Thousands march in Colombo; embassies picketed around the globe
On Monday, 13 November, up to 10,000 people filed through central Colombo with the coffin of murdered TNA MP, Nadarajah Raviraj. It was no silent protest. People wanted their feelings to be heard as they moved along the main highways cordoned off for the occasion.
Speakers and placards demanded an end to war preparations and an end to the kidnappings and killings. (See previous articles on CWI web-site). It is clear that the sectarian Sinhala communalist forces want the tragic civil war renewed. But this united demonstration of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala people showed the deep-seated desire for peace and for an end to sectarianism.
On Wednesday, 15 November, the day of Raviraj’s actual funeral in his home town near Jaffna in the North, world-wide protests were held at Sri Lankan embassies. In Belgium, in Austria, in Pakistan, in Sweden, in Israel and in Britain, the message was the same.
Els Deschoemacker of LSP/MAS (CWI in Belgium) wrote to the president, Mahinda Rajapakse: ‘We were horrified by the reports in the newspapers about the latest killings of Tamil people and their representatives. By all the means we have here at our disposal, we will protest against these kind of actions. Different organisations and individuals have signed the public protest-letter campaign already. We have just started this campaign and will continue until all killings are stopped! Today an international protest-day is being organised, including at the Sri Lankan embassy in Brussels. We will let people and organisations know what is happening in Sri Lanka!’
When the delegation got to the embassy, Els reports, two of them were taken in and spoken to politely at first. Then they were accused of being defenders of terrorism and ‘ill-informed’ about the situation in Sri Lanka. They maintained they knew very well what the situation was. They did not condone terrorism from anyone, but also held the government responsible for the present crisis in Sri Lanka.
A similar ‘dialogue’ took place with officials at the Austrian embassy.
A delegation organised by Sozialistische LinksPartei: ‘At 11.00 this morning we held a picket in front of the Sri Lankan embassy in Vienna. Ten people attended holding plackards with the following demands: "Stop the war! Stop the killing! The government of Sri Lanka must get active against the racist killings and must not inflame the atmosphere". “The government of SL must find the murderer Nadarajah Raviraj instead of hiding the murderers! "Stop the repression of the Tamil people!” ’We held speeches through the megaphone in German and English. After 45 minutes we were invited into the embassy (all of us). We were served tea and the First and Second Secretary (Mr. Ransiri Perera and Mr. Poshitha Perera) had a 30-minute discussion with us. They tried to convince us that all the killing and war was only because of the terror of the LTTE andthat the president is interested in finding the murderers and has even involved London’s Scotland Yard to find them.
‘We made clear, that we do not support this one-sided view. We raised the chauvinist policy of the president and reminded them that Siritunga Jayasuriya of the United Socialist Party had already warned of what was to come in his televised speech last year after the presidential elections.’Of course, we did not come to any agreement, but they said that the idea that not an "expert commission" but a "trade union and working class commission" should solve the problem is good. They obviously took us very seriously.’
‘We held a small protest today outside Sri Lanka’s embassy in Tel Aviv’ wrote Yasha from Maavak Sozialisti (CWI Israel).’Four comrades from our local branch (of M.S.) attended the activity. The location of the embassy - a quiet middle-class neighbourhood in the north of the city – made it harder for the protest to have a big impact. But nevertheless, after a couple of minutes of chants, we were noticed by the embassy workers and were invited to meet the ambassador.
‘The ambassador was very arrogant. Without being over-polite, we explained what the protest was about. We emphasised the siege of the Tamil areas, the killings and the kidnapping and, of course, the murder of Raviraj and the death threats against our comrades and other activists in the CMC.
‘We were told by the ambassador that the government of Sri Lanka is committed to searching for peace and that the Tamil Tigers are to blame for the situation. This is just like the official statements of the Israeli government on the issue of Palestine!
‘We handed in our protests and told the embassy people that our organisation will raise the issue of Sri Lanka and the murder of Raviraj, in our daily activity, on the stalls etc.’
‘Yesterday, between 4 and 5 o’clock’ wrote Simon Van Haeren, ‘the Socialist Party protested, for the second time in two weeks, in front of the Sri- Lankan High Commission in London. More than twenty people participated in the protest action.
‘At the beginning of the protest, when the embassy had not yet closed its doors, Paula Mitchell and Judy Beishon walked into the embassy to hand over protest letters on behalf of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Party’s councillors. However, in nearly 20 minutes of discussion, with, at some stages, the embassy officials screaming at them, they were unable to persuade the embassy officials to even accept our letters!
‘They claimed our protest was illegal and unnecessary but that if they had known beforehand, they would have invited us all in for tea! Paula and Judy argued that our protest was perfectly legal and said they seriously doubted that the attitude of the officials would have been any different if we had warned them. After all, accepting a protest letter is not so much to ask of them!
‘At the same time, the police had already been “alarmed” – as the police called it – by the High Commission. Within ten minutes, five police cars were on the spot and more policeman than protesters! This did not keep us from making speeches or shouting our demands from the street to the High Commission!
‘ We chanted: “Stop the killings, stop the deaths squads! Stop the killings, now!”, “Justice, for MP Raviraj! Stop the killings now!” and “Murderers – no way! Workers’ rights – here to stay!”.
