A Response to Konrad Sigurdson, Canadian HC in Colombo 

F A C T

Federation of Associations of Canadian Thamils Le Federation des Associations desTamoules Canadiens fNdba jkpou; rq;fq;fspd; rk;Nksdk;

P.O.Box 65143, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

M4K 3Z2 *Tel: (416) 463-7647,(416) 461 5991& Fax:(416) 463 2620,(416)406 5547

March 23, 1998 

Hon. Lloyd Axworthy
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ottawa.

A Response to Konrad Sigurdson, Canadian HC in Colombo 

Dear Hon. Minister

We are made to understand that Mr. Konrad Sigurdson, Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo has met a handful of selected individuals who have no standing in the Canadian Tamil community on Thursday 19, 1998 in Toronto. According to Mr. Fred Jacques, of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka desk,  the Foreign Ministry at the request of Mr. Sigurdson has asked Shamini Peiris, Executive Director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants  (OCASI) to organise a meeting to discuss “Sri Lankan Tamil problem”.

It was unfortunate on the part of Mr. Sigurdson to have asked Shamini Peiris to convene a meeting of Tamil Canadians to discuss problems faced by the Tamils when she has no relationship with the Canadian Tamil community. In our opinion she should have been the last person to be entrusted with such a task since never in her life she had identified herself with the Canadian Tamil community. If anything we will consider her as and a willing agent of the Sri Lankan government and actively working against our interests.

Apparently Mr. Sirgurdson’s choice of this particular individual has been influenced by extraneous considerations other than any genuine concerns about the Tamil community.  If the objective of the meeting is to discuss “Sri Lankan Tamil problem” Mr. Sigurdson ought to know that it has to be with members of FACT. This is precisely what he did at his own volition in February 1995 just prior to his posting as Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo. On that occasion he told us that his job in Colombo is to represent the best interests of the 150,000 strong Tamil Canadian community in Canada. On our part we profusely thanked Mr. Sigurdson on his initiative and wished him all success in his new posting.  But his clandestine meeting with Shamini Peiris and a few others seriously questions his motive as well as his credibility as a Canadian diplomat. To this must be added the many complaints we have received about the hardened stand of the Canadian High Commission in Colombo in dealing with would be Tamil immigrants to Colombo.

We will like to know why Mr. Sigurdson called this meeting and what was discussed and why we were not invited.  What is more worrisome to us at this stage  is his purported statement that if the meeting is opened to non-invitees he has to change the agenda for the discussion.

 

Yours truly,

 

Sitha Sittampalam
President
FACT


 

October 21, 1997

His Excellency Konrad Sigurdson
Canadian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka
Gregory’s Road
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.

“CANADA DEPLORES VIOLENCE”

Your Excellency,

Our attention has been drawn to the News Release under the caption “Canada Deplores

Violence”, issued by the Canadian High Commission in Colombo on October 17,1997.

We assume that this News Release refers to the bomb blast in Colombo on 15th October 1997. We are one with Your Excellency in condemning in the strongest possible terms,  “all terrorist activities.” We also agree with Your Excellency that terrorist activities have no place in civilized society. But, we regret  Your Excellency’s statement that  “Canada does not condone the support of terrorist activities from its shore and will take action against those using Canada for the purpose of supporting the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam terrorist activities.” This statement by Your Excellency that supporting the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam politically is tantamount to “ supporting the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam terrorist activities.”

We wish to point out to Your Excellency that nobody has claimed responsibility for the bomb attack in Colombo. In fact the LTTE has denied carrying out the attack. According to an eyewitness account by one Susan to Herald Sun (26 October 1997) published in Australia “ it seemed a set up, what I saw was quite strange. I believe it was an army operation.” 

In this connection we kindly ask Your Excellency to clarify the following matters: – 

1)      The LTTE has been blamed for other people’s sins in the past. One such glaring accusation is the assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, ex Minister for National Security and leader of DUNLF. Now, a Presidential Commission appointed by the present Sri Lankan Government by the government appointed Presidential Commission of Inquiry? has determined that Ranasinghe Premadasa, former President and his underworld hit men  have carried out the assassination. The Thamil youth, Ragunathan alleged to be a member of the LTTE, was accused of shooting Athulathmudali. But, he was in fact murdered by the Police whilst in custody. Then, why blame the LTTE for the bomb blast in Colombo? Can “Susan’s account be easily dismissed in the light of the findings in the Athulathmudali assassination

2)      According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the LTTE represents the Thamil people. How, then can anyone characterizes the LTTE which is an organization representing the Thamil people with the right to self-determination, as a “terrorist organization”? In fact it is a National liberation movement within the meaning of Article 1.4 of Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention.

