Thursday, 16 July 2009

Is it Time to Start Boycotting Sri Lanka?

According to this article in the Times of London, yes, it is time to start boycotting Sri Lanka. In a series of articles focussing on Sri Lanka, the Times has alleged that the Sri Lankan government has not taken adequate steps for the welfare of Tamils displaced by the civil war. In what can only be termed a very serious allegation, it is said that 1400 civilians die every week at Manik Farms, the largest of various welfare villages set up to house Tamil civilians displaced from the recent war theatres. Even if the figure of ‘1400’ is shown to be an exaggeration, it is very, very likely that a large number of civilians are dying every day for want of medicines, food and on account of the unsanitary conditions prevailing in this particular ‘welfare village’ and others like it.

When set up, the Sri Lankan government had easily brushed aside claims that the welfare villages are actually concentration camps for Tamil civilians. Its claim that it needed to screen the civilians for the Tigers was could not be rejected outright, though international concern for the civilians held there was always high. There were reports of how Sri Lankan officials did their best to improvise and feed the detainees in the face of scarcity of everywhere. However, it’s been almost two months since the LTTE Suprémo Prabhakaran was killed and the government’s aura of righteousness is fading away and fast.

The Sri Lankan government has announced that it will increase the strength of its already bloated army by 50%, making it 300,000 strong. It has also asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to scale down its activities in Sri Lanka. The ICRC has been forced to comply. This is not a positive step.

For one, as this BBC report says, the Red Cross is the only international organisation with a presence in Sri Lanka and if it were to cut back its staff strength considerably, it will drastically curtail independent monitoring of various government run ‘welfare camps’.

More importantly, since Sri Lanka obviously does not have the resources needed to maintain the inmates of the ‘welfare villages’ with even basic amenities, the demand that the Red Cross ought to scale down its activities can only be described as callous and cruel.

It is not only inside the welfare villages that the Sri Lankan government is being found wanting. This article (again from The Times) talks of how the Sri Lankan government is trying to coerce Tamil speaking Muslims, who were forced by the LTTE to leave their homes in Jaffna 18 years ago, to return to their villages immediately. Apparently their rations have been cut drastically so that they have no choice, but to return to Jaffna where they may be targeted by the remnants of the LTTE.

Recently I happened to read Michael Ondaatje’s classic ‘Anil’s Ghost.’ I am an Ondaatje fan, but I hadn’t read this novel till last week, though it is supposed to be one of Ondaatje’s best, if not the best. Anil’s Ghost is the story of Anil Tissera, a Sinhalese girl who goes abroad when very young, studies medicine at Guy’s hospital in London, and later trains as a forensic anthropologist in the US. Anil returns to Sri Lanka after an absence of 15 years in order to carry out an investigation on behalf of a UN agency into the numerous extra-judicial murders taking place in the emerald island. Anil stumbles into ‘Sailor’s skeleton and she struggles to discover his identity and prove that he was picked up by the government’s men and ‘disappeared.’

Ondaatje manages to capture the mental state of a country at war, where everyone looks across his or her shoulder, where fear stalks the land, where the life of a man who speaks out against the government is worth nothing. There are Tamil rebels and JVP fighters in Ondaatje’s book, and of course government forces who carry out extra-judicial killings. Somehow the men doing the government’s dirty work appear to be much more nasty and cruel than both groups of rebels. It is a disturbing picture, one that will not easily go away from any reader’s mind. I am sure that Ondaatje has accurately captured the state of Sri Lanka, which in all probability exists even now.

Should the international community boycott Sri Lanka as advocated by the Times?

No, I don’t think so. Not yet anyway. The Sri Lankan government is not the only government to win a war and be unprepared for the ensuing peace. The United States and its allies were caught with their pants down in Iraq after they had comprehensively defeated Saddam’s forces. However, the United States and the rest of the coalition did mobilise resources and make an effort to make up for their lapse, though it hasn’t been a resounding success. The Sri Lankan government has only a fraction of the resources that the United States has and ought to be given a bit more time to prove its credentials. However, if matters don’t improve for the hapless people struck in the welfare camps very soon, Sri Lanka may soon find itself at the wrong end of international scorn and anger.

The only reason why the Sri Lankan government received so much support in its fight against the LTTE was because the LTTE was so much nastier than the Sri Lankan government, which is, all said and done, a democratically elected government. So many unpardonable unpardonable crimes were committed by the government’s men during the civil war, acts like Lasantha Wickrematunge’s murder and the killings of so many journalists and activists. The international community (I include myself in this community) overlooked all that. Now that the LTTE is no more, the Sri Lankan government will find that the universe is no longer so tolerant.


oskeladden said...

Rights and wrongs apart, boycotting Sri Lanka will have absolutely no effect. We've been boycotting Burma for aeons, and it's only made the government dig in its heels even more.

The reality is that the West no longer has any leverage at all over Sri Lanka. China's shown they're willing to write a blank cheque to Sri Lanka to gain some influence, and India's demonstrated that it's willing to turn a blind eye to most of what's going on to retain at least a tiny portion of the influence it used to have. Plenty of other countries will be happy to do business with Sri Lanka if the West stops.

