Economic Embargo By The (Sri Lankan) Government Against Its Own (Tamil) People

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: TamilCanadian
| Date: 20010222

The on-going ethnic conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese derived from the 53 years of denial of the right to self-determination of the Tamil people by the Sri Lanka governments.

By: Dr. K. Nava, Australia

Economic Embargo Is A Purposive Act
The on-going ethnic conflict between the Tamils and Sinhalese derived from the 53 years of denial of the right to self-determination of the Tamil people by the Sri Lanka governments. Following independence in 1948, a series of government policies progressively and systematically deprived the Tamil of their fundamental rights. The Tamil used non-violent actions to resist these policies and their implementation up until the early 1980s. However, the Sri Lankan government used violent military and racist means to contain and suppress the resistance. The government-sponsored violence led the Tamils in 1983 to use an armed struggle to regain their economic, political, human and social rights. The spiral of violence and war during the past 18 years has claimed more than 100,000 Tamil lives killed by the State forces through aerial bombing, artillery shelling and massacres. The heavy handed approach by the Sri Lankan government has caused utter destruction of the homeland of the Tamils and their properties and displaced over a million Tamils as internal and external refugees. In addition to the military aggression, the Sri Lankan government has imposed an economic embargo on Tamil people from 1995. Since then the Tamils have become heavily oppressed due to the combined and compounded effects of the economic and military measures undertaken by the Sri Lankan government. The Tamil people did everything possible to overcome the economic embargo. But the Sri Lankan government did not allow them to succeed. In the end, the Tamils became desperate and helpless to meet their basic necessities. The starvation, unemployment and displacement are the premeditated acts of crimes by a government against its own people. If the government allowed the Tamils, they can overcome the economic embargo and the human tragedy by producing their food, finding jobs and making a living. But the government is not respecting and responding to the basic necessities of the people. The government is not treating the Tamils as people. A right to life for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka is fading away fast.
Economic Embargo Is A Crime Against Humanity
Tamil people are pushed beyond their survival limit of starvation and death. The Sri Lankan government continues to use the denial of food, medicine and other essential supplies, that are both essential and required for living, as weapons of war against the Tamil people. The deprivation of food as a weapon of war is a serious war crime. Over half a million people in the northeast have been deliberately deprived of food and medicine by the Sri Lankan government. This use of food as a weapon of war has now reached a critical point of survival for the 800,000 people. There is a serious shortage of supplies such a fertilisers, kerosene, machinery and other raw material for farmers and fishermen to do their jobs. Farming and fishing activities are controlled, denied and destroyed by the armed forces on a daily basis. The armed forces do not allow the farmers and fishermen to harvest their products. Localised curfews are enforced by the military to limit the movement of people and therefore to limit their day-to-day living and economic activities. The use of economic embargo as a weapon against the Tamil people is also made plain by its refusal to permit international aid agencies not only to engage freely in their humanitarian work to the internally displaced refugees but also to visit them. The Sri Lankan Government has laid serious restrictions on ICRC, CARE International, OXFAM and the UNHCR to operate in the internally displaced refugee centres. This has resulted in several civilian organisations calling upon these organisations to be more assertive in their dealings with the Government. Using the economic embargo as a weapon of war has been recognised as a war crime by several international authorities. In 1998, Professor Jordon J Paust, the Law Foundation Professor at the University of Houston in an article in the Venderbuilt Journal of Transactional Law entitled "The Human Rights to Food, Medicine and Medical Supplies, and Freedom from Arbitrary and Inhuman Detention and Controls in Sri Lanka" has pointed out that the denial of medical supplies and medicine is a serious war crime. According to Professor Paust the intentional withholding of food and medical supplies from LTTE controlled areas is a clear violation of Article 3, and as such, a war crime. He has also quoted the US State Department Country Reports (1997 & 1998) to say, "within the 1997 Country Report one finds a shocking confirmation of war crime policies and activities with respect to medicine and medical supplies. This deliberate denial of food and medicine to the civilian population is clearly a war crime.” As Prof. Jordan Paust points out "Serious violations of basic human rights and humanitarian law occur in Sri Lanka when food, medicine and medical supplies are used as weapons. Those least able to cope, especially children, are the primary victims of such criminal tactics. Such denials must be exposed. It is time for the international community to recognise that, in addition to medicine and medical supplies, food should be treated as neutral property during an armed conflict. The international community should strive to assure that corridors for the free passage of food and medical supplies are negotiated or imposed during any armed conflict. For the children and others who suffer, criminal and civil sanctions are inadequate and come too late, if at all.
Combined and Compounded Effects of Economic Embargo and Military Aggressions
The Sri Lankan government is gradually and systematically destroying the Tamil people, their language, their culture, their history, their economic existence and their geographical entity. The government wants to suppress the Tamil demand for their right to determination. The Tamil people are being physically and mentally exterminated since the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948. The most shameful and inhuman occurrence of annihilation started with the official economic embargo from 1995. This is not an isolated incident, but it is a carefully planned and executed racist policy. Economic embargo is further enriched by the several military operations in the north against the Tamil people. During these military operations hundreds were killed and hundreds of thousands were uprooted from their homes. On 9 July 1995, about 65 Tamils were killed and over 150 badly injured when a Sri Lankan aircraft dropped six bombs on 2000 frightened civilians crammed into the courtyard of St.Peter and Paul's church, Navaly. On 21st September an air force plane bombed a Jaffna schoolyard crammed with 750 children on their lunch break, killing 34 and injuring over 150 others. Due to the continued offensive, from 30 October 1995, about 500,000 Tamils left behind all their hard earned property, possessions, and the land they had lived and worked for generations and walked their way to Vanni carrying children and disabled in the pouring rain. No sooner had the Sri Lankan army destroyed and occupied the agricultural lands of Jaffna peninsula, than the government staged a vicious drama to portray themselves to the world community as the liberators of the Tamil people. The economic embargo against the Tamils continued under the eyes of the international community. Using economic embargo against innocent people is immoral. The Sri Lankan government is perpetrating all such immoral and illegal activities, but the International community is silent about this and continues to provide military and financial aid that is also used against the Tamil people.

