HOWLS OF outrage greeted the news that the Oxford Union debating society had invited Sri Lankan president and suspected war criminal, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to address it on 1 December. But with thousands of Tamils in Britain preparing to picket the event, the Oxford Union cancelled Rajapaksa's invitation citing security concerns.
Earlier that week hundreds of protesters went to Heathrow airport as the man with the blood of tens of thousands of Tamil-speaking people on his hands touched down in Britain. Rajapaksa was being wined and dined at the Dorchester hotel and later met with secretary of state for defence, Liam Fox - while we pay the bill for his security.
Tamil Solidarity had contacted the Oxford Union by phone and email (see below) to demand that the event was cancelled, pointing out the long list of well-founded, well-documented allegations against Rajapaksa and his regime.
These allegations have been given extra weight by Wikileaks - which published a cable sent in January this year from the US ambassador to Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis, pointing the war crimes finger at Rajapaksa and his crony regime: "... responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country's senior civilian and military leadership including President Rajapaksa and his brothers and opposition candidate General Fonseka."
However, the US administration weren't prepared to expose an important political ally in south Asia.
Wikileaks also published a US Embassy memo which quotes a British Foreign Office official who claimed that David Miliband, as Labour's foreign secretary in 2009, (cynically) championed aid to Sri Lanka during the bloody end of the country's civil war in order to win the support of expatriate Tamils living in key Labour marginal seats.
"He said that with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite [the FO official] that he was spending 60% of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka."
The following letter was sent by the campaigning organisation, Tamil Solidarity, to the president of the Oxford Union calling on the debating society to withdraw its invitation to president Rajapaksa.
We note with grave concern your invitation to president Mahinda Rajapaksa to address the Oxford Union this week.
Despite protestations to the contrary by the president and his regime, the brutality and excesses of the Sri Lankan armed forces in their prosecution of the civil war have been well documented. Let it be clear, we are not talking here about unsubstantiated reports. There is irrefutable evidence of the massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians, especially in the final weeks of the war last year. Irrefutable proof of the bombing by Sri Lankan armed forces of emergency hospitals and aid centres. There has been a series of criticisms from agencies such as the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, to name just a handful. Now, this week, Channel 4 News has released further footage of summary executions which everyone, apart from the Sri Lankan regime and its representatives, agrees is authentic.
Following the brutal finale of the war, hundreds of thousands of Tamil-speaking people were rounded up in open prison camps and held in the most horrendous conditions, lacking basic sanitation, health and other essential services. Still, today, so-called 'secret' camps are in operation.
We could add many more examples - and invite you to look at the reports on our website - to illustrate the true nature of the regime, the head of which you have now invited to address your meeting.
This decision is a gross insult to the hundreds of thousands of Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka and worldwide, who are still grieving the loss of loved ones and who are trying to cope with the trauma, distress and fall-out from this most brutal of conflicts.
We urge you to rescind this invitation immediately.