Winnowed said...

oskeladden, You are both right and wrong. Boycotting Sri Lanka will have an impact on Sri Lanka. It will hurt Sri Lanka. It will hit its economy. For example if the flow of tourism is reduced, Sri Lanka will suffer. If Sri Lankan garments are not given easier access to the West, Sri Lanka’s economy will suffer. However, such sanctions/boycotts are unlikely to make Sri Lanka treat its Tamil minority better.

oskeladden said...

It'll hurt some Sri Lankans to a limited extent (tourism has already taken a beating in the past couple of years and garment exporters started diversifying away from Europe last year because nobody expected the privileged status to be renewed even temporarily). Given the soaring inflation rate and the horrendous war debt the country has, in macro-economic terms it really won't be that significant. And, as I think you agree, it won't affect support for the government. Except for a few kalu suddha liberals (as a Sinhala acquaintance so charmingly put it), antipathy for the West is the in thing in Sri Lanka now.

Boycotting Sri Lanka may make some of us feel better though. After all, it's not like there's much else we can do to show our distaste for the government's policy towards the Tamils.

Anonymous said...

For the sake of your own equilibrium, one hopes that you did not just talk about boycotting Sri Lanka. That too, based on an assertion made by a publication from a country which unilaterally attacked Iraq and the fact that that publication is silent upon the atrocities committed by its troops??? While you are ready to act upon allegations, you act like the hypocrite that you must be in not debating the merits of boycotting the UK for what has now been accounted as a fact (and not allegations).

Comparing this with the US-Iraq situation? It shows the value you attach to the lives of the innocent civilians who have died in the malestrom of madness that Iraq has become since the US invaded them. Whereas Sri Lanka has conclusively finished the LTTE. Has the US done better since the invasion began? Just answer Yes or No. has the US achieved total annihilation of the terrorists in Iraq? Answer Yes or No.

Iraq NEVER attacked the US, was NEVER going to, NEVER WAS IN A POSITION to and NEVER had WMDs.

Iraq is thousands of miles away from the US and were not involved in any insrugency on US soil.

On the other hand Sri Lanka took 25 YEARS. Not 3 months. But 25 years to fight this violent insurgency that began while the US was supporting mujahideens in the neighbourhood.

Typical of you to say in an uptight manner that "Oh my gosh! I must boycott Sri Lanka to showcase my secular credentials, otherwise other pseudo secular people will not visit my blog anymore and I will not be able to gloat in my fake-ass glory inspired by equally fake-ass credentials not to mention fool the people who are casually checking out or stumbling upon the site to stay here".

What about China and the Tibetans/Uighurs?

What about the US and Iraq?

What about UK, Poland and Spain vis a vis Iraq?


Essentially Vinod, you said: "We must boycott this and that country since I read a classy book (and one of his best mind you) by a fancy author which narrates the condition of something which I have never seen and compares it to somwhere I have never been. According to a think tank that remained silent during the many incursions by the West, Sri Lanka sucks and is bad because the UN said so, nevermind that the UN remained silent on many invasions by the West and has for a chief a man who is the US's lackey. We must boycott them for it is important to boycott them otherwise to boycott afterwards will not have the effect of effectively boycotting them when they need to be boycotted presently. We must boycott a small nation slowly finding it's feet and leave the other giants like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, US and UK alone, since the majority of my credibility is dependant upon the review of my work by the 'intellectual class' of the western ivy league institutions in countries that I of course cannot advocate the boycott of".

You have a LIFE FAIL.

oskeladden said...

Anonymous: In general, people tend to apply different standards to governments which attack other sovereign states, and to governments which attack their own people. You may well argue that people shouldn't apply different standards to these two sets of situations, but most people do, and they do so for historical reasons. That's where your Iraq analogy falls down.

The analogy with China is quite valid, though, and there are several other countries in the world who're doing worse to their minorities than Sri Lanka is doing to the Tamils.

Anonymous said...

LTTE was a government? China is a valid example? Hmmm.. You think??? You haven't answered any of the questions my pseudo-secular pal. Get a real job mate, you ain't fooling noone with your fakeass blog.

Anonymous said...

You essentially said that "I can compare those two situations of Iraq and Sri Lanka differently and that alone is the reason why I am always right". You dumb retard. How pathetic are your arguments? Since you've had to listen to what I've had to say, rest assured I will not be returning you the favour my third rate of a commentator and pseudo-intellectual friend.

oskeladden said...

Anonymous:You're in essence saying that a government owes the same duties to citizens of other countries that it does to its own citizens -that's the only way your US:Iraq::Lanka:Tamils analogy could hold. That's a pretty ridiculous - and fabulously uninformed - position to take. What the US, UK and friends did in Iraq is unjustifiable, but it's quite different from a situation which a government is killing huge numbers of *its own* people.

Sivaram said...

"the LTTE was so much nastier than the Sri Lankan government"

You have no idea of what the Tamils have gone through at the hands of the Sri Lankan government since 1948.

For every civilian killed by the LTTE, the Sri Lankan army has killed 50. It is disproportionate.

I do not know how you can get any worse than this:

Or this:

Or this:

Or this:

The LTTE was a reaction to Sri Lankan govt brutality since 1956.

marco said...

yes, srilanka needs to be boycotted. I recently refused to take an air plane through sri lankan airlanes eventhough they offered me an enormous discount. I will not support a rogue country