What If You Had One Day Left To Stop Mass Ethnic Cleansing? (Updated)

Update

The mass violence is scheduled to accelerate tomorrow.  This addendum to the post is a list of several steps you can take culled primarily from the comments. If you look in the comments and particularly kettilkili's comment, you can find some advice about framing your own work or other resources if you want to see what else has been done or plan your own steps.

1. Read up to date news from International Red Cross on civilians in the North East

2. If you are an Indian citizen or a member of the Indian diaspora, sign Professor Qadri Ismail's petition to the Indian Mission at the UN.

3. If you are a resident of the United States or otherwise interested, call your Congresspeople and tell them to pay attention and to stop the war in Sri Lanka or whatever message you think is most useful for making sure that 100,000 people don't end up destroyed in the next few days/weeks/months..

4. For all, a petition circulated by the World at a Crossroads conference

5. Write, call, e-mail, fax or otherwise contact the Sri Lankan embassy or consulate in your area or whatever one you want and tell them what you think.  My suggestion is to stop any military action that does not allow civilians to live and that does not allow for international monitoring of the same, but there are many other points of view that people have, which you can see in the comments below or the links people have provided.  You can look up a Sri Lankan embassy/consulate contact information by entering the host country in the top dropbox and clicking on search below the bottom box.

6. Suggest other steps in the comments below and read what others have written.  Dispute inaccuracies or poor readings without losing sight  of why you're doing it.

7. Share with your partner, your friends, your parents or siblings, or total strangers whatever information you have come across on the conflict in Sri Lanka that you find useful or compelling, including things they can do.

8. Read a book or some equivalent about Sri Lanka. If you go through past blog entries, tidbits, and even news items here, you will get at least some perspective though imo there is no substitute for a good book or essay.

---

Original post

I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish, every inch but one. An inch, it is small and it is fragile, and it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away; we must never let them take it from us. I hope that whoever you are, you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better. But what I hope most of all is that you understand what I mean when I tell you that even though I do not know you and even though I may never meet you, laugh with you, cry with you, or kiss you, I love you. With all my heart, I love you.

-"Valerie", V for Vendetta

I didn't really want to write this entry.  But, as we have discussed in some of the tidbits, there is something that is abundantly clear whether you are a human rights activist, a Tamil nationalist, a socialist, or if you are just a pretty apolitical person being exposed to Sri Lanka for the first time: the Government of Sri Lanka is going to militarily control all the land on the island, breaking the stalemate with LTTE that has lasted for many years, and some several hundreds of thousands of people are going to face the potential of mass ethnic cleansing, with accompanying rape, murder, babykilling, violence, and other things.  In fact, there is a consensus that they already are.

So this post is not attempting to offer deep analysis: some of my details may be wrong here and I am attempting to simply get it out before even more time passes than to provide all the links I would like.  I think the basic analysis I gave above is accurate, meaning we have about a week left to minimise the damage from an escalation of mass ethnic cleansing of the people who live in the small area still contested by the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka militarily. I hope if it resonates with you, you will take the time to at least  type 'sri lanka' in google news after this and perhaps post some of the items you think are important in our news sections.

Instead of analysis, the basic message of this post is DO SOMETHING to exert direct or indirect pressure on the Sri Lankan government to stop them from 'finishing' the military conflict without letting all of the civilians/lesser threats stay and live or get out according to what is most decent, letting international observers in, letting journalists, medics, and documentarians in, setting in motion mechanisms for conflict resolution, etc.  From my side, I will promise to try to highlight what you do or suggestions and resources that you offer in the body of this post through updates.

There are an enormous number of options - some people will be good at some things other people will be good at other things.  You can pick a post from PTR or a news article and send it to your representatives in government or the Obama administration and ask them what they are doing. You can join one of the many protests against the ethnic cleansing in the English-speaking world- I have seen articles or heard about protests in Australia, Canada and the UK. You can use this forum to toss out other ideas, because I'm coming to these ideas out of desperation - there are very few large organisations that have launched an appeal to exert pressure- none that I have come across in what is admittedly little research.  vivek was kind enough to provide me with a link to the International Red Cross's work in Sri Lanka, but there's not much it allows us or our organisations to do except, I suppose, to provide money.  You can write articles for your local newspaper telling them about the situation.  You can organise a candlelight vigil and have people who attend send faxes tot he government of Sri Lanka, which I'm sure has a website.  You can, as I would like to, circulate a letter among academics to the Government of Sri Lanka calling for an immediate halt to all warfare without allowance of access to international observers, medics, journalists, etc.

Some of these ideas are okay, some of these ideas are terrible.  The brainstorm is just here to offer a starting point if you need it, but I'm sure in your local world you can think of some way in which you can try and help to combat the ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka in the short term . This can be as simple as sending an e-mail to your Congressperson or MP or whatever the equivalent is in your country and beg them to expel the Sri Lankan ambassador unless the government of Sri Lanka takes adequate steps to actually and not just rhetorically protect civilians.  We can talk about the appropriate language for a demand below - I'm basically making it up as I go along here precisely because the organisations like Amnesty and HRW hadn't put anything recent out that I saw.  And if you sincerely can't 'do' anything in this next week, since in life these times come up, at least try to keep these things in your thoughts; but do keep in mind that there are very, very small actions you can take- including just referring someone to this post or some other call for action.

The only 'buts' I will offer to the 'do something, do anything' line of thinking are the following:   while it is extremely important that people don't stay silent because they feel they don't know enough, I hope that they do use the opportunity to do work to learn more, and understand and acknowledge their limits without falling into paralysis or blind obedience. There are many resources available and although there are contrasting narratives, right now, this is not really the moment for excessively exploring nuances: if you're sort of a Tamil nationalist, you're going to sort of make a Tamil nationalist argument. If you're sort of a human rights activist, you're going to sort of frame it in terms of human rights. I can't do anything to stop you either way.  On the other hand, if you do already have an analysis of the issue, what I can do is suggest is that you try to be thoughtful within the context of your framework, as reliant on the evidence as you see it as possible, open to alternative perspectives, and attempt to channel your anger or power or pity into effective strategies while being conscious of your own power and the likelihood that a conversation that inflames so many passions can easily descend into verbal violence. 

I think these caveats are  just basic principles of doing international solidarity work particularly in situations where the one side you would want to support-- 'the ordinary people' who are not ardent supporters of anything except life--is the most voiceless and yet needs to be heard the most.  But I am injecting my own problematic perspective here, so please excuse me; as I said, the whole point is that I think this is inevitable and at least for a  few weeks, we need to be able to work together across some lines and imperfections to try to stop an imminent crime and tragedy.

In closing, please offer some ideas below that you think can actually be carried out and let us know what happens with them.   I have some ideas - writing an article that highlights this situation, posting items to facebook, writing here, raising money for the non-violent communication resource in Sri Lanka that I had posted in tidbits, writing to friends or colleagues or cold calling various human rights agencies that are completely dropping the ball on this catastrophe and asking them to put out an appeal, trying to continue to think of ways that my workplace might do something, the letter to academics I mentioned above, etc.  But I am annoyed at myself - and external circumstances - that have gotten in the way and I need to focus more on this; this post is a way of both encouraging myself and others to do so, with a sense of urgency not driven by guilt, but by attempting to imbibe and to act upon the sentiment I have quoted in the introduction to this post - inside of me, inside of you, inside of each person, there is something, and it is not popular to point out and it is not cool to acknowledge, but it is there, and it is real, and it is precious, just as Valerie says.  And it is one of the few things, writ large, that might help protect some of the people who are caught up in the endgame of a 26-year old war from extremely grievous damage to their selves and their souls.

