Sahanagama IDP site, Pulmoddai 13th Mile Post-pic by drs. sarajevo
Here is Shamila’s interview:
1.) After the defeat of the LTTE: What is the general situation on the ground in the north as well as in the whole country?
The war in Sri Lanka is finally over. This twenty six years of civil war has caused loss of around 100,000 lives and colossal damages to properties and public infrastructure specially in the north and the east. It seems the government has completely wiped out the LTTE leadership that arrogantly stood for a separate state and undermined almost all the efforts of arriving at a political settlement. The current moment therefore should lend a great opportunity for reconciliation between all the communities and a just political process to address the problems that led to the polarisation of communities and the armed conflict in the first place.
However what we have watched in the last few weeks sadly does not make us believe that we have a leadership that will bring about reconciliation among communities. What we see here is a regime that is clamoring about its victory while dismissing any form of accountability to the war-crime it has just committed so crudely against its own citizens. It is a regime that canâ€™t tolerate any dissent or outside views. This government is built on its impunity and military centric power. We also see that this regime is increasingly rallying support from countries that are its mirror image in the region. Just now the President finished his visit to Myanmar .
In the north, the government has called for municipal council election in Vavuniya and Jaffna . People from these two districts don’t see a reason to have an election without 300,000 displaced people (who are virtually locked up in open prisons in these two districts) being returned back to their homes. They see this election as a step for government to ensure that its allies get into local government, so that their cronies will further the government’s militarisation and Sinhala colonization agenda while helping them have control over much expected foreign aid for resettlement of these internally displaced people.
In the south the continuing triumphalist rhetoric and celebrations has further cornered even Tamils who never ever supported LTTE’s ideology. The chauvinist fever that followed military defeat of the LTTE is now haunting the Tamils every where in this country. In fact it is ironic that the government, its military and Sinhala nationalists are making these Tamils feel that without Pirabakaran and LTTE they are meaningless and subservient.
2.) More and more it comes clear, that GoSL is already installing a system of long-term internment of tamil people, in general a system of ethnic separation. What is the everyday life-situation of these displaced people and tamils in general?
The painful situation of the nearly 300,000 displaced persons now interned in camps in Vavuniya is most troubling at this point of time. These Tamil civilians had suffered much under the LTTE, which used and abused them without the freedom to leave its territory for over a decade. During the final months of the war, the LTTE used them as hostages for its own survival putting them in the line of fire. Actually these IDPs have suffered much before they finally got to these detention camps. People are congested in tents packed next to each other in land recently cleared and 12 to 15 people live in tents that can barely accommodate a family. Food and medical needs continue to be difficult, particular for physically challenged persons and people with special needs.
Access to groups working on relief and rehabilitation has been limited and services are finding it hard to reach the people. The situation of pregnant women and mothers with small children as well as minors in particular is precarious. A judge from Vavuniya gave a brave verdict recently to let the elders out from the camps since 15 elders died on a single day due to starvation and dehydration. There have been many reported cases of people specially youngsters being removed from camps after the visit of para-military men who would identify people who are suspected LTTE supporter or soldiers. There are incidents of rape but no one is prepared to talk about it and we get to hear only when the victim is dead. On May 5th two women’s dead bodies appeared near a facility which was assigned for women to bath in Manik farm. Latter that day their bodies were removed by the military before even the arrival of the judge and no postmortems were conducted.
Heavy militarization of camp management and coordination of relief and rehabilitation work is hampering any timely assistance getting to the needy people. Current restriction on accessing Manik farm is also limiting and slowing down the response to urgent medical needs of the injured civilians. Some of these injured people are denied advance treatment since their mobility has been completely curtailed. More importantly there is an urgent need for mental health care service since many of them are severely traumatized. Even the government psychiatrists are not given access.
Furthermore, the current condition in the camps amidst crowding is likely to be detrimental with the monsoon rains due in a couple of months. There are reports of people suffering of epidemics like Diarrhea, Hepatitis and Meningitis. Because of this over crowding there are already reported cases of 17 undernourished children dieing of these communicable diseases.
Government is refusing to release a name list of all these IDPs, detainees and convicted LTTE soldiers because it is engaged in the practice of eliminating the “unwanted”.
3.) What are the urgent needs, what is to be done next? What could be, in long term-perspective, a solution?
In the above context, there are some immediate steps government should take before even one think of long term solution. The issues of IDPs including the Northern Muslims who were evicted in 1990 by LTTE and other war affected IDPs in the northern and eastern province should be addressed immediately. There is no reason for the government to keep people in detention camps, temporary shelters or relocation villages. People should be allowed to return to their own homes or to their relatives and friends soon. What slaps on my face every time I visit Manik farm is that an entire population of two districts have being locked up in order to weed out a few thousand rebels. Some time I wonder whether it is right to even use the term IDPs to describe these detained civilians or are they prisoners of War?
There has been sharp fear among these people that they will be denied re-entry to their homes since they have heard various moves of the government in establishing high security zones and expropriating their homeland for special economic and cultural zones. If this government is genuinely interested in arriving at a political solution it has to commence dialogue with IDPs, political parties and civil society regarding the State proposals for the return of IDPs to their places of origin, reconstruction, livelihood opportunities and development of the North in the first place.
Govt should accelerate the resettlement phase to ensure that the bulk of the displaced people are resettled in the time frame of six months it has promised. This should be the first step of the government towards any reconciliation process in the post-war Sri Lanka .
Then the Govt should make every effort to ensure a political solution to address the long-standing grievances of the minorities which will ensure a sustainable peace and strengthen the democratization process. For this de-militarisation and devolution of reasonable power to the Northern and Eastern provinces are paramount important. Rajapakesa himself has initiated a process (All Party Representative Committee) that brought forward a comprehensive and sensible devolution package in the form of majority report which should be the base for arriving at a lasting solution for this conflict that has in fact being deepen after this military victory of the south .
4.) During the whole last two years and probably always, it was very difficult to give a voice to the oppressed people as well to those who resisted: What is to be done to give those people a voice which will be noticed-how to construct a really “international community” (perhaps the most important question)
We must not assume that simply because the LTTE has got defeated now, there would not be any possibility of other forms of armed insurgencies happening in the future. You cannot continue to repress or deprive the rights of any group of people forever? Can you? Look at Palestine . Despite the support of the supper powers from the west Israel is struggling and more and more young Palestinians are coming forward to lay down their lives for a cause.
In fact what helped Sri Lankan government to defeat LTTE is not simply it’s military power but the increase withdrawal of the support of Tamil people to itâ€™s rebel movement.
The international community has made many mistakes in the past by interfering into a conflict that they thought can be solved by bring together only the warring parties, the LTTE and the government. In this process they forgot to strengthen the other stakeholder of lasting peace in Sri Lanka . The Muslims, Up-country Tamils, women , labour movement, people’s unions and civil liberty movements have not been looked as something that need to be strengthened to create just peace in Sri Lanka. This is one of the reasons why in the last two years we did not see much people’s uprising in the south against the war and the continuing govt’s terror tactics against the Tamils and the media.
I genuinely feel, at the moment, there is no space for the western international community to get directly involved in political work in Sri Lanka . Unfortunately, to me, it seems like India’s job. They messed up this country long time before by arming the Tamil rebels, recently they helped Rajapakse’s finishing off the war on terror and now they are constrained to help the Tamils at least to live in dignity and peace. Of course the government friendly countries like China , Japan and South Africa can play a supportive role
Shamila is a human rights activist in Sri Lanka and has given this interview under a pseudonym. She was interviewed by Dr. Thomas Seibert.
The original interview in German is on the following website: