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22 April 2007
Amnesty, Cricket and the War in Sri Lanka
Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham, a respected Tamil and a sportsman who won a Gold Medal at the Asian Games in 1958 has written on the Amnesty Campaign - Sri Lanka: Play by the Rules - a campaign which was timed to commence during the 2007 World Cup Cricket tournament in West Indies in March/April 2007.
It is understandable that many Tamils watching the 2007 World Cup Cricket in the West Indies, may be ambivalent in their response to the performances of the Sri Lanka Cricket team. On the one hand they may applaud the successes of Mahela Jayawardene's well knit team, the soft spoken manner of the Captain and Vice Captain Kumar Sangakara, the bludgeoning brilliance of Sanath Jayasuriya and the deceptive guile of Muralidharan. At the same time Tamils will be more than mindful of the murderous onslaught on the Tamil people during the past several decades by successive Sri Lankan governments elected by the Sinhala people, of whom the Sri Lankan cricket team are a part - albeit, a small part. The murderous onslaught on the Tamil people was described by Paul Sieghart in his Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists in April 1984 in the following terms:
And since 1984, the murderous onslaught on the Tamil people has gathered increasing momentum. We do not, therefore, find ourselves in agreement with the view expressed by Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham that "Sri Lanka's discrimination practices and human rights violations have not yet equaled apartheid South Africa." In our view (and we believe that the record of ethnic cleansing bears out our view) Sri Lanka's 'discrimination practices and human rights violations' have equaled and if anything exceeded that which occurred in apartheid South Africa. The record shows that in the island of Sri Lanka, during the past fifty years and more, the intent and goal of all Sinhala governments (without exception) has been to secure the island as a Sinhala Buddhist Deepa. The Sinhala Buddhist nation masquerading as a 'civic' 'Sri Lankan' nation set about its task of assimilation and 'cleansing' the island of the Tamils, as a people, by
When these attempts at ethnic cleansing were resisted by the Tamil people by non violent means and parliamentary struggle, Sinhala governments resorted to violence in 1956, in 1958, in 1961 and again in 1977 - a murderous violence directed to terrorise the Tamils into submission. The inevitable rise of Tamil armed resistance to State terror was then met with enactment of laws which were an 'ugly blot on statute book of any civilised country', with arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extra judicial killings and massacres, indiscriminate aerial bombardment and artillery shelling, wanton rape, and genocide - together with press censorship, disinformation and murder of journalists. And the impunity granted to Sinhala armed forces, para military groups, goondas and Sinhala thugs, exposed the encouragement, support and direction given by successive Sri Lanka governments for the crimes committed against the Tamil people.
Again, whilst Nagalingam Ethirveerasingham is right to point out that Amnesty International (AI) has been campaigning to stop human rights violations in Sri Lanka for a long time, we may also need to ask: with what result? Twenty two years ago in October 1985, Amnesty campaigned against torture in Sri Lanka and reported -
But despite Amnesty and its reports, Sri Lanka continued to torture with impunity. The Shah of Iran tortured so that he may continue his hold on power and perpetuate his oppressive rule of the Iranian people. The Sri Lanka authorities torture so that Sri Lanka may succeed in its efforts to conquer the Tamil homeland and impose its alien rule on the Tamil people - a Tamil people, who by their free vote at the General Elections in 1977 had given a clear mandate for the establishment of an independent Tamil Eelam.
Again, 17 years ago in September 1990, Amnesty launched an international three month campaign against Sri Lanka "to publicise the poor human rights record of Sri Lanka and to put pressure on the Sri Lankan authorities to make a full and genuine commitment to human rights." The campaign slogan (with James Bond overtones) was "Sri Lanka: Licensed to Kill". But despite Amnesty's campaign, Sri Lanka has continued to kill, rape and commit war crimes with impunity in the succeeding years.
Amnesty's efforts during the past several decades reflect its impotency to bring about meaningful change in the Sinhala body politic. And we may need to ask: why? Why has Amnesty failed? It is said that to continue to do the same thing and expect different results is a measure of insanity. But Amnesty is not irrational. It claims to be objective. Amnesty says that it is concerned with means and not ends. We are reminded of the words of Martin Luther in his letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963 -
It seems that Amnesty is content to confine itself to addressing the question of 'moral' means even though that may result in preserving immoral ends - and perpetuating the oppressive rule of the people of Tamil Eelam by a permanent, alien Sinhala majority within the confines of a single state. The weakness of Amnesty's approach is that it chooses to address symptoms rather than causes. Amnesty is quick to point out, that its remit does not extend to addressing the rights and wrongs of an armed conflict. Amnesty says that it does not take sides. Here we are reminded of the words of Howard Zinn in "What is Radical History" -
Amnesty may want to pay heed to the words of Harry L. Stimson, US Secretary of State 1929-1933 quoted, appropriately enough by Hitler's Arms Minister, Albert Speer in Inside the Third Reich that 'the central moral problem is war and not its methods.'
