(Sharry Aiken, குயின் பல்கலைக்கழகத்தில் சட்டப் பேராசிரியராக இருக்கிறார். கனடாவின் ஆசிய பசுபிக் அமைப்பின் உதவியுடன் தமிழர் புலம்பெயர்வு குறித்து ஆய்வுகள் செய்கின்றார். )
Sharry Aiken: We did nothing
Sharry Aiken, National Post
Published: Monday, May 04, 2009
In the face of massive rallies by Tamil Canadians in Ottawa and Toronto in the last few weeks, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon has issued a number of broad statements about the escalating conflict in Sri Lanka. While expressing "grave concerns" about the mounting toll on civilians in the northeast corner of the country, the Minister has vacillated between calling for a ceasefire and a "humanitarian pause" in the ground offensive led by the Sri Lankan army. He has also repeatedly indicated that Canada's high commissioner in Colombo will continue engaging with the Sri Lankan government on the need for assistance to hundreds of thousands of civilians, many already displaced multiple times by the ongoing conflict.
What the Minister's response belies is that the humanitarian catastrophe currently unfolding in northern Sri Lanka was entirely predictable back in the fall of last year. At a time when concerted engagement and pressure on the Sri Lankan government by Canada and other like-minded countries may very well have prevented the crisis, Canada stood by and did nothing.
Since mid-2006, when a ceasefire agreement between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE -- better known as the Tamil Tigers) and the Sri Lankan government became a dead letter, major military operations by both sides resumed and the already precarious human rights situation deteriorated markedly. The Sri Lankan government utilized the "war on terror" as a cover to decimate the country's democratic process and institutions.
Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2008 press freedom index, the lowest ranking of any democratic country. Political opponents and journalists with critical views have been subject to threats, intimidation and assassination, while reports of killings, abductions and enforced disappearances by the government forces, the LTTE and paramilitary groups escalated.
Torture by police and security personnel was routine. In September, 2008, in an effort to shield its own actions from public scrutiny, the Sri Lankan government barred most humanitarian agencies, including the UN, as well as independent observers and journalists, from the conflict zones. A war without witness ensued with some 200,000 civilians trapped in the northern part of the country in the midst of the fighting.
Displaced persons who managed to flee have been placed in de facto detention camps where they are held in overcrowded conditions without adequate access to medical care, food or water and denied freedom of movement. There are reports of rape, torture and killings in the camps.
In the past several months, artillery attacks by Sri Lankan forces indiscriminately targeted civilians, in contravention of international humanitarian law. There have been more than two dozen incidents of artillery shelling or aerial bombardment on or near hospitals, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. At the same time, the LTTE was continuing to forcibly recruit civilians, including children, for untrained military duty, and forcing civilians to retreat
with its forces, deliberately preventing them from fleeing to safety. Nevertheless, violations of the laws of war by one side to a conflict do not justify violations by the opposing side. And while some Canadians may be uncomfortable with flag waving protesters siding with the LTTE, Canada's proscription of the Tigers does not justify inaction when innocent victims are suffering atrocities.
Against this background, Minister Cannon's statements are a dramatic illustration of "too little, too late." As host to the largest Tamil diaspora outside of Sri Lanka, Canada should be assuming a much more proactive role in promoting efforts to resolve the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people, including recognition of their right to self-determination. The Tamil diaspora plays an important role in the life of many of our cities; their concerns should be our concerns, too.
The fact that so many Canadian Tamils are continuing to lose family members and friends in the ongoing crisis has prompted a group of concerned Canadian academics and allies to stand in solidarity with them. We have drafted a statement calling on Canada to work with both parties to the conflict to implement an immediate ceasefire and to initiate internationally mediated efforts aimed at achieving a durable political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka. The statement attracted over 125 signatories in less than three days and has been sent to political leaders.
As the latest statement from the White House confirms, "it would compound the current tragedy if the military end of the conflict only breeds further enmity and ends hopes for reconciliation and a unified Sri Lanka in the future." It is time for Mr. Cannon to step up and take on Canada's traditional role as an honest broker to help resolve the conflict between Sri Lanka's government and the country's long-oppressed Tamil minority. The time for passive expressions of concern is long past.
Thanks: National Post