Reports are still coming in of other protests and an avalanche of letters and e-mails have reached the Sri Lankan government, expressing anger at the latest and very high-profile killing in Colombo. Phone calls have been made to the President, Mahinda Rajapakse. Varying responses have been received – taped music, silence followed by a ‘clunk-click’ and, at least on one occasion, a secretary who was ‘not in a position to make comments’ but said the accusations about any kind of cover-up were totally false!
In fact this week, a United Nations envoy in Sri Lanka has spoken at a press conference about finding clear evidence of the involvement of elements of the Sri Lankan state in the abduction of children to serve in a paramilitary force used against Tamils. He confirmed the allegations which have been for some time now by the Civil Monitoring Committee and the United Socialist Party (CWI, Sri Lanka) that a former leader of a faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as Karuna, is being protected by forces ‘higher up’ while he organises the death squads attacking his own kinsmen.
Sectarianism and the working class alternative
A telling point was made in a letter from the Socialist Party (CWI) based in Belfast: ‘Northern Ireland has had a history of sectarian violence and division between Catholics and Protestants and also of collusion by sections of the security forces in some of the violence and killings.
‘As activists in the Northern Ireland trade union and labour movement we have stood against these killings and, like the USP (in Sri Lanka), are campaigning for the unity of working class people, in our case, Catholic and Protestant, to lay the basis for a class solution to the national problem.
‘We applaud the similar work that has been done by the USP and regard any threat or attack against them as an attack on us and what we stand for here’.
From Southern Ireland came a special message from the Socialist MP, Joe Higgins, who has visited Sri Lanka and spoken there on the problems of the national question and the importance of working class unity to cut across national, ethnic or religious divisions. He has seen for himself the marvellous work of the USP in uniting Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim workers in the struggle for a socialist society, the only solution to the national question. Joe’s message has been accompanied by others from leading trade union and academic figures.
Dennis Prater of Boston, MA, USA wrote about ‘This man who courageously stood against dead-end ethnic sectarianism and for true human interests and needs, for a true way out of Sri Lanka’s ethnic deadlock. Now he has been murdered by gangsters. Now the government of Sri Lanka allows the murderers – these political cowards, manipulators, violators, to live unpunished, while a true and courageous man, strong enough to put his principles before the public, lies dead, having given all.
‘Now the question arises: is the government of Sri Lanka itself strong enough to put its principles before the public, to be true and to stand behind its words which condemn the murder; or will it prove itself just as cowardly and unprincipled as the disgusting perpetrators of this deed?
‘The people of the world are watching. The people of Sri Lanka are watching. Now you must act. To do anything less than bring these murderers to justice will defame the legitimacy of this government. What does this government represent, the interests of the majority of the Sri Lankan people, or the interests of a few conspiratorial gangsters? There is only one way out of this impasse. No to sectarian killings! No to war! For workers unity and socialism!’
North of the US border, fellow socialists have been sending protests from Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. South of the US in Latin America, members of the new party in Brazil – P-sol – are being asked to organise some action.by their party’s MPs on the issue – ‘At least letters, but we will try for some speech or protest in parliament…The Sri Lankan embassy is only in Brasília, but there is a consulate in Rio de Janeiro. Our forces there will organise something involving the P-Sol.’
More reports on protests over Sri Lankan assassination to follow.
Committee for A Workers’ International’s protest letter
To Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka, and his government
15 November 2006
On the day that the TNA MP, Nadarajah Raviraj is being buried, there are pickets and protests taking place around the world. Democrats and socialists world-wide are horrified that a prominent human rights campaigner can be gunned down in the centre of Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo.
We believe this has been possible because elements of the state have given sustenance to the communalist gangs who have been kidnapping and murdering without hindrance. Raviraj had himself condemned this publicly. We believe his murder was an attempt to silence such critics and to polarise the tense situation in preparation for all-out war.
We are against terrorism and killings of civilians no matter what their origin and background. But we are concerned about reports that members of the Karuna faction which left the LTTE are acting in collusion with Sri Lankan state forces. A United Nations envoy, Allan Rock, spoke at a press conference this week of “the complicity and participation of some elements of the government’s security forces in the forcible abductions by Karuna of children (in the east)”.
The people of Sri Lanka are suffering huge hardships and deprivations while massive expenditure is going into war preparations and actual military operations. Already this year as many as 3,000 people have lost their lives due to the ongoing clashes, a big proportion of them were civilians. The Tamil-speaking people of the North are starving because of the blocking of the A9 route to Jaffna.
We demand action to stop the killings. End the mass murder entailed in bombings such as that of the Kathiraveli refugee camp! We want action against the paramilitaries who are kidnapping and extorting and also carrying out killings especially of Tamils! Don’t allow another campaigner for democratic rights, no matter who they are, to be killed!
The people of Sri Lanka do not want war and they feel the urgent need for unity in this time of crisis. The Sinhala chauvinist minority, who do not accept the rights of others to decide on their own future, are the ones who are pushing for war.
We support the work of the Civil Monitoring Committee in which Raviraj was involved. We believe there will be world-wide condemnation if any other activist in their campaign is murdered.
Please send your response to us as soon as you can. We will not stop campaigning until solutions are found.
Yours in anticipation,
International Secretariat, Committee for a Workers’ International