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Writings - Brian Senewiratne > Sri Lanka: Survival of Tamil civilians at
TAMIL NATIONAL FORUM
Brian Senewiratne, Australia
A protest to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo
28 December 2008
Archbishop Oswald Gomis,
Borella, Colombo 8,
Your comments to Vatican Radio on 13 December 2008
What you said was outrageous and totally unacceptable to me, a Christian and a Sinhalese.
Before I comment on this, I will question your opening assumption:
“As you well know”
Who is “you”? The Pope, the Vatican, or the millions across the world who listen to the Vatican Radio, which describes itself as “The Voice of the Pope and the Church in dialogue with the world”. What you said was neither the ‘Voice of the Pope, nor the Church, but your own biased view that had no semblance to the truth. What is serious is that what you said was heard by millions of people across the world.
You are wrong in your assumption, “as you well know”. The millions across the world do not know what is going on behind closed and censored doors of Sri Lanka, thanks to the disinformation campaign of your government, the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). All governments lie, but the lies of the GOSL are so gross that they are not believed. That is why, despite spending millions of dollars to mount a massive campaign of denial, it failed, resulting in Sri Lanka being tossed out of the UN Human Rights Council in May 2008. Unfortunately there are millions of civilians who do believe these terrible lies, unable to comprehend that a Government could lie to this extent.
The disinformation that you have contributed in your broadcast, makes a bad situation worse, infinitely worse, because when an Archbishop talks, one expects the truth. It should be very different from what politicians do. This certainly is not the case here. As such, what you have done is outrageous, immoral, wicked and irresponsible. It is unworthy of the office you hold. Your statement could have come from any of the racist bigots running Sri Lanka, or supporting that murderous regime.
The current situation
To set out the current situation on the ground in the Tamil North and East, the Tamil and Muslim civilians are facing a military onslaught by a politico-military junta that has the temerity to call itself a “Government”. The violation of their basic human rights has been so serious that your country has, as I have just said, been tossed out of the UN Human Rights Council on 21 May 2008 - an international recognition and condemnation of what your Government is doing to its people.
The objective of your Government, which is even enshrined in the Constitution, is to make multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-cultural Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation. If this means wiping out the non-Sinhalese, and the non-Buddhists, your Government seems to have no hesitation in doing so. This is Genocide, as defined in the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide as “an act committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. The ‘part’ is the ‘part that lives in the North and the East”.
This is of concern to me as a human being and a Christian. That I am a Sinhalese is irrelevant. It is not a ‘Sinhalese problem’ or ‘Tamil problem’, but a humanitarian problem that should arouse the concerns of every decent person on this planet.
“Concern” is not enough. It has to be translated into action which is what I have taken, and intend to continue, till there is not just peace (defined as ‘an absence of war’), but peace with justice.
I cannot stop you from doing what you are doing, but protest I must, and will. I cannot address the disinformation campaign of the Sri Lankan Government, its Armed Forces and now, yourself, but try I must, and will.
It is to this end that I have recorded and distributed a dozen DVDs to highlight the violation of the human rights of the civilians, in particular the Tamil civilian population in the North and East. There will be more recordings with documentary evidence, to show that what is going on, is not only a war against the Tamil people, but a war against the Christians and the Hindus. The objective of both these wars is, as I have said, to make Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
I do not know what your agenda is but if your broadcast over Vatican Radio is an indication, it is a despicable and immoral agenda that smacks of political opportunism, self-preservation and even self-advancement, unworthy of the position you hold as the Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka.
In your broadcast, you seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet as the brutal politico-military junta running the country. You can do so, but not as the Archbishop of Colombo. If that is what you want to do, you must resign your position, after which you can be a flag-bearer for the government, and be amply rewarded in more ways than one.
What you said
I will put what you said in less convoluted language.
Archbishop, this is arrant nonsense and dangerous nonsense at that. I will walk you through this nonsense.
1) The Tamil civilians are being used as a human shield.
The Tamil civilians are there for two reasons. Some are there because it is their home and they have a right to be there. Others have fled there from the North East and North West to escape the bombing and shelling of these areas by your Government. The UN Refugee Council has published a map which shows all this. It is also in one of my DVDs. Do you want me to send you one, if only to stop you talking nonsense?
