Sri Lanka – ‘No to Chogm’ campaign

Workers’ unity to fight the oppression of Tamil people

Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Tamil Solidarity national chair

Among the Commonwealth’s stated ‘core beliefs’ are democracy and human rights. But democratic and human rights are being trampled on by the dictatorial regime in Sri Lanka, which is to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in November and then head the 53-state organisation.

Canada has withdrawn from Chogm citing “reported disappearances, and allegations of extra judicial killings”.

In the aftermath of the genocidal slaughter of up to 100,000 Tamil people in the three-decade civil war, the Sri Lankan regime stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Even the Commonwealth Lawyers Association has passed a resolution calling for Sri Lanka’s suspension from the Commonwealth.

Following her visit, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay said Sri Lanka is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction. The UN, Channel 4 and human rights groups have produced stacks of evidence revealing “torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.”

Tamil Solidarity is opposed to Chogm in Sri Lanka. We call for no British government participation but warn that David Cameron and the Con-Dems are determined to join the celebrations. Channel 4 news reporter Jon Snow recently reported that Foreign Secretary William Hague co-hosted a drinks party with the Sri Lankan government at the UN.

When a branch of the Unison trade union sent the Tamil Solidarity model letter to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in July demanding non-participation at Chogm, the response was revealing. The FCO said it will “urge” the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to respect human rights.

The LLRC, which was actually commissioned by the Sri Lankan regime, makes the mildest and frailest recommendations and yet the government refuses to implement it.

But there are signs of resistance. Tamils in Sri Lanka sent a strong message of defiance in the recent Northern Province elections.

On a 78% turnout they rejected the government parties. “This was despite”, as the Economist described, “the efforts of sullen men from military intelligence near polling stations telling voters to back Mr Rajapaksa’s ruling party.” Building a mass party that will struggle for Tamils’ rights remains an urgent task.

On 9 October Tamil Solidarity called a protest at Downing Street. As well as chanting angry slogans, speakers addressed the crowd, providing an opportunity to discuss and debate the strategy for this campaign.

Mayilon, a young worker on a zero-hour contract, explained why Tamil Solidarity works with the trade unions – to fight the exploitation we face here as workers and to link our struggles into a powerful movement to fight for the rights of all workers and oppressed people.

A statement from a young woman who recently visited Sri Lanka warned of the way, in a situation of fear and poverty, frustration was finding very negative outlets. She reported “increased domestic violence and sexual abuse” and concluded that “it’s very important for us to raise our voice on behalf of all those that have had their voice stolen”.

Ben Robinson brought support and solidarity from the Socialist Party in the fight for the right to self-determination of Tamil people. He pointed out that Cameron has his eye on business deals with the Sri Lankan regime. They work together, so workers and oppressed people must work together.

Young people were to the fore, on the megaphone, giving speeches and organising the action. The next step is the protest on 15 November at Downing Street which will coincide with the Chogm opening ceremony.

To find out more or request speakers or leaflets:

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History of Resistance by TU Senan
The history of struggle in Sri Lanka, reprint. Just £7, normally £10
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