 

---

 

 

Notes on terminology:

1)I have used 'minimise the damage from ethnic cleansing' rather than 'stop ethnic cleansing' because imo it is likely too late to 'stop' 'it.'  So, instead of getting up false hopes, I am trying to rejig my thinking to understand that although for me it is a black and white issue, what this means on the ground is that the more pressure that can be placed on the Sri Lankan government, the lesser the extent of the damage that is done. It won't be eliminated completely. That's just my opinion, and I hope it's not too dispiriting - I present it as a way to continue working and avoid paralysis and to understand that even if violence continues, the individual experiences of the people subjected to it might be drastically different.  The difference between 10,000 people killed and 10,050 people killed is 50 lives, 50 people with perhaps 500 loved ones and 3000 friends among them, 50 jobs, 50 laborers, 50 real human beings, in short.  So the number might not matter, but it should in the sense of the real impact it actually reflects on the real world that exists in the North and East of Sri Lanka right now.

2) I have usually used 'mass ethnic cleansing' or 'escalation of mass ethnic cleansing' in place of pogroms, genocide, or any of the other terms that might be chosen.  You might pick a different term. As I came to believe in the discussion we had in tidbits, what is more relevant in a general sense is that we agree on the substance of what is happening - massive violence against people who are trapped in a small area, and which may be nearing 'endgame.'

 

 

 

Summary: 
What will you do to stop an imminent 'bloodbath' in Sri Lanka? Now with suggestions!

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Comments

a couple of things to keep in

a couple of things to keep in mind as one brainstorms:

1.  all the protests have been dominated by people waving LTTE flags.  you may not necesarily be a lover of terrorists to stand in the same crowd, but would the same courtesy be extended to a punker at a aryan nation rally?  I challenge anyone to find a well-attended protest in which the Tigers were protested for their murderous practice of keeping IDPs in conflict zones as well as the gov't for designating 'safe zones' and then bombing them all the same. 

2.  Tamil Nationalism--if you advocate for a separate state or a measure of autonomy greater than that enjoyed by states in the US, you're not arguing the reality shared by the rest of us but rather a fantasy world in which a region already isolated by warfare chooses to segregate itself further while subsisting on fish and the sand in which nearly nothing edible grows (and predominates in the conflict areas--see how many staples SL imports as a whole and multiply by 2).

3.  using genocide as a rhetorical club--there are many analytical problems with using the word and in my view the most important is that genocides are perpetrated by a single actor/agent/group.  In this situation, the tigers are keeping IDPs in areas they know the gov't will shell--IDP deaths due to this are now inevitable.  Yes the shelling is wrong, yes the gov't strategy lacks human decency, yes it's all a shame but when does the solidarity community start to realize that culpability in IDP deaths is largely the Tigers.  They, and they alone, are keeping the civilians in areas they know are being shelled--they are building bunkers and have placed artillery in those very camps and bloody well know what happens when the gov't sees a suspicious structure in a surveillance photo.

4.  The efficacy of symbolic action:  IMHO and I believe this is borne out by the history of symbolic action in SL (and the world), it simply has no chance of working.  Speaking out publicly as a journalist, academic, Janaka Plumber, etc guarantees only one thing: that somebody will be watching you and you will receive threats.  This is why everyone of tamil extraction who criticizes the Tigers finds themselves in exile or dead. 

5.  You're right in saying that more death is inevitable.  I hope for surgical strikes which flush out and destroy the remaining Tiger cadres but know that what we'll get is a very messy, civilian-death-laden tragedy after which a surviving strong man will be put into place, guided by paramilitaries.

 

6.  http://blacklightarrow.wordpress.com/

 

i would recommend reading his last two posts and the comments section.  The perception of the Tamil diaspora as a gang of tiger lovers is not true but how could people who keep up with the symbolic actions of that same diaspora without seeing the Tiger emblem splashed across nearly every protest in every city abroad?

