Treatment of Tamil IDPs and Muslim Refugees: Double Standard on Human Suffering
(Part of this article, dealing up to the Indian involvement, was published in the Ceylon Daily Mirror on Tuesday 22 September 2009)
By Latheef Farook
It is heartening to note the swift international response to the misery of Internally Displaced Tamils. There is no doubt that every country ,every organization and every individual should make every effort to ameliorate the conditions of about 280,000 unfortunate Tamil IDPs who were herded and used as human shields by the LTTE against advancing Sri Lankan forces.
Moved by their sufferings, milk of human kindness began flowing like rivers as many countries in the world starting from India, United, States, United Kingdom ,Japan ,Malaysia, Australia and many more generously donated billions of rupees and offered aid packages to meet with the urgent needs of these unfortunate Tamil IDPs.
Their sufferings, began only few months ago, attracted such great attention that on the eve of the crushing defeat of LTTE one after the other top political leaders from the west ,from British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon ,rushed to the island to show their humanitarian concern.
In fact, Tamil IDPs melted the heart of Ban Ki Moon so much that four months later on September 3, 2009 while in Geneva for a climate conference he lamented that ССconditions at Tamil IDP camps have not improved and it may deteriorate further when the monsoon season arrives. Therefore civilians should be allowed out of the camps to stay with host families.
Few days later Ban Ki moon even dispatched his deputy, United Nation Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, on 16 September 2009 to visit the Tamil IDPs and to press the government to speed up their release .Lyn Pascoe visited the Tamil IDPS in Menik farm and other places and warned theФ situation in camps is putting reconciliation at riskФ. He said the UN was devoting special energy to the displaced Tamils because the issue was critical for the country’s future.
Further more Head of the United Nations Refugee Agency Antonio Gutteres promised further help for caring and resettling Tamil IDPs while Walter Kalin ,Special Representative of Ban Ki moon , is due to arrive in Colombo next week to visit IDP welfare centres.
What a great humanitarian gesture? One should admire their compassion and humanitarian concern for the Tamil IDPs.
However, all these Western politicians” human kindness dry up completely when it comes to the sufferings of Northern Muslims, driven out at gunpoints, Jaffna Muslims within two hours notice, by the LTTE, and have been languishing in refugee camps in and around Puttalam for 20 long years in appalling conditions. No UN official or Western leader came to see their plight and there were no generous aid packages to them. Perhaps, in their eyes, these Muslim refugees were not human beings?
Indian Government, for example, set aside Rs 500 crore for Tamil IDPs.It would have been nice if India, in the same spirit, had allocated at least Rs 500 for the around 130,000 Northern Muslims refugees during the past 20 years. After all their misery was caused by the LTTE which ,together with other Tamil militants ,were armed, trained and financed by India in its effort to prick the pride of Late President Jayewardene and turned this paradise island into AsiaТs worst killing field,India stated that a “broad-based political settlement” of the ethnic conflict would enable the Rs.500-crore relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation package for Tamil IDPs to be utilized in a more effective and efficient manner. Reiterating this in his 63rd Independence Day message, the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka Alok Prasad said New Delhi looked forward to working with Colombo for quick and effective disbursement of the package.
Then India asked Sri Lanka to take “effective measures” to address the concerns of displaced Tamils, stating that relations between the two neighbors hinge on the issue. Recalling his meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Rajya Sabha that “bulk” of his meeting was focused on the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils.
“We are deeply concerned. I explained to President Rajapakse that we have legitimate concern about the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. It has a bearing on Sri Lanka’s relations with India. I spent considerable amount of my time discussing the Tamil problem with him and expressed our concern,Ф said Singh who also informed President Rajapaksa that Colombo need to create conditions for meeting “legitimate political aspirations” of the Tamils under the devolution package.
Two days later, senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu said in Chennai that Sri Lanka should take immediate steps to rehabilitate the Tamil IDPs and ensure they were resettled in their original place of inhabitations. He also urged the Sri Lankan government to accord equal rights to the Tamils as enjoyed by the Sinhalese.
Then Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna discussed the question of Tamil IDPs with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Summit. This was followed by External Affairs Minster S.M Krishna who told the Indian Parliament that Prime Minster Manmohan Singh was willing to give more than the pledged five billion Indian rupees for the resettlement of Tamil IDPs.
Meanwhile Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi called for speeding up the rehabilitation of displaced Tamils stating that his government had dispatched four consignments of relief material worth Rs 15 crore to Sri Lanka, apart from what the Indian government sends on its own.
However, none of them spoke a word about the plight of the Muslim IDPs. Where was Indian humanitarian concern when the LTTE ethnic cleansed the entire Muslim population in the north? The question is whether this is the extension of the general Indian policy of indifference and hostility towards the more than 150 million Indian Muslims who have been systematically marginalized, attacked, killed and pauperized besides being treated as outcasts.
In the midst the emerging Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi told in Chennai on 12 September 209 that the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils are very important and should be protected adding that India is applying massive pressure on Sri Lanka to protect rights of Tamils.
The UKТs International Development Minister Mike Foster allocated г3 million to prepare displaced civilians to return home from the camps. The funds provide tools, vocational training, cash grants and seeds to restart their lives. Mike Foster said: Сwe also encourage Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian agencies to operate effectively by making sure relief workers can access visas and lifting the restrictions imposed on entering the camps and the Medevachchi checkpoint.
Yet not a word or penny for the Northern Muslims in Puttalam refugee camps.
The United States that provided $56 million in humanitarian assistance in 2009 urged safe and speedy return of Tamil IDPs, continued access for international humanitarian organizations and the registration and provision of national identification cards to IDPs to help promote freedom of movement.
