Where is your brother? In inhuman conditions in a detention camp!
Fr Terence Fernando writes "I ended my previous letter “A visit to Liberated people of Arippu…..” posing the question –Where is your brother? Have we found where she / he is? God is constantly asking this question from each one of us who lives in the South comfortably. Again are we to reply back – am I the keeper of my brother? No, we have got the answer we think!!"
“Yes, we know where my brother/ sister is. After the humanitarian operation by the armed forces on the orders of our govt., they were brought safe (not chased away) from their own land and homes to the welfare centers (not to the refugee camps). They were to be sent back within 72 hours. As they were held by force and had lived like slaves in their own homes under the rule of the rebels, the armed forces of the govt. have found that still the environment is not conducive for them to go back. As the president of our country says and as he always thinks and works for the good of the Tamil people of this country, there are land mines in the villages where they were living and once they are cleared they can go back and live happily as they are now liberated. That will be after the 15th of Jan 2008. We strongly believe this, as this was the President’s answer to Bp. Joseph Rayappu of Mannar diocese when he questioned the President as to when the displaced people would be sent back to their own homes. So they are fortunate to be in the welfare centers (not in the refugee camps) during Christmas and New Year. So we learnt that the displaced are very happy about the decision taken by the armed forces to keep them more than 6 months in these centers.”
I have no doubt, though these may not be the exact words, this could be the answer that most of us would give to the question-Where is your brother?
Who has the authority to take such a decision to keep these innocent, helpless, poor people including infants, children, the sick, the old, pregnant mothers as prisoners in these camps under inhuman conditions? The Bishop, priests and religious raise their voices and fight against this injustice inflicted on these innocent people but they are not heard and cared by the authorities. Have we heard their cry? Have we said or done anything that would strengthen them to be free from this miserable situation?
I don’t think that you would disagree with me if I say that this is the most brutal and murderous regime in the history of Sri Lanka. The leaders have no other alternative except war, murder, abductions and killings. They enjoy watching people dying without basic needs. It is not a hidden agenda. They have revealed that they are ready to kill one by one. Not only they justify, but confirm that abductions, disappearances and killings will continue. Some religious leaders are so bold to say, no matter even if the price of a loaf of bread goes up to Rs.100.00 but only if the war goes ahead. Do you hear the words such as peace, reconciliation, political solution, peace talks? Today this is considered as the vocabulary of the traitors, terrorists and the betrayers of Sinhala nation.
Today the majority in the South is eagerly waiting till the invasion of Wanni, believing that will be the end of ethnic problem, end of LTTE, and that will bring freedom to Tamil people. The govt. continues to kill the Tamils in many ways. The aerial bombing has taken hundreds of lives including so many infants and children. (Today the 28th Nov, 9 school children.) Almost everyday we hear and see Kaffir bombers with a deafening sound flying over us to the North. In a few minutes, we will hear over radio and T.V. that so many militants were killed, camps destroyed and still go further to say that we are not worried whether they are children or women or mothers because they are terrorists. No doubt most of us believe each and every word they utter. We know how, especially those in Colombo, are scared and afraid if there might be an aerial attack in Colombo. How panicky we become then?
Can we even imagine the helpless situation that the people, the children of the North face when they hear this fearful vulture flying over them? They are sure that the bomber will not go back to its masters in South empty handed, but with the news that mission is accomplished, killing, destroying houses, property and their livelihoods.
It is almost one and half years since the closure of road A-9 which connects North and South. It is so shameful and painful to recall even how the Catholic weeklies going along with the leaders, argued to justify that it is taxing of people by LTTE which led the govt. to close the A-9. Now we are completely cut off. We can comfortably say that we now have no access to the people in the North
“It is the dead who have seen the end of war” Plato. It is quite clear that war brings only death and destruction. Does any religion approve or justify murder and destruction? We ourselves called to be Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians, followers of great founders of our faiths who loved the people and the world. If so, how was that, we the people of south (most) celebrated the murder and destruction of the people of the east? Do we know how many innocent mothers, fathers and children were killed and how many houses and property were leveled to the ground making so many families homeless? It is true that the govt. enforced this inhuman act on schools and hence they had no choice. But it is a tragedy to note that some of our catholic schools carried out this barbaric order spoiling innocent children and turning Jesus’ command “love your enemy” into hate and kill your enemy.