 

Could you post the contact

Could you post the contact info for the relevant Sri Lankan authorities?  Eg embassy phone, emails for cities with large South Asian and Tamil populations.  Also, posting info on how to wire money to Tamil Aid Groups?  I would think that pressuring the SL Gov to minimize the massacres and baby-killing would be a priority, then getting food, clothing and shelter to the Tamil people.

Hi both, I'll try to respond

Hi both,

I'll try to respond in more depth later nayagan and i'll try to post some relevant information later Anonymous -others feel free to pitch in.  For now, here is a link to some petitions relating to sri lanka http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=petition+government+of+sri+lanka

Dr A, I just wanted to say

Dr A, I just wanted to say thank you for writing this post-- even as we may have some strategic differences, I really appreciate the effort you've made to do this in particular, and to read widely about Sri Lanka in general.

I'm sorry to say, but I'm not even sure that there is one week left. It's already clear that the government has no compunctions about killing civilians in the process of defeating the LTTE. Yesterday, they issued a 24-hour ultimatum to the LTTE, promising military action thereafter.

The government is going to attack the no-fire zone, where tens of thousands of civilians-- some say as many as 150,000 -- are trapped in an area of less than 17 square kilometers. An area the size of Central Park.

Robert Templar of the International Crisis Group writes of this in a piece called, Day of Reckoning in Sri Lanka.

That day is TODAY. What will you do?

The least any of us can do at this point, I think, is to email the text of some already-written petitions, articles, etc to everyone we know, starting with the links here. Or print and hand them out at work, school, on the metro/tube/subway, along with the phone numbers of your MP, MPP, MEP, Congressional or Senate representative, etc.... If you don't feel very conversant in Sri Lankan politics, this can be a very useful way to communicate that something is happening, right now, and to let people know about it. Americans, call your representative in Congress soon. The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is having a public hearing RIGHT NOW on human rights in Sri Lanka. It should be webcast. There will also be a full committee hearing tomorrow on Foreign Policy Priorities in the Obama Administration. Decisions about how to respond can and will be made by these people soon.

Anyone who is considering writing a letter would benefit from reading some recent petitions from Sri Lanka. There is a long tradition of academics, artists, civil society activists, media, lawyers, human rights workers, etc writing letters and petitions to the government, getting involved in policy-making, policy-related and public debates. (Of course, the efficacy of these various efforts can be debated.) I will try to pull some of these out from the archives. In the meantime, the following efforts are written by/aimed at India/South Asia.

One of the best petitions I've seen of late is a letter that was written by Prof Qadri Ismail, to the Indian Mission at the UN: Stop the Humanitarian Catastrophe in Sri Lanka. The letter succinctly covers the most urgent concerns; I think it is a great model for diaspora/international statements. Although the author is a Sri Lankan (teaching at U of Minnesota), the undersigned are identified as Indian citizens and people of Indian-origin, and as a result received some media attention in India when the letter was sent in late February.

The PUCL (People's Union of Civil Liberties) has made some good statements in the Indian media in the last few months. (Will try to dig out more, but see their Jan 2009 statement, Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka; a summary of the basic argument can be found here: PUCL urges UN to invoke R2P for safety zones, camps.)

A group of predominantly Indian academics and activists calling themselves Concerned Citizens of South Asia have recently put out a statement, which can be found at South Asia Citizens Wire under the title, War in Sri Lanka threatens peace in South Asia. (Their site/listserv, for those who don't know it, is also a good resource to search for recent articles/statements on Sri Lanka.)

Another letter made the rounds among Indian academics, artists, civil society groups shortly after Noam Chomsky gave an interview -- his first on Sri Lanka -- to the Sri Lanka Guardian, a pro-government website. This is a petition from writers and intellectuals in the Tamil Nadu who felt that Chomsky's interview sidestepped the critical issues of civilian suffering and humanitarian aid in a war that is fought without witnesses-- independent observers and media are not allowed access to the war zone, and even in Vavuniya (the closest town), are generally accompanied by armed forces through their visit to the Northern Province. The petitioners also draw attention to the interviewer's attempts to steer Chomsky towards a pro-government response. Chomsky is generally smart enough to stay away from the bait, but for someone who, by his own admission, "doesn't know enough about the topic," his email response to the petitioners (see the top of the petition) is a total cop-out.
. . .

