Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/593/8044
Defiant Tamil protest
TAMIL PEOPLE have begun mobilising again with the first of weekly Friday protests outside Downing Street in response to the horrific conditions in internment camps in Sri Lanka. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils, including elderly people and young children, are being held under armed guard in filthy camps with inadequate sanitation, water, food, shelter and medical facilities.
Janani Paramsothy of the Tamil Youth Organisation, which organised the protest, explained to The Socialist how the Tamil community felt betrayed by the inaction of the British government and other agencies: "With all the protests earlier in the year we expected the British government to do something. With all the killing - 20,000, 50,000, 100,000, no one knows - the people in Vanni [where the final army assault took place] expected the government to do something, too."
The protests she refers to were massive. In Britain, the majority of the Tamil population came onto the streets in demonstrations which reached 200,000 at their height. And 24-hour vigils in Parliament Square were maintained for nearly two months. Numerous Tamils lost their jobs, while students failed or underperformed in exams as the relentless protests took their toll.
Understandably, when the Sri Lankan army overran the Tamil areas and the people were rounded up into the camps, dismay and exhaustion kicked in. "Over the summer," Janani said, "we knew we had to continue but the demos were not sustainable. Then, the Channel 4 TV footage came out [showing the apparent summary execution of Tamils] and we knew we had to respond, that now, we can't stay silent. Of course, we knew those things were happening - info always gets out, at great risk - but when we saw it, it was shocking."
Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, denies all allegations against the military, as well as the suffering in the camps. But, as Janani points out: "If it's not true, why won't they let the media in?"
Under pressure from mounting international anger and the reports from human rights organisations, which are not allowed into the area, the UN is now threatening to withdraw funding for the camps. And the EU has warned that it will cancel a $1 billion trade concession to the Sri Lankan government.
However, Rajapaksa feels he can resist such pressure, bolstered by Sri Lankan links with China and India, as well as Libya and Burma among others. Many British and western companies continue to hold important commercial interests in Sri Lanka. As ever, big business interests dominate Gordon Brown's agenda.
The latest leaflet by Tamil Solidarity: 'for the rights of workers and all oppressed people in Sri Lanka', distributed by Socialist Party members, was well received. The Downing Street protests mark an important new stage in the struggle against the oppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
One of the big issues to address is how to widen support, to help overcome the isolation felt by many in the Tamil community. Taking the campaign into the trade unions would make a significant contribution, and Tamil Solidarity will do all it can to assist in this task. That working-class based approach is why Tamil Solidarity also defends Sri Lankan socialists, union activists and the journalists brave enough to challenge the censorship of the regime, against severe state repression, whether they be Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim or from other ethnic and religious groups.
In The Socialist 16 September 2009:
No Job Cuts
War and occupation
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party women
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis