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Sri Lanka - In the eyes of a British Girl

Date: 21 July 2007
Source : TWG - Speech delivered by Sivakami in Trafalgar Square on 14th July 2007


Life is a wonderful thing. From little plants to complex animals, life is a beautiful concept.

However, human life is yet more special, extending far beyond breathing and even basic needs such as eating and sleeping.

Life for people like me growing up in Britain is filled with a house, a home, childhood innocence, education, freedom, equality, peace and laughter. These basic, fundamental concepts- our HUMAN RIGHTS; that we take for granted every day. But, as you all well know, the same cannot be said for our Tamil brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka. They live in fear: in fear of abduction; in fear of torture; in fear of their lives. Their days are filled with the sound of artillery fire, gunfire, children crying, people screaming and perhaps most haunting of all - the sheer silence of destruction and death.

Everyday the Sri Lankan government stamps over the human rights of Tamil people. Children are slaughtered mercilessly. Not only with government air raids and artillery fire, but children are killed individually, often along side their families. An act that is far worse than the word ‘killing’ entails. Women are raped and murdered in their dozens; young girls, wives and even elderly grandmothers. Men are abducted, tortured and often ultimately killed. All in all, a conservative figure of over 4000 civilian deaths since 2006 was stated by Amnesty International. Sadly the real figure could even be double that.

Those that have managed to escape such threats to their life have been forced out of their homes. Human Rights watch estimated in March 2007, that 15,000 refugees fled to India on top of a staggering 200,000 that are displaced, but the figure grows day by day to an estimated 300,000 currently. The right to an education has been suffocated. With school kids and students disappearing on a regular basis, the young often have no choice but to be held back at home.

There is no free speech. The abduction, torture and disappearance of several Jaffna and Batticoloa university students stand as a testament to this. Along side the deaths of many members of the Tamil media. Ultimately any voice that speaks out against these atrocities is being silenced… forcibly. Unfortunately it goes without saying that in such a situation the most basic rights of food, clean water and sanitation are rarely being met.

This is not life. This is not living. I believe the term is ‘human rights violations’. But it is much more than that. Forget ‘violations’, our people do not have any recognised rights. In the eyes of the Sri Lankan government the human rights of Tamils is non-existent. We have no right to study, to work, to raise a family, to voice an opinion or live without fear. From the thousands upon thousands of deaths of Tamils, it is evident that in the eyes of the government of Sri Lanka we do not have the right to life.

But why? This is not about money, or power or class, or even skin colour.

This is about race and culture - ethnicity. Why are Tamils being abducted, tortured, raped and murdered? Simply because they are Tamil. Our people are being killed because of our ethnicity. This is not life, nor human rights abuse. This is genocide - the systematic extermination of a specific ethnic group.

This is what is happening in Sri Lanka today; the horror of genocide. A horror that began to brew ever since Britain gave Sri Lanka independence in 1948. Then later in the 1960s when Tamils were discriminated against for civil service jobs and university places, and through years of riots and repeated acts of ethnic cleansing, where Tamils were forced out of the capital, out of their homes and often killed or burnt alive. The horror continued right the way through to the situation now, where behind the banner of the word ‘democracy’ the Sri Lankan government continues its relentless slaughter of the Tamil people.

So, as you can see this is not a recent problem; tensions have existed ever since 1948 and have culminated in over two decades of civil war. Therefore, such a problem does not have a simple solution. We want peace. We want our people to live without fear, and have basic access to food and housing. However, beyond that, we want them to enjoy life the way we are able to enjoy it. We want them to have freedom and equality; to live in a country without prejudice or ethnic cleansing.

History has shown us that such a place, one that every human being from every ethnic group is entitled to, is not possible in Sri Lanka as it stands today. It is not possible as one country. When the Nazis persecuted the Jews the world did not give the Jews peace and then ask them to live under German rule; the Jews were given Israel – a place that they can call their homeland, where their children and future generations can grow up without fear of persecution.

We are not asking for a new gift of land. All us Tamils are asking for is to be given the opportunity to safe-guard and uphold our own human rights, to live with dignity and pride. To be given the chance to rule ourselves in our small piece of land that our people have always lived in. A place called Eelam. Surely this is the right of our people?

The horrifying plight of our people in Sri Lanka churns my stomach every time, but my feelings do not stem from nostalgia. I was not born there. I have never lived in the paradise of Sri Lanka. I have not had that privilege as the generations above me have had. It upsets me because the plight of our people is not something that anyone from any race or religion should have to face.

We talk of our civilised nations here in the West, of free speech and human rights, and yet crimes against humanity occur across the world. We need to accept that genocide did not end with the Nazis. It has happened since, for example in Rwanda, and it is happening now, in Sri Lanka.

As British Tamils here, we do not expect our government to resolve the situation. We expect our government to listen and realise the true extent of what is happening.

However there is more than that. Sri Lanka is not an arms producing country, so that begs the question how does it arm itself? Well I’ll give you that answer - through arms made by the ‘civilised West’; the very governments that talk of peace. Do not act in hypocrisy and be two-faced.

Do not comfort us with one hand whilst you sell the Sri Lankan government arms with the other hand. Simply listen to the cries of our people; understand the yearning and the desire for a place that we can call our own; where our people can feel safe. Our own homeland - Eelam.

Source: Tamil Writers Guild by Sivakami
Date: 21 July 2007

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