Monday, February 02, 2009

It's time to support our Tamil friends

Over the past month Sri Lanka's army and air force have been attacking the northern part of Tamil Eelam, the homeland of the Tamils who live on the island of Ceylon. Sri Lankan tanks, artillery, and jets have turned a series of towns and villages into ruins. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, and a quarter of a million refugees have been driven into a piece of forest half the size of Great Barrier Island. Many of these refugees lack shelter and access to medicine, and United Nations High Commissioner Navi Pillay has called their situation 'seriously alarming'. Like the Palestinians of Gaza, the people of Tamil Eelam are the victims of a government which does not distinguish between military and civilian targets.

Skyler and and I took part in a march down Queen Street last Saturday in protest at the Sri Lankan government offensive. Apart from Green MP Keith Locke, we were the only non-Tamils present. We only knew about the event because a Tamil friend had texted us an hour or so before it began.

The three hundred or so members of the Tamil community who had turned out for the march at short notice were unused to staging public demonstrations, and didn't feel confident enough to walk down the street, or chant slogans. They moved in double file down the Queen Street footpath silently, holding aloft homemade placards with slogans like NEW ZEALAND SPEAK OUT and SELF-DETERMINATION FOR TAMILS written on them in felt pen.

These polite, modest people were repeatedly abused by passing motorists, who shouted witticisms like GO BACK HOME THEN YOU BLACK BASTARDS! and MUSLIM TERRORISTS! My partner and I had been invited to the march by Tamil friends, and after they introduced us we struck up a series of conversations. We heard about siblings who had been killed by Sri Lankan artillery bombardments, parents who had been obliterated by bombs dropped from above the clouds, and cousins who had vanished into 'refugee camps' surrounded by razor wire and patrolled by Sri Lankan soldiers. I listened to these stories, heard the abuse from passing motorists, and looked at the blank faces of shoppers ducking into Borders and Smith and Caugheys, and thought: how must we look to them? Most of us do not shout abuse, but is our studied obliviousness not in some way worse? Does it not look like a calculated insult?

It was interesting to compare last Saturday's demonstration with the march down Queen Street organised a couple of weeks ago to protest against the Israeli attack on Gaza. That demonstration numbered at least a thousand souls, of whom no more than a third were Arabs. Why is it, one of my Tamil interlocutors asked, that everyone cares about Gaza, but nobody takes any notice of our plight in Sri Lanka? I found it hard to answer him.

There are certainly compelling similarities between the situations of the Palestinians and the Tamils: both have found themselves under massive attack by right-wing governments which have seized upon Bush's rhetoric of a 'War on Terror' to make an impossible attempt to settle a long-standing ethnic dispute by military means. Both peoples are residents of open air prisons. Both peoples are being bombed and denied vital humanitarian aid. The UN has come under sustained attacked in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka, as well as in Gaza.

The Tamils on last Saturday's demonstration were so amazed that my partner and I supported them that they asked one of us to speak. I said a few words, identifying myself as a member of New Zealand's trade union movement, talking about our movement's history of supporting progressive international causes like the anti-apartheid movement and the movement against war in Iraq, and suggesting that our movement ought to be a natural ally of the Tamil people in their struggle against war and oppression. I'm not sure how convincing I sounded.

I hope that many more non-Tamil Kiwis will come to Wednesday's demonstration (I believe the protest starts at 3pm with a march from Aotea Square starting at 5pm) to show these courageous people that their plight is not being ignored.

8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Protest Against Sri Lankan Army's Tamil Genocide
Thursday, 29 January 2009, 9:52 am
Press Release: Global Peace And Justice Auckland

Protest against Sri Lankan army genocide of Tamil population

Global Peace and Justice Auckland is supporting a rally and march organised by the New Zealand Tamil Community for next Wednesday 4th February.

The protest is make the public aware of the murderous attacks on Tamils by the Sri Lankan military in the past two weeks. This follows the Sri Lankan army fighting their way into Tamil areas in North-East Sri Lanka where they are trying to suppress the Tamil struggle for self-determination.
In the meantime we are appealing to the new Foreign Minister Murray McCully to speak out against massacres of Tamils in Sri Lanka. We want him to make a direct appeal to the Sri Lankan government to reign in its troops who are engaged in a thinly disguised genocide of the civilian population in the North-East of Sri Lanka. The International Red Cross have talked about a human catastrophe unfolding. New Zealand must be active in doing all it can to avert this disaster.

