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News: Canadian Academics for Tamil Rights – Statement on the Crisis in Sri Lanka

May 17, 2009

Canadian Academics for Tamil Rights
Statement on the Crisis in Sri Lanka

We are writing to express our grave concerns about the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the “safe zone” in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka. Most independent observers estimate that more than 200,000 Tamil civilians, many already displaced multiple times, have been under siege in the tiny coastal strip with at least 50,000 still there. Confirmed reports indicate that more than 4000 civilians, including 700 children, have been killed since January 2009.

Displaced persons who have managed to flee the fighting have been placed in de facto detention camps by the Sri Lankan government where they are denied freedom of movement, in contravention of international standards. There are over 40,000 displaced people being held in 13 sites in the Vavuniya District in overcrowded conditions without adequate access to healthcare, food and water. There are reports of rape, torture and killings in the camps (Medico International, Germany, April 16, 2009). Civilians who are suspected of LTTE ties have been taken into government custody, leading to fears of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, tactics the government and its allied militias have employed in significant numbers over the past few years (Amnesty International, ASA 37/004/2009).

Recent artillery attacks by Sri Lankan forces have indiscriminately targeted civilians and civilian objects, in contravention of international humanitarian law. There are credible reports that the Sri Lankan army may be using illegal cluster bombs as well as thermobaric bombs in the safe zone with high civilian casualties. There have been more than two dozen incidents of artillery shelling or aerial bombardment on or near hospitals, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. The presence of wounded combatants in hospitals does not turn them into legitimate targets. Deliberately attacking a hospital is a war crime. At the same time we deplore the LTTE’s forcible recruitment of civilians, including children, for untrained military duty and for labour in the combat zones as well as its practice of forcing civilians to retreat with its forces, deliberately preventing civilians under its effective control from fleeing to safety. Nevertheless, violations of the laws of war by one side to a conflict do not justify violations by the opposing side. They do not permit the indiscriminate use of force by the Sri Lankan forces in response (Human Rights Watch, 20 Februrary 2009).

The overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated dramatically since the current government assumed power in 2006. The Sri Lankan government has utilized the “war on Terror” as a cover to systematically destroy all democratic processes and institutions. Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the ‘Reporters Without Borders’ 2008 press freedom index, the lowest ranking of any democratic country. Political opponents and journalists with critical views are subject to threats, intimidation and assassination. The culture of impunity has been institutionalized. In an effort to shield its own actions from public scrutiny, the Sri Lankan government has barred most humanitarian agencies, independent observers and journalists from the conflict zones. As a result there is a lack of timely information about the situation of the trapped civilians as well as severe shortfalls in humanitarian assistance.

The government of Sri Lanka continues to justify its actions as necessary to achieve an imminent victory over “Tamil terrorism.” However, as long as the human rights of the Tamil minority are subject to systematic violation, the conflict will persist and the LTTE will garner support from Tamils in both Sri Lanka and the diaspora, despite its proscription by various Western countries, including Canada.

There is a critical need for international solidarity in the face of this immediate catastrophe. We believe that the government of Canada has a special responsibility to act to bring about an end to violations of international law and to make a significant contribution to a political resolution of this conflict. As host to the largest Tamil diaspora outside of Sri Lanka, Canada should assume a proactive role in promoting and supporting efforts aimed at resolving the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people including recognition of their right to selfdetermination.

The world-wide Tamil diaspora is strongly represented and plays an important role in the life of many of our cities; their concerns should be our concerns too. The previous government supported an advisory role for the Canadian Forum of Federations in Sri Lanka while the current government appointed a representative to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) with a mandate to observe investigations into human rights abuses (the IIGEP withdrew from Sri Lanka in March 2008 in the face of Sri Lanka’s failure to meet even the basic minimum standards in probing rights abuses). Canada is uniquely positioned to reactivate and support such constructive forms of engagement.

