Saturday, November 03, 2007

The latest in Sri Lanka

Yesterday, the Sri Lankan Army killed one of the most senior leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE -- yes, a group designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and India), S.P. Thamilchelvan, in an airraid, the BBC reported.

The first reaction of those who don't know much about the situation there would be that this is a good thing. If the forces in Afghanistan kill a senior member of the Taliban, don't we celebrate that as a good thing?

But this killing is anything but good news. Thamilchelvan was not just a senior leader of the LTTE, he was also the chief negotiator, communicating with international envoys in their efforts to reach an elusive peace agreement between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tigers. With his death, that peace agreement has now moved even further away. The GOSL is, as usual, playing on the world's paranoia about "terrorist organizations" to justify this killing, and promises that more will follow. Little do outsiders know that, as far as terrorist organizations go, the GOSL is no better, if not worse, than the LTTE. I in no way condone the means by which the Tigers go about achieving their goal of a separate Tamil homeland. I absolutely don't. But the government uses the very same means, and yet, the President, Mahinde Rajapakshe (who, incidentally, runs the country as a family business, with his relatives in key ministry posts), sits on his high horse and points his finger at his opponents. And naive outsiders buy it.

The government knows that Thamilchelvan's killing will only step up the kidnappings and brutal killings on both sides. And that is exactly what it wants -- to provoke the LTTE, so that the GOSL can then continue to feed on the world's "terrorism" paranoia, and justify its own actions as retaliation, its noble efforts to deal with terrorism . . . all while innocent civilians are stuck in the middle, their loved ones lost, their lives ruined.

For a taste (and it is only a very small taste) of what goes on Sri Lanka, click here. Most people live under the illusion that the capital "Colombo" is a safe place, but, while there is no outright fighting there, the surreptitious kidnappings and killings make it anything but.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Help Rizana Nafeek

Some of you may have heard of the case of the Sri Lankan teenager who has been sentenced to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia on charges that she murdered a four-month old baby left in her care. The baby allegedly choked to death while the girl, Rizana Nafeek, 19, was feeding him. Here is an article about the recent developments.

Please add your voice to calls to the baby's family and the Saudi government to set Rizana free. The east of Sri Lanka has already been ravaged by the war and tsunami and the people there have experienced great loss. This is a heart-breaking fate to befall someone who leaves seeking a better life. My heart goes out to the family of the baby who died. . . but taking another innocent life won't make anything better.

An Amnesty International letter with addresses to send to.

A letter drafted by the Asian Human Rights Commission asking the baby's family to pardon her.

An online petition.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sri Lanka Evicts Tamils in Colombo; Lawmakers Protest

The article below is an example of the Sri Lankan government's discrimination against Tamils. Over the years, the government has moved from its thinly-veiled claim that it represents all Sri Lankan citizens and fights only the Tamil Tiger rebels to openly acknowledging that the war it is waging is against all Tamils. The article below is one example that illustrates this, and, I am afraid, one of many more to come.

The government's actions against Tamils in Colombo in this article (who really owe no one any explanation as to why they choose to live in any part of their own country) is equivalent to, say, the U.S. government telling people from Houston that they cannot live in Washington D.C. and sending them back to their hometown.

And sadly, the climate in the world today is such that many will buy the government's actions as legitimate because it is "fighting terrorism" and acting in the interest of "national security." Meanwhile, innocent civilians, rightful citizens, are being treated as outsiders in their own homeland.

I've lived away from "home" for almost 23 years, and the place I feel most unwelcome in is the country whose passport I have the misfortune of carrying.

By Paul Tighe and Anusha Ondaatjie

June 8 (Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka's government expelled more than 370 people from the capital, Colombo, saying the order is part of security controls after bomb attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

About 500 Tamils were forced to leave the city yesterday,TamilNet reported on its Web site, adding that Tamil lawmakers demanded a debate in Parliament. New York-based Human RightsWatch said the evictions are ``blatantly discriminatory'' and will fuel the country's civil conflict.

``Humiliation of this magnitude ultimately points at apolicy of gradual eviction of Tamils from Colombo,'' TamilNet cited Mano Ganesan, a lawmaker of the Western Province People'sFront, as telling Parliament.

Sri Lanka's army and LTTE escalated fighting in the past year, including Tamil Tiger raids by a new air wing near Colombo.The government blamed the LTTE for two separate bomb attacks ona military truck and a bus near the capital last month that killed seven people.

Police acted against people ``unable to provide valid reasons for their stay,'' the government said, adding that the evictions were undertaken ``without any communal consideration.'' LTTE attacks have been planned by people livingin the capital, it said.

Many stayed for more than six months ``on the pretext that someone has to obtain his/her identity cards or passport" without any progress being made on obtaining such documents,according to the statement.

Colombo district's population was about 2.25 million people,according to the latest census in 2001. There were 247,739 SriLankan Tamils and 24,821 Tamils of Indian origin in the area, the census showed.