The US State Department said that the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake and U.S. Chargщ dТAffaires in Sri Lanka James Moore met 16 representatives of U.S.-based organizations representing members of the Tamil Diaspora to discuss the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka and prospects for political reconciliation.
Underscoring the importance of political reconciliation both Blake and Moore stressed the government of the need to achieve a lasting peace, promote justice and political reconciliation and dialogue with all parties, including Tamils inside and outside Sri Lanka on new mechanisms for devolving power and improve human rights. The two also recommended that the Government of Sri Lanka and the American Tamil diaspora community seek opportunities to engage on political reconciliation and the reconstruction of Sri Lanka.
Added to this, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a new donation of $15 million of food aid consisting of wheat, lentils and vegetable oil to fulfill the urgent needs of Tamil IDPs for four months and to support their early return .With this USAID, the development agency of the U.S. Government has provided nearly $59 million (Rs 6.78 billion) of food aid in 2008 and 2009.
Later the US called for Sri Lanka to release the Tamil IDPs warning of the potential for disease. Involuntary confinement is especially a source of concern given the recent rains and the coming of the monsoon season, said Eric Schwartz, the US assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. УIt makes it all the more important that release from confinement be an issue that friends of Sri Lanka continue to raise,Ф he told reporters.
Yet not a word mentioned about helping Muslims refugees sufferings and their desire to return to their homes and lands in the north of the island.
Asking the Sri Lankan government to allow the Tamil IDPs to return home the French foreign ministry said the recently approved $2.6 billion dollar IMF loan to Sri Lanka should be used to improve the plight of civilians severely affected by the conflict. France reiterated that displaced people should be allowed to return to their homes and humanitarian agencies should have unhindered access to them.
Knowing the open hostility of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Islam and Muslims one cannot expect any sympathy from France for the IslandТs Muslims refugees.
Meanwhile, according to local dailies, the government promised the IMF to resettle 70 to 80 percent of the displaced civilians by the end of this year in the letter of intent signed by Deputy Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya.The immediate priority is addressing humanitarian needs of 280,000 idp.the government said in the Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies attached with the letter.
No such condition was attached to deal with the plight of Muslim refugees?
Canadian International Cooperation Minister Beverley Oda who visited the Manik Farm Welfare village in Vavuniya said her Government had provided Canadian $ 22.5 million this year to resettle the internally displaced persons.
No such visit was made by a Canadian minister to Muslim refugee camps.
This is the plight of Northern Muslims in refugees who once lived in comforts in their own homes and lands in Jaffna and other areas in the north These pictures speak volume for their sufferings in appalling conditions.
The Japanese government and the people of Japan provided Rs. 117 million to be utilized to improve the sanitary and health conditions of the Tamil IDPs. The Japanese Ambassador Kunio Takahashi saidФ the aid package will provide much needed equipment for transportation of garbage, water and waste water and will include 26 tractors, four tipper lorries, two loaders, a backhoe loader and two pick up trucks. Funds will also be used to improve roadside drains in the IDP camp sites. It is to be implemented soon by the Local Government and Provincial Council Ministry.
Unfortunately, this humanitarian concern was not extended to the Muslim refugee camps.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith announced on 16 September that the Australian government, which earlier provided $ 5.25 million for emergency water, sanitation and support services to Tamil IDPs, would provide five more million dollars to help them resettle.
The tragedy is even religious people, supposed to be preaching GodТs message of peace and compassion, were selective when it comes to expressing their concerns over human sufferings. For example, three foreign Bishops, representing Catholic ChurchТs social service arm, Caritas International, visited the Tamil IDPs in Menik Farm and Settkulam. They included ItalyТs Bishop Monsvlovnni Battista and UKТs Bishop John Stanley Arnold and Bishop John Anthony Rawsthrone. Caritas International provides cooked meals to 100,000 displaced persons.
However, their human kindness was not extended to the Muslim refugees in Puttalam.Perhaps they have forgotten that Muslim IDPs too are human beings and they too eat food?
Unfortunate Muslim victims of Tamil militancy cannot expect any such gesture from the Catholic Church headed by Pope Benedict who openly expressed his animosity towards Islam and Muslims when he said that Prophet Muhammad brought nothing but evil.
Added to all these, addressing a press conference organized by the Platform for Freedom on Thursday 3 September 2009, the opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe said the government should fulfill the assurances given to the UN Secretary General that 80 percent of the Tamil IDPs would be settled within 180 days. Addressing the same press meeting, Mangala Samaraweera threatened to get the international community to punish the rulers of this country if they fail to fulfill their duty towards Tamil IDPs.
The irony is that both of them failed to mention a word about the plight of Muslim IDPТs and their sufferings. Perhaps they were not aware or forgotten?
Why didn’t the United Nations and the so-called champions of human rights, rushing to protect the Tamil IDPs, turn blind to the plight of the sufferings of around 130,000 Muslim refugees for 20 long years?
Did the United Nations or any of these countries ever demand the LTTE to resettle Muslims refugees in the way they now demand and pressurize the government to resettle Tamil IDPs? After all, it is with the money raised in these countries, especially UK, US, Canada, France, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Australia and other countries that the LTTE killer machine flourished. They could have pressurized the LTTE to allow the Muslim refugees to return home.
What do we call this? Ignorance? Indifference? Discrimination? Racism? Mindset? Double Standard or whatever it may be. This is the reality in today’s world where the Jewish dominated West led by the US and UK demonize and kill Muslims all over and destroy Muslim countries under the pretext of fighting a so-called war on terrorism. Perhaps the general attitude towards Sri Lankan Muslim IDPs is an extension of this campaign?