12-11-2016 – Refoulement – literally, the return of refugees and asylum seekers to a country where they are likely to be persecuted, or even executed – is illegal under international law. As is well known, however, real violations of international law have rarely in the past prevented the Australian government from carrying them out. The return of Tamil asylum seekers by Australian government authorities, sometimes while at sea, plumbs new depths of inhumanity. Tamil asylum seekers are likely to be arrested, or tortured or killed, or all three, at the hands of the Western backed Sri Lankan government now headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, if they are forcibly returned. The numbers are staggering. Since October 2012, the Australian government has forcibly returned 1248 Tamil asylum seekers. Not that this is a concern for the Australian ruling class, who are hell bent on producing ever more scapegoats in an attempt to deflect working people’s attention away from the collapse in living standards, crumbling infrastructure, vanishing public services and rising unemployment.
Sri Lanka’s history is one of rule by not one but three colonialist powers – Portugal, Holland and Britain. But it was British rule which largely laid out the conditions for the horrific oppression of the Tamil people, which used the Roman-like adage of “divide and rule”. This history requires a separate study. One key factor was the “Sinhala Only” Act in 1956, introduced by the Sri Lankan Freedom Party(SLFP), some years after formal independence from Britain, which made Sinhalese the sole language in the country. This had the effect of driving out Tamils from the public service, depriving many of a living and institutionalising discrimination against them. Later, in 1971, the government introduced the so-called “Standardisation” policy, which in effect made it extremely difficult for Tamil students to be accepted into Universities.
These discriminatory policies, and other exclusion measures, whipped up several racist mass riots against the Tamils in 1956, 1958 and 1977. Young Tamils began to think of how this severe repression could be fought against and overcome. It was possible that the course they could have chosen would be that of class struggle socialism. However, an epic betrayal by two self-proclaimed socialist parties, one “Trotskyist” and the other “Stalinist”, probably pushed Tamils seeking justice onto the path of nationalism. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party (CP) had some influence amongst a country where socialist ideas are generally popular. However, in 1964 both the LSSP and the CP joined with the SLFP led capitalist government, and some took ministerial posts! That is, they joined with the same party in government, which had initiated the “Sinhala Only” Act. This treacherous act condemned the “socialists” in the eyes of Tamils struggling to free their people.
The betrayal of the “left”, combined with the conservative parliamentarism of such groups as the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, seems to have convinced Tamil militants to take up arms. This perspective was even further ingrained after yet another appalling pogrom in 1983, during which around 3000 Tamils were slain by rampaging Sinhala mobs, often led by Buddhist monks. So, under the leadership of V Prabakaran, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) emerged. Within a few years, they had assembled a formidable fighting force of armed guerrillas. While the LTTE were nationalist, rather than socialist, they nevertheless carried out a just struggle against a US backed Colombo elite which used savage racism to maintain themselves in power.
Military defeat of the LTTE
For the five months preceding the final military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, the Sri Lankan military slaughtered between seven and 20 000 Tamils, who were indiscriminately bombed to death in LTTE held areas. The LTTE previously had won a series of battles with the Sri Lankan military, despite being vastly outgunned. The Colombo elite has been militarily and politically backed by the United States and Israel, and politically aided by Canberra, for decades. So what factors enabled the Sri Lankan military to defeat the LTTE in 2009? There were several factors, but a key one was the banning of the LTTE as a “terrorist” organisation along with the anti-democratic “anti-terror” laws imposed by many Western countries in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in the US. These laws, or their equivalent, enacted by the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, India and the EU in 2005, severely restricted financial and other support to the LTTE from the large Tamil diaspora. Also critical was the defection of Colonel Karuna to the Sri Lankan government, who reportedly took a section of the Tigers with him, and began supplying information on LTTE positions and practices. Another factor was the Indian state funnelling intelligence from the US to the Sri Lankan government. These and other aspects created a vast advantage for the notorious Sri Lankan military.
