"Tamils under existential threat"

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 04 February 2009, 05:16 GMT]
In an interview with BBC's Lyse Doucet in Tuesday's Newshour program, British member of the US-based group Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), Jan Jananayagam, says, "[g]enocide by UN definition is an attempt to destroy in part or in whole an ethnic group. I think that what is going here becomes perilously close to at least destruction at least in part," and adds that the "existential threat to Tamils" in Sri Lanka has to be immediately recognized to avoid mistakes made in Rwanda where obstruction to recognition of genocide early resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.

Full transcript of the interview segment follows:

PDF IconBBC Newshour interview with TAG
BBC: To [obtain] Tamil perspective, I have been talking to Jan Jananayagam of NGO Tamils against Genocide. She came to our studio before I came on air. I asked if she supported this call to the Tamil tigers to lay down their arms.
Jananayagam: Absolutely not. We would not suggest that this is the starting point of this discussion. As a Tamil group, what we like to see is official acceptance that genocide is on going in Srilanka. We think that understanding the problem is the key to the solution. We think that lot of NGOs have come out and talked about genocide there.

BBC: I think they talked about – we have to be careful now, genocide does refer to something absolutely atrocious –we know there are civilians have been suffering and civilians have been killed. but, let us talk about the extent, trying to end it. Do you think laying down arms will do something to stop.
Jananayagam: “No I don’t. I don’t. I disagree with you on the point that genocide is something atrocious. Genocide by UN definition is an attempt to destroy in part or in whole an ethnic group. I think that what is going here becomes perilously close to at least destruction at least in part. The problem with genocide is you don’t recognize then till they are over. We never did in past till they are over. We also say as Tamils that this is a long running genocide started with legislation when a million Tamils lost citizenship. It is a very very long running structural issue.

BBC: But that is OK, what is being said now is the government has asked the Tamil tigers to release civilians – the international community and the Red Cross and the UN has talked about freedom of movement for people. so they are also in effect asking the Tamil Tigers to leave the conflict zone.
Jananayagam: That I agree with. That is perfectly fine. I don’t think that the Tamil tigers are holding the people back from the conflict zone of preventing them from moving …

BBC: Then why would the UN then call on them to provide freedom of movement, if they are ..
Jananayagam: That is a very interesting question for UN. The UN should be asking why those people are being shelled. why hospitals are being shelled, why safe zones are being shelled. There are 5000 shells that fell on the safe zone. The question is why is that happening? you can’t force people to move away from their homes. I don’t think UN should be suggesting that. It is a war crime to shell civilians in a safe zone. The UN should recognize that war crime right now. We need to recognize what is going on now by the name.

BBC: I think this group of countries all of them who were trying to play a part in ending the conflict are saying is that the Tamil tigers are being defeated on one battle field after another. It is a matter of time. Therefore, why not end it now before more lives are lost.
Jananayagam: I completely agree that is how they see it. But as Tamils, we believe that they see it wrong. The problem is not a problem of civil war – not a problem of terrorism as it is made out to be. It is an attack on Tamil people. There is a reason why Tamil people, civilians are being killed by their own government – supposedly their own government, Srilankan government is attacking its own people. Tamil people are under existential threat. We have been for a very long time. Nobody else seem to recognize that.

BBC: So, what would you say that. You don’t agree with the call to lay down the arms. what is the means to stop this – we both agree on this – the suffering of civilians?
Jananayagam: It is to recognize that there are war crimes, that there are acts of genocide. If you do not wish to recognize complete genocide, you can begin with acts of genocide. It is to impose sanctions for war crimes. It is to even that – balance out the playing field between the government and the Tigers.

BBC: That is after the fighting is over there should be an investigation into. What about now, when the fighting is continuing?
Jananayagam: I think that the recognition has to be immediate. In Rwanda, that was the mistake that was made. In Rwanda, the US and Britain obstructed recognition. That cost lives.

BBC: So, should the Tamil Tiger rebels keep fighting?
Jananayagam: I don’t think the UN, based on its record in Rwanda, has proved that it can alone defend the Tamil people. Tamil people are under threat, and there is a party required to defend them. The Tamil people have to choose.


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