3)      Would Your Excellency be prepared to label the excesses committed by the Canadian armed Forces in Somalia as “terrorist activities”? And would Your Excellency also be prepared to accept that war crimes, crimes against humanity and the genocide being perpetrated by the Sri Lankan armed forces on the Thamils as “terrorist activities” or “state terrorism.”

4)       When there was an armed conflict in Bosnia (former Yugoslavia) in which hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were slaughtered; there was no mention about ‘terrorism” or about “terrorist activities” politically, legally or otherwise by Canada. Why then do you refer to alleged excesses, if  any, committed in the armed conflict in Sri Lanka as “terrorism” and as “terrorist activities”?

5)      How can Canada  remain committed  to the realization of peace in Sri Lanka” when you label one of the parties to the conflict (Canadian Foreign Ministry acknowledges the LTTE as one of the parties) as a “ terrorist organization”?  In this connection, we would like to quote the rational and entirely judicious statement made by your colleague the British High Commissioner in Colombo David Thatham, who said,  “ unless the majority who are so comprehensively represented in parliament by the two main parties can make a credible offer to the minority of the terms on which the two sides can live together, then effectively, both groups are condemned to live separately.”

6)      Up to July 1991, the Canadian position vis-a-vis the LTTE was that “ The LTTE is the principal militant force representing Thamil interests”. What has happened between then and now?  

7)      In 1995 Canada accepted a joint invitation from the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to head one of the Committees appointed to monitor the “Cessation of Hostilities”. What has happened between then and now?

8)      Again as late as July 7, 1995 the Canadian Foreign Ministry wrote to FACT thusTo their credit the Canadian Thamil community has eschewed violence and shared Canadian support for peace in Sri Lanka…. This does not mean that we consider the LTTE to be an insignificant organization in Sri Lanka. Indeed we recognize and acknowledge the important contribution the LTTE can make to the achievement of a lasting political solution in Sri Lanka. How do you reconcile this statement with your declaration that “Canada does not condone the support of terrorist activities from its shore and will take action against those using Canada for the purpose of supporting the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam terrorist activities?”

9)      When Your Excellency met members of FACT on February 14, 1996 in Toronto, we made it clear that we are all strong supporters of the LTTE which is the vanguard force engaged in an armed struggle for the right of self-determination of the Thamil people. The Thamil people took to arms in self-defense, after exhausting all other peaceful and democratic means as the military repression by the state intensified to genocidal proportions. In response, you made the bold statement that you support the right of self-determination of the Thamil people, but that you oppose separation. You also said that you are in Colombo to represent the interests of the 150,000 Thamils in Canada.  Please, then, explain to us why this sudden volte-face?

10)   The African National Congress, when engaged in an armed struggle against the white Apartheid regime, did commit excesses. Yet Canada supported the ANC with arms and money. Then what is the difference between the ANC and the LTTE? Mr. Bill Graham, Q.C.; M.P. (Toronto Centre-Rosedale), Chairman of the Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has categorically said “ There is no doubt that the LTTE is an organization which is a part of a Liberation Movement dedicated to achieving independence of the Thamil homeland in a manner similar to the ANC or the PLO, but does that make it a terrorist organization….”

11)   The Sinhala occupation army in Jaffna has distributed pamphlets in Thamil round about the last week of October 1997 warning all Thamil residents not to contribute funds to the LTTE. The people have been warned of dire consequences against those who disobey the army command. According to the army, 1/3 of the people of Jaffna who are under military rule are contributing to the LTTE. Is it the position of Your Excellency that all these people, numbering about 175,000, are “terrorists” since they are contributing money to the “LTTE terrorist activities”? Even the Sri Lankan Government has not taken up the position that the people concerned are “terrorists”, because if they do so, it will negate its claim that the Government has liberated the Thamil people from the clutches of the LTTE!”

12)   Why, Sir, no action taken when the Tenke Mining Corporation of Canada poured millions of dollars into the pockets of Kabila’s rebel forces so that they could topple Mobutu Sese Seke?  The rebels’ Minister of Finance explicitly stated that the money would be used for war efforts.

