There are moments when history shows that a failure to protest human rights abuses led on to worse abuses on a much greater scale. This was true of the treatment of many groups of people in Germany and the USSR ahead of WWII, for example. And with two emerging 21st century superpowers currently deeply involved in the Sri Lankan crisis, I believe that it is crucial that we signal international disapproval and rejection of what is happening there in the wake of the defeat of the Tamil Tigers.
To declare a personal interest, a long-standing friend and colleague is closely involved in the Sri Lankan Campaign for Peace & Justice. He has asked me to help spread the word – and I am glad to do so.
The latest news on the Campaign is that three leading US human rights advocates have joined forces to urge UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, President Obama and other world leaders to put an immediate end to what they see as an imminent humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka. Professors Noam Chomsky, Rajan Menon and Michael Grodin are the latest prominent world figures to lend their support to the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace & Justice.
The three award-winning professors come from very different academic and professional backgrounds but are united in calling world leaders to act. Announcing his support, Dr Grodin said: “At the Nuremberg Trials following the Nazi Holocaust, Justice Robert Jackson exclaimed, ‘The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated.’ These words echo and reverberate as we witness the crimes against humanity perpetrated in Sri Lanka.
According to Professor Menon: “Now is the time to settle the civil conflict in Sri Lanka, which has consumed thousands of life and brought severe misery to countless others. In the short term, access should be provided to the UN and international relief agencies to deal with the humanitarian problems facing refugees and lists of detainees should be made available. In the long run, economic development in the war torn areas must proceed hand in hand with political measures aimed at reconciliation and empowerment.”
Professor Chomsky added: “The fate of Tamils in Sri Lanka has been a shocking story of mounting horrors. It would be unconscionable to stand by in silence as the remnants face still more torture and disaster. Every effort must be expended to bring this tragedy to an end while there is still time.”
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group – who have all criticised the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in the past – have also called for immediate action to deal with the imminent crisis affecting at least 50,000 children.
The Sri Lanka Campaign is chaired by Edward Mortimer, journalist and former Communications Director to Kofi Annan. Other members of the Advisory Council include Lakhdar Brahimi (a former high level UN envoy and member of the Elders – an independent group of global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, to address difficult global challenges), Brahma Chellaney (a senior Indian foreign policy adviser), Charles Glass (the internationally renowned journalist) and Chibli Mallat (the Lebanese legal specialist) and Bianca Jagger, prominent human rights advocate, a member of the Executive Directors Leadership Council of Amnesty International USA, and a Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador).
The Campaign calls for the following:
1. The UN, international Red Cross and voluntary agencies must be given full and unrestricted access to care for and protect the civilians in the camps, and help them return to wherever in their own country they choose to live. Meanwhile, these civilians should have their right to freedom of movement restored in time to escape the devastation that the monsoon will otherwise bring.
2. A list of all those still alive and in custody (in internment camps or elsewhere) should be published, so that families can stop searching for loved ones who are dead.
3. Those who continue to be detained as alleged LTTE combatants must be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and urgently given access to legal representation.
4. Accountability processes must be established to ensure that international aid is not diverted to purposes other than those for which it was given.
5. The Sri Lankan Government should allow conflict reconciliation specialists unhindered access to help rebuild lives and communities.
6. Sri Lanka should request or accept a full UN investigation into war crimes committed by all parties during the war.
7. The UN Secretary General should appoint a Special Envoy to Sri Lanka. For more information, please take a look here.