It is not a secret for us all, what happened to Fr. Jim Brown of Jaffna, a courageous and brave young priest who loved his people, a good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. The whole world appealed to the president to reveal what happened to him. Now it is almost one and half years. Has he said a word about it? On the 20th of last August when we commemorated one year of his disappearance at CSSR in Colombo, a priest from Jaffna explaining what they have done questioned us, the church of the south- what have you done? Nobody had any answer. Last week the govt. authorities have sent an army officer to meet the Bishop of Jaffna regarding this matter. The Bishop says that this officer did not know either Tamil or English. Can we expect any justice from these leaders?
In the name of security, hundreds of Tamils who have come to Colombo for various reasons (medical, visa, employment etc.) are being taken into custody and kept in police stations, prisons and some are sent to Boossa detention camp. Who did come forward to speak against this human rights violation? It is mainly Mr. Mano Ganesan and Tamil MPs who fight for these innocent and helpless people.
About six months ago some laborers who had come from Vavuniya were working in Daluwakotuwa, Kochchikade area and taken into custody on suspicion. They were kept in police station nearly for one month and were sent to Boossa.When we intervened and inquired about them –“there is nothing against them, and they are innocent but we had to send them to the camp…”was the answer given by the police. Now they in Boossa camp more than six months while their families are starving without their breadwinners.
A mother and her three young sons who had come from Jaffna to Negombo to go abroad were detained in police station. Once again when we intervened, explanation given was “detained under suspicion”. We were also politely advised better not to intervene in these matters due to the situation in the country. Later we came to know that they had been asked to pay hundred thousand rupees for their release. But recently they were released on bail. These are two incidents among hundreds which we do not know. What is the crime they have committed to be treated so? They were born as Tamils in this country.
Some of us may have heard and even seen the enormous suffering that our brothers and sisters in the North underwent and still continue to do so. It’s a slow death for them, as they are deprived of the essential needs. While doing all these barbaric, brutal crimes, the leaders still continue to say that they are not against the Tamil people and are trying to win their hearts and minds. But the gap between the two communities has been widened and will this gap be ever bridged again.
We are a nation who will never learn from the past and history. The history is being repeated again and again. Have we ever visited or seen a refugee camp? Yes and No. Do we know that still hundred thousands of refugees are living in the refugee camps in the country and others even in India for the last 20 years or more? Have we heard of the villages in the north and east where there are only widows? How many fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters waiting in tears and utter desperation, until their dear ones abducted or disappeared return to their families?
Have we become deaf and blind not to see or hear these brutal crimes against humanity?
Can we comfortably live here as if nothing is happening?
Do we still believe in war?
Do we still trust and believe these blood thirsty leaders?
Do we accept that, that the Tamils have a just cause for their struggle?
Do we accept that the Tamils have the right to live with human dignity in this country?
Do we feel that we have not done justice to them?
Don’t we think that, this is a slow genocide of the Tamils of this country?
We have penned down a few thoughts and questions that disturb us constantly. No doubt that we have come to the decisive moment in history of our country. We have to listen to the cry of these oppressed people. If we begin acting, this is an opportunity to liberate our country.
They are our own brothers and sisters. Tomorrow will be too late. Once again we have to answer the question WHERE IS YOUR BROTHER?
Fr. Terence Fernando
Fr. Sherard Jayawardana
Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
Fr. Nandana Saparamadu
Rev. Nishantha Gunaratna
Rev. Kusum Kumara Siri
Source: TWG - An open letter signed by six brave Sinhala clergymen bearing witness in South Sri Lanka against a cruel war in accordance with their conscience.
Date: 13th Dec 2007