2) They should be ‘allowed to come to “safer or liberated areas”
Where exactly did you mean? The ‘safer’ areas in the Sinhalese South or the Tamil North, and the “liberated” areas in the North East and North West, recently taken over from the LTTE by the GOSL?
a) “Safer” areas in the South. If that is what you mean, you cannot be serious. Tamils from the North are considered to be, and treated, as “terrorists” in the South. Where were you on the 12th of June 2007, when hundreds of Tamil civilians were rounded up in Colombo and sent to the North by your Government, in what was essentially ethnic cleansing? What did you do about this outrage? You did nothing. It was the Supreme Court that stopped it.
b) “Safer” areas in the North. These do not exist. Jaffna, in the North, is a Police State under an Army of Occupation, the ‘Sri Lankan’ Army, 99% Sinhalese.
c) “Liberated” areas (in the North-East and North-West). Is this what you meant? If you did, your knowledge of what is going on in the ‘liberated’ East is seriously defective (or you have chosen to ignore it).
Here is what Human Rights Watch published on 24 November 2008, some three weeks before your irresponsible broadcast:
Soon after you had finished your ‘contribution’ to Radio Vatican, on 23 December 2008, Human Rights Watch came out with a detailed 49-page report of the Sri Lankan government’s responsibility for the plight of 230,000 to 300,000 displaced people in the Vanni conflict zone.
“Beseiged, Displaced, and Detained. The Plight of Civilians in Sri Lanka’s Vanni Region” ( http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2008/12/22/beseiged-displaced-and-detained )
It documents that thousands of Tamils fleeing the fighting in the North are trapped by the government and are being denied basic provisions. Brad Adams, HRW Asia Director, one of the people who wrote this report, said,
“To add insult to injury, people who manage to flee the fighting end up being held indefinitely in army-run prison camps”.
He went on to make the situation abundantly clear, “The government’s ‘welfare centers’ for civilians fleeing the Wanni are just badly disguised prisons”.
Archbishop, despite your government’s best efforts, the outside world commendably seems to find these things that are being hidden. Awkward, isn’t it?
Perhaps you should get back on Vatican Radio and say that you have misled the Pope, the Vatican and, most seriously, the millions of people who listen to this Radio. It is the very least you can do, if only to restore your shattered credibility. I doubt if you will, hoping, like your President, that the world will not find out. They will. It is our duty to see that what is being exposed is widely disseminated. That is why I am putting this letter on the net.
Rev Gomis, is it not amazing that the Archbishop and Head of the Roman Catholic establishment in Colombo, with all its support staff responsible for the welfare of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Sri Lanka, has been unable to get this crucial information, while a doctor struggling to earn a living seeing patients, with no support staff, is able to get it? Or did you have this information and chose not to use it? If so, why? I will let those who read this ‘Open Letter’ to you, draw their own conclusions. They are not stupid, just un-informed or mis-informed by the likes of yourself, and, of course, your Government, with which you seem to have a more than cosy relationship. The reasons for this will bring you no credit, just ‘Brownie points’ from the GOSL.
You can sit in the comfort of your 5-Star palace in Colombo and pontificate on what civilians in the North should or should not do, but what these people want to do is to return to their homes in the North-East and North-West (or live in the North), which they are not being allowed to do, because the Armed Forces of your Government is bombing and shelling the area. The Armed Forces are behaving like an Army of Occupation, while Tamil paramilitary groups (thugs) working with them, are abducting and murdering the people in these ‘liberated’ areas.
3) There is so much suffering
Yes there is, but it is because your Government has decided that the Tamil areas will be bombed, shelled and the population subjected to extensive violations of human rights at the hands of your so-called ‘Security Forces’, in reality ‘Insecurity Forces’, who are there to bully, harass, rape, intimidate, rob and murder the people who live in these areas.
All that these people want to do is to do is live their lives without harassment and intimidation. This your Government and its Armed Forces will not allow. And you, Archbishop, are in bed with this dreadful regime.
The Tamil civilians are suffering even more, after they were “liberated”, in “badly disguised prisons” masquerading as ‘welfare centres’ run by the GOSL.
4) The LTTE are conscripting child soldiers.
Yes, we have known that for a long time, but thank you for reminding us.
What you chose to ignore is that the Tamil militant groups that have split from the LTTE, and are now with your Armed Forces, working as their ‘paramilitaries’, are doing the same, if not more. Here is Human Rights Watch again from the same Report cited above:
It deals with Karuna Amman, the founder of the Tamil Makkal Vidulthalai Pulikal (TMVP), currently not just in bed with your Government, but appointed to Parliament by your President. His mate, or former mate, Pillayan, was appointed the Chief Minister of the Eastern province by your President.
