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Human Rights Standards Set By The British

2013 Dec 02

My sister-in-law, a Tamil national from the North has long harboured the desire to visit her daughter and son living in London for over a decade. The end of the war proved a proper time at which to apply for a visitor visa – preparation towards the much anticipated trip went well over months, as the children awaited the visit of a mother long unseen and a mother who awaited holding her first grandchild for the first time in her life. But, fate or the British visa process decreed otherwise. Like the hundreds of thousands of visas rejected by them she too was one of the ‘unlucky’ ones denied that fundamental human right of seeing her children after many years.

The reasons afforded for the rejection were clear but devoid of the compassion the British government had professed towards the minority Tamil persons of Sri Lankan origin. She questions if the British Foreign Office did not envisage her human desire and the right to be with her children for a few months did not fall within the so-called rights they were loudly championing. It is certainly a pertinent question which I as a Tamil national need necessarily ask. What of these rights denied daily by them. Can we but question if there is a clear policy division between these rejections and the concern they claim to hold for the Tamil people making up the constituents in various parts of the country?

Apart from the black record in the history of gross human rights violations, the genuineness of the British with regard to the concern about human rights of Tamils is suspect. The apparent concern is regarding the votes of Tamils domiciled in the UK.  It is domestic parochial concerns which are motivating factors, not genuine concerns about harm done to Tamils. The outpourings of the bleeding hearts are limited to blatant denunciations which come cheap and commitment free. Regardless of the basis for allegations, the Tamils who suffered the effects of the conflict need help to rebuild their lives and livelihoods. The government is using the major part of the foreign loans and assistance for this purpose. Other countries such as India are taking part in rehabilitation activities. British ‘aid’ is limited to visits to Jaffna and then beating their breasts to voice outrage. If the concern is about the wrongs suffered by Tamils why does it not manifest itself by way of  a helping hand to the  victims of the conflict in Sri Lanka and to those who had gone to the UK as ‘refugees’ and are trying to make a living by working as temporary hands in low paid jobs.

As a Tamil voter from the North I cannot but question why this right was denied question by the Members of the Tamil National Alliance who met British PM David Cameron last week. For politicians claiming to be looking after our rights in the North what prevented them from seeking answers to these questions?

Have the rights denied to Sinhala people as recorded by them over the last century now turned towards those of the Tamils by the very British policies? I cannot but question if it is our turn to suffer the political policies of the British this time around?  If the British government really and genuinely cares for us Tamil people, why do they fear our arrival on their shores to meet our relatives, who are after all tax payers voting them in to power and reportedly funding their political campaigns? If the British government feels for our rights and repeatedly raises concern for their denial under the present regime, under Mr. Cameron’s own records of a 40,000 allegedly killed during the last stages of the war, or calls for war crimes tribunals, would we not be considered safer in the UK?
It is in this question that the anger of my family is turned against the British government today. I don’t know how many other Tamil people who have faced this rejection feel this strongly – maybe it is hidden as they keep applying over and over again in the hope of being allowed to visit their families – sometimes these are the last visits a sick mother or a dying father will make to a child.

Therefore  the use of the 2013 CHOGM for the  unprincipled bullying by some British leaders  against Sri Lanka, using human rights as a slogan, should necessarily provoke the unjustly accused to look at the human rights record of the British. We have the current issue of human rights violations by way of massacres linked to the US-British partnership during the invasion of Iraq and those linked to the suppression of the IRA rebels. In the case of the IRA they were not fighting like an army; unlike the LTTE which was using tanks, RPGs and long range heavy artillery.

Of course the massacres inflicted on the Irish people by the British as an occupying power are landmark examples of brutality. The suppression of the rebellion of 1796 was marked by large scale massacres of the captured and wounded rebels. There were ‘gruesome massacres on a huge scale at Gibbet Rath, New Ross and Enisworthy’. The first use of British blunt dum dum bullets in the Afghan wars of the 19th Century is another landmark case. The Afghans unlike the European mercenaries would not fall down wounded when struck by a rifle bullet. The dum dum (and later the split bullet) produced horrible injuries. Then there was the case of the first use of machine guns (Gatlings) against the mostly spear wielding Zulu rebels in South Africa in the 19th Century. The proud Zulus were put down with such venom that they do not count anymore as the major ethnic group in South Africa. Then we have the brutal examples in our own land exemplified by the suppression of the Uva rebellion, the Matale rebellion and the riots of 1915.

The suppression of the Uva rebellion is not only an example of brutality by an occupying power but also of genocide. It was after the capture of the rebel leaders and putting down of the Uva rebellion that saw the most brutal massacres. The British torched all the houses, killed all the men and boys more than shoulder high and all the cattle. There was even a ‘torture tree’. The initial human casualties exceeded ten thousand. The irrigation works of Uva-Wellassa and the granary of the Kandyan kingdom were all destroyed. All the fruit trees were also destroyed.

They did not spare even the small dykes (niyaras) that kept water in the paddy fields. The purpose was total genocide as the women and children could not survive without food and the means of producing food with the cattle and all the paddy lands destroyed.  Some women and children survived because of the knack of Sinhala women to cook even leaves of trees. The women and children who survived hiding in the jungles came out after several months only to become victims of small pox brought by the Indian soldiers who had been imported to augment the British forces.

The acts of revenge by the enraged British continued. The lands and property of those suspected to be rebel leaders and those who were considered participants were confiscated and the leaders and their families were condemned as ‘traitors’ by Gazette notification by Governor Brownrigg  in 1818.

The demarcation of provinces to ‘contain’ the Kandyans, the Waste Land Ordinance to appropriate land to the government (which was to be given later to the British planters), and thereby deprive the Kandyan peasantry of the means of livelihood were subsequent actions to keep on punishing the local population. Uva-Wellassa among the most prosperous and populous of Kandyan territories has still not recovered from this devastation. The Sinhala population in parts of what is now the Eastern Province like Panama got separated from the Kandyan population and their existence as a community was denied. The infamous Gazette of Brownrigg continued unchallenged even after independence for more than five decades. It was left to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ultimately revoke it as part of his endeavour to restore the dignity of Sri Lanka as a sovereign nation.

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