13)   The Project Plough Shares Institute in its armed conflict report for 1996 stated,  “1/3 i.e. 14 of the 39 countries hosting armed conflict on their territory (in 1995) were recipients of Canadian military equipment (1994.) Our Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy has made cutting sales to trouble zones a priority with some success. No Canadian goods meant to strife-torn Algeria, Colombia and Indonesia last year (1995). But sales did rise to India, Pakistan, Russia, and Sri Lanka (1995).” Why was there this increased sale of arms to Sri Lanka, a country at war with people whom it claims as its citizens? Is it because the Thamil Eelam liberation struggle is politically unacceptable to Canada due to its own political compulsions?

14)   We agree that “Terrorist activities have no place in civilized society.” But is the Sri Lankan Society civilized? According to North South XX1 at the UN Sub Commission on Human Rights in Geneva August 1997, more than 80,000 Thamil civilians have died since 1983. Does these killings reflect a civilized society? The present Government accepted that the previous regime killed 17,000 Sinhalese during 89/90. However, Human Rights groups have placed the number at more than 60,000.  Does this show that the Sri Lankan society is civilized?

15)   Would Your Excellency advise the Canadian Government that armed forces officials and the politicians of the Sri Lankan Governments, past and present, who are and have been involved in the genocide of the Thamil people and the slaughter of the Sinhala people be barred from visiting Canada?

16)   According to a report submitted, 1997 to senior officials of the Canadian Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration it is stated  “ It is time that other regimes were looked at for inclusion…. Governments that engaged in terrorism, war crimes, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights.” Will Your Excellency consider the Sri Lankan Government for inclusion by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration?

17)   The Canadian Minister of External Affairs Mr. Lloyd Axworthy in his recent address to the 1997 UN General Assembly said that, bitter civil conflict with increased media attention has led to a growing awareness of the horrors of war and that  fewer and fewer people are willing to view war as acceptable instrument of state policy…’’ In this context we would like to know the views of Your Excellency the current Sri Lankan Government’s policy of  “War for Peace’’?

18)   What does the Your Excellency have to say about the rejection of international mediation by the UNO and western countries, including Canada, by the Sri Lankan Government at a time when the LTTE has accepted third party mediation to resolve the festering national conflict?

19)   The LTTE has not committed any unlawful or criminal activities, let alone “terrorist activities”, in any part of the world, other than the alleged acts in India (which was at war with the LTTE) for the past 25 years. So why Your Excellency paranoid about the LTTE?

20)   We, therefore, consider the statement made by Your Excellency as an unwarranted threat and intimidation to those of us who support the legitimate liberation struggle of the LTTE and the Thamil people.

In the same breath may we ask where was Your Excellency?

1)      When the UN Working Group on Enforced or  Involuntary Disappearances categorically mentioned, in its 1995 Report, that Sri Lanka ranked second highest in the world next only to Iraq, as regard to the total number of “recorded disappearances.”? Do you know that Sri Lanka ranked second highest in the world, after Sudan, for its number of “disappearances” recorded during 1995?

2)      When the Army, Police and armed Home Guards killed innocent Thamil people. For example during the last week of September, 1997, Sinhalese and Muslim Policemen and Muslim armed Home Guards stormed the 4th Colony in Amparai District and killed 8 innocent Thamil people and torched 40 homes?

3)      When about 740 Thamil people since the army occupation of Jaffna peninsula in 1996 alone have “disappeared” without a trace? Amnesty International now states “that of the 600-odd people who have “disappeared” in the last 18 months after their arrest by the security forces, nearly all have died as a result of torture or been deliberately killed in detention.”

4)      When more than 3,000 Thamils in Colombo were arrested and hauled to Police stations, like caged animals following the bomb blast on October 15, 1997.  The cordon and search operations and arrests are carried out during unholy hours targeting Thamils purely because of their ethnicity.   Did the London Police arrest ordinary Irish people when suspected IRA bombs went off in London?

5)      When thousands of Thamils have been arrested, tortured and imprisoned for years, without charges, and without trial under the notorious and draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations?

6)      When the Amnesty International report in August 1996 said “ The People’s Alliance (PA) government has repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to human rights since it came to power in August, 1994 and has introduced a number of safeguards to prevent torture and “disappearances”. However, the AI has found these grave violations of human rights are continuing….. More over, there are signs that the government may be reneging on its commitment to bring to justice the perpetrators of past human rights violations…”? 

