David Begg on Sri Lanka: Support Amnesty International's call for an independent inquiry into war crimes
31 Jul 2009
It is time for the international community to act
In a letter of the 29th of July to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin, ICTU's General Secretary David Begg writes that he agrees with Amnesty International's call for an independent inquiry into war crimes in Sri Lanka. "The Irish Congress of Trade Unions hopes that the Irish government will take initiatives on the international level, and within the European Union, for such an independent inquiry."
Read the letter here:
I am once more writing to you concerning the extremely difficult situation in Sri Lanka.
In my last letter of the 23rd of January 2009 which was written during the horrifying war in the North East of Sri Lanka, I was asking for Irish initiatives on international level, and within the European Union, to demand an immediate ceasefire and to recreate UN supported peace negotiations. In your reply of the 26th of February you wrote that there was little scope to act for a ceasefire and a negotiated peace process due to the negative situation in the country, which you very much regretted. I understand the difficulties and I share the regret with you.
Now the war is over. Two months ago the Sri Lankan Army defeated the Tamil Tigers. But this was also a war against hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian Tamils. According to witnesses up to a quarter of a million Tamils were crammed into an area not bigger than the size of New York's central park, an area which was repeatedly bombarded over a four months period. The large majority of these people were civilians. The United Nations estimates that up to 8000 people were killed during the bombardment; other sources claim that more than 20,000 people were killed. There are several reports about serious war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Army.
We also know that around 300,000 Tamils remain interned without trial in so called "welfare centers" that are concentration camps in all but name. Contrary to international law there is no freedom of movement of the displaced and there is not enough water, food and sanitation. There have been reports saying that more than 1000 people are dying in the camps every week. As it is almost impossible for independent organisations or international press to enter the camps we do not know what is really happening there. The Sri Lankan government bears the entire responsibility for the atrocious situation in the camps.
In the past there were also obvious reasons to sharply critisise the Tamil Tigers for being responsible for terrorist actions and breaching principles of human rights. According to the Sri Lankan government the Tamil Tigers were completely defeated in the war and no longer exist. However the government's violence against the Tamil people continues.
It is time for the international community to act. I therefore agree with Amnesty International's call for an independent inquiry into war crimes. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions hopes that the Irish government will take initiatives on the international level, and within the European Union, for such an independent inquiry.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions also believe that as long as the Sri Lankan government rejects the calls for access and fair treatment of the Tamils interned in the camps, economic sanctions and an arms embargo should be imposed against Sri Lanka. The extensive and systematic human rights abuses have to stop. The camps have to close.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions feels a deep sympathy with the Tamil people's legitimate demand for human and national rights, and at our last Biennial Delegates Conference (7-10 July) in Tralee a motion asking for intensified solidarity work with the Tamils in Sri Lanka was adopted.
The only way for the Tamil people to realise their human and national rights is by using a non-violent strategy supported by a committed international community.
We believe that Ireland, with our own history and experience, can make an important contribution to an international endeavour to find a sustainable peaceful solution in Sri Lanka.