We therefore call on the Government of Canada to:

  • Work with both parties to the conflict to implement an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.
  • Urge the International community and the UN to take responsibility for the protection of Tamil civilians.
  • Urge the UN Security Council to authorize timely and decisive measures to halt mass atrocities in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka, including the dispatch of a special envoy to the region, and the creation of a commission of inquiry into crimes under international law committed by any person or entity.
  • Demand that the government of Sri Lanka remove restrictions imposed on access to the conflict zone for humanitarian workers and media and permit international observers in the detention camps.
  • Demand that the LTTE allow civilians to continue to leave the conflict area.
  • Initiate internationally mediated efforts aimed at achieving a durable political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Signed by:
Sharry Aiken, Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
Tariq Amin-Khan, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Politics, Ryerson University
Malcolm Blincow, Associate Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, York University
R. Cheran, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor
Glynnis George, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor
Shubhra Gururani, Associate Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, York University
Judy Rebick, Professor, Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University
Craig Scott, Professor of Law, & Director, Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security, Osgoode Hall Law School
Alan Sears, Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Ryerson University
Aparna Sundar, Assistant Professor, Dept of Politics, Ryerson University

THE ABOVE ARE THE MEMBERS OF THE GROUP.

The statement is signed by:

Nuzhat Abbas, Writer
Darshan Ambalavanar, Visiting fellow, Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Toronto
Maita Abola Sayo, Dept. of Political Science, York University
Greg Albo, Professor, Dept. Political Science, York University
Melissa Autumn White, Graduate Program in Women’s Studies, York University
Benjamin Baader, Assistant Professor, Dept. of History, University of Manitoba
Zaheer Baber, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, University of Toronto
Reem Bahdi, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Tanya Basok, Director, Centre for Studies in Social Justice, University of Windsor
Andrew Biro, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair in Political Ecology and
Environmental Political Theory, Dept. of Political Science, Acadia University
Raoul Boulakia, Lawyer, Avocat
Mark Bradley, Religious Studies, UQAM
Mike Burke, Associate Professor, Dept. of Politics, Ryerson University
Laura Cameron, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Dept. Geography, Queen’s University
Tanya Chung Tiam Fook, York University
Francis Cody, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Toronto
Janet Conway, Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Brock University
Kendra Coulter, Dr., Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor
Carol Lynne D’Arcangelis, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto
Radhika Desai, Professor, Dept. of Political Studies, University of Manitoba
Susan Drummond, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Robin E. Feenstra, Dr., Dept. of English, McGill University
Christoph Emmrich, Assistant Professor, Buddhist Studies, University of Toronto
Bryan Evans, Associate Professor, Dept. of Politics and public administration, Ryerson University
Pascale Fournier, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Evan Fox-Decent, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University
Victoria Freeman, Dept. of History, University of Toronto
Doreen Fumia, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Ryerson University
Grace-Edward Galabuzi, Associate Professor, Dept. of Politics, Ryerson University
Glynis George, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Windsor
Wenona Giles, Professor, School of Social Sciences, Atkinson Faculty, York University
Sam Gindin, Formar research director, York University
Harry Glasbeek, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Ellen Goldberg, Professor, Dept. of Religious Studies, Queen’s University
Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen, Ryerson University
Ricardo Grinspun, Associate Professor, Dept. of Economics, York University
Bill Graham, Former Canadian Foreign Minister and Chancellor of Trinity College, University of Toronto
Gayle Gross, The NIA Group, LLC
Victoria Gross, The NIA Group, LLC
Tania Das Gupta, Chair and Associate Professor, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, York University
Tanya Gulliver, York University
Denise Hammond, President, CUPE 1281
Barbara Jackman, Lawyer, Jackman & Associates, barristers and solicitors
Jack Layton, Federal Leader, Canada`s New Democrats and Member of Parliament for Toronto-Danforth
Kajri Jain, Assistant Professor, Centre for Visual and Media Culture, University of Toronto
Amina Jamal, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Ryerson University
Donna Jeffery, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Victoria
Ilan Kapoor, Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
RM Kennedy, Vice President, Centennial College
Stefan Kipfer, Associate Professor, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University
Samantha King, Assistant Professor, School of Physical Health and Education, Queen’s University
Gary Kinsman, Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Laurentian University
Mustafa Koc, Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Ryerson University
Joy Kogawa, Writer
Jane Ku, Assistant Professor, Sociology & Anthropology/ Women’s Studies, University of Windsor
Anton Kuerti, Pianist
Lee Lakeman, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
Genevieve LeBaron, Dept. International political economy, York University
N. Gitanjali Lena, lawyer, Lawyer
E. MacDonald, Associate Professor, Dept. of Political Studies, Queen’s University
Audrey Macklin, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Ali Mallah, VP Ontario, Canadian Peace Alliance/Canadian Arab Federation
Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
Susan McGrath, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, York University
Pat McKendry, York University
Susan McNaughton, Dept. of Social Anthropology, York University
Adele Mercier, Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Queen’s University
Nchamah Miller, Network of Latin American Investigators for Democracy and Peace
Srimoyee Mitra, South Asian Visual Arts Centre
Kevin Moloney, Dept of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics, York University
Colin Mooers, Professor, Graduate Program in Communication and Culture, Ryerson University
Khaled Mouammar, National President, Canadian Arab Federation
Katharine N. Rankin, Associate Professor, Dept. of Geography, University of Toronto
Mary-Jo Nadeau, Lecturer, Dept. of Sociology, Trent University
Mera Nirmalan-Nathan, Ontario Public Interest Research Group
Peter Nyers, Associate Professor, Politics of Citizenship and Intercultural Relations, McMaster University
Obiora Okafor, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Leo Panitch, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and
Distinguished Research Professor of Political Science, York University
Stephen Pender, Associate Professor, Director of Humanities Research Group, University of Windsor
Steve Pitt, Writer
Deepa Rajkumar, Dept. Political Science, York University
Srilata Raman, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Religion, University of Toronto
Narda Razack, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, York University
Darryl Robinson, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University
Stephanie Ross, Assistant Professor, “Labour Studies Programme, Division of Social Science”, York University
Carole Roy, Dept. of Adult Education, St. Francis Xavier University
Bruce Ryder, Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Andre Schmid, Associate Professor, Dept. of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto
Mitu Sengupta, Dept. of Politics and Public Administration, York University
Tyler Shipley, Dept. of Political Science, York University
Sadeqa Siddiqui, Coordonnatrice, Centre Communautaire des Femmes Sud-Asiatique
Preethy Sivakumar, Department of Anthropology, York University
Haema Sivanesan, Director, South Asian Visual Arts Centre
Jamie Smith, Programme in Social and Political Thought, York University
Susanne Soederberg, Associate Professor, Department of Global Development Studies, Queen’s University
Donald Swartz, Associate Professor, School of Public Policy & Administration, Carleton University
Cheryl Teelucksingh, Professor, Sociology Dept., Ryerson University
Vimalesan Thasan, Lecturer, York University
Nishant Upadhyay, Department of Social and Political Thought, York University
Ravi Vaitheespara, Associate Professor, Dept. of History, University of Manitoba
Chris Vance, Political science, York University
Heather Vidito, 905 Vaughan Bargaining Unit Chair, 905 Vaughan Bargaining Unit Chair, CUPE
Karen Walker, Dept. of Social and Political Thought, York University
Rosemary Warskett, Associate Professor, Dept. of Law, Carleton University
Mel Watkins, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Economics, University of Toronto
Sujith Xavier, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Jesse Zimmerman, New Democrats, York University

