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Human Rights & Information
4 July 1984
Effective action must spring from an informed awareness. And this is so in the area of Human Rights as well. "Without the knowledge that Human Rights exist, people cannot seek their own protection. Without the knowledge that Human Rights are violated, no individual or organisation can seek to provide protection. Both the promotion and the protection of Human Rights, therefore require that information be available for all."
The increasing repression practiced by the Sri Lankan state culminating in organised murder and arson in July and August 1983 rendered it both difficult and dangerous to publish facts concerning Human Rights violations. Suthanthiran, the Tamil bi weekly, was sealed thrice between October 1982 and January 1983. The English weekly, the Saturday Review, which had espoused the cause of the Tamils, was sealed later in 1983. The Editor of the Suthanthiran was incarcerated.
There was a clear need to establish Tamil Information Centres outside Sri Lanka and a beginning was made in London.The Tamil Information Centre, London which commenced work in June 1983, has, during the past year sought to disseminate information about the continuing violations of the basic Human Rights of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Human Rights are those rights which arise from the inherent dignity of man and Tamils seek to live in peace, in freedom and with dignity amongst their fellow humans.
The day to day activities of the Centre is handled by five full time volunteers. Apart from these five, the Centre also receives the assistance of several part time volunteers from Tamils living in and around London.
The initial objectives of the Centre were to collect and store information focussed on Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka, to liase with international Human Rights organisations, to set up a library relating to the Tamil national question and the right of self determination guaranteed by Article 1 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, and to provide an information service on related matters Some of the main activities of the Centre during the past year have been the following:
1. TIC Reports - these set out recent information on violations of Human Rights to meet a variety of information needs of Human Rights Organisations, Non-Governmental Institutions, Governments, Religious Organisations, Media, Pressure Groups and Researchers. The TIC Report is also conceived as a vehicle of communication with subscribers, Tamil groups and friends who wish to be regularly informed about the situation in Sri Lanka.
Some of the Reports have served to focus attention on the contextual background to the incidents of violence and served to identify in advance the future course of action of the Sri Lankan government, so that international opinion may be mobilised to blunt the thrust of such actions. The TIC report reaches destinations in 37 countries
2. Information Service - During the crisis in 1983, the Centre maintained a 24 hour information service for persons calling at its office whether personally or by telephone. The Centre received recognition by the media in Great Britain as a trustworthy and reliable source of recent events in Sri Lanka
3. Assistance for Lobbying - The Centre deliberately refrained from any direct 'lobbying' work. This limit was self imposed so as to make the Centre acceptable as a reliable information source to the international community and to all the different Tamil groups which were functioning independently in London. This policy has met with acceptance and many diverse groups have made use of the information and services provided by the Centre
4. Special Publications - The Centre was one of the joint publishers of the book by Satchi Ponnambalam on the National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle. The book filled an urgent need for background information on the crisis which attracted international attention in July and August 1983. It has also published a reply to Ambassador Corea, entitled "Dear Sri Lanka Ambassador... Your slip is showing" which was widely read and circulated. It later published a brief case study of anti Tamil violence at Badulla, Nuwara Eliya and other plantation areas of Sri Lanka entitled " Sri Lanka: July 1983 Violence against 'Indian Tamils'."
5. Library - The collection of all material relating to the Tamil national question was initiated with the part time assistance of a qualified librarian. As the store of information increases, the Centre intends to utilise a computer to index and facilitate retrieval of information There is much that needs to be done in the months ahead.
The Human Rights concerns of the Tamil National question must inevitably remain as the most important single element in any programme of work for the international Tamil community. It provides the base for any struggle to be free from a continuing oppression. It also provides the moral frame for that struggle. And in the end it is truth that must and will prevail. The rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights are rights which appear on thin paper but they are rights to which international opinion must give the thick edge of action. The Tamil Information Centre seeks to assist in achieving this result.