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Home » Countries » Sri Lanka » Statement on the Referendum

Statement on the Referendum

Statement from the International Human Rights Association - Bremen on the referendum it conducted among the Tamil refugees in Germany. (24.01.10)

As a human rights organisation that from its origins has been based on the self-organisation of refugees, we know from our long experience with refugees that flee authoritarian regimes, that they do not have the possibility in their home countries to express their political will in freedom. The most tragic recent example of this are the Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka.

The bloody war the Sri Lankan government launched for the conquest of the of the Tamil administered area which started in the beginning of 2007 was so intense that by February 2009, according to United Nations internal documents, air raids, and the use of heavy weaponry used by the Sri Lankan government were resulting in the death of 116 people per day. British and French mainstream media reported that during the final few weeks 20,000 Tamil people were killed. After the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, 280,000 people who had decided freely to live in the LTTE controlled areas were held in concentration camps for 6 months. For the government all 280, 000 were and are the enemy for supporting the LTTE administration and need to be punished. The ones that were in the government camps, before the end of the war remember their struggle to stop their tears from forming in their eyes - when they heard of the massacres of their kith and kin - as, if this was seen by the camp guards they will be regarded as hard core LTTE supporters. In which case they will join the 12,000 held in unregistered camps with no access of the ICRC - a black hole from which no information comes out.

It is said that because the media was blocked from entering the Vanni, that it was a war without witness. But actually there were witnesses - 280,000 of them. For the government, it is necessary to create the conditions to crush the spirit of these people, not just to silence them but remove from their head any ideas of freedom that they may have. The government military leaders have many times remarked that the operation to remove the cancer of the Tigers you have to give Chemo- therapy - radiation therapy to the people in the Vanni - the former LTTE controlled area. The 12,000 people in detention is one of the main instruments that the government has to terrorise the others. The fact that any day any one of them can join the 12,000 - is the ever present threat hanging on every one of the 280,000. The condition of the 280,000 is the threat that hangs over all Tamils in the island. This complete lack of a democratic space in the island is what gives the referendum in Germany its importance.

We know that virtually every member of the Tamil Diaspora in Germany has relatives in the more than 20,000 recent deaths, 12,000 incognito prisoners or the 280,000 who were held for 6 months in internment camps. In this way for the Tamils in Germany the referendum is not only an act of self expression it is an act of catharsis. The actual text that Tamils in Germany voted on - which was based on the historic Vaddukoddai Resolution in 1976 was:

'The unbearable oppression of the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka has compelled us to assert our right to self-determination in our the traditional homeland in the northern and eastern territory of the island. I aspire for the formation of the independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam in the said region where we constitute a distinct nation.'

The polls were conducted in 110 election stations covering even remote areas where Tamils were present. The 23,089 people turning out to vote shows a powerful democratic endorsement of the referendum itself, as it represents a clear majority of people who are eligible to vote. For example in the Bremen region we know that many Tamils are too young to vote. 136 voters said no and 49 votes were invalid.

Nicholai Jung and Viraj Mendis - for IMRV Bremen e.V