Here is what the report states “Both men have been implicated in serious human rights abuses… The abuses included abducting large numbers of children and forcing them to serve as soldiers”.
Driving the point home, the report goes on “Human Rights Watch has recently documented several cases of forcible recruitment of children by the TMVP. Escapees often must go into hiding to prevent being abducted again. In some instances, their families have faced pressure to give a ‘replacement’ child soldier to the group.”
Here is what Amnesty International had to say (7 October 2008).
It describes Karuna Amman’s appointment to the Sri Lankan Parliament as “ a travesty of justice”. It says that the newly nominated MP (nominated by your President, not voted in by the people) has committed “war crimes and crimes against humanity including child recruitment”.
Rev. Gomis, there is much more in these Reports which you really must read and inform the Vatican that you wish to amend what you have said. It might go some way to restore your shattered reputation.
Archbishop Gomis, is it your position that conscription of children by the LTTE is wrong, but that the conscription of children by paramilitary groups for your Sri Lankan Armed Forces is right? Judging from what you said on Radio Vatican, no other interpretation is possible,.
Archbishop, focussing on just the LTTE may be politically expedient but it puts your credibility on the line, very much so, and seriously damages the position you hold as the Head of the Catholic Church. It is a glaring example of the Church getting into bed with a brutal repressive and murderous regime. It damages the reputation of your Church (and mine). As a Christian, that worries me more than damage to your credibility.
5) The Government is unable to help.
Well, the NGOs and international NGOs were able to help but your Government asked them to leave (so that the Genocide of the Tamil people could be carried out without independent international witnesses – as was done in Darfur).
Archbishop Gomis, listen carefully to what Amnesty International USA had to say on 19 November 2008, a month before your irresponsible radio interview.
In a press release- “Sri Lanka’s Government must act now to protect 300,000 displaced persons”, AI USA said,
Archbishop, note the words, “assumed total responsibility”. Do you want the reference? Here it is, to save you the home-work which you seem to be incapable of doing or prefer not to do.
The Tamil Tigers did not write this. It was written by an organisation which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977.
6) All parties have agreed to a solution
You do not specify this ‘solution’, saying that it is hot off the press (in fact, too hot even to get to the papers!). But I have no difficulty in working out this ‘solution’. In fact, I worked it out some three years ago in a paper I published (14 November 2005), The Political ideology in Sri Lanka: Anti-Tamil. It is still on the net.
There is no problem in the Sinhala parties finding a ‘solution’, in fact it is surprising that this has taken so long. The ‘solution’ is to make Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist country. Do you call this a ‘solution’? If it was not as serious as it is, I would have laughed. None of the major Sinhalese political parties think otherwise – they dare not, since they will lose the vote of the Sinhalese (74%) and Buddhists (70%). That has been the problem all these 60 years since Independence, and has resulted in the failure to build a nation. Not surprisingly, it is now falling apart.
The effect of your broadcast
In addition to being totally dishonest in saying what you did on Vatican Radio, what you have done is to encourage a fascist brutal politico-military junta to continue, indeed accelerate, the genocidal massacre of the Tamils in the North and East.
What you said will also be exploited by those dreadful men in yellow robes. These are the gangsters who assassinated Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike in the first political assassination in Ceylon (1959), and have recently launched mass demonstrations demanding a military ‘solution’ to this political problem, whatever the cost in terms of Tamil lives and property. They have hijacked every attempt by every Government, claiming that any power sharing with the Tamils is a “sell-out of a Sinhala-Buddhist country to the Tamils”. With hypocrisy that beggars belief, they claim to be followers of one of the greatest teachers of peace the world has known, Gautama Buddha. Just for the record, my mother was a devout Buddhist.
Rev Gomis you cannot be unaware of all this - you have been right there in the middle of it all. You are not in the same ball-park as the Archbishop of Canterbury. You must know that all that the Tamil people want is to live with equality, dignity and safety in the country of their birth – that is what the Tamil struggle is all about. This cannot be news to you.
Said and unsaid
What you have not said is more serious than what you have said in this outrageous broadcast. Your “sins of omission” are more serious than your “sins of commission”.
