Tuesday, June 2, 2009

guest blogger: dialogue key to resolution in sri lanka

(guest blogger Zincia Francis, MA Candidate in Women's Studies at Memorial University)

Sri Lanka’s 26-year-old civil war became a humanitarian crisis when thousands of Tamil civilians became sandwiched between the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GOSL) army forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam (LTTE). Suddenly in the frenzy created around the unfolding events and between the mass protests by Tamil expatriates around the world, speculating reports from both the GOSL and the LTTE, and various news media coverage, the sea of (mis)information regarding this crisis has created some confusion. As such, I will begin this piece with a condensed history of Sri Lanka in order establish some context to the situation at hand.

In 1948, colonial Britain granted independence to Sri Lanka, which formed a government based on the idea of a nation that formally cast minority Tamils as second-class citizens. Racism became instituted into the government policies, where Singhalese held majority of the seats. As a result, the Tamil people were forced to struggle for civil rights immediately following independence. Following violent riots against the Tamil people in 1956, 1977, 1981, and 1983, small groups, with some support from the Tamil community, took up arms against the Sri Lankan government. Eventually, the LTTE established itself as an armed organization against the wide spread discrimination against the Tamils of Sri Lanka and declared its intent to ruthlessly carve out a separate state known as the Tamil Eelam.

Between 1983 and present day, human causality of warfare has steadily risen but neither the GOSL nor the LTTE made any solid efforts to bridge the gap between the Tamils and Sinhalese as a possible means to end the civil war. Instead, Sinhalese communities in Sri Lanka and globally continue to be alienated from Tamils held hostage by systematic discriminations of the GOSL and the LTTE’s ruthless pursuit of a separatist state. While many Sinhalese understand that Tamils have been discriminated against and marginalised, they are unable to grasp the environment that is fostering anger and resentment of Sinhalese assumptions about ‘Tamilness.’

On the other hand, Tamil communities within Sri Lanka and globally are caught between supporting the only group willing to fight for them, the reality of supporting unelected, nondemocratic militant group, and international and Sinhalese communities that have yet address serious violations of the Tamil’s basic civil and human rights. Without any intervention, racism has continued to fester, alienating communities through misinformation, and propagated fears of the Other.

In Toronto, the prolonged and continuous protests regarding the GOSL’s war against the LTTE at the cost of Tamil civilian lives have elicited Torontonians’ general concern, as well as, annoyance at such disturbances to the public with some voicing loud objections to such protests. Firstly, I would like to stress that civil demonstrations are an important part of democracy without which minority groups can become silent. While we become desensitized by prolonged exposure to the any number of crises that cry out for our attention, we cannot afford to be indifferent to such humanitarian issues in an era where human rights laws are being too easily discarded by cooperate agendas in favour of capitalist pursuits.

Secondly, given that GOSL has denied media and United Nations access to the war zone, and displaced persons camps, the global community may be forced to stand powerlessly aside while further violations of human rights take place. Furthermore, when the global community allows such effective blinding of systems put in place to protect human rights, it sets precedence for a model of behaviour that avoids accountability.

Thirdly, such protests have been able to create awareness about the crisis and by being vigilant, are able to demand accountability. With the exception of the breakaway group that protested unsafely on the DVP highway, such protests have been peaceful and organized and as such, are both useful and necessary part of global citizenship.

At this critical point, it is essential that dialog between communities begin. This Other must be broken down and made human again. It is our ability to not only recognize human suffering, but to act prevent or alleviate it, that speaks to our humanness, enables us recognize the human in the Other. While such dialogs should be encouraged by the GOSL and Tamil community leaders, in the historical failure of such leaders, politicians, and organizations, it falls on the everyday citizen to reach out to their fellow citizen. Fortunately, there are several models based on forgiveness and reconciliation that can be implemented in the absence of a justice system. I suggest we being looking to earnestly to solve this issue before yet another generation has to pay the price of ethnic warfare.

I suggest we earnestly begin to solve this issue before yet another generation has to pay the price of ethnic warfare.

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