Why should we care about the suffering of Tamils?

Jody McIntyre

Sri lanka Why should we care about the suffering of Tamils? On Tuesday 14 June, a shocking, heart-wrenching documentary was shown on Channel 4.  ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, broadcast just after 11pm, displayed what presenter Jon Snow described as “devastating evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and a powerful case for bring those guilty of these crimes to justice.”

I remember the massive Tamil demonstrations in London in April 2009, during what many of them viewed as genocide in progress.  Day after day, a Tamil community of hundreds of thousands would descend on Parliament Square, laying the Houses of Parliament to siege on several occasions.  For weeks on end, the Tamil community occupied the Square, in an attempt to raise awareness of the suffering and destruction their families were facing.  I slept in the Square on some nights, the air cold and the grass damp with dew, feeling inspired by their determination and resilience.

“The Sri Lankan government had the tacit support of most of the world’s powers.” says Jon Snow.  As UN officials are now more than willing to admit on television cameras, the Sri Lankan government were consistently shelling civilians in the so-called “no-fire zone”.  Civilians packed into small areas, not to protect them, but to target them more efficiently.  As many witnesses in the film claim, government forces were intent on maximising casualties; hospitals were targeted, and after a shell was fired, another would be targeted at those attempting to help the injured.  Tactics not dissimilar to those employed by the Israeli military in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead; it will not come as a surprise then, that the documentary states, that the Sri Lankan government were equipped with Israeli Kfir fighter bombers.

Despite the graphic nature of the films, and the blunt portrayal of raw human suffering, Jon Snow and Channel 4 were determined to make the videos public. But, as Serena Davies asks in her review of the programme for the Daily Telegraph, “why (show them) to the British public?” Davies argues that we have no responsibility for the suffering of the Tamil people, and ponders, “Should untutored members of another nation, one on the other side of the world and with no claims now over its former colony, be the people to bear witness to such grotesque behaviour…?”

So, why should we care?  Let me suggest a few reasons.  Firstly, as Jeremy Page reported in The Times in 2009, the British government approved commercial sales to the Sri Lankan government “of more than £13.6 million of equipment including armoured vehicles, machine-gun components and semi-automatic pistols” during the last three years of its brutal civil war with the Tamil Tigers.  As Jon Snow asserts in ‘Killing Fields’, the Sri Lankan military, freshly-equipped with British-made weapons, often did little to distinguish between the Tigers and Tamil civilians.  Or we can look to a Channel 4 news item from May 2010, also presented by Jon Snow; “‘Kill everybody and finish them off,’ that’s what Sri Lankan soldiers say they were told…”  Not the type of military our government should be arming, you might think?

And then we can take into consideration out treatment of the Tamils fleeing the conflict, escaping the bullets paid for with our taxes, and seeking asylum in the UK.  As a Channel 4 report released on the same day as the ‘Killing Fields’ documentary revealed, 40 Sri Lankans, the majority of whom are Tamil, were due to be deported from the UK two days later.

“This is despite the Home Office’s own report on Sri Lanka,” the article stated, “published in April, which says that ‘despite the end of the fighting, there continued to be human rights violations in 2010, including disappearances and extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and a restriction on political space for free expression’.”

Again, I think back to my interviews with Tamil people camped out in Parliament Square, April 2009.  The sky is dark, with the clock of Big Ben illuminated in the background, and it’s cold.  A young man looks straight into the camera lens, and he asks:

“If it was your families… what would you do?”

Tagged in: , ,
  • IntObserver

    I don’t think you have to worry about Tamil culture with 60 million+ Tamils in Tamil Nadu where there is a thriving Tamil cinema, media and music scene.

  • IntObserver

    I have spent time in Sri Lanka. The state does not necessarily just ’squeeze’ North Eastern Tamils – any poor demographic far from the capital Colombo seems to be underpriviledged. There was a massive Communist uprising from the Sinhalese South which left over 40000 dead including many university students.

  • IntObserver

    I have been to both Sri Lanka and China. China is indeed a massive superpower in the making. Skyscapers popping up every 6 months, and a huge motivated population proudly driving their country’s growth. There is lots of nepotism and corruption in the higher strata of China’s upper class but this don’t really intrude much into the life of man/woman on the street who is working hard to support his/her family.

    Sri Lanka is a tiny nation, that seems to have had a tormented history because of external influences. The people in the country (irrespective of race) seem to be surprisingly happy even given their poor curcumstances, but I didn’t notice much of the dynamism and entrepreneurship of Chinese here.

    Also, the tragic loss of civilians as the end of the Tamil Tiger uprising wasn’t the only government crackdown of a rebellion! Apparently around 40000 Sinhalese were killed during a short marxist uprising in the south of the country during the late 80’s. Brutal crackdowns on uprisings may not be a racist policy of the Sri Lankan government – just standard government policy regardless. Also, it’s blatantly clear that the underlying cause of uprisings and discontent is probably not racism or capitalism/marxism but rather simply poverty and the unequal distribution of wealth. Many Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in Colombo live in the height of luxury while there is dire poverty outside the capital.

