Sri Lanka: Catastrophe in the north

Spoil Sri Lankan government’s ‘Freedom Day’ celebrations!

This Wednesday, 4 February, is so-called ’Freedom Day’ in Sri Lanka, marking the achievement of independence from British colonial rule. The present dictatorial Rajapakse government wants to use the occasion to celebrate ‘freeing’ the island from terrorism while it continues the bloody slaughter of Tamil people in the north of the island. It has created a human catastrophe, with hundreds of thousands of people trapped in the war zone around Mullaitivu (see article of 30 January).

We have received an appeal from the United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) for an avalanche of protests to be conveyed to the Sri Lankan government on this day. A condemnatory ’greeting’ is carried below. We are also carrying a report of the massive demonstration in London last Saturday of angry Tamil people, demanding action to stop the slaughter.

A message of protest on Freedom Day, 2009

To Sri Lankan diplomatic staff everywhere, and the government of Mahinda Rajapakse in Colombo

This year, on the historic ’Freedom Day’ of 4 February, Sri Lankan diplomatic staff around the world are holding special celebrations to link up with those being organised by the Rajapakse government in Colombo.

We believe that independence from British colonial rule is something to mark with pride. The movement to break free from imperialism expressed the will of the mass of workers and poor people in Sri Lanka and had socialist internationalists amongst its leaders. For many, freedom from colonialism was seen as the beginning of the end of capitalism in Sri Lanka. Such was the hostility to capitalism that, at one stage, 70% of the economy was nationalised but the running of the economy and society remained in the hands of an elite, a few capitalists and land-owners rather than under the control and management of elected representatives of the working class, small farmers and fishing communities. These traditions are one reason why officially Sri Lanka is referred to as a “Democratic Socialist Republic”, but tragically today’s Sri Lanka has nothing in common with a genuine socialist democracy.

We are appalled and angry that the Rajapakse government is now using Freedom Day to celebrate a supposed victory in the long-running and bloody civil war. Freedom from terrorism is the boast. But where is the ’freedom’ for the quarter of a million people trapped in the war-zone in the north, without food and shelter and in constant fear of being amongst the next civilians to join the hundreds already killed. There is no freedom of movement for the aid workers trying to reach them. There is no freedom for the journalists and political opposition who want to tell the truth about the war and the daily kidnappings and killings throughout the island. They are silenced by imprisonment or assassination. Now international journalists are also being threatened.

Those who express opposition to the dictatorial policies of the government also risk their freedom and their lives. Those who today argue for an end to war and capitalism and for the socialist ideals of the independence pioneers are never free from death threats. Those like the United Socialist Party, who defend the right of oppressed nationalities to self-determination, are labelled ’Sinhala tigers’ and singled out as targets for attack from government-protected thugs.

When trying to enjoy your celebrations on Freedom Day, be mindful of the blackening reputation of your government both in Sri Lanka and internationally – its trampling on human rights, democratic rights and the right to life.

We support the demands of the ‘Freedom Platform’, set up after the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge:- the freedom to live and the freedom of dissent and expression, in the media and in politics.

If this war is indeed ended, the peace settlement must involve elected representatives of the Tamil-speaking and Sinhalese working and poor people and respect their right to freedom from oppression and freedom from exploitation.

On Freedom Day 2009 we repeat our condemnation of the Sinhala chauvinist and dictatorial Rajapakse regime and pledge our support to those who struggle to bring it to an end – to those fighting daily for an end to the slaughter and blood-letting and the restoration of basic democratic freedom in Sri Lanka.

Protests should be sent to

Copies please to

Sri Lanka

Stop the slaughter!

Over 100,000 demonstrate in London

Sennan, Socialist Party, England and Wales (CWI)

Government documents and the media used to say that there are around 100, 000 Sri Lankan Tamils living in England. Now they have to revise it upwards as more than that number were on the streets of London on 31 January! In extremely cold weather, they were there to protest against the atrocities of the Sri Lanka government against the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka.

