Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/676/12266
Sri Lanka's killing fields
Manny Thain, Secretary Tamil Solidarity
Horrifying. Heart-rending. Enraging. Those words can barely describe the reaction to the barbaric acts shown in Sri Lanka's Killing Fields, a Channel 4 documentary aired on 14 June.
Although most of the footage has been seen before, Channel 4 has done a great service in bringing it all together. It will help spread awareness of these terrible events and of the movement for Tamil rights and against Mahinda Rajapaksa's regime, which tramples on the rights and conditions of all working class and poor people in Sri Lanka.
It was hard to revisit these events, as Rajapaksa's mass murder machine drove on in 2009 to crush the paramilitary Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and its state-within-a-state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
At the very least, 40,000 people were killed in the conflict's final months. Hundreds of thousands were thrown into open prison camps. This is also a story of the hypocrisy of world powers and their institutions which, directly or indirectly, are complicit in the slaughter.
Over 25 years, the LTTE gained control of the predominantly Tamil-speaking areas. It achieved notoriety for its suicide bombings and tactics of individual terrorism. Given decades of oppression, however, it had secured a level of support in the Tamil population.
Then, in 2008, Rajapaksa launched his genocidal offensive under the cover of the 'war on terror'. By September, Sri Lankan armed forces were moving in on Killinochchi, the LTTE capital.
The United Nations (UN) was told that the safety of its employees in the town could not be guaranteed. People begged UN staff not to leave, fearing a slaughter once they did so. The terrain had been opened up for the offensive, free from prying eyes.
In January 2009, Killinochchi fell. Hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled. They were targeted with heavy artillery, supplied by China, and by Israeli-made combat aircraft. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade says that the British government granted licences for £700,000-worth of military equipment to the regime in 2009, a further £1 million in 2010.
The Sri Lankan armed forces declared a 'no-fire zone', claiming this would safeguard civilians. Yet makeshift hospitals were repeatedly shelled despite their Red Cross markings. Crowded civilian camps and food lines were hit. Aid was cut off. Allegations persist against the LTTE that it used civilians as human shields and killed Tamils to stop them leaving.
On 12 May, the Tamils' mobile phone images ended abruptly. Subsequent recordings came from Sri Lankan troops. They ran riot, gleefully recording the summary execution of naked prisoners, blindfolded, hands tied, shot in the back of the head.
The Channel 4 documentary also includes new photographic evidence of the execution of men and women on 15 May 2009, and other incidents too numerous and grotesque to mention. The rape of women who had surrendered was commonplace. The abuse was absolutely barbaric. It was systematic.
The film ends by stating that Tamil-speaking people are looking to the 'international community' for justice. It asks: 'Will they be failed again?' The UN's record is not reassuring.
On 23 May 2009, UN general secretary, Ban Ki Moon, went on a 15-minute government-supervised 'tour'. He did not talk with captive Tamils. He seems not to have noticed the sprawling camps or widespread misery.
Rajapaksa's regime rejects all allegations against it, setting up the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to cover up its actions. Meanwhile, the brutal military clampdown continues in the north and east.
The conflict has also been used to divide working class and poor people along ethnic lines and intensify their exploitation. Recently a worker was killed in one of the government's Free Trade Zones, areas of super-exploitation, while protesting against IMF-led changes to pensions.
Ban Ki Moon says that the UN does not have the authority to hold an investigation. Ultimately, of course, the UN represents the interests of the major world powers. Sri Lanka's strategic position on important sea lanes, its deepwater ports and cheap labour mean that governments and big business are queuing up to do business with Rajapaksa.
Only mass pressure by Tamil-speaking people and their natural allies in the international workers' movement can keep the spotlight on the barbaric crimes witnessed in 2009 and earlier.
For an inquiry to be free from the influence of the Rajapaksa regime and its international collaborators, it would have to consist of representatives accountable to the working class and poor from all of Sri Lanka's communities, with the assistance of trade union and human rights organisations internationally.
This was called for in a recent resolution, passed at a hearing of the European Parliament, which was co-organised by Tamil Solidarity, for the rights of all workers and oppressed people.
In The Socialist 22 June 2011:
Socialist Party feature
Building for 30th June
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Reviews and comments
Fighting the cuts