As Israeli Apartheid Week continues, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the South African Tamil Federation, in a show of solidarity with occupied peoples, convened a seminar that focused on the “Similarities and Challenges Facing the People of Sri-Lanka and the People of Palestine”. The discussion was led by the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights, Yasmin Sooka.
Sooka explained that this struggle, by a people that are fighting for the right to dSanath Priyanthaignity and self-determination, is not a struggle that should be supported by a particular religious group. She furthermore, emphasized that these struggles are human rights struggles and, therefore, encouraged the Muslim community to fight both struggles on the same basis.
Sri Lanka emerged from a thirty-year long war that was based on religious and ethnic differences.
The Tamil liberation Tigers were defeated in the war in May 2009. The Tamil community, since the defeat, have lived under military occupation. Furthermore, despite the end to the conflict, the Tamil community continue to reside on the north east of the island, whist the Buddhist community reside on the west of the island.
“We drew the similarities between the Tamil community and the Palestinians and the fact that both of them have lived under occupation for many decades and that they been the subject of many United Nations (UN) resolutions and have suffered massive human rights violations,” Sooka noted.
Sooka explained that the Sri Lankans, after the Japanese Kamikaze pilots, taught the world about suicide bombing. The Black Tiger units, made up of females, exploded themselves, an action that was viewed as a means of “ultimate resistance.”
The Tamil community have fought for the right to self-determination and the recognition of their rights as a people. An inquiry into crimes committed against the Tamil community has subsequently confirmed that violations amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
She explains that in the last year, Sri Lanka has seen a change in leadership that has committed itself to setting up a number of transitional justice mechanisms. She, however, notes that this commitment, one year later, is still to be fulfilled.
“What we are trying to do is to look at what has happened in both instances and draw the lines of solidarity of human rights struggles of both these people’s right to live with dignity.”
Palestine has witnessed the annexation of large stretches of land, in the face of large scale oppression, which has been the agenda of numerous UN resolutions, as well as judgments by the International Court of Justice.
“If we talk about solutions for giving people freedom and equality, the first thing you have to deal with, in both instances, is how do you get the land back?” Sooka asserted.
Since the right of return of Palestinian has been confirmed by the UN, Sooka therefore, raises the question about the practical aspect of Palestinians accessing stolen land.
She asserts that president Barack Obama’s allusion to a third UN resolution does not hold strong, since “we can never be free unless the Palestinians are free as well.”
Sooka noted that the Russell Tribunal set in Cape Town, found that the occupation of Palestine is worse than Apartheid South Africa.
“In both instances what we have seen is extremely chauvinist governments, who are racist in nature, oppress people who are different to them.”
She, therefore, asserts that the struggle is about recognition and the right to live in dignity, despite religious and ethnic differences.
“We in the human rights community have said that the Geneva Conventions must apply irrespective of who you are dealing with, because yesterday’s terrorist is tomorrow’s respected person,” Sooka concluded.
VOC (Thakira Desai)