Mr. Speaker, I move that the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration presented on Wednesday, March 11, be concurred in.
New Democrats are pleased and proud to move concurrence to this motion that would place a moratorium on the deportation of people to Sri Lanka.
Of course, this raises the issue that is before the world right now of a horrible civil war that is going on in Sri Lanka where there are gross violations of civil and human rights taking place as we speak.
This motion also gives us an opportunity to discuss the longstanding oppression of the Tamil people and once again an opportunity for us to highlight the need, the immediate need, to recognize the political autonomy of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
I would like to share a little bit of history. Upon independence from British rule, Sri Lanka was left as a unitary state, without constitutional safeguards and protection of national minorities. Successive governments have imposed discriminatory policies to reinforce the notion that Sinhala is the national language and Buddhism is the state religion. This has resulted in widespread discrimination against the Tamil minority and repeated government-sponsored pogroms against the Tamil people.
Over the last 25 years of this conflict, over 70,000 people have been killed by government forces, the vast majority being Tamil civilians. Over half of the Tamil people have become refugees, most with multiple displacements: 800,000 in the west, 100,000 in India, and one million internally displaced people in Sri Lanka.
There is an unacceptably high level of political repression, restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, press censorship, electoral abuses, low percentage of Tamil population eligible to vote, and even fixing of elections.
The level of human rights abuses and war crimes directed at the Tamil people is something that the world needs to stop immediately. There have been reports that can only be described as ethnic cleansing, shelling of civilian areas, disappearances, long-term detention without trial, torture, rape, the use of food as a weapon of war, large-scale arbitrary arrest, and the passage of oppressive laws.
There is a humanitarian crisis going on in Sri Lanka. Several NGOs, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Committee of the Red Cross, have raised serious concerns about the ongoing humanitarian crisis taking place in north and east of Sri Lanka.
Since the Sri Lankan government unilaterally broke the six-year-old ceasefire brokered by the Norwegian government in January 2008, there has been a steady escalation in the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Over the past month, the Sri Lankan government has been pursuing an aggressive campaign to wipe out the Tamil Tigers, and innocent Tamil civilians in the north and east of Sri Lanka are caught in the crossfire.
Despite calls by the international community for an immediate ceasefire, the Sri Lankan government has categorically rejected the notion of a ceasefire and is bent on pursuing a military approach to the conflict. As a result, fierce fighting between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE continues to this day.
A humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in the northeastern part of the island as over 300,000 Tamils are entrapped within the conflict zone, cut off from basic necessities such as food, clean water, shelter and medical care. Each passing day brings more news of civilian casualties.
Issues of grave concern include the following: first, attacks on civilians in so-called safety zones.
Over the past several months, there has been an increase in aerial bombardment of Tamil villages in the north and east of Sri Lanka, resulting in unprecedented civilian casualties. The demarked safety zones have habitually come under attack by the Sri Lankan government forces.
On January 22 over 300 civilians were killed when the Sri Lankan air force bombed a civilian site in a declared safety zone. On February 9 thousands of civilians fled as an entire area demarcated by the government, again as a so-called safety zone, came under mortar, artillery and rocket fire. Since the beginning of this year, almost 6,500 people have been killed, Tamil civilians, and 14,000 have been injured. These are statistics as of April 24.
Second, the Sri Lankan government is blocking humanitarian aid. For months, the Sri Lankan government has been blocking all international humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in the conflict area.
In September 2008 the government ordered all international aid workers to leave Tamil areas, with only the Red Cross and World Food Program remaining. With the escalation of violence, the Red Cross has stated it is prevented from operating in the area. In a news release dated February 10, the Red Cross stated:
Most of the region's population is now displaced and completely dependent on outside aid, yet none has reached the area since 29 January.
Third, there are massive abuses at government detention centres. Amnesty International has reported that individuals who have left LTTE-controlled areas are being “held in de facto detention centres, or so-called welfare villages and are vulnerable to abuses by government forces”.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the treatment of civilians fleeing the conflict zone and described the detention camps as no better than war prisons. The Sri Lankan government has announced plans to open up more permanent detention centres and force 250,000 trapped civilians to reside in these internment camp facilities for the next three years.
Fourth, there is a lack of medical care in the conflict area. In direct violation of international humanitarian law, the Sri Lankan government has repeatedly shelled local hospitals in the conflict area. A top government health official has confirmed the attacks on a hospital and health care workers, and that has been corroborated by international aid agencies.
The only working hospital in the war zone was evacuated and forced to close down due to repeated shelling. The shelling has continued to affect the provision of medical care, and makeshift hospitals sheltering patients have also come under attack. The Red Cross has reported that medical convoys transporting the sick, injured and wounded have been hit by shelling and aid workers have been killed and injured evacuating the wounded.
Article 18 of the IV Geneva Convention states:
Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict.
The Sri Lankan government is violating this preceptive international law and committing war crimes in the process.
Fifth, there is suppression of the media. Reporters Without Borders have stated that Sri Lanka is the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Since 2006 over 14 journalists have been killed. As the conflict has escalated, government censorship of media has also intensified. Amnesty International reports that newspapers have been closed down, employees intimidated and attacked, and websites blocked.
There is a consistent and persistent campaign by the government to silence media and critical voices. In January the editor of The Sunday Leader was assassinated in Colombo after publishing editorials that were critical of the government's approach to the armed conflict.
In particular, we are concerned about the forceful abduction and arrest of the editor of Uthayan, the only Tamil daily functioning from the Jaffna Peninsula. According to eyewitnesses, he was forcibly taken by men into a white van while attending the funeral of a close relative. These so-called white van abductions have become the means by which the Sri Lanka state curtails any divergent opinions. He has not been released despite calls by international press agencies as well as human rights organizations.
This is the country to which we in the New Democratic Party are saying we should not be deporting anybody. There are civilians in Sri Lanka who are being murdered by the thousands as we speak. This is the country that the government opposite, the people on the other side of this House, think ought to be defended and supported. This is a disgrace.
This country is dangerous. It is reminiscent of past episodes of turning back refugees, such as South Asians at the British Columbia border or those fleeing the Holocaust. Canada should not be complicit in this. Not only that, but Canada has to protect people in Canada at the moment, all residents of Sri Lanka, and keep them in this country until the conflict is stopped.
Beyond that, we must press the government of Sri Lanka to call for a ceasefire immediately, to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the sovereignty claims of the Tamil population, and end the oppression of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
The world is watching. It is time that we took action on this to protect these people.