To mention just a few (which I will elaborate in a later letter), you say nothing about the murder of your Tamil Catholic clergy, including and especially Fr Jim Brown, the parish priest of Allipiddy (Archbishop, if you don’t know where that is, it is an island off Jaffna), and that outstanding human rights worker, Fr M.X.Karunaratnam, the Head of the North East Secretariat on Human Rights, assassinated by the Sri Lankan Army; the destruction of several hundred Christian Churches, and serious damage to others, including the famous Madhu Church in Mannar, the holiest Roman Catholic Church in Sri Lanka; the bombing of schools, hospitals, homes - all of them in the Tamil areas; the blocking of food, fertilizer and drugs to the North; and the massacres of unarmed Tamil civilians – (some 26 massacres to date- the largest number per unit time in the history of Sri Lanka), since Rajapakse became President in November 2005). Why the silence on all this? Is it that you do not care or is it political expediency?
On 22 December 2008, I saw a photograph of you and the President holding hands in obvious mutual admiration, when you turned up at the latter’s residence to sing Christmas carols. The only difference between the two was that one wore a red band round his waist while the other had it draped round his neck, one had a crucifix hanging from his neck, the other did not- but what is a crucifix between friends?
On the day you were enjoying yourself singing carols, 100 Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) soldiers were killed and some 250 wounded, when they attempted to advance from Uruththirapuram towards Kilinochchi and Iranainmadu. If you do not know where this is, it does not matter – it is in the North, which is all that matters. That was between 5.30 am and 12 noon. There was plenty of time for the news to reach Colombo before the carol singing started..
Did you, by any chance, ask the C-I-C Armed Forces, Defence Minister and President, about this? Perhaps you did not know. Well, now you do. You can call him, indeed, hop over and shake his hand(s) again, and ask him why young Sinhalese boys, some documented from their ID cards to be under17, are fighting this unnecessary and unwinnable war, and laying down their lives? They are economic recruits who come from among the rural poor in areas such as where you and I were born, who have joined the Army so that their families could survive. It is as serious a problem as child soldiers. Give it a thought. I do have a point.
Getting back to carol-singing, what, may I ask, did you sing? Perhaps, “Away in a Manger?” A few days ago I saw a photograph of a real manger, in distant Jaffna, put together by Tamil children. It showed the baby Jesus and above Him was a massive cross made of scores of Christmas cards which were for the baby Jesus. I find this much more sincere than the hypocrisy you were indulging in, in the company of those you should not have been seen with, let alone sing carols with, except for political patronage and gain.
Just one more question about singing carols. Were you actually thinking of the words you were singing, or were they words with no real meaning? I attended the Christmas Day service here in Brisbane, Australia. The words I sang, or was expected to sing, were carefully analysed, and I asked myself, “What exactly are you singing to God?” That is what distinguishes hypocrisy from prayer. I think there is a verse in the Bible, Matthew 6. 5, which can be modified a little without altering the sense, with apologies to St Matthew.
“ ..thou shall not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray (sing carols) standing (with President Rajapakse), in the synagogues (one of Rajapakse’s lavish homes, in this case ‘Temple Trees’)….. that they may be seen of men (even if they are mass murderers who should be charged with the genocide of the Tamil people)”.
A Christmas present
The President must have given you a Christmas present for gracing the occasion and giving it credibility. Well, his Armed Forces gave the Tamil people in the North a somewhat different Christmas present, not forgetting the Tamil children. Indeed the children were the special recipients.
On Christmas Eve, (the Sri Lankan version of) “Santa Claus”, arrived in some Air Force bombers and bombed the Holy Cross convent in Paranthan, despite the building being marked with a Red Cross on the roof. The bombs used were cluster munitions, banned across the world, but used against the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Could you take this up with the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Defence and the Executive President, all of whom happen to be your carol-singing mate? Incidentally, Archbishop, just to remind you, the Holy Cross convent is a Roman Catholic convent and the occupants were not ‘terrorists’. Do you want a photograph, including the roof with the Red Cross painted on it? I have an excellent one. Or are you not interested because they are only Tamil children and don’t count as real children?
The bombers returned with more presents on Christmas Day (4.30pm, to be exact, which would have enabled the bombers to go to Church in the morning). This time the presents were for the ‘Karuna Nilayam’ Christian Centre for orphaned and disabled children in Kilinochchi, run by the ….. hold your breath, Archbishop, …. Jaffna Catholic diocese. It was clearly designated as a ‘safety area’, but I guess the fact that they were disabled children would make them ‘terrorists’ who should have been killed in any case, not just ‘disabled’. I have photographs of the extensive damage done by these ‘presents’ brought by Kfir jets. The statue of my Lord (and yours), Jesus Christ, had the area anatomically where the liver is, blown off. No real damage was done to Jesus because it was only a statue.
