians and their allies, who rallied to mourn and remember the cruel mass murder of Tamils.
Banners read “War Crimes Day,” as community members dressed in black stood holding candles to commemorate those who lost their lives. Prior to the candlelit vigil a few speakers from the Toronto Transit Commission, Markham Municipal
Council, and community youth activists spoke urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the international community to take immediate action: a UN investigation into war crimes, freeing 82,000 Tamils still held in camps with horrifying living conditions; legal protections for Tamils alleged to be rebel fighters, including children as young as 11, who are held incommunicado in prison camps; and assistance for Tamils who ‘return home’ from camps to face immense poverty and devastation.
The struggle for justice has not ended; the Sri Lankan government stands as a precedent for other states looking to carry out genocidal atrocities, war crimes, and crimes against humanity without fear of repercussions.