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Sri Lanka: Deporting Tamils, Entrenching Divisions

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Security forces raided lodge houses and forcibly evicted 500 minority Tamils from the capital of Colombo. While the evictions were justified on the basis of "security measures," the government cannot use terrorism as an excuse to violate the rights of its citizens.

A furore was ignited in Colombo as hundreds of ethnic minority Tamil were forcibly evicted from the capital of Sri Lanka, 7 June. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Victor Perera announced intentions to round up Tamils that were staying in temporary lodging without valid reasons. In the morning of the 7th, approximately 500 people were put onto buses and shipped to the north, to the front lines of the war between the government and LTTE rebels.

Shortly after, the Supreme Court halted the evictions and some of the expulsed Tamils were allowed to return to the capital. "We were herded into buses like cattle and even when we were told we could go back to Colombo, we were warned to finish our work there and go back to our hometowns, without staying in Colombo," one young man commented after the sixty hour ordeal 1.

And the government's role is….

The government's reaction to the events was varied. IGP claimed that there were no forced evictions, those who wished to return to their homes were provided with free transport. In an early statement IGP claimed that the evictions were a security measure necessary to clear the city of potential terrorist attacks, based on the understanding that all LTTE terrorists use temporary lodging to execute their plans. Those without proof of identity or reason to stay in the capital were returned "home". It is clear, however, that people were deported on an indiscriminate basis, with or without "reason" for being in the capital.

The Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremanayake, apologised to those that had been affected by the sweeping measures: "It was a big mistake. As the government we express our regrets to the Tamil community" 2. His admission of responsibility on behalf of the government makes the IGP's claim of voluntary return highly suspect.

The president has remained relatively aloof, his comments focusing primarily on promises to inquire, seeming as though he had little to do with the incident or its remedy.

Using human rights to discredit government

The Sri Lankan government deflects concern about human rights by using the language of human rights. The government's Defence Secretariat released a statement that included a slur against the Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Sri Lanka organisation that submitted the petition to the Supreme Court, saying that "rights" groups never look at the rights of victims of terrorist acts, suggesting that the government cannot be blamed for their "security measures" 3.

The government has called the serious human rights violations that have occurred in the last week, such as the killing of the Red Cross workers and the discovery of nine bodies dumped in the north western area, an effort of some to discredit the government in light of the upcoming international engagements, like the United Nations Human Rights Council, of which Sri Lanka is a member. A government representative dismissed these recent killings as part of a "propaganda" campaign. 4


Evicting hundreds of people from a minority ethnic group from the capital city does not bode well. In a war that is ostensibly being waged for the creation of an independent homeland, it is highly ironic that the security forces sent people back to "where they belong" giving credit to the notion of a Tamil homeland 5.

In many cases, people have been forced to flee their residences in the north and east because the situation is extremely volatile or they are under direct threat of abduction or murder. Colombo provides safety in these circumstances. Returning these people puts them in extreme danger. Under the Sri Lanka constitution, citizens have the right to free movement and to reside where they choose.

In a country where ethnic divisions are only increasing, continuing to single out a particular group for security measures will only further entrench divisions, making people highly suspect of the government's intentions. The government must respect the rights of its Tamil citizens and give them reasons to engender trust.

1 Emailed article: Ruki Fernando
5 Jehan Perera "Supreme Court Restrains Abuse of Power" emailed article