The tragic journey of a displaced Tamil family in Sri Lanka

Published on World Socialist Web Site WSWS, by Nanda Wickremasinghe, 27 June 2009.

On June 24, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court held a second hearing in a case challenging the violation of the basic legal rights of Tamil civilians interned in military-controlled camps in the island’s north. The case has been filed on behalf of five members of the same family who were separated in detention.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has incarcerated almost 300,000 Tamils who faced intense army shelling and fled the fighting in the final phase of the war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The government and the military assert that the camps are relief centres or welfare villages. In reality, they are detention centres guarded by soldiers and surrounded by barbed and razor wire. The detainees cannot leave the camps and even movement within the camps is restricted.

The applicants are Manikarajah Sivapakiam, her daughter Jeyarani Surendranathan, son-in-law Ponnusamy Surendranathan and the Surendranathans’ two daughters, Sopika and Nesana. The respondents include the Inspector General of Police, the commander of the security forces in Jaffna and the military coordinator of internally displaced persons in the Vanni region …

… After the army captured Vishvamadu, my relatives decided on February 9 to flee into the army-controlled area. This was a hazardous thing, facing incoming shells from the military and possible LTTE reprisals. It was known that the LTTE used force to prevent people from escaping. They had heard of cases where the LTTE even resorted to shooting people to prevent them from escaping. The family wanted to hedge against the risk by splitting into two groups. It was thought that in the event of a disaster, at least some of them would be saved.

The grandparents and Kishore and Sopika were to leave after midnight. The daughter Jeyarani and her husband Ponnusamy and Nesana were to leave in the same direction two hours later. They had to walk about 10 kilometres before they could get into the army-controlled area.

However the first group quickly ran into LTTE cadres who beat them up and drove them back toward Putumattalan. There the grandparents and Sopika and Kishore registered their names with the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] to be transported out of the area. Dr Varatharajah at the make-shift hospital made arrangements with the ICRC for the grandfather to be evacuated because he was a kidney patient.

When Kishore was killed, his grandmother and young sister had to carry out his funeral. After a few days more at Putumattalan, the grandmother and Sopika paid 150,000 rupees [about $US1,350] to a boatman and joined a group that crossed the lagoon to Chavakachcheri [on Jaffna Peninsula], where the army detained them and put them in the Kodikamam camp.

On February 10, the other group rested for the night at a bunker to avoid the shelling and the LTTE cadres who were prowling around. They managed to enter the military-controlled area during a lull in the shelling. The military seized them and transported them to the camp at the Saivaprakasha School in Vavuniya.

Above all, I want to know why the government is doing this. Why is the government holding nearly 300,000 Tamil people in camps without any judicial or constitutional justification? The immense majority are totally innocent. The government itself used to argue that the LTTE was not the sole representative of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. Now by keeping Tamil people under detention the government is giving back-handed support to the LTTE’s position that they were the sole representative. (full long text).

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