If you do not take sides where a government has so oppressed a people that that people have, as a last resort, lawfully taken arms to resist that oppression, then you end up by making pious pleas to the very same government which is intent on subjugating that people. Amnesty's pleas (and campaigns), by implication, preserve the immoral right of the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government to continue to govern a people, who speak a different language, who trace their beginnings to a different origin and whom it has systematically oppressed for several decades.
The Sinhala Buddhist dominated Sri Lanka government then seizes upon Amnesty's appeals, to give assurances about its future conduct and buys time to continue its oppression and advance the assimilative and so called 'pacification' process. Amnesty then makes further reports saying that the Government has not kept its undertakings and makes fresh appeals. In the meantime, Tamils continue to be unlawfuly detained, tortured, massacred, subject to indiscriminate aerial bombardment, and thousands simply 'disappear'.
The current Amnesty Campaign slogan calling upon Sri Lanka to play by the rules is unfortunate. It is unfortunate not because it brings politics into sport. It is unfortunate because it suggests that the genocidal war in which Sri Lanka is engaged is a game and that all that needs to be done is to secure that the rules of the "game" are observed. The armed conflict in the island of Sri Lanka is not a game. War is not cricket. It is bloody. And Amnesty's call for umpires borders on farce.
Amnesty says "just as cricket flourishes through respect for its rules so all sides in Sri Lanka must respect the rules of armed conflict. Monitors are needed to act as an impartial watchdog in order to document and investigate the increasing number of abuses." But where will these 'impartial watch dogs' come from so that 'just as cricket flourishes through respect for its rules' armed conflict may also 'flourish'?
Will the 'impartial watch dogs' come from within Sri Lanka, as Sri Lanka will no doubt urge? Or does Amnesty envisage that the 'impartial watch dogs' will come from States which have labelled one of the combatants to the armed conflict as terrorists - and banned them? Or will the 'impartial watch dogs' be a mix representing the strategic interests of countries in the Indian Ocean region? Will the impartial watch dogs include a nominee by China? And will Sri Lanka be 'persuaded' to 'invite' the 'impartial watch dogs' so that it may not suffer 'loss of sovereignty' (and loss of face)? Amnesty cannot be unaware of the international frame of the freedom struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam and that there are -
Is Amnesty unaware that 'in this complicated geopolitical configuration', the so called 'impartial watch dogs' may be concerned simply to further the strategic interests of one or other section of the so called 'international community'. Would Amnesty dismiss as idle speculation the remarks of Dharmeratnam Sivaram in US Strategic Interests in Sri Lanka, July 2005 -
It is true that facts concerning violations of human rights need to be ascertained and published. But information on human rights abuses is not an end in itself. Human rights is not some self sufficient industry making simple minded appeals to the 'conscience' of those who seek to conquer and rule - and those in the 'international community' concerned to advance their own interests in the Indian Ocean region.
After more than twenty years of Amnesty Reports and Campaigns, the Tamil people may be forgiven if they liken Amnesty's efforts to that of calling upon the fox (whether local or international) to look after the 'right to life' of chickens in the chicken pen. After more than twenty years of Amnesty Reports and Campaigns, the Tamil people may be forgiven if they feel that Amnesty's efforts have served only to demonstrate that the answer to the consistent and systematic human rights violations by the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government will not be found in more Reports (and campaigns calling upon Sri Lanka to 'play the game' refereed by so called 'international impartial umpires' who will somehow disassociate themselves from the strategic interests of the countries to which they belong) but must be found in securing an independent Tamil Eelam state where the people of Tamil Eelam may live in security and in freedom from alien, oppressive Sinhala rule.
At the end of the day, the question that Amnesty may want to ask is: what is the extent of its own commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 'as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction'. It may want to ask: what is the nature of its own commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the right of all peoples to freely determine their political status. It may want to ask whether Human Rights activist Yelena Bonner (widow of Andrei Sakharov) was right when she declared that "the inviolability of a country's borders against invasion from the outside must be clearly separated from the right to statehood of any people within a state's borders." Amnesty may want to ask whether the Gandhian Tamil leader S.J.V. Chelvanayagam was right when he declared to his people more than 32 years ago -
Amnesty may want to ask whether, if democracy means the rule by the people, of the people, for the people, then it must follow as surely as night follows day, that no one people may rule another. Amnesty may want to ask whether the struggle for Tamil Eelam is about the democratic right of the people of Tamil Eelam to govern themselves in their homeland - nothing less and nothing more. And Amnesty may want to ask whether human rights and democracy go together and whether to campaign for human rights without campaigning for the democratic right of a people to govern themselves is an exercise in futility - and even political chicanery.
As the story goes, a chicken and a pig passed a man in a restaurant enjoying his bacon and eggs. The chicken pointed to the eggs and spoke of its commitment to food production. The pig replied, pointing to the bacon,: 'You are only involved - I am committed.' The Tamil people have been at the receiving end of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism for several decades and they have put their lives on line in the defence of their homeland and of their near and dear. To report on human rights and humanitarian law in the island of Sri Lanka without admitting to the justice of the demand for a Tamil homeland and the democratic right of the Tamil people to govern themselves, is to speak the language of the chicken - involved perhaps, but, certainly, not committed.