Why I'm joining Tamil protesters in Auckland today
Last night, in a tiny area in the far north of Sri Lanka, thousands of civilians were blown apart by artillery and rocket fire, as the Sri Lankan army launched a 'final offensive' against a small group of Tamil Tiger fighters surrounded by terrified refugees. The refugees have been trapped for weeks without adequate food, water, or medicine, and without access to international aid agencies. Despite the pleas of the United Nations and a series of foreign governments, Sri Lankan authorities have refused to call a ceasefire and allow the Tamil refugees to receive the aid they so desperately need.
The latest bombardment by the Sri Lankan government is particularly senseless, because the embattled Tamil Tigers have said that they are prepared to surrender to a third party like the UN, as long as the civilians surrounding them are allowed to flee to safety. Embarrassed by the continuing condemnations of its treatment of the Tamil civilians, the Sri Lankan government has now apparently decided to 'solve' the refugee crisis through mass murder.
I talked to one young man in Aotea Square who has had more than a dozen family members trapped by the fighting in northern Sri Lankan. He told me that last night's bombardment by the Sri Lankan army had killed two of his sisters, and that he feared that a third sister had also been killed. I told him how sorry I was about his loss, but the words felt hollow. I felt embarrassed by the lack of interest passers by were showing in the placards and flags the Tamil protesters were holding. I felt embarrassed by the lack of response by non-Tamil Kiwis to the many earlier protests against Sri Lankan attacks on Tamil civilians. What has happened, I wondered, to the New Zealand tradition of protesting against unjust wars and racist governments - the tradition that gave us the campaign against the Vietnam War, the anti-apartheid movement, and the large protests against the US invasion of Iraq? Why, I wondered, are Kiwis so oblivious to the suffering of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka?
I asked the man who lost two of his sisters last night how long he planned to protest against the new atrocities in Sri Lanka. 'I can't stop' he replied. 'We can't stop. Our people are dying by the thousand. We will stand on Queen Street, and then go up to TVNZ headquarters later in the day. For us there can be no normal life while this goes on.' I said goodbye to him, promising to visit the demonstration later in the day. As I walked back up Queen Street, I no longer noticed the sunshine, or the pretty trees on the edge of Myers Park. It's hard to feel happy when you know that other members of your community are having their family members blown apart by shells and rockets. I hope that more members of the Auckland community will join the protests today against the atrocities in northern Sri Lanka.
To contact the protest organisers e mail email@example.com
For more information on this issue, visit the website of the New Zealand Tamil Society.