Why has the left neglected the Tamils of Sri Lanka?

Human tragedy on this South Asian island is all but ignored.

Earlier this week, a piece was published by the Daily Telegraph that contained the latest in a powerful body of evidence that indicates the Sri Lankan army committed atrocities during the final phase of the country's civil war.

It referenced damning allegations of war crimes committed by government forces during the conflict's conclusion. These were sourced from an affidavit containing the testimony of a former member of the military who held a very senior position during the war, and had access to the flow of orders from the highest levels of the military command. The source asserted that government-sanctioned "hit squads" operated during the war to kill civilians; that the army killed surrendering enemy combatants and civilians in contravention of international law; and, most crucially, included the assertion that these were ordered by the Defence Minister, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

But yet, as the Sri Lankan government publishes its anaemic in-house "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" report (politely described by Amnesty International on Monday as "ignoring serious evidence of war crimes") and Tamil asylum seekers get deported from this country to face the risk of intimidation -- even death -- at home, the left appears not to be paying the sort of attention the issue deserves.

Why? Not only do human rights organisations suspect that tens of thousands of civilians were intentionally shelled into annihilation by the Sri Lankan army's unilaterally declared "no fire zone" in the North East of the Island nation in 2009, it appears that the survivors are being kept in camps not dissimilar to internment centres for prisoners of war. Civilians kept in these places are experiencing rape, brutalisation and malnourishment if reports by rights groups and journalists are to be taken seriously.

That hero of the left, Noam Chomsky, described the violence during the endgame of the war as involving a "Rwanda-like atrocity", but as yet there have been no Boycott-Divestment and Sanctions for Sri Lanka, no highly-visible displays of solidarity with the Tamil Sri Lankans, and no mass protests in Britain beyond those organised within the Tamil community.

People may complain about the way dissenting voices are suppressed in Europe and the US; but at least, unlike Lasantha Wickremathunge, outspoken journalists don't get assassinated for their work. Wickremathunge wrote with awesome courage, foreseeing his own murder and directing his last editorial of the Sunday Leader newspaper at his former close friend the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, declaring: "When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me . . . For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death."

All of these issues should be of serious concern to British journalists, but there has been little of the moral outrage directed at comparable causes found expressed by the usual standard bearers, despite Channel 4's profoundly harrowing Killing Fields documentary, a series of articles in the Guardian, and this week's Telegraph piece.

The more people willing to raise their voice and call for accountability for the Rajapaksa regime, the more people standing up for the rights of asylum seekers not to be deported home to risk of torture, the greater the possibility that, at the very least, the issue of Sri Lankan Tamil suffering will become more widely known.

It would be a source of disappointment for those who naively assume that it is the province of the left to lead the charge for such causes to discover that this was merely wishful thinking.

Emanuel Stoakes is a freelance journalist.

21 Dec 2011: Sri Lanka's Marxist Peoples Party supporters shout slogans during a demonstration in Colombo, demanding the government take action to find hundreds of people who have disappeared during the island's decades long conflict (Photo: Getty Images)
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Austria’s far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer concedes defeat

The vote was seen as a test of how other populist, anti-establishment candidates might perform in elections across Europe next year.

 

In an unexpected early result, Austria’s far-right party has conceded defeat in the country’s presidential election. The loss of the Freedom Party’s candidate Norbet Hofer to the liberal, Green Party-backed independent Alexander Van der Bellen, will be seen as a setback for the populist, Eurosceptic cause across Europe.

The official result of this bitterly fought election is unlikely to be confirmed before Monday, but the poll projections show a definitive victory for Van der Bellen. The projections had put Van der Bellen on 53.6% ahead of Hofer on 46.4%.

Hofer acknowledged his loss shortly after voting closed and congratulated his opponent. “I am infinitely sad that it didn't work out, I would have liked to watch over our Austria,” he wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

Hofer was aiming to become the first far-right leader in the European Union. Opinion polls in the run-up to today’s vote suggested the candidates were neck and neck.

His victory would have emboldened other far-right movements across Europe, such as Marine Le’s Pen’s Front National, further eroding the European liberal consensus. It would have been a shock of a similar scale to the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential race.

The election was originally won by Van der Bellen back in May, but Austria’s supreme court demanded a re-run after voting irregularities emerged during the count. Van der Bellen now looks set to increase his victory of 31,000 votes by a factor of ten.

Hofer, one of the deputy presidents in Austria’s parliament, campaigned for the presidency on an anti-immigration platform. He attacked the government over its decision to allow 90,000 refugees and migrants to enter the country last year.

He had also appeared to suggest Austria could become the next nation to follow Britain out of the EU, with a referendum on its membership of the bloc. He later ruled that out, but stated that he would oppose Turkey’s bid for membership and further centralisation.

While the post of president is largely ceremonial, the vote had heightened significance as an indication of how well other populist candidates might perform in the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections across France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Serena Kutchinsky is the digital editor of the New Statesman.