This is an historic moment for the Tamil diaspora in the west. The likes of this demonstration have rarely been seen in history – I.e. completely based on one community with almost all its members coming out onto the streets. It was similar to the mass protests in London in 1983 after the anti-Tamil pogroms in Sri Lanka, but on an even greater scale.

The turnout on Saturday went way beyond the expectations of the organisers and the Metropolitan police, who were overwhelmed by the size of the demo. Having been denied access to Trafalgar Square the crowd was crammed into the totally inadequate space by Temple station.

Across London, shops, restaurants and other businesses owned by Tamils were shut down for the day to allow everyone to attend the march. Many were participating in their first political activity. Families with children in prams, old and young, all were there. The main organisers, the British Tamil Forum (BTF), put forward limited slogans, underestimating the mood of the crowd. They made an appeal to the media, the British government and the “international community” to come to the aid of the Tamils in the north. They fail to see who makes up the “international community”- the western ruling classes and the mainstream capitalist media who serve them.

As expected this historically significant protest has been almost completely ignored by the media. There are millions dying in the war in Congo which is completely ignored by western governments and media. Their interests lie in establishing links with whoever gives them an opportunity to profit out of exploitation; if there is no such prospect, they ignore the suffering of the population. The western capitalist governments do not have any particular interest in defending the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka or the poor in any country. If they want peace, it is so that capitalism to get back to business as usual.

The Sri Lankan government maintains a good relationship with the western ruling elite as well as with the Indian government. In the case of India, Pakistan and Israel, they have been profiting from the war, supplying arms as well as military training.

Protesters want more than appeals to governments

The people who joined the protest in London are angry and sad and feel like they must do something to show solidarity and take action to save the 250,000 people who are trapped and face death by starvation or by bombing (see separate article). Among the crowd, the enormously strong need and desire to do something to ease the suffering was tangible. And yet there was no clear idea of what is required.

Confusion was compounded by the speeches at the end. There was an enthusiastic response to a certain amount of nationalist rhetoric, but the speakers gave no clear political demands which would channel the deep-felt anger of the protesters. They failed to offer a way of taking the fight for self-determination forward and linking it to a struggle against the anti-Tamil and anti-working class government oppressing all working and poor people in Sri Lanka.

Labour MP Keith Vaz thanked the police, despite their inadequacy, and presented India as a source of assistance. He said that seeing that we are all British citizens, we should ‘ask’ the British government to ‘ask’ the Sri Lanka government to stop the war against the Tamils. As a Labour MP who voted for the Iraq war, for Labour’s anti-terrorism laws and almost all the repressive and reactionary measures of the Labour government, he had no understanding of the mood of the protest or the plight of the Tamils in the north of Sri Lanka and his presence there was pure hypocrisy. In a disgusting display of opportunism he merely repeated popular nationalistic rhetoric.

But members of the Socialist Party, the England and Wales section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, were on this demonstration with petitions and leaflets and got a tremendous reception. The main demands they put forward were for an end to the slaughter, down with the racist Rajapkase government, for immediate food and medical relief for the suffering and, crucially, the call for a united struggle of Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim workers for a socialist alternative.

The Socialist Party was the only internationalist political force there, putting forward a clear idea of how to fight back and how a united mass movement can bring an end to the suffering of the people in Sri Lanka. 5,000 leaflets were snapped up and more had to be printed and brought to the demonstration along with additional copies of the Socialist. Over 200 were sold, and still more were needed. The £400 we received in donations to our fighting fund was a reflection of the very warm and open response to our approach. People shook our hands and warmly thanked us for our participation. Some offered to distribute the leaflet for us. We collected a huge number of signatures for our demands. The Socialist Party stall was inundated with people coming to hand in the leaflets with the join box filled in. One man from Lewisham, for example, asked how to join the party. Having been a Labour Party member for many years he wanted to join a party that genuinely stood up for labouring people.

Our leaflets advertised an international day of action on 4 February – so-called ’Freedom Day’ marking independence from British rule. There will be protests in London and around the world to coincide with protests in Colombo on the day the racist Rajapakse government intends to celebrate its victory over the Tamil-speaking people in the bloody twenty-five year long civil war.

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