Thus the LTTE on its own may well have been able to stand its ground, and hold the 15 000 odd square kilometres it controlled. However, some of the world’s strongest imperialist powers combined to back Sri Lanka in Eelam War IV. Not only that, at the time the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution at the height of the war, supporting Sri Lanka’s conduct! Unfortunately, voting for this resolution were also several fellow Third World countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, as well as some socialist states such as Cuba, Vietnam and China. The respective leaderships of the socialist states, via their interpretation of the theory of “peaceful coexistence” often lend themselves to betrayal in favour of seeking friendly relations with capitalist states – which often means turning a huge blind eye to manifold crimes within those countries. Alas, the Latin American countries which are supposed to bring to life “21st century socialism”, such as Evo Morales’ Bolivia, Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua also backed the Sri Lankan government, due to a similar standpoint.
At the time, and continuing today, Washington, London, Canberra, New Delhi – with the support of Tel Aviv, all act to back Colombo, and repress the Tamil liberation struggle. These imperialist powers, at all costs, wish to prevent the Tamil and Sinhala workers joining together to challenge Sri Lankan capitalism. The natural deep water port of Trincomalee is what they consider a strategic asset, and indeed Sri Lanka is bypassed by vast amounts of trade sailing from West to East. It is the jewel of the Indian Ocean. With this in mind, the Tamil solidarity movement internationally, as well as the refugee rights movement here, needs to take account of just who will be allies in this struggle and who will be enemies.
Refugee rights in the Asia-Pacific
The refugee rights movement in Australia is now facing the incredible possibility of the federal Liberal government permanently banning refugees imprisoned on Manus Island or Nauru from ever entering Australia, even on a tourist visa, for the rest of their lives. Despite the refugee rights movement being very active over many years, and despite winning some minor reforms, overall it is still being forced back. While this has been happening, Tamil asylum seekers are being deported to almost certain death in Sri Lanka.
In recent years, the refugee rights movement has largely been held in thrall to the vagaries of the imperialist powers, despite its intentions. The last five years have seen two savage imperialist wars which have caused tens of thousands of refugees to flood into Europe, and indeed to other parts of the world including ultimately, Australia. These have been the wars of regime change, first against Libya, and then against Syria. In both cases, some of the same war machines which backed the genocidal Rajapaksa government, armed and funded barbaric mercenaries which were sent into Libya and Syria to lay the unspeakable foundations for the West to step in as “saviour”. This included the US, the UK, Israel – all backed politically by Canberra. Yet what we have experienced is a refugee rights movement which did not oppose these wars, but sung praise about mythical “revolutions”. The refugee rights movement largely came behind sustained Western corporate propaganda, which claimed that Colonel Gaddafi and Bashar Al-Assad were “dictators”. They even switched to call for Syrian refugees to be accepted into Australia – which in practice makes it much easier for the Syrian government to be overthrown. We had, in effect, a pro-war refugee rights movement.
While the refugee rights movement appears to be “putting pressure” on the Australian government to release and humanely treat refugees and asylum seekers coming to this country, in fact they are strengthening the very forces they believe they are protesting against. This is due to the fact that the demands are always placed on the government, rather than against the government. No amount of pleading for human rights, for compassion or for due process, will override the needs of the Australian ruling class to seek and punish innocent scapegoats. The Australian “captains of industry” need to foster and foment extreme racism and nationalism amongst Australian workers in order for them to divert their anger over economic recession and declining living standards from the ones responsible – the corporate and financial elite.
The Tamil solidarity movement, and the refugee rights movement, thus need to turn to the one force which does have the power, and the interest, to win real justice. That force is the working class, here and overseas. To unleash their power requires a political struggle against the Union officials, which, almost universally line their own pockets by steering workers into backing US/AUST imperialism in the Asia-Pacific. This will more than likely require a split in both the refugee rights movement and the Tamil solidarity movement, into pro and anti-worker divisions. By limiting itself to nationalism the Tamil struggle eventually fell, despite remarkable courage, dedication and self-sacrifice. Similarly, by limiting itself to pleading with the Australian rulers, the refugee rights movement here repeatedly takes blows from which it has to repeatedly recover. The bottom line is that the enemy for Tamils and refugees and asylum seekers are the forces and allies of the US Empire, from Washington, to London to Canberra to Colombo. The only ally which can win are the workers themselves, mobilised in opposition to the “masters of war”. NO TO REFOULEMENT! LIBERATION FOR TAMIL EELAM!
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 https://www.britannica.com/event/Sinhala-Only-Bill (07-11-2016)