Unjustifiable Economic Embargo
In countries divided on majority and minority ethnic lines, it is a fact that the majority never agree to recognise the rights of the minority. In circumstances where the majority refuses to come to an amicable settlement with the minority, the minority community have no way other than fighting for their right for self determination. Even in such a situation the majorities are the gainers as they easily brand these freedom fighters (the minorities) as "terrorists", a word often used by the majority (the Sinhalese) to gain the attention and sympathy from the international community. As a result, yet again, the minorities (Tamils) are the real losers. Since the introduction of economic embargo against the Tamil people, some human right organizations have repeatedly called for reducing, reshaping and quickly ending the economic sanctions that have brought such suffering to the Tamils. However, democratic countries like the UK and USA are yet to openly call for the end of the economic embargo to avert this intolerable human tragedy. After more than six years of unparalleled and unmerited suffering, it is long past time to end the economic embargo against the Tamil people. Too many have suffered for too long. Efforts to ease the suffering inflicted by sanctions, namely the food rationing, are political in nature and insufficient in reality. The comprehensive sanctions against the Tamils have long since ceased to be a morally acceptable tool of diplomacy, because they have inflicted indiscriminate and unacceptable suffering on the Tamil people. They violate a fundamental principle of engagement in conflict: states may not seek to destroy an enemy or an armed resistance by targeting the civilian population. The international community must advocate terminating promptly the economic embargo against Tamil people. There cannot be any justification for economic embargo. Even honourable causes may not be defended with immoral means. Such is the case of embargo that contributes to untimely death, chronic illness, and reduced life expectancy among innocent civilians. The compounded and combined effects of the prolonged embargo and military aggressions mean that many of the most vulnerable are living no more.
International Community Must Exercise Its Diplomacy
It must be distinguished that the primary responsibility for resolving the Tamil national question between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government belongs to the Sri Lankan government. So too does that government bear primary responsibility for the failure of humanitarian efforts because of its “on-purpose” economic embargo and military aggressions against the Tamil people. However, the international community still bears a large measure of responsibility for the plight of the Tamil people. Tamil people as a whole should not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of the amicable solution from the Sri Lankan government. Given the effects of the embargo and military aggressions, the inadequacy of the food rationing and related humanitarian exemptions to mitigate adequately the suffering of the Tamil people, and the repeated resistance of political leaders to find a negotiated political solution in morally necessary ways, the current comprehensive economic embargo is morally unacceptable and must be replaced by more humane arrangements. The international community should not accept a comprehensive economic embargo. The international community’s concern should not be limited to the embargo, but it also has the obligation to stop the war against the Tamil people. The moral justification of such war is, at best, unclear, yet the risks to Tamil civilians are real and clear. The international community must urge the Sri Lankan government to immediately stop this form of low-level warfare against the Tamil people. The international community cannot turn a deaf ear to the suffering of the Tamil people or a blind eye to the merciless consequences of the current Sri Lankan genocidal war. It is time to end the comprehensive economic embargo against the Tamils, halt the ongoing offensive war, and find morally acceptable alternatives to contain the human sufferings in the northeast. Tamil people are the victims of their own government and of its discriminatory policies. The international community must exercise its diplomacy to avert the human tragedy in Sri Lanka.

Tamils Deserve the Support of the International Community
The root cause of the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka is the direct result of the 53 years of denial of the right to self-determination of the Tamils. The Tamil needs appropriate encouragement, empowerment and support from the peace-loving democratic countries and the international community as a whole to achieve their self-determination without any more bloodshed. The international community has to accommodate inter alia the right of people when they are subjected to years of gross violations of human rights by their own government, when it has exhausted all reasonable peaceful means of redress and when there is no realistic expectation of improvement without drastic measures. As an example, the struggle of Kosova Albanians had to culminate in the worst atrocities to finally deserve the attention of the international community as to a case of denial of the right of self-determination for more than ten years. From the international perspective, such signals of internal conflicts are clear signs that existing patterns of international boundaries no longer correspond to the realities and prerequisites of effective governance, thus often risking to trigger violence. In the northeast of Sri Lanka, it is estimated that over 100,000 people have been killed, and over one million people displaced both internally and externally since 1983. There has been a massive destruction of the infrastructure and deterioration of basic services. Children and women, the most vulnerable groups, face a future of deprivation and lack of hope if adequate efforts for a return to normalcy are not forthcoming. 500,000 persons remain in about 350 government controlled camps, many children have lived all their lives in overcrowded camps of the displaced, thousands have lost their parents and a generation of children have either been out of school or have had their education disrupted. Some of these people have been repeatedly displaced several times due to the repeated attacks over the years by the Sri Lankan armed forces, losing their way of life and now have no means of support. Around 900,000 persons depend upon the government assistance for food rations and often live on the meagre rations that are provided to them through NGOs. More precisely, the three districts of the Vanni, namely, Killinochi, Mullaithivu and Mannar and North Vavuniya with a population of about 500,000 are deprived of basic facilities. About 25% of the population displaced from Jaffna still reside in the Vanni region, putting considerable pressure on the limited resources and services.
Norwegian Initiative Needs Substantial and Open International Support
The Sri Lankan government is using callous tactics against the Tamil people with economic embargo as a weapon of war at a stage that the people in the northeast have begun experiencing deaths through starvation and denial of access to basic necessities. The Sri Lankan government has not agreed to the unilateral cease-fire implemented by the LTTE. The long drawn out ethnic conflict and war in Sri Lanka could not be resolved by the economic embargo and military aggressions. It can only satisfactorily and peacefully be resolved through peace talks, facilitated and mediated by the international community. The attempt made by the Norwegian government does not appear to be having substantial support from the countries like USA, UK and India. These countries are not taking serious attempt to use their diplomacy to resolve the conflict and bring an end to this senseless war. Even in the face of more mass graves coming to light, more starvation and death in the war zones, the Sri Lankan Government is escalating only its military efforts to capture new Tamil areas, inflict more suffering on the civilians in the war zone and doing hardly anything about a peaceful way of ending this horrendous conflict. The six years long economic embargo against the Tamils has gone on shamefully unchallenged and not condemned by the democratic governments and many international human right organisations of the world. The economic embargo covers a range of over hundred items necessary to day-to-day human life. The embargo forbids electricity, food, draw materials, machinery and equipment for farming and fishing, electrical goods, equipment for hospitals, postal services, transport, fishing, cement, paper, white cloth, milk foods and medicines. It has been ruthlessly used by the Sri Lankan government, not only to starve and suffocate innocent people, including the old, the sick and the infants, but also as a weapon to defuse and suppress the political will of the Tamil people. Allowing only a fraction of the food needed by the internally displaced refugees serves well the hypocritical propaganda of the government to the world that it is unique in catering to the people in the war zone, but in reality it is a Sri Lankan way of executing the slow genocide of Tamils - thus adopting a ‘gas-chamber-style’ of genocide of the Jewish people. The vicious cycle of “violence and war” cannot be brought to a close by further escalation of violence with the help of foreign governments, nor by increasing the suffering of innocent Tamil civilians of the war-zone by the inhuman economic embargo, nor by closing the war zone to all media for so many years, but only by creating the necessary conditions for human living in the war zone and starting peace-talks between the Government and the LTTE with the help of the international community. Because the international community has not effectively questioned the economic embargo, the media blockade, the disappearances, and the mass graves, the situation has been escalated to a human tragedy. It is time for the international community to pressurise and persuade the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhala people to stop the war, negotiate and find a lasting political solution to the Tamil national question. For this reason, the governments of the UK, USA, Japan, India and the European Community must whole-heartedly support the current Norwegian initiative.