Mr. Speaker, today the world watches a human tragedy unfolding in Sri Lanka. The world should watch that conflict filled with guilt for failing to act, failing to care and failing to speak up against oppression and violence for half a century.
The history of this conflict begins and ends with a determinedly discriminatory government representing a majority ethnic group seeking to culturalize and marginalize a minority. As early as 1948, many Tamils were denied citizenship and rendered stateless. In 1956 the Sri Lankan government declared Sinhala the only state language, marginalizing the Tamil language which had been equal in the pre-colonial era. Buddhism became the exclusive state religion, again denying the Tamil identity.
In 1972, a blatantly racist quota system was imposed to limit the number of Tamils in university. The Sri Lankan government even abolished the section of its constitution that protected minority rights. Tamils were discriminated against in schools, the public service and the military.
In the 1960s, arson, vandalism and anti-Tamil riots killed 500 Tamils. In 1981, police burned down the library in Jaffna, destroying 95,000 ancient texts and manuscripts. Then, the darkest moment, in July 1983, over 3,000 Tamils were killed, many burned alive. Electoral lists were used to identify Tamil homes.
From the violence of 1983, the people of Sri Lanka were to suffer 25 years of civil war and 70,000 people lost their lives.
Both the government and the Tamil tigers, rebels, engaged in actions that violated every standard of armed conflict. Suicide bombings on one side, aerial bombardments of hospitals and schools on the other.
Since 2006, I have spoken of the campaign of atrocities that have included the execution of aid workers working for a French NGO, bombing of schools, a grenade attack on a church protecting refugees and countless individual cases of summary executions and torture.
Hundreds of Tamils have disappeared in Colombo after white vans left their homes. Sometimes their bodies are found and sometimes their bodies are dumped for effect near the Parliament. Mostly, they are never seen again.
The world community rose only once to stop the Sri Lankan government. On that rare occasion, the government was herding Tamils into crowded buses to be deported from Colombo. Such visible ethnic cleansing could not be allowed.
It is this history that should inform our view of the current military campaign. Today the Sri Lankan government remains indifferent to the Tamil civilians who lie in the wake of its military. The government makes it blatantly clear by its repeated use of cluster bombs against a civilian hospital that it is not worried about accusations of war crimes. In fact, it has refused to sign on to the Rome Statute that would make its leaders vulnerable to prosecution.
The U.S. secretary of state and the foreign secretary of the U.K. have called for a no-fire zone where civilians and refugees are now homeless, dying of snake bites and exposed to shelling and targeted bombardment by the government.
Canada can also speak up. Canada must call for international observers and peacekeepers to be deployed in towns in the north and east and that Tamil civilians be allowed to return home under international monitoring. This needs to happen now or this tragedy will continue to reach catastrophic proportions.
Canada can also demand that Sri Lanka submit fully to an international war crimes tribunal where the actions of leaders on all sides of this conflict can be investigated and judged. The suffering in Sri Lanka will continue as long as there is no legal consequence, no opportunity for justice and no international will to bring a just peace.
It was more than half a century ago that Winston Churchill hailed a Canadian airman as the saviour of Ceylon. Today, Canada should feel the same duty to help save a quarter of a million Tamil civilians whose only hope is the will of the world to protect them.