The war in Sri Lanka has reached a grim new intensity. The Sinhala (Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority) chauvinist Government has set about the final stages of what they call the elimination of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers), the group who have waged an armed struggle for Tamil independence for three decades.
What this amounts to is a near total war against the entire Tamil population.
In January 2008, President Mahinda Rajapackse unilaterally abrogated the Cease Fire Agreement brokered by the Norwegians in 2002. This winter, while the world’s attention was turned to Gaza, the Sri Lankan army went on the offensive, storming Tiger-controlled territories, disregarding its obligations to protect civilians under international law. In three months, maybe 5,000 Tamil civilians have been killed, many thousands more maimed and injured.
Those who have fled from the attacks — now some 300,000 people — have been herded into internment camps, where everyone is assumed to be affiliated to the Tigers. Civilians undergo traumatic interrogations and strip-searches, and receive inadequate food, shelter and medical attention. Reports are emerging of killings, torture, disappearances and systematic rape in these camps — the hallmarks of Sri Lankan state violence over the last 30 years.
As many as 120,000 more are still trapped in the small coastal strip still under LTTE control — the very area declared by the government as a safe zone. Caught in the shelling and machine gun fire, they have now taken refuge in underground shelters. Cluster bombs and chemical weapons are being used, makeshift health facilities have been targeted and the government is blocking access to most humanitarian aid, causing mass starvation and death from disease.
London is the largest Sri Lankan Tamil city in the world, and on 11 April there was a British Tamil Forum march of 200,000 people. On 7 April Tamils occupied Westminster Bridge, and since then Tamil protesters have kept up a camp in Parliament Square — at the centre of which is Parameswaran Subramaniyan, a 28 year old British Tamil, who has been on hunger strike for more than two weeks and is in critical condition.
However these mobilisations have been notable for their absence of non-Tamils or, with a few exceptions, any presence of the organised left. The demands so far have been a call for an immediate ceasefire, coupled with a demand that the British government and wider “international community” intervene, some calling for the deployment of peacekeepers. The issue is framed in communal-ethnic terms oblivious of class, or the idea of imperialism.
The Tamils have the right to self-determination, but the role of the Sinhalese working class is central, and although most are bound to the racism of their own ruling class, there is a proud tradition in Sri Lanka of a workers’ movement which fought on the basis of Sinhalese and Tamil unity which should be remembered and can be revived.
We are supporting a campaign that has grown around these mobilisations initiated by Sri Lankan comrades in the Socialist Party, “Stop the Slaughter of Tamils”. We call for an immediate end to support for the Sri Lankan regime by Britain, the US, India, China, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and Japan, and for international workers’ solidarity and action to win Tamil self-determination.
This is no fantasy. In September 1999, in protest at Indonesia's war in East Timor, the Australian trade unions illegally shut down trade and communications with Indonesia in support of the East Timorese. In April 2008, South African dockers refused to load a consignment of arms being sent by the Chinese Stalinist regime to Robert Mugabe. We should look to and learn from these examples and use them as our orientation for the fight against this slaughter.