We are writing to express our deep concern about the upcoming visit of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister from October the 1st to 3rd 2016 to New Zealand. This follows a visit by the New Zealand Prime Minister to Sri Lanka earlier this year.
Increasing ties between the New Zealand State and the Sri Lankan State are helping to normalise the ongoing oppression and destruction of Tamil society in the North East of the island under the guise of a ‘reconciliation process’.
It is seven years since the Sri Lankan State launched its final assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s de-facto state in the North of the island. In a few months in 2009, this assault killed more than 100,000 Tamil people.
Apart from the ongoing trauma of these enormous crimes, in the absence of a force to resist the Sri Lankan State, the Tamil people of the NorthEast face a process of systematic and continuing destruction.
Massive militarisation facilitates State-aided colonisation to change the demography of the NorthEast and to eliminate the Tamil identity, as well facilitating ongoing abuses such as sexual violence and torture and denial of their economic livelihoods.
International Crisis Group, an organisation that has been funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, states in a 2012 report that:
With the massive number of troops in the north have come various forms of Sinhalisation. The almost entirely Tamil-speaking north is now dotted with Sinhala sign-boards, streets newly renamed in Sinhala, monuments to Sinhala war heroes, and even a war museum and battlefields that are open only to Sinhalese. Sinhala fishermen and businessmen are regularly given advantages not accorded to Tamils. The slow but steady movement of Sinhala settlers along the southern edges of the province, often with military and central government support and sometimes onto land previously farmed or occupied by Tamils, is particularly worrying. These developments are consistent with a strategy – known to be supported by important officials and advisers to the president – to change “the facts on the ground”… and make it impossible to claim the north as a Tamil-majority area deserving of self-governance.
This process has not changed since the election of a new President or Prime Minister, as was found by the Maatram Foundation, in their November 2015 report Understanding Post-War Land Issues in Northern Sri Lanka, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) and the Embassy of Switzerland in Sri Lanka:
[A] key objective of militarization of land is inter-alia the Sinhala Budhdhisisation of the North-East under the guise of responding to security threats. … the report argues that militarization is not just about land but is also about militarization of communities. The report recommends demilitarization and demobilisation as a central part of the programme of dealing with land issues in the North-East.
Similarly torture and sexual violence are ongoing against the Tamil population under the current government, as was reported by respected jurist Yasmin Sooka earlier this year:
New evidence has emerged of on-going torture and sexual violence by the Sri Lankan security forces one year after a new government came to power promising a radical clean up.
“Sadly Sri Lanka’s notorious ‘white vans’ are still operating; it’s very much business as usual … this demonstrates there can be no accountability without urgent security sector reform that leads to the dismantling of the state’s machinery of repression”.
In light of these facts on the ground, the idea of a ‘reconciliation process’ is not credible and in reality acts as a smokescreen for this ongoing process of destruction.
Therefore we are concerned when the New Zealand Government has stated it “is keen to support the important steps the country is making towards reconciliation and rebuilding through increased political and economic contact. [emphasis added]”
We should not confuse these two things. The New Zealand Government’s enthusiasm for expanding the economic relationship with the Sri Lanka State and the rights of the Tamil people in the NorthEast run in opposite directions. The New Zealand Government should not use the ‘reconciliation process’ as a cover for expanding its own economic interests at the expense of the Tamil people.
We draw attention to the recent protest march which saw tens of thousands of Tamils in the North of the island courageously demonstrate against this process of ongoing destruction and for recognition of their fundamental rights (see reportage here and here).