Three hours later, the Sri Lankan Army, not to be outdone by the Air Force, dropped more presents. This time on the Kilinochchi Hospital – the newborn (was that not appropriate for Christmas Day?) nursing section, the out-patient department and the reception area.
Archbishop, immersed as you are in religion, you may not know that this violates Article 18 of the 4th Geneva Convention,
“Civilian hospitals organised to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstance be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the parties to the conflict”.
You don’t believe me? Here is the reference, http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/02htm.
Just for the record, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) signed the 1st,2nd and 3rd, and ratified the 4th, Geneva Convention of 1949, by accession to it on 23.2.1959. But these are just pieces of paper, are they not, that your government and its predecessors have signed and violated with gay abandon?
Archbishop, let me put this to you and your carol-singing mate. If the LTTE sent one of their ‘bombers on two legs’ (since they do not have Kfir bombers), which they could have done, since they have an endless supply of the two-legged variety, to bomb your Hospital in Colombo, on Christmas Day, or, for that matter, on any other day, what would have been the reaction? That would undoubtedly be “terrorism”, but the same act committed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, is “patriotism”, by all those “brave Sinhalese soldiers” risking their lives, to bomb a “terrorist” hospital. Is that the score?
You are not the first
You are not the first to do the sort of damage you did on 13 December 2008. In May 2007, the Head of my Church, Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘dropped in’ (quite literally), and said,
“It is undoubtedly inevitable that what you might call surgical military action against terrorism should take place”.
I analysed this irresponsible statement word by word, in not one, but two letters to him. They are still on the net. I asked him whether he thought the liberation struggle of the Tamil people was like a cancer that had to be excised with surgical precision. I asked him, “Archbishop, are you implying that the Tamil and Muslim people in the North and East are ‘terrorists’, since they are the recipients of what you irresponsibly call “surgical military action”? Do you, as a human being, let alone a Church leader, think that this is “absolutely inevitable”, and do you really think it “should take place?” If you do, it is, to put it mildly, disgraceful
The result of Williams’ irresponsible comments was seen in the next month when the bombing and shelling of the Tamil areas and the slaughter of Tamils and Muslims escalated and has now all the features of genocide of the Tamil people. Archbishop Gomis, many of them your people, Roman Catholics, whose care is your responsibility.
Rowan Williams is an eccentric and ill-informed cleric who breezed in from England, and jetted out as fast. You are different. You are the man who is responsible for the well being of all the Catholics in Sri Lanka. That makes your conduct so much more serious and reprehensible.
My own beliefs and practices
I found your comments outrageous, but not entirely surprising, since I have always maintained that the Sinhalese Church in the South is more Sinhalese than Christian. Your comments only confirm this view.
Archbishop, I no longer go to Church - except on Christmas Day, and that, only to keep my Church-going wife of 51 years, happy. I simply cannot cope with the absolute hypocrisy of the Christian Establishment - the likes of yourself, my former Vicar, the Archbishop of Canterbury in whose Cathedral I worshipped during the years I was in England, and others of your ilk. I cannot, and will not, go through the motions devised by the Christian establishment for its own hypocritical needs.
However, I will, not let this get between me and the God I have worshipped for 76 years. What I do is what He instructed in Matthew 6, v6 “But thou, when thou prayest, enter unto thy closet, and when thou hast locked the door, pray to thy Father which seeth in secret; and shall reward thee openly”. It has worked for me so far.
Two questions for you
I lie awake worrying about what is happening to my Tamil people in the North and East, at the hands of one of the most brutal regimes imaginable. How do you sleep? They are my people, whose only crime was to be born Tamil. Those on the other side are my Sinhalese people whose only crime was to be born poor, and hence have to be the cannon fodder for this useless war.
The other is a hypothetical question. Rt. Rev. Dr Oswald Gomis, Archbishop of Colombo, let me ask you the same hypothetical question that I asked Rt Rev Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. If your Lord and Master Jesus Christ, were to suddenly appear, and heard what the two of you said, do you think it would find His approval? I doubt it. That is why I remain a Christian, despite the best efforts of the two of you, and others of your ilk, to make me a non-believer. Amen.