Home Office chooses to ignore facts: Sri Lanka is still not safe for opposition political activists

Tamil Solidarity condemns the way the Home Office in Britain deals with Tamil asylum cases. The Freedom from Torture recently revealed that the conditions for political activists have not changed in Sri Lanka – and this was reported widely by the media across the world. The government of Sri Lanka has done nothing regarding the revelation of secret prisons where political prisoners are held, without charge and widely reported as ‘missing’. Despite the reports of widespread torture, the government of Sri Lanka has made no effort to reveal the details of prisoners, or made any attempt to close down these prisons and detention centres.

Apart from some token gestures, no efforts are being made to release many political prisoners. That sparked significant protests, including hunger strikes, towards the end of last year. The chief minister of the Northern Province, previously a judge by profession, stated that many are being held unlawfully, with no prospect of release. It is no secret that Sri Lanka is still not safe for opposition political activists. The international coordinator of Tamil Solidarity has been blocked from visiting Sri Lanka, with the defence minister failing to respond to requests for the reasons behind this ban.

The Home Office in Britain seems to ignore all this. It claims that the “focus of the Sri Lankan government has changed since the civil war ended in May 2009”. (See attached photo) It suggests that the government of Sri Lanka has a mandate to persecute activists who challenge the “unitary” state, according to amendment 6(1) of the Sri Lankan constitution – branding such activity as an attempt to destabilise the state. It further suggests that they are a “threat to the integrity of Sri Lanka”.
Who is it aiming to defend with this argument? Tamil Solidarity stands for the right to self-determination of Tamils. We believe that this is a fundamental democratic right, as much as it is to Scottish people or Quebecquois. It is absolutely wrong that the Home Office assumes the role of the government of Sri Lanka when dealing with Tamil refugees who believe and become active demanding these fundamental rights.

These activists are not hostile to anyone living in Sri Lanka. They do oppose oppressive and undemocratic laws. They oppose the government of Sri Lanka which systematically denies democratic and workers’ rights, minority rights and other rights, such as language and land rights. Recently, new constitutional changes are being proposed to make sure that non-Sinhala, non-Buddhists will never become president. Is this the state of affairs that the British Home Office is willing to endorse?

The Home Office further claims that the Sri Lankan “government’s concern is not with the past membership” of the LTTE! At the same time, it refuses to explain why the government of Sri Lanka keeps tens of thousands of ex-LTTE members in prison, the majority of whom have renounced violence. Some of them are as young as eight years-old, as admitted by an ex-minister. And it does not explain the fact that numerous activists across the world remain on the government of Sri Lanka’s banned lists.
If the Home Office is arguing that it believes the government of Sri Lanka’s story, we demand that it publishes its proof of how these activists are a threat to the life of ordinary Sri Lankans. These are activists who demand justice and who fight for fundamental human rights. It remains the case that many human rights organisations, including the UN, don’t have full access to the many camps, prisons and parts of war-torn areas. Why is this so? Many journalists from Britain, including award-winning Channel Four journalist Callum Macrae, still cannot freely visit Sri Lanka. Why is that?

Another ludicrous claim by the Home Office is that the Sri Lankan government has “sophisticated intelligence on diaspora activists”, and that it only acts against Tamil activist who are “seeking to promote Tamil separatism within Sri Lanka”. They are talking about the government whose intelligence services not that long ago published a list of banned people, some of whom were already dead!
It is unacceptable that the Home Office endorses the Sri Lankan intelligence services against Tamil refugees. That is enough to effectively rule out any asylum claim – which is also a breach of the UN refugee convention. It is not only laughable that the Home Office “completely trusts” Sri Lankan security force intelligence. It is also extremely dangerous. It puts into question the life of a number of refugees who are applying to remain in UK, with the hope that their case will be dealt with independently and with human rights in mind.

Home office claim that “Our overall conclusion regarding diaspora activities is that the government of Sri Lanka has sophisticated intelligence enabling it to distinguish those who are actively involved in seeking to revive and re-fund the separatist movement within the diaspora, with a view to destabilising the unitary Sri Lankan state.” It is not clear on what basis that the Home office accept the Sri Lanka has “sophisticated intelligence”. It is also not clear that whether home office accepts it is ok to persecute activist, just because they argue for separation.

Anyone who demands basic democratic rights and the right to self-determination, like the supporters of Tamil Solidarity, can be branded “separatist”. The Sri Lanka government doesn’t have to measure what “level of activity” is required before that person can be subject to persecution. There is already much evidence available revealing how the Sri Lankan government has persecuted those who raised even minor criticisms of the state.

It is wrong for the Home Office to conclude that “attendance at one, or even several demonstrations in the diaspora is not in and of itself evidence that a person is a committed Tamil activist seeking to promote Tamil separation within Sri Lanka.”

This is an appalling simplification of the issues and amounts to dangerous wishful thinking. It puts many refugee claimants from a Tamil background in Sri Lanka at grave risk. The Home Office must end this dangerous, undemocratic and inhumane policy immediately.