Endorsed By:

Chris Arumainayagam, Chair and Professor of Chemistry, Wellesley College
Elizabeth Allen, Massey University
Anne M. Blackburn, Associate Professor, Dept. of Asian Studies, Cornell University
Piya Chatterjee, Associate Professor, Dept of women’s studies, University of California Riverside
B. J. Cherayil, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Lawrence Cohen, Professor, Dept. of Medical Anthropology, University of California – Berkeley
E. Valentine Daniel, Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Columbia University
Öivind Fuglerud, Professor, Dept. of Ethnography, University of Oslo
Anita Hillestad, billedkunstner, Anita Hillestad
Gnana K. Bharathy, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Engineering Management & Systems Engineering, Old Dominion University
Ronald E. Kleinman, MD, Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School
Paul Knight, “East Asian Studies Dept., School of Languages”, Massey University
Jonas M.N. Sørensen, Writer
Ram Mahalingam, Associate Professor, Dept. of Psychology, University of Michigan
Sunaina Maira, Associate Professor, Asian American Studies, University of California – Davis
Dennis McGilvray, Associate Professor and Chair, Dept. of Anthropology, University of Colorado at Boulder
J.B.P. More, Deputy Director, Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Humanities, Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Humanities
Kathleen Morley, Professor, “Comparative Religion, IKOS”, University of Oslo
Madhusree Mukerjee, Writer, The author of “The Land of Naked People”
Tove Nicolaisen, Professor, The Faculty of Education and International Studies, University of Oslo
Lalsangkima Pachuau, Associate Professor, Director of Postgraduate Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary
Samuel Rabkin, Associate Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School
Peter Schalk, Professor, Dept. of History of Religions, Uppsala University
Janikke Solstad Vedeler, Norwegian Social Research
Margaret Trawick, Professor, Dept. of Social Anthropology, Massey University
Margaret Trawick, Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, Massey University
Padma Venkataraman, MANGAI – Theatreperson
Sita Venkateswar, Social Anthropology Programme, Sita Venkateswar
Siva Sivaganesan, Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Univesity of Cincinnati
Mark Whitaker, Professor, Dept. of Anthropology, University of South Carolina

