Maybe now the Tamil community won’t be ignored.
After months of peaceful protests, including hunger strikes on Parliament Hill, protestors took their call for peace talks back home onto the Gardiner yesterday after news of the deaths of 400 civilians in continued fighting between Sri Lankan government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Women and children were at the front of the protest line. It was a desperate act by a community desperate for someone, anyone among the ranks of the government, to take notice. Easy to dismiss the claims of genocide when they’re coming from a community that many in officialdom believe are standing up for a terrorist cause, Ottawa having labeled the separatist LTTE a terrorist organization back in 2006.
The sympathy for civilians being indiscriminately killed by Sri Lankan government forces in a two-decades-old civil war back home has been hard to find in media reports that have varyingly described Tamil community protests as occupations and blockades. Cops in riot gear have been deployed. And for the first time yesterday, the OPP and RCMP became involved, the OPP commissioner Julian Fantino warning darkly about a ramping up of police actions against protestors. When the rights of commuters clash with those whose relatives are being bombed back home, we can always depend on Fantino to do the right thing.
But at least one political party in Ottawa has finally taken notice of the Tamils’ plight. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s promise to take up the community’s cause in Parliament is what got them off the highway late last night.
Iggy has a spotty record on human rights. Those torture musings still haunt. And standing up for the cause of the Tamils is a slippery proposition given reports by human rights groups and UN that the LTTE is using women and children as human shields as they retreat from the onslaught of Sri Lankan government forces in a tiny wedge still under their control in the north of the country.
The Sri Lankan government’s hands, though, are just as soaked with blood, arguably more so. But in the fight against terrorism, all’s fair.
Is it time the feds reconsider aid to the country, or at least until the Sri Lankan government, which pulled the plug on peace talks, goes back to the negotiating table?
It’s a question Ignatieff may want to pose when and if he finally stands up in the House to press the Tamils’ point.
Human Rights Watch reports that Sri Lankan government forces are bombing hospitals in territory controlled by the LTTE.
Since 1983, when the civil war started, Canada’s foreign aid to the country has concentrated on human rights and good governance. The total Canadian funds for projects is about $30 million.
In that time, some 65,000 have been killed and more than one million displaced by civil war.
According to CIDA, close to half the entire population, some 45 per cent, lives close to absolute poverty on $2 U.S. a day, despite a 92 per cent literacy rate. The December 2004 tsunami made matters more catastrophic, killing 31,000, displacing 500,000 more and pushing an additional 250,000 below the poverty line. The areas of the country most affected by war continue to lag far behind the rest of the country.
The UN has called on the Sri Lankan government and LTTE to make protecting civilians a priority but according to Human Rights Watch, “the Sri Lankan government has responded to broad international concerns with indignation and denials instead of action to address the humanitiarian crisis.” The country’s High Commissioner in Ottawa has called on the police to clear protestors here from the streets. Some 190,000 civilians are currently stuck in the conflict zone.
Journalists critical of the government’s unrelenting offensive have been routinely arrested, some killed. The editor of the Sri Lankan weekly Sunday Leader murdered on his way to work in January predicted his own death. Reporters Without Borders has blamed the Sri Lankan government.
At least 14 media workers have been unlawfully killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2006, according to Amnesty International. Others have been “arbitrarily detained, tortured and allegedly disappeared while in the custody of security forces.” More than 20 journalists have left the country in response to death threats.
On Sunday (May 10), three British journalists were deported for “false reporting on the civil war” after airing a story alleging food shortages and sexual abuses at refugee camps for civilians fleeing the fighting.
Human Rights Watch is reporting evidence of “war crimes” in the shelling by Sri Lankan government forces that killed 68 people and wounded 87 more in the government declared no fire zone last week. HRW says targets included hospitals in “indiscriminate artillery and aerial attacks.”
The Sri Lankan government has ignored pleas from the group to cease the use of heavy weapons in densely populated areas, including near hospitals.
Just something to think about next time we’re all inconvenienced by a Tamil protest downtown.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF TORONTOPROTEST.BLOGSPOT.COM.