Separate Homeland

A total of 376 people were sent back to their homes in Jaffna and Vavuniya in the north and Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the east, the government said on its Web site. The LTTE is fighting for a separate homeland in areas of northern and eastern Sri Lanka it controls.

The Tamils were sent home by buses, TamilNet reported, without saying where it obtained the information. As many as 300 people are being held by police because of a lack of transport to take them away, it said.

``Nothing could be more inflammatory in Sri Lanka's polarized climate than identifying people by ethnicity and kicking them out of the capital,'' Brad Adams, Human RightsWatch's Asia director, said in an e-mailed statement today.

Collective Punishment

The government has every right to undertake security measures when there are threats to the public, he said.

``Tamil Tiger crimes don't give the government the right to engage in collective punishment,'' Adams said. ``The Sri Lankan government is sending the dangerous message that it views most of its Tamil citizens as a threat to security.''

Rights groups in Sri Lanka sent a letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa calling on him to stop the operation,according to an e-mailed statement issued late yesterday byorganizations such as the Center for Human Rights and Development and the Institute of Human Rights.

Sri Lanka's army in April took control of the eastern region around Batticaloa for the first time in 14 years. Fighting in the region drove an estimated 90,000 people from villages to join about 60,000 people already living in refugee camps, the United Nations said at the time.

LTTE Forces

The LTTE, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and India, has an estimated 12,000 fighters, including 4,000 members of its Sea Tigers force.

The group said last month the latest proposals by SriLanka's Sinhalese leaders for a political settlement leaveTamils subservient and are the same as those rejected 30 yearsago. The LTTE says Tamils, who make up less than a fifth of thepopulation of 20 million people, are discriminated against bythe Sinhalese majority.

A 2002 cease-fire between the government and the LTTE is vital in the search for a political settlement, the Tamil Tigers said in February. The accord recognizes the balance of powerbetween the army and LTTE forces and the de facto existence of aTamil homeland with its own civil administration, defense forceand judiciary, the group said.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ignorance or a minor inconvenience?

The detention of the man speaking Tamil at at Seattle airport has been on my mind a lot -- perhaps because, as it concerns my own language, it hits pretty close to home.

But the big question here is, what is this incident an example of? Ignorance? Racism? Or simply a slight hassle faced by those who don't quite belong in this country at war with a shapeless, borderless enemy?

Some argue that the man was stopped because he was speaking the language of the Tamil Tigers, who have been labeled a terrorist group in the US. Others say that he should not have been speaking a foreign language in a country tense with the possibility of major attacks, particularly in an airport. And yet others rebuke those who protest this treatment for their unwillingness to put up with "minor inconveniences."

First of all, I very much doubt if the airport authorities recognized the language he was speaking as Tamil. Most South Asians barely recognize the language when they hear it. And the version of Tamil spoken by Sri Lankans is different enough that even those familiar with its more popular Indian version would not easily recognize it. So the argument that he was stopped for speaking the language of a terrorist group doesn't really hold much water.

Second, how can anyone expect someone in an AIRPORT, the port of entry and exit into a country, to not speak a foreign language? And clearly, they weren't stopping everyone speaking a foreign language, were they? How could they? How many Americans of Latin American descent speak nothing but Spanish in this country? How many people enter and exit the U.S. everyday speaking a myriad of "accepted" languages -- French, German, Russian, to name a few. Who detains them on the suspicion that they are terrorists because they speak a foreign language? And if they were stopped for no reason but this, would the authorities be able to live down the humiliation of doing so?

I would argue that this is more than simply a minor inconvenience. I agree that this is a country at war, and that every suspicion must be checked out. But such baseless profiling means that a man speaking about a school sporting rivalry in Tamil is detained, while another man plotting a bomb attack in French will be allowed to pass through, unless someone understands his conversation, and alerts authorities.

A minor inconvenience is when darker-skinned people, or those dressed a certain way are stopped at airports and subway stations to be questioned and to have their bags checked. It is racial profiling, but it is based on concrete fears that it was people who looked and dressed similarly who have created havoc and destruction in the past. Most of us have learned to accept this as part of life today. But detaining someone for speaking a language unfamiliar to the authorities is nothing but blatant ignorant racism. And it leaves a huge loophole for the real terrorists to slip through easily.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Speaking another language is suspicious

A man who was speaking in Tamil on his cellphone was detained and questioned, and subsequently missed his flight, because his use of a foreign language was deemed "suspicious" by airport authorities. In this land of immigrants, THAT's a crime?!?!? What is the world coming to?!?!?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Greek authorities allegedly dump illegal immigrants in the sea

Here's a story about Greek authorities dumping illegal immigrants into the sea without asking them if they can swim. Six people have reportedly drowned and three are missing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

There is hope, after all. . .

An article from today's New York Times about the new journalism school at City University in New York, starting its first day.