Opening statement at the May 6, 2009 press conference:

Good morning everyone, and thank you for coming. We are a group called Canadian Academics for Tamil Rights who put together a statement to the Prime Minister which attracted over 125 signatures from across Canada last week. While initially directed mainly at Canadian academics across the country, we also received signatures from several prominent Canadians from other walks of life.

Our aim in issuing this statement was to call on the Canadian Government to take a stand on the situation in Sri Lanka. As you are well aware, Tamil civilians in the so-called “safe zone” are facing a brutal assault. There are still some 100,000 civilians under siege in the tiny coastal strip. Confirmed reports indicate that more than 6,500 civilians, including 700 children, have been killed since January 2009.

The conditions for those who have escaped this war zone are no better. Displaced persons who have managed to flee the fighting have been placed in de facto detention camps by the Sri Lankan government where they are denied freedom of movement, in contravention of international standards.

The overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated dramatically since the current government assumed power in 2006. The Sri Lankan government has utilized the “war on Terror” as a cover to systematically destroy all democratic processes and institutions. Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the ‘Reporters Without Borders’ 2008 press freedom index, the lowest ranking of any democratic
country.

It is especially worrying that, in an effort to shield its own actions from public scrutiny, the Sri Lankan government has barred most humanitarian agencies, independent observers and journalists from the conflict zones. As a result there is a lack of timely information about the situation of the trapped civilians as well as severe shortfalls in humanitarian assistance.

We believe that the government of Canada has a special responsibility to act to bring about an end to violations of international law and to make a significant contribution to a political resolution of this conflict.

As host to the largest Tamil diaspora outside of Sri Lanka, Canada should assume a proactive role in promoting and supporting efforts aimed at resolving the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people including recognition of their right to self-determination. The Tamil community plays an important role in the life of many of our cities; their concerns should be our concerns too.

The previous government supported an advisory role for the Canadian Forum of Federations in Sri Lanka while the current government appointed a representative to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) with a mandate to observe investigations into human rights abuses (the IIGEP withdrew from Sri Lanka in March 2008 in the face of Sri Lanka’s failure to meet even the basic minimum standards in probing rights abuses). Canada is uniquely positioned to reactivate and support such constructive forms of engagement.

We therefore call on the Government of Canada to:

  • Work with both parties to the conflict to implement an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.
  • Urge the International community and the UN to take responsibility for the protection of Tamil civilians.
  • Urge the UN Security Council to authorize timely and decisive measures to halt mass atrocities in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka, including the dispatch of a special envoy to the region, and the creation of a commission of inquiry into crimes under international law committed by any person or entity.
  • Demand that the government of Sri Lanka remove restrictions imposed on access to the conflict zone for humanitarian workers and media and permit international observers in the detention camps.
  • Demand that the LTTE allow civilians to continue to leave the conflict area.
  • Initiate internationally mediated efforts aimed at achieving a durable political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

We were encouraged to see that Minister Oda went to SL, and would like to see Canada’s involvement continue. In particular, we wonder if the aid being promised will be made conditional on a ceasefire, which so far the SL government has refused to declare.

We have been moved and impressed with the level of sustained mobilization by the Tamil community in the past few months. Many of those most active in these mobilizations are our students, and we know from talking to them how almost every one of them has suffered a personal loss. We believe it is time to act, and to tell our government that our Tamil brothers and sisters are not alone in their concern for their families in Sri Lanka.

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