Please note that while I have posted these links, I may not agree with every single word or line-- but I think they provide a start. Should we sit here and debate the terminology when a military onslaught is about to begin?

I wish to bring to your

I wish to bring to your attention also the following petition by participants of World at the Crossroads (20 April 2009). It was circulated at the World at a Crossroads conference <http://www.worldatacrossroads.org> hosted by GreenLeft Weekly in Sydney, April 10-12, 2009. To add your name to the statement, send a mail to  stuartmunckton@gmail.com.

Participants at the World at a Crossroads conference, Sydney April 10-12,
recognise the genocide being carried out against the Tamil people by the
murderous Sri Lankan government. The genocidal policies of the Sri Lankan
government are a continuation of over six decades of systematic
discrimination carried out against the Tamil population.

The drive towards genocide of the Tamils has intensified since the Sri
Lankan government abrogated the peace process in January 2008 and embarked
on the reconquest of the island's north through brutal war with devastating
consequences for Tamils.

The last few months has been particularly brutal. More than 3500 Tamil
civilians have been killed in a space of three months by the Sri Lankan
state offensive. Tamils fleeing the fighting are being herded into
concentration camps.

According to the former Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka “A few months ago the
government started registering all Tamils in Colombo on the grounds that
they could be a security threat, but this could be exploited for other
purposes like the Nazis in the 1930s. They’re basically going to label the
whole civilian Tamil population as potential terrorists.”

Two hundred thousand Tamils are now facing starvation ....

The full statement is also available at http://www.marxmail.org/msg60583.html.

A number of Tamil websites

A number of Tamil websites already are repositories for some of what you require.

For example:

http://tamilinsight.org/mydesk/blog/category/statements/

I have a petition with the actual signatures of prominent south asians.  I will try and get it uploaded on a server and provide a link.  I don't know if anyone else has it or has a link to it?

I find that identifying a key influential person and spending time drafting a letter or picking the phone up and calling them gets some positive results.

Also would like to know figures for number of children killed and injured so far in the war?  Have contacted so many people including people from TRO etc...no they have no figures.  Figures such as this were available during the war in Gaza.  Unicef still hasn't replied.  The terrible thing about this war is the number of children who are going to be permanently disabled for the rest of their lives.  How is the Sri Lankan state going to fund their care or rehabilitation?

Children in camps are malnourished, and I did get figures from here:
http://www.undispatch.com/node/8089 ie 5 children were dying per day of starvation and diarrhoea in the war zone.

Also from here:

http://www.australia.to/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=819...

IDPs from this conflict alone: 57 000 (before the exodus in the last few days).  Out of these, 12 000 are school children who will not be allowed to leave the camp to attend proper schools for at least a year, if the plan the SL government has is going to go ahead.

Furthermore, schools are being used as refugee camps, disrupting the education of more children.

Neil De Votta's article sumarising 60 years of ethnocentrism in Sri Lanka gives a pretty good overview.  Will provide link to the article that has been uploaded.

Sri Lanka at Sixty: A Legacy

Sri Lanka at Sixty: A Legacy of Ethnocentrism by Neil De Votta

Another important and useful fact.  The sri lankan army is larger than that of the British forces.  I am not sure how large the LTTE is.  The term disproportionate force was used in condemntaion of the Gaza war.  Haven't heard it used much in this case.

Finally an interesting discussion on whether a ceasefire should be called can be found here:

http://guruchetra.blogspot.com/2009/04/to-be-able-to-call-for-ceasefire.html

Three more links: Global

Three more links:

Global Action to prevent War calls for action on Sri Lanka

Press Statement on Appeal from Concerned South Asian Citzens

War Without Witness in Sri Lanka

Finally, it is sometimes best to focus on a specific, critical area/issue in this crisis, and present the case to stop the war.

