British Tamils Forum Land-Grab Conference

Saturday’s land-grab conference brought Tamil campaigners together with a number of
academics dealing with international law and human rights. Following a two-minute silence
to commemorate all those who have lost their lives, the event began with a screening of a new
documentary film, This Land Belongs to the Army, directed by Prabhagaran.

One of the main themes of the day was getting the land-grab and war crimes issues onto the
international agenda – meaning the so-called ‘international community’ of governments and
their agencies, such as the United Nations.

Professor Jochen Hippler (University of Duisburg-Essen) made the point that the brutal
suppression of the Tamils was an essential stage in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s attempt to
consolidate his dictatorship over the whole of Sri Lanka. A state “does not oppress people for
fun but because it is useful,” Hippler said.

It is true that a by-product of the war on the Tamils has been a clampdown on democratic
rights throughout the island. Of course, this means that the state is increasingly authoritarian
and ruthless. The consequence, however, is that more and more sections of society find
themselves repressed.

This means that it can be possible – not immediately, but over time – to link the struggle for
the right to Tamil self-determination with that of other sections of society fighting to defend
their own rights against the regime’s oppression. That could include journalists demanding
the right to report the truth, workers fighting against job cuts and the privatisation of public
services, and Tamil Muslims defending themselves against intimidation and attacks by right-
wing government-backed thugs.

Dr Shapan Adnan (National University of Singapore) went on to say that the special
economic zones being set up are part of a neoliberal agenda seen the world over. When
applied to Sri Lanka, this neoliberal agenda includes opening up the economy to foreign states
and multinational companies – with the ruling Rajapaksa family stuffing their pockets with
cash along the way – and privatisation. “Destitute and landless groups are thrown onto the
labour market,” Adnan said, leading to mass poverty.

There was talk, quite correctly, of the need to build up the documentary evidence of land-
grabs and extrajudicial killings, and for the need to build a new grassroots movement –
although the speakers tended to fall into the trap of using too much academic jargon too often.
And, at the end of the day, there were no real conclusions drawn from the discussions.

Tamil Solidarity agrees with the need to rebuild the movement. We would say that the
emphasis must be in linking the struggle for the right to Tamil self-determination with our
natural allies in the workers’ and trade union movement, and in the campaigns of other
oppressed people around the world.

So, at our future public events we will be addressing the questions which were hinted at on
Saturday: how to build such a campaign, on what programme, and with what forces. The BTF
should be thanked for putting on this forum which raised, once again, these key issues.