Tamil hunger strikers expose New Labour
As hunger striker Paramesweran Subramaniyam languishes in Parliament Square, New Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband has seen fit to “deplore” the tactics used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the movement fighting for self-determination, while ignoring the plight of the Tamil people altogether.
Twenty-eight year old Subramaniyam, who is from Mitcham in south London, has gone without food for 10 days and has stopped taking water. He lost his entire family in the conflict and is thought to be close to death himself. Last night around 700 protesters gathered in Parliament Square, demanding an end to New Labour’s backing for the Sri Lankan government.
Though he called on the Tigers (LTTE) to “renounce terrorism”, Miliband refused to criticise Sri Lankan President Mahinder Rajapaksa’s genocidal war against Tamil civilians. The LTTE is currently banned as a terrorist organisation by 30 countries, including the UK. Miliband’s rejection of the hunger strikers’ demand for an end to British support for the Sri Lankan government is not too surprising. The UK has been supplying military hardware and turning a blind eye to arms shipments to the area over the past decade, assisting the Sri Lankan armed forces offensive in recent months.
Around 150,000 Tamil civilians remain trapped in a 7.7 mile enclave in the north of the country in the Vanni area which has become a killing field. On Wednesday Sri Lankan forces resumed heavy artillery and mortar attacks on the northeast Sri Lankan coastline after a 48-hour ceasefire. Rajapaksa’s regime sees the current situation as the Tigers’ endgame after 26 years of civil war.
Earlier this month, writer and campaigner Arundhati Roy denounced the media silence in her native India over this genocidal war as “shameful”. She quoted former Sri Lankan foreign minister Mangala Samaraveera, who said: "A few months ago the government started registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that they could be a security threat, but this could be exploited for other purposes, like the Nazis in the 1930s. They're basically going to label the whole civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists." Roy and Tamil singer MIA are supporting a mercy mission to bring aid to the besieged civilians in the Vanni area.
The Indian media are not the only ones guilty of silence. This week Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, called the lack of news coverage of last Saturday’s 150,000-strong London demonstration “absolutely extraordinary”.
The media within Sri Lanka itself remains brutally muzzled. Earlier this month, Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, was awarded the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize, by UNESCO. Wickrematunge, founder and editor of the Sunday Leader, was killed in a daylight attack in January. He paid with his life for speaking out against the war between his government and the Liberation Tigers and had opposed restrictions on running pictures or first hand reporting from the war zones.
This morning, another Tamil hunger striker in Canberra, Australia collapsed and was taken to hospital, suffering exhaustion. Five men outside the Canadian parliament in Ottawa are suffering after having refused food for around a week.
A World to Win salutes the courage and determination of the Tamil hunger strikers. The way in which successive regimes have sought to destroy the rights of Tamils, while the world has stood by is indeed shocking and indefensible. But we warn: looking to New Labour for help may lead to needless deaths. New Labour prides itself on its “anti -terror” strategies and will not offer succour to the Tamil cause. However difficult it may appear, directing our joint efforts towards removing both the oppressive Sri Lankan and British governments offers a better chance for the future of the Tamil and Sinhalese peoples of Sri Lanka.
A World to Win secretary
17 April 2009