The protest is organised by COTANZ (Consortium of Tamil Associations of New Zealand) and GPJA will be giving support. The protest is timed for Sri Lanka’s national day of independence next week. It will be a reminder that as the majority Sinhalese population celebrate Sri Lanka’s national day the Tamil people continue to suffer brutal oppression.

The protest is on -

Wednesday 4th February

3pm to 7pm (march at 5pm)

Aotea Square

11:23 am  
Blogger Skyler said...

NZ should act on Sri Lankan humanitarian disaster: Greens
http://www.greens.org.nz/node/20499

New Zealand should urge the Sri Lankan Government to allow aid agencies access to help civilians trapped by fighting in the country’s civil war, says the Green Party.

“Our Government should respond to the disastrous situation in northern Sri Lanka, where at least 250,000 displaced civilians are trapped with little access to food, medicine or shelter,” Green Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says. He says the National-led Government could speak to the Sri Lankan Government via our High Commission in New Delhi, India, register its concerns with the United Nations, and make a public statement on the issue. “Our Government can also help fund emergency aid to the affected Tamil civilians. “Today I delivered to Prime Minister John Key’s office an open letter from Tamil Youth New Zealand, which called for the establishment of a safe haven for civilians in northern Sri Lanka. The letter was signed by hundreds of New Zealanders during a 48-hour vigil in Auckland’s Aotea Square. “I understand the anguish of Tamils in New Zealand, several of whom have learnt of the deaths of family members,” Mr Locke says. “New Zealand should also be calling for an immediate ceasefire. More bloodshed will only widen the divide between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. “As a fellow Commonwealth nation, New Zealand is well-placed to offer its services as a mediator in any negotiations. We could help Norway, which has played a key role in trying to negotiate a peaceful solution in Sri Lanka. “I am greatly saddened by the war because I visited Sri Lanka in 2003 during the ceasefire when there were great hopes for a peaceful solution. I talked to Government negotiators in Colombo and their counterparts in the Tamil Tiger capital of Ki’linochchi. Tragically, much of Ki’linochchi has now been destroyed and most of its residents displaced.”

11:40 am  
Blogger P.Dhayaharan said...

Hi,

First of all I would like to thank the two non Tamil protesters and Hon Keith Locke who turned up to support the Tamils. We Tamils have had the support of Hon Keith Locke for some time now and it's good to see two more souls who care about the Tamil people's tragic humanitarian situation back in the island of Sri Lanka.

I just want people who read to get the following messages:

-Sri Lanka has never been "one county" before British colonized the island and fused all different kingdoms into one for administrative ease.
- Before the war for freedom started in this island, the Tamils have been discriminated in many ways and the Tamils and their representative politicians did try to solve this issue through peaceful ways time after time. The answer given not only by the Sri Lankan government, but also the majority people were "riots" Every 10 years we will face a major riots, where innocent people have been killed.
- It is a fact that the Tamils in Sri Lanka and also around the world support the separation of this country. And it's also a fact that LTTE is the military front of the people's struggle for freedom.
- It's also a fact that LTTE does not target innocent people. They only target military, political or economic targets. A classic example of LTTE making sure that they do not kill civilians is the attack of the Sri Lankan International Airport. The Tigers attacked planes that didn't have passengers. No innocent lives were lost in this attack.
- It's also a fact that Sri Lankan government is bombing and shelling Tamil people’s schools, children homes, hospitals, places of worship, the designated "safe zones".
- It is also a fact that Sri Lankan government has a media ban in the North and East. Even media people in the South have been harassed and killed by the Sri Lankan Government. And this is also well documented time and time again. Even recently this has been proven as many of you will be aware.
- You may ask at this stage, why the Tamil people’s genocide does not get coverage and how the Sri Lankan government is getting away with this genocide! It's simple: the post 9/11 situation has brought out this "War on Terror" banner. This banner is used as means of destroying people who fight for their people's rights and freedom. Also the geo politics is such that Sri Lankan government is able to play certain cards in a way to gain the support from some of the countries. Sri Lankan government is engaged in a dangerous game that they will soon be exposed of.
- Reason LTTE is formed is because of the denial of basic rights, the reason it became well supported by the Tamils all over the world is because they are the only hope for Tamils now. If Sri Lankan government had given the rights and freedom the Tamil people deserved, there would have been no war!

In summary: Tamil people do not want war or violence! All they want is peace and freedom. It’s too much to ask?

I hope this gives an idea about the real situation and helps people get a prospective on the situation.

I hope that people (Tamils and non Tamils) will come this Wednesday 4th Feb '09 and support the protest which will take place from 3pm till 7pm at Aotea Square.

Thanks for reading.

Dhaya

12:38 pm  
Blogger Paul said...

I suspect the reason there is so little support for the Tamils among the majority is that the Tamil Tigers are a bunch of murderous racists, responsible for massacres of civilians, ethnic cleansing of Muslims, arms dealing and credit-card fraud in several countries. They are not really the sort of people you would want on your side, if you want any sympathy from the rest of the world.

5:02 pm  
Blogger Rajesh said...

Well I am not sure about your write up ? Whom r u supporting LTTE ? Bcos u have put that FLAG in the northern part of SRILANKAN map. I dont agree with LTTE way of making its demands. I think you first clear your intention. I totally support a common tamil civilian caught in between LTTE and Sri Lankan Gov. Please try to answer to questions like why LTTE is not allowing common man to move to Safe Zone and leaving them ?

8:41 am  
Blogger Skyler said...

International Media:


- Berlin unimpressed by Sri Lankan 'threats' to ambassador:

http://www.expatica.com/de/news/local_news/Berlin-unimpressed-by-Sri-Lankan-_threats_-to-ambassador--_49162.html

- Analysis: Sri Lanka's media faces growing pressure:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/02/01/srilanka.media/index.html?eref=rss_world

- Aid groups: Sri Lanka situation 'nightmarish':

http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/02/02/sri.lanka.fighting/index.html?eref=rss_latest

- Rare images of Sri Lankans trapped in war:

http://customwire.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_SRI_LANKA_CIVIL_WAR?SITE=MABOC&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2009-02-02-11-01-27

- Sri Lankan army killing civilians, claims EU MP:

http://sify.com/news/fullstory.php?id=14849568

- Tamil refugees shelled as army closes in:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5627586.ece


News from the war zone:

- More than 5,000 shells fired on civilians, casualties uncountable:

http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=28267

- SLA fires MBRL rockets on IDP camp, several feared dead:

http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=28266

- Nurse killed in Udaiyaarkaddu hospital, ICRC staff wounded in PTK:

http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=28270


To be aware:

- S.Lanka targets $500 mln from diaspora:

http://sg.news.yahoo.com/rtrs/20090202/tbs-srilanka-economy-borrowing-7318940.html

- Why New Delhi fiddles when Lanka burns:

http://www.rediff.com/news/2009/feb/02guest-why-new-delhi-fiddles-when-lanka-burns.htm

12:10 pm  
Blogger P.Dhayaharan said...

Hi Paul,

The reason for so little support for the Tamils is because of the media ban to report the Sri Lankan Governments atrocities. LTTE is the only representatives for the Tamil population now. This is accepted by vast majority of Tamils in the war zone and all over the world. I am not sure where you got your facts about arms dealing, credit card fraud, etc – it’s just allegations without any solid proof. As I have explained already on my yesterday’s post about LTTE bring very carefull to only attack military, political and economic targets, I do not want to explain myself further.

Rajesh,

Again, as I explained to Paul: The struggle for freedom by the Tamils people – it’s a people’s fight for freedom. The people who pick up arms are LTTE. You might not like LTTE’s way of fighting for freedom, but that’s the only way that the Tamil people have now. I don’t like violence just like you, but give us some other options then!

Simple way to solve this problem will be to get the Sri Lankan Government to accept their wrong doings and provide the Tamil people with freedom and equal rights. Then why would LTTE or our Tamil people fight?

Where there is discrimination and inequality, there will be a struggle! It’s simple!

3:20 pm  
Anonymous Ruby said...

Rajesh,
The fact is that the so-called 'safe zones' are not safe. The tigers are not stopping the civilians from going there. The givernment is carrying out targeted aerial bombings exactly on those 'safe zones'. I personally know families who have lost people who were there or on their way there. Why would Tamils surrender to their enemies and die at their hands?

And @ Paul:
The tigers are the Tamil's LAST resort. Tamils have tried it the peaceful submissive way which just brought them more misery. Noone had sympathy for them then. Satyagraha campaigns (the peaceful Gandhi way) by Tamils were always met by Sinhalese mobs and violent army attacks. I found the following article online that I found quite informative:
http://socialismandliberation.org/mag/index.php?aid=741

5:01 pm  

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