7)      When the US Department of State, Sri Lanka Country report on Human Rights practices for 1996, declared “ impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses remain the problem…. The Investigations or judicial processes were inactive, giving the appearance of impunity for those responsible for human rights violations…”?

8)      When the US Committee for Refugees, which probed ground conditions in the Jaffna peninsula said,  “ Jaffna was in practice if not in name under martial law.’’

9)      When Amnesty International’s urgent action appeal dated 9th January, 1997, said “ Since security forces regained control over the Jaffna peninsula from the Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam (LTTE) in late 1995-early 1996, there have been continuing reports of arbitrary arrests and torture, including rape, and “ disappearances” in custody. In particular that the number of “disappearances” reported has been of serious concern.”?

 

            10)   When the US State department’s Sri Lanka Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996, issued in January 1997, stated         “Police (mostly STF officers) and army personnel committed extra judicial killings in both  Jaffna and the Eastern Province … In February 1996 army troops murdered 24 Thamil villagers, including 2 children under 12 years of age, in the eastern village of Kumarapuram … In some case these extra judicial killings were reprisals against civilians for LTTE attacks in which members of the security forces were killed or injured. Several such reprisals occurred during operations by the STF. In many cases, the security forces claimed that the victims were members of the LTTE. However, human rights monitors have determined that these victims were indeed civilians…. There were also a number of suspicious deaths attributed to the security forces, mostly involving detainees.…”?

 

11)   When the US State department’s Sri Lanka Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996, issued in January 1997, statedTorture (by the State) remained a serious problem … Members of the security forces continued to torture and mistreat detainees and other prisoners, both male and female, particularly during interrogation. Although the number of torture reports was somewhat lower than in previous years in the Colombo area, the situation in Eastern Province did not improve. Torture also emerged as a problem in the newly recaptured Jaffna peninsula. In November 1996 a Supreme Court judge stated publicly that torture continued unabated in police stations in spite of a number of judicial pronouncements against its use. Pro-government Thamil militants in the east and northern provinces directly responsible to the security forces, also engaged in torture. Methods of torture included electric shock, beatings (especially on the soles of the feet), suspension by the wrists or feet in contorted positions, burning, near drowning, placing of insecticide, chilli powder, or gasoline-soaked bags over the head, and forced positions. Detainees have reported broken bones and other serious injuries as a result of their mistreatment…”? 

12)   When Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiya, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who spent a week in Jaffna recently, said There is still a very painful and difficult human rights issue in northern Jaffna peninsula. The gap between those who have disappeared and the number of people whose whereabouts have been finally discovered is too huge, too important.”?

13)   When Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiya also said, “. 10,000 Sri Lanka has the second highest number of cases pending with the UN”s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances… since the 1980s.’’? (Iraq has the highest number with 14,000 – 15,000 cases).

14)   When in an interview to “India Today” on April 29, 1995,  to a question as to why she went for  peace talks with the LTTE, President Chandrika Kumaratunga answered as follows:

“There is no other way possible apart from going for an all out war against the LTTE with an army and armed forces which were not the best trained and not at all equipped.”

            15)   To another question by the same correspondent, she was asked, “Where do you go from here?”  The answer was “You have to launch an all out attack (which would mean a lot of Thamil civilian casualties) and the place will be wiped out.”

16)   When the President of the Welfare Society of Pudukudiyiruppu in Eastern Sri Lanka told the British Refugee Council  publication – Sri Lanka Monitor, August 1996:

      “A policy of extermination of as many Thamils as possible is underway in the Northeast of Sri Lanka. Taken together, the government blockade on food and medicine to the unoccupied Thamil areas and the Sri Lankan mililitary’s regular bombing raids on dense civilian villages, as well as its random murders of Thamil civilians, especially youth, points to a deliberate attempt to diminish the Thamil population and impair the conditions necessary for their survival.”

     17)   When Margaret Trawick, Professor of Social Anthropology, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand stated on  28 April, 1996 – 

“ I have been struggling in my mind against the conclusion that the SL Government is trying to kill or terrorise as many Thamil people as possible; that the government is trying to keep the conditions of the war unreported internationally because if those conditions were reported the actions of the military would be perceived as so deplorable that foreign nations would have no choice but to condemn them, and this would be embarrassing to everybody. But it seems now that no other conclusion is possible…”  

When the continuing acts of ethnic cleansing of the Thamil people of the Northeast of Sri Lanka in over 3, 000 sq. miles (which area is more than 1/3 of Thamil Homeland) and had been forcibly appropriated through state sponsored colonisation?