Anonymous, thank you for

Anonymous, thank you for these links; in particular, the exchange posted at Aachcharya's blog. That was incredible, and I urge everyone to read it. It really gives an insight into the politics of ceasefire and civilian suffering, and the implications of various positions taken among dissenting Tamils. The guest post by Rohini Hensman and the full discussion that followed can be found at Kafila.

There are no easy answers. But it seems to me that all the participants have a deep concern for human suffering that is, at the same time, imbricated in their larger political agendas. I don't think the two can be so easily disconnected from one another, which makes engagement on this question of ceasefire/no-ceasefire very difficult indeed. It seems that all agree that the politics of the LTTE and its armed struggle have decimated the Sri Lankan Tamil polity. As a result, especially for those who live in the North and East, there are no alternative Tamil political cultures.

Having said that, we must nevertheless take a stand. I will post mine soon.

Kettikili, I agree.  Have

Kettikili, I agree.  Have many more from various perspectives that I have collected over the months to inform myself in every possible way on the nuances of this conflict, but now I suppose I have to provide what would help people focus and make sense of the immediate needs of those still in the war zone.  I think most people are now stunned with the news that is coming out at this late stage and the latest figures of 6 500 dead.  Almost too late.

Dr. Annonymous, I appreciate the effort you have made to post up what must for you and many of us be very very difficult to articulate.

I am now going to provide 2 links, which provide no analysis of this catastrophe and maybe overly emotive for some:

1. Disturbing Video for those who have no idea about the

ground realities

:

http://video.yahoo.com/watch/4906190

(boy and girl shown, next to an injured woman are crying...saying she is bleeding...and asking someone to secure a dressing.  Someone from a medical background pointed out to me that the people being carried were not being held or carried correctly, risking more spinal injuries, but in this situation, I not sure much could be done)

 

2. Report from 1st to 23rd March from war without witness, one of the few sources of information from within the conflict area.

http://www.tamilkathir.com/news/victimes-of-genocid.aspx

 

The following two links are the first I have seen of footage shown in Tamil Nadu, and now make me realise, why people over there have been far more agitated by these events than anywhere else outside the conflict zone and why the Sri Lankan government has censored reports from Tamil Nadu:

http://avalankal.blogspot.com/2009/04/blog-post.html (title, "there are no more tears to cry")

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-luW4ffEiYA (shown on TV in Tamil Nadu in 2008)

On Western TV, I have only started seeing anything even close to this in the last 3 days, from almost similar sources.

 

Then there is this interview with one of the Hunger strikers in Westminister which drives home the desparation of the much maligned protestors:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8015308.stm

 

It seems however, since the mass exodus in the last three days, there are more media reports beginning to come out.  If you still feel this is not enough, this link may be useful to urge local media outlets to report the conflict:

Media: If you are not covering Sri Lanka right now, why not?

 

Some links that may provide some insight into the inaction of the UN and the reasons behind it:

Firstly I want to bring to your attention this act that was adopted by the UN in 2005 called the "responsibility to protect".  And to quote James Traub from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect:

"This doctrine stipulates that states have a responsibility to protect peoples within their borders from genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. When states are found to be "manifestly failing" to meet this responsibility, it shifts to the international community, acting through the UN." 

According to Taub, the intent of this doctrine was to prevent these acts from occuring rather than waiting for them to occur.  You can read more here

other links on this are:

When Sri Lanka Ordered Doctors Out of Conflict Zone, UN Said Nothing

List of 14 UN staff in Detention Camps in Sri Lanka

 

Those not convinced about conditions in detention camps, this article describing visists from non-Tamils in the South provides some confirmation:

Group visits refugees

Soon I think we will hear more in the media.  I suppose its better late than never.

I recall reading somewhere that the largest number of academic papers have been written on the conflict in Sri Lanka.  I am going to leave things unsaid, to avoid the risk of sounding anti-intellectual.

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