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From The Socialist newspaper, 20 October 2009

Sri Lanka protest: Shut down the prison camps!

Tamil demonstration in London, photo D. Carr

Tamil demonstration in London, photo D. Carr   (Click to enlarge)

DISGUST AT the inhuman treatment of hundreds of thousands of Tamils held under armed guard in open prison camps in Sri Lanka brought tens of thousands on to the streets of London on 17 October.

Manny Thain

The anger was not only directed against president Rajapakse's regime in Sri Lanka. The United Nations was also targeted: 'Ban-ki Moon - blood on your hands,' referred to the UN chief's visit to the prison camps where he did not attempt to talk to any of the Tamils being held against their will, and to the fact that UN money is used to run the camps.

The largest, Menik Farm, crams in around 250,000 people, surviving in tents in filthy conditions. There is inadequate food, water and medical facilities. Flooding is already a problem, and the monsoons have only just started. A humanitarian catastrophe is being prepared.

The defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, with the Sri Lankan army overrunning the north and east of the island, has led to some deep soul-searching within the Tamil community. The most pressing question is: What can be done now?

The Tamil Solidarity and Socialist Students' initiative for Wednesday's day of action in schools, colleges and universities was enthusiastically taken up by many young people on the demo. And our petition stall in Hyde Park was inundated at the end of the demo.

Seeds of resistance

Tamil Solidarity organised a public meeting later that evening, even though we realised that the long day of protest and the Hindu festival of Diwali would be likely to cut across attendance. In spite of that, 80 people, half of whom were Tamil, travelled across London to discuss the way forward for the campaign.

Tamil Solidarity and Socialist Students meeting, photo Socialist Party

Tamil Solidarity and Socialist Students meeting, photo Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

View videos of the meeting - the full speech of Senan, International Coordinator of Tamil Solidarity and Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary.

The first platform speaker was Ramesh, a South Asia researcher for Amnesty International, who castigated the political establishment, mainstream media and other agencies for their silence on the brutal treatment of the Tamils.

Parameswaran, one of the Tamil hunger strikers at the Parliament Square protests earlier this year, explained how he is currently on the receiving end of a racist smear campaign by the Daily Mail - now picked up by the London Evening Standard, too.

Senan, Tamil Solidarity international coordinator, linked the Sri Lankan regime's policies to the so-called 'war on terror' instigated by the US and British administrations, and attacked the complicity of the British government in arms sales and economic ties to Sri Lanka.

Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, drew on more than 30 years of involvement with the workers' movement in Sri Lanka. Rajapakse's divide-and-rule strategy of the past is sowing the seeds of massive resistance. The prison camps will stoke up hatred which will explode in the future. Talk of an 'international community', however, is based on a false premise.

There are two international communities: one for the rich and powerful, the other of the working class and poor. Governments will only act if they are subjected to massive pressure, and the only real defence of the Tamil-speaking people will come from the working class internationally.

In effect, that was the reason for setting up Tamil Solidarity: for the rights of workers and all oppressed people in Sri Lanka. Tamil Solidarity has produced model resolutions for trade union branches and student unions, and can provide leaflets and other material, as well as speakers for meetings, etc.

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In The Socialist 20 October 2009:

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