"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Fuel Blockade

15 February 1987

To speak candidly is to speak openly and frankly. The fuel blockade imposed on the Jaffna peninsula in early January must be seen for what it is. It constituted a near genocidal attack on the Tamil people.

The ostensible reason for the blockade by the Sri Lankan government, was the announcement of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that they intended to make arrangements for the civil administration of the peninsula - a civil administration which had fallen into disarray and which badly needed reconstruction.

But, whatever may be the ostensible reason, that which is relevant is that in July 1983, long before the LTTE announcement, President Jayawardene had set the frame for his government's response to the claims of the Tamil people for justice, by declaring in his now famous interview with Ian Ward of the Daily Telegraph:

"...I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now...Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us...The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here...really, if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy..."

And the fuel blockade imposed in early January this year seeks to starve the Tamils out.

Independent observers of the Sri Lankan scene will therefore, be forgiven if they take the view that the recent actions of the Sri Lankan government which have caused untold misery and deprivation amongst the Tamil people, were in fact, actions intended to translate into reality the words uttered three years ago by an elected President about the 'lives and the opinions' of a section of his electorate. They will also be forgiven if they link the fuel blockade in early January with the massive military offensive launched later in January, against the Tamil people both in the North and in the East of Sri Lanka.

More than two hundred Tamil civilians have been killed in recent weeks and these included 21 Tamil employees in a Batticaloa seafood farm who were allegedly lined up and shot dead by the state security forces. In a telegram to President Jayawardene, the Batticaloa Citizens Committee pleaded that Tamil 'males were being systematically killed' by the armed forces.

It was a telegram reminiscent of the communication sent by Paul Nallanayagam some 18 months ago about a similar incident and for which he was arraigned before the High Court of Colombo for publishing false rumours - a charge of which he was acquitted after a prolonged period of detention and trial.

But then, it is unlikely that telegrams such as those sent by the Batticaloa Citizen Committee, cause much concern to the Sri Lankan government. After all, to the Sri Lankan government every Tamil is prima facie a 'terrorist' and therefore qualified for elimination.

The words of National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali uttered in Parliament in December 1984 spring to mind:

" Who is a terrorist? Is he the person who uses a gun? Or is he also not a terrorist who accompanies a terrorist with a gun? Is he not also a terrorist who gives a house to a person who has a gun and who wants to kill? Is he also not a terrorist who watches the movement of the army and then goes and tells a terrorist: do not go that way, the army is around?"

On that occasion the Minister went on to advise the Tamils in the Northern Province to take a 'holiday' with their relatives in other parts of the country, so that presumably, the armed forces would be able to identify those who remained as the real terrorists. Today, it seems that a concentrated military offensive has been launched on all those Tamils who did not act on the Minister's advice and take a holiday from their homeland.

The recent killings by the state security forces follow a pattern that had already been set. It was a pattern that had emerged long before 1983. In July 1983, more than 50 Tamil civilians were killed by the state security forces, on the streets of Jaffna and Orville H.Schell, former President of the New York City Bar Association, was moved to comment in the New York Times on the 24th of August 1983:

"I believe that recent killings by security authorities follow a pattern previously set...The government must bear full responsibility for these breaches of the right to life and other violations of human rights, especially in light of the wide powers that in recent years it has given the security forces...".

Despite the concerns expressed by international human rights organisations, the murder of Tamil civilians has continued in 1984 and thereafter. In respect of the massacre in Chunnakkam in March 1984, Amnesty International concluded 'that there is strong evidence' that the people 'died as a result of deliberate random shootings by air force personnel And the Sri Lankan army shot at random not only in Chunnakkam but elsewhere in Jaffna as well.

In May 1984, the London Times commented:

"...in the past two months at least 100 Tamils in the northern province of Jaffna have been killed by security forces - the official explanation is that these people were all 'terrorists', but this is contradicted by the accounts of every independent observer who has visited Jaffna..."

In June 1984, Amnesty International continued to be 'greatly concerned' 'that the government has permitted its security forces' to commit 'grave abuses of the right to life, that it has failed explicitly to condemn these abuses and to halt their occurrence'. And, yet again, in January 1985 Amnesty International referring to allegations 'of widespread killings in the Mannar area' 'by personnel of the security forces' pointed out that 'the scale of these killings' was 'unprecedented' and that it was alleged that 'at least ninety unarmed civilians, nearly all Tamils, many of them old men, women and children, were shot dead'.

According to another independent observer of the Sri Lankan scene, Trevor Fishlock, writing in the London Times in January 1985,

"the Sri Lankan forces were conducting a harsh and remorseless campaign of intimidation among the island's Tamil minority - by means of random murder, indiscriminate shootings, beatings, torture and plunder".

Senator A.L.Missen summed it all when he declared in the Australian Senate on the 13th of March 1986:

"...some 6000 (Tamils) have been killed altogether in the last few years. These events are not accidental. It can be seen that they are the result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Sri Lankan government.."

And, it was a policy which the Sri Lankan government did not hesitate to publicly declare, from time to time. Kuldip Nayar reported in the Island on the 17th of February 1985:

"...The President conceded that 'terrible things' were happening in Sri Lanka...asked if he would set up an inquiry commission to go into the atrocities committed by the army against the Tamils, he said: 'Did the British appoint a commission during the war?..

The Sri Lankan government has not been without its moments of frankness. It was frank when it declared that it was no longer 'worried' about the 'lives or the opinion' of the Jaffna people. It was frank when it declared that in its perception 'the Sinhala people would be happy if the Tamils are starved'. It was frank in advising the Tamils to take a holiday from their homelands, so that those who remained may be identified as 'terrorists' and dealt with as 'terrorists'. It was frank when it declared that it was 'at war' with the Tamil people.

And, it is important that the Sri Lankan government should be taken at its word. The Sri Lankan government is engaged in a war to subjugate the Tamil people. But the process of subjugation is not without difficulty. The victim will not quietly submit. He screams for help. He seeks refuge and becomes a refugee. And, he even has the temerity to resist and retaliate.

In an increasingly small world, injustice anywhere begins to affect peace and stability everywhere. In the end, it is this which has given rise to the increasing international concern for securing human rights. Today, there is a need for informed opinion everywhere, to recognise that the continuing violations of human rights by the Sri Lankan government are not some accidental happenings - they have come as the deliberate response of the Sri Lankan government to the claim of the Tamils to be recognised as a people.

The Sri Lankan government seeks to intimidate the Tamil people by threatening genocide. To paraphrase the words of Professor Leo Kruper, in his prize winning booklet 'International Action Against Genocide' there is today, an urgent need to refine the norms for 'humanitarian intervention for the exercise of the right of self determination' of a people.

This is the positive area of human rights work, to which, both governments and non governmental agencies, concerned not merely with mouthing platitudes but with securing justice, should increasingly give their time and energies. Otherwise, genocide will continue to be a scourge and human rights more often than not, a mere exercise in rhetoric.

It is in this context that we welcome Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's initiative in calling upon the Sri Lankan government to lift the fuel blockade, desist from the continued military onslaught on the Tamil people, and to get to the negotiating table.

Hopefully, the Sri Lankan government will recognise that peace will not come by killing more and more Tamils and by seeking to starve the remainder into submission - it will come only through a negotiating process firmly founded on the recognition of the Tamils of Eelam as a people, as a nation. It is around reason that peace will grow.

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