  • IntObserver

    I see no evidence to suggest the Tamil politicians would be less corrupt than Sinhalese politians in Sri Lanka.

  • FragilePeace

    nobody is saying to forget them, but don’t distort things with statements like in your previous comment in doing so you breed more hatred and divisiveness and pass it on to your own children. These views you have are extreme and i do hope someday you will see a middle ground. Nobody can forget the cost of war, (and i am referring to tamils, sinhalese, muslims, basically Sri Lankans) and  horrific events in our past like Black July although as a small child then I have no memory of it. But would you hold all future generations of Sinhalese accountable for singular atrocities and have no faith, if not in the country’s government then its people that represents something positive than what you tend to believe? Maybe you could ask the Tamils awaiting resettlement what the 1940s mean to them? i dont know what tunes the Sinhelese were singing then, but my beliefs are based on what i believe is useful and productive for everyone.

    The point is you are so eager to believe all the negatives, I would probably incite a lot of anger if I venture say the positives that are going on now, which leave little room for any understanding. It is indeed troubling that you are blinded by your own hatred however I think I understand it. 

  • FragilePeace

    I do not accept it, I do not accept that the Government DELIBERATELY targetted Tamil civilians. The government represents its people, the PEOPLE certainly did not want innocent civilians to die.
     The two statements of the above comment makes sense because, for one, Colombo is a city IN Sri Lanka, whereas London is in UK, another country altogether (in the example you were trying to draw parallel with). majority of Tamils don’t live in the North and East but elsewhere including Colombo where they are doing well and probably will do better now that LTTE no longer exists (they did give Tamils a bad name and forced a government to lay scrutiny on Tamil people, just as Americans looked at every muslim with suspicion – that is what terrorism does to a country).

  • Ananda

     (. For instance,
    Channel 4 showed images of a young man who was tied to a tree,
    threatened with a knife and subsequently killed. I was told by sources
    in the Wanni that this was an LTTE operation and pictures were taken for
    propaganda purposes by LTTE. Have a close look and you will find among
    the so-called soldiers a man in slippers. Sri Lankan soldiers never go
    about in slippers when they go out on operations. )

    Please read
    Media and the suffering of the Tamil people
    By Dr. Noel Nadesan is Editor

    of the UTHAYAM.

  • Kosh

    What sources? This wouldn’t be Mahinda Rajapakse? What sources? Your Sinhala government will not allow any international investigation, yet you want us to believe that when the LTTE was cornered in the jungle in the midst of all that bombing, they managed to stage the killing of their own people and we can tell it is staged because Sinhala soldiers dont wear flip-flops!! L

  • Ananda

     So, you   believe your innocent LTTE babies couldn’t done any harm to Tamil civilians as they have cornered and bombed by SL army. So pathetic it isn’t?
    Please read
    Media and the suffering of the Tamil people
    By Dr. Noel Nadesan is Editor

    It is on internet now

  • Kosh

    How many times must you be told.

    The LTTE’s rebels did harm Tamil Civilians. I know this because I have read and seen the Channel 4 documentary videos. Prior to the documentary, I believed it was plausible that Tamil Civilians were killed by the LTTE.

    But I only know this because evidence was presented by ‘independant’ organisations.
    The Sri-Lankan government is the only the second government in history(the first being Serbia) to claim no civilians were killed by the government. According to the Channel 4 footage it is clear that civilians have been killed by Sinhala Soldiers. Your Sinhala people are a government and military. If you are a state and a member of the UN you are obligated to protect your citizens. All of them. But out of that 40,000 civilians who died – how many of them are Sinhalese? The answer is zero. So it is reasonable to conclude that the Sinhalaese government killed 40,000 Tamil Civilians. If you want the Tamil Tiger rebels to share some of that blame, then you should be asking your Sinhala government to allow an independant investigation.

    But the fact you don’t – shows that you are interested in one thing. Protecting the Sinhala racist and brutal way of massacring Tamil civilians at all cost.

    Do you remember when your Sinhala government said there was  40,000 Tamils trapped in a small stretch. When the UN attempted to say it was more, your defence minister claimed it was Tiger propaganda. Do you remember that? Well now your Sinhala government confirms that 300,000 Tamils were trapped on that smalll narrow corridor of land. So your government LIED!
    So when you say LTTE babies, you are making yourself look like a fool. I have nothing to hide. LOL. But you as a Sinhala have a lot to hide, as does your government. Your supporting hiding the bodies, the massacre and the evidence.

    One last thing, you said “you have sources”. The Sri-Lankan army surrounded the Wanni. There were no sources. Because nobody from SINHALAlanka could get through to anybody in the Wanni?? Why you ask? Because the Sinhala government didn’t want the truth to come out. So please do not rubbish us with your insane mundane sinhala ideas.

    Thank you.

Property search
Browse by area

Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter