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Post-War Internment Hell for Tamils
"The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is able to commit these crimes [referring to 2009 war atrocities, including brutal internment of 300,000 Tamils] actually unveils the deeply ingrained racist prejudice that is precisely what led to the marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism has a long history – of social ostracism, economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The nature of the decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful protest, has its roots in this,” wrote author Arundhati Roy. (47)
“`This is something similar to what occurred in Gaza or worse, because neither observers nor journalists had access to the war zone, ´ stated a UN source who asked for anonymity. The army acknowledges that 6,200 soldiers and 22,000 guerrillas died in the last three years of the longest civil war in Asia. The UN affirms that between 80,000 and 100,000 persons died in the conflict,” wrote Elisa Reche of Prensa Marea Socialista. (48)“During the war,” Reche continued, “the army had 200,000 troops. Now with peace, 100,000 are being incorporated…A strange peace it is that requires more troops than in actual combat.”
More troops are needed because systematic ethnic cleansing is now the order of the day for the Tamil people. Their Homeland will be obliterated by introducing more Sinhalese settlers. This is what M.K. Bhadrakumar, an ambassador for India who served in Sri Lanka and other countries, wrote about the day after Sri Lanka declared victory.“See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces…The Tamils are no more the majority community in these provinces. Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonization program of the Northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more remain as Tamil provinces…Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the bloody history of the Indian sub-continent.” (49)
Ethnic cleansing goes hand-in-hand with the policy of imprisoning and mistreating hundreds of thousands of Tamils. For more than a year before its military victory, the Sri Lanka government enticed Tamils, wishing to flee the war zone, into so-called ‘welfare’ centers or villages. Tens of thousands became ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP), and are thus subject to United Nations regulations concerning decent living conditions, food and water, freedom of movement and the right to leave and rejoin families. All these rights and necessities have been denied them.
“Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy,” President J.R. told the Daily Telegraph, (UK) on July 11, 1983.A quarter-century later, the current president is striving to fulfill his predecessor’s genocidal intentions. Mahinda Rajapakse has claimed that no IDP is held against his/her will and all are treated well. However, the few United Nations visitors—there are no official investigators into abuses since the Human Rights Council majority blocked such a possibility—who come to observe have quite another picture.When UN’s political chief, Lynn Pascoe, visited camps in September he said people were not free or well treated…”this kind of closed regime goes directly against the principles under which we work in assisting IDPs all around the world.” (50)Rajapakse told Pascoe another tale about “free movement”. He said that detention was necessary because the army was clearing the area for mines, and it was still looking for guerrillas hiding among civilians. However, as the UN resident coordinator reported, and Amnesty quoted (50): “Under international humanitarian law, captured combatants…may be held pending the cessation of hostilities. Once active hostilities have ceased, prisoners of war must be released `without delay´.”At of July, there were 9,400 individuals with purported links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) held separately from the rest of the population. They have not been released nearly half-a-year after internment.Amnesty also reported that the camps are clearly militarized. The 19-member Presidential Task Force established in mid-May “to plan and coordinate resettlement, rehabilitation and development of the Northern Province” is headed Major General Chandrasiri, who was also appointed governor of the province. All inmates are enclosed by barbed-wire fences, guarded and brutalized by well-armed soldiers. “Arrests have been reported from the camps and Sri Lankan human rights defenders have alleged that enforced disappearances have also occurred,” wrote Amnesty.“Sri Lanka’s history of large-scale enforced disappearances dating back to the 1980s, and the lack of independent monitoring…raises grave concerns that enforced disappearances and other violations of human rights may be occurring…Previous research [shows] that [persons] suspected by the government of being members or supporters of LTTE are at grave risk of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, and torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”
“Although the government calls these facilities `welfare villages´ , they are effectively detention camps…”. Amnesty also reported that not only are people not free to move as they wish, women and girls are raped by soldiers, and people live in sewage, disease-infested conditions, with little food and water and medical attention. They die in droves because of these imposed conditions.Women and children are especially mistreated, which was the subject that James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, complained about to Sri Lankan authorities, who then expelled him from the country. Elder described the “unimaginable suffering” of children caught in the fighting, including babies he had seen with shrapnel wounds. (51)United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had refrained from criticizing Sri Lanka’s government, leveling his critique only at LTTE for carrying out atrocities. But less than a week after the end of the war, he told CNN after briefly visiting Manik Farm, the most presentable of Sri Lanka’s squalid and dangerous internment camps for Tamils civilians “I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes I have seen…I sympathize fully with all of the displaced persons.” The UN Chief has also promised international action regarding the heavy shelling of civilian populations during the recent fighting.(52)
Out of the 280,000 IDPs afterthe end of the war (there were nearly one-half million over a year’s period), only between 15,000 and 40,000 had been released by November 1. Half of them, perhaps, have been ransomed. The “Sunday Times” wrote about “human trafficking at the internment camps”. Relatives were made to pay camp authorities in order to secure their release. (53)
A week after the end of the war, the LTTE communicated that several of its leaders were killed, but the organization would continue struggling for an independent Tamil Eelam in peaceful ways. July 22, the LTTE announced that its chief of international relations, Selvarsa Pathmanathan—known as KP—was made the new leader, and that a new strategy for a “free Tamil Eelam” would occur. (54). On August 8, The Independent (UK) wrote that Pathmanathan was under arrest by Sri Lanka and held incommunicado. (55)
Our task must be to press for the lives and rights of the Tamil people. Australia’s Democratic Socialist Perspective and Socialist Alliance said it well in its October 2009 international situation report:
“Now the Tamil struggle has entered a new phase. The immediate campaign must focus on defence of basic human rights, release and resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons currently held in SL government concentration camps, an end to murders, torture, rapes, and provision of basic housing, food and drinking water to the Tamil people under brutal occupation.” (8)
It’s a matter of basic ethics. Life shall not be abused or destroyed by our conscious hand. A moral person, organization, political party, government acts in daily life and in the struggle for justice with that ethic in mind.
This is the last of a five part series.
53. “Doing the Right Thing in Sri Lanka”, Rohini Hensman, 1/10, www.dissidentvoice.org