Defending Tamil Canadians

By: Manjula Selvarajah

The non-profit “World Tamil Movement” is the first ever domestic group to be targeted by Canada's Minister of Safety. The Tamil community is shaken, but it is the general populace who should take notice.

Tamils in Canada are concerned that this statement was made without regard for the full implications for the community here and their loved ones in Sri Lanka, and without a sound understanding of the conflict.

For more clarity on the situation, one need only reference the dramatic series of events at the UN Human Rights Council vote this May. Three Nobel Peace Prize winners — Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and Argentinean activist Adolfo Pérez Esquivel — wrote to UN members asking that Sri Lanka be excluded from the Council because of serious human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government.

At the end of the UN vote, Steve Crawshaw, UN Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch and spokesperson for the NGO coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council, said of Sri Lanka, “We applaud the UN members for rejecting an abusive state which has used its position on the Human Rights Council not to promote Human Rights, but to protect itself and violator states from scrutiny.”

Why was Stockwell Day’s statement lacking even a few words on the human rights record of the Sri Lankan government, one that is well known and documented internationally? In quoting the number of civilian deaths this year, why did he not go further and mention that a majority of the deaths were Sri Lankan Tamils killed by military operations conducted by the Sri Lankan army?

It cannot be said that our government is unaware of the situation. Recently, the Canadian government’s appointee to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) overseeing the Sri Lankan Government Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights abuses returned after an abrupt ending to their mission, only a few months into the process. In an official statement about the reason for their early departure, the IIGEP cited a lack of will on the part of the Sri Lankan government to investigate human rights cases where the Sri Lankan forces were involved and expressed their concerns about the impunity for serious human rights violations.

Does the Canadian government really need more proof of Sri Lanka’s ambivalence about international human rights standards?

The Sri Lankan government may be celebrating the blacklisting, but Canadian Tamils have more genuine concerns about the plight of civilians back home. There is general worry within the community here that much needed humanitarian donations they send may get cut off. Tamils around the globe also fear that Sri Lanka may be turning to other funding sources, as a proactive measure against potential sanctions from Western countries. Iranian President Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,visited Sri Lanka in April, 2008, and the two countries' ministries have since then signed memorandums of understanding to work together. We fear that Sri Lanka is making “friends” with such other governments because may be less likely to take a stand on these human rights abuses, unlike Canada.

In short, the unbalanced focus of the Canadian government on one party to the conflict, the LTTE, shifts the scrutiny away from the actions of the Sri Lankan government. This in turn means the government of Sri Lanka can continue to pursue its militarized agenda, including a continuation of aerial bombings of areas where Tamil Sri Lankans live, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.

From Brian Mulroney’s opposition to apartheid in South Africa to Steven Harper’s tough words against President Musharaff’s regime in Pakistan, the Canadian tradition of respecting democratic and human rights principles such as the Rule of Law has been a beacon of hope for the downtrodden and discriminated peoples of the world.

The Tamil Canadian community looks forward to seeing the Canadian government apply a balanced approach to both parties of this conflict and consider imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions against the government of Sri Lanka for its appalling human rights record. It is time to send a stronger message.

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