18)   When Ms. Kit Hope who authored the U.S. Committee for Refugees Report for 1997 said in that report  “The Society in Jaffna peninsula was militarized. More than 1.2 million Thamils have been uprooted from their homes; and that there had been 900,000 who were initially displaced, with nearly 750,000 are still displaced and living in Vanni area. Many have faced multiple displacements.”?

19)   When the Thamil Centre for Human Rights situated in U.K. stated in its report to the 53rd Sessions of the UN Human Rights Commission March/April, 1997  “ 100, 000 are children under 5 years old who are facing starvation and death. Shelter and medicine has not reached these people as the Sri Lankan military is imposing a strict economic embargo under direct orders of the President. The same ban extends to the ICRC, MSF and other NGOs who are also prevented from taking food, shelter and medicine to the internally displaced and injured. Since February 1997 all humanitarian aid and assistance has been completely stopped by the government for the 450,000 internally displaced Thamils in the Vanni mainland.”

20)   When the British Refugee Council stated in its June 1996 report that Sri Lanka uses food and medicine as weapons of war?

21)   When the Action Group of Thamils in the US (AGOTUS) in its recent report (1997) said that  “In the case of rape by the government armed forces, Sri Lanka is number one in the world in the use of rape as a weapon of war.”?

           22)   When the Thamil Centre for Human Rights in its report to the 53rd Sessions of the UN Human Rights Commission March/April, 1997 stated that  “During 1996 alone over 563 recorded (even though the actual number is higher than this) incidents of deliberate and indiscriminate bombardments of Thamil civilian in areas in north and east”

23)   When 53 NGOs urged the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in April 1997 to adopt a resolution calling upon the Government of Sri Lanka to withdraw the occupying forces from the Thamil Homeland?

The systematic and gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law against the Thamils in Sri Lanka has reached such scandalous proportions that they have become lethal weapons on multiple fronts. It is not just that the basic human rights – the right to life, the right to freedom of speech and opinion, the right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest and torture etc.are being denied to the Thamils in Sri Lanka. The Thamils are in fact targeted for worst crimes, such as economic blockade; indiscriminate aerial bombings of civilian areas causing wanton destruction of life and property and forced colonization of their hereditary homeland. In a word, it is a genocidal war in which their mere existence as a Nation and as an ethnic numeric minority is at stake.

Despite the fact that there are no correspondents local or international to report on the progress of the war, because of the fact that the Sri Lankan Government does not allow members of the media access to the war zones, still the outside world is not kept completely in the dark.

Diplomatic missions such as yours in Colombo certainly keep their respective governments informed on the extent of human rights violations and humanitarian law violations.

Your Excellency, why then is the world silent about this war? Is it because of indifference to human suffering, or due to moral blindness or confusion or is it due to “international racism” as pointed by the Canadian army generals?

The Sri Lankan Government takes cover under its democratic shell to hoodwink the entire world, based on its propaganda that it is fighting a war to contain “terrorism”. It has converted its Police and armed forces into agents of state terror to subjugate the Thamil people.

If the cause of human rights and humanitarian law are doomed anywhere in the world, and numeric minorities are persecuted by the numeric majorities, it will be a sign of the morbidity and lethargy of the International community to come to the aid of the numeric minorities and save them from annihilation. Then it could only lead numeric minorities to continue to arm themselves and fight an unrelenting war for their survival. It is time for the international community to take serious political and military note of the situation in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE, in their actions against and resistance to such forcible actions by the Sri Lankan state, in our view, is entitled to receive assistance and this is the only instance in an armed conflict where states are obliged to support one side to the conflict the people with the right to self-determination. If ever a people are in desperate need, it is the Thamil people and its vanguard force, the LTTE.

We Canadians, especially Thamil Canadians will like to see the High Commission in Colombo be effective and broadly supportive of Thamil peoples’ aspirations, and that it should not be viewed as supporting the racist Sri Lankan Government as against the LTTE. We appeal to Your Excellency to use every effort to ensure the Thamil peoples’ fundamental right to life, right to liberty and right to security. Most importantly to stop the genocide of the 3 million Thamil people by the Sri Lankan racist state. Thanking you.

Yours truly,

 

 

Veluppillai Thangavelu
PresidentFACT

c.c. Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs  Mr. Bill Graham, Q.C., MP, Chairman Standing Committee for Foreign Affairs

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