Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Are we still the party that cares?



We used to be the party that cared. We used to debate about issues that involved people's lives and how we would try and make things better for them. Now we spend hours debating about our position on the ranking scale of politics i.e are we centre left, progressives or economic/social liberals but then don't do anything with it. We are in power and we have the means to find solutions and answers to the problems that we previously spent time trying to make a difference to.

I now call upon the party to help the Tamils who suffered during the war in 2009 between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil Tigers. A programme on Channel 4 was screened last week called 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields'. I wasn't allowed to watch it but I have seen short clips of it since. The programme showed actual mobile phone and video footage of the suffering endured by the Tamils.

The Lib Dems did care. On 29 April 2009 an Opposition Day debate was called by our MPs in the House of Commons. The motion was moved by Ed Davey who said:
'That this House is concerned that the fighting in Sri Lanka has already had a devastating effect on hundreds of thousands of civillians with thousands killed and wounded, many tens of thousands traumatised and suffering from lack of food, water and basic medicines...'

Simon Hughes was one of the first, if not the first, MP to talk to the Tamils who were demonstrating in Parliament Square during that period. We looked after the Gurkhas.

David Miliband has been the only British politician to speak out on this issue. Barely any one of the British press have written or reported about the programme. This programme is important because it provides real evidence of what went on during the war. The Sri Lankan government sent away journalists and the UN and then later said that it hadn't harmed any civillians. The truth is that they didn't want any witnesses to what they did to civillians. The Tamil Tigers were to blame to and shelled and killed the Tamils. However, the point is that the Sri Lankan Government did not follow the international laws on war. Now we have evidence.

The UN produced a report in April this year called 'Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka' which said that war crimes were committed by the Government of Sri Lanka. The secretary-general, Ban-Ki Moon, has not initiated any action. China and Russia side with Sri Lanka and it seems that the UN has too.

The Liberal Democrats are part of the Government. We need to take up the position of being the party that cares, NOT the party that cared. Our mid-term rewrite of the coalition agreement is coming up and I really hope we put in there 'War Crimes'. There's thousands of Tamils in this country.

We can still debate political positions but we then need to use this to do something. I study maths in school and wonder what I am going to do with all the formulaes I learn but one day I will use it to calculate my mortgage and bills. In this way we must go into society and care.

This issue is very important to me because I am half-Tamil. I was one of thousands in Parliament Square during that period demonstrating. People told me about how worried they were about their relatives who were in danger of being killed but I didn't realise the full horrific extent of it all. I now know.

Below is a quote about the UN and some links. Please look at them.

'You won't need the U.N. You will simply need men with shovels and bleached white linen and headstones.' George Clooney 14 Sept 2006 in a speech to the UN.

http://chelliahlaity.blogspot.com/

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/21/opinion/21iht-edmiliband21.html?_r=1

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sri-lankas-killing-fields/episode-guide/series-1/episode-1
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1 comment

  1. Caring is easy when you're not in power. The Lib Dems could be as sympathetic as anything when they were out of government, and complaining about government inaction is very easy; it's a lot more difficult when you have to actually change the world. Just as the Lib Dems were very happy to be the party of students like me until they had to actually represent us, upon which all the nice-sounding rhetoric seemed to disappear.

    Back in the 1980s, when India sent peacekeeping soldiers to to intervene and mediate in the Sri Lankan civil war, they completely failed to bring peace - and the involvement of the powerful Indian military and their modern weapons meant that thousands of people were killed who would not have been. The Indians eventually withdrew, beaten, having lost many men and killed many civilians without achieving anything.

    There are very few things Britain can do or could have done to protect civilians. The Indian intervention, utter failure that it was, was the closest thing to actually controlling the situation on the ground that anyone on the outside has managed - and India came in after making agreements with the Sri Lankan government. Even assuming we had the resources to do the same (being tied down in two wars at the moment, we don't), if Britain acted unlaterally outside the UN, we would be violating Sri Lanka's sovereignty - in the eyes of the world and international law, an invasion, no different to imperial days.

    So we go through the correct channels, meaning the UN - and the UN works democratically, and many of the member nations side with the Sri Lankan government. (If you see here - http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Sri_Lankan_Civil_War_UNHRC_vote_May_2009.png - the countries in blue voted specifically to support the government against the Tigers, the countries in red, including Britain, did not.) If we ignore the UN resolution then we are saying the UN has no mandate - if we do not follow the rules, why should anyone else?

    And even if the majority were against the Sri Lankan government, there is very little that the UN can practically do either, short of another intervention. There are all sorts of allegations, cases of international law, ways of allocating blame to the Sri Lankan government - but whether this punishes those responsible or not (and usually it doesn't) there is no direct link between any of this and stopping the killing. The people who have been killed will still be dead. And what can we do now, after the fact? Economic sanctions against the Sri Lankan government? Those tend to hurt the poorest people most - which in this case would be the Tamils themselves.

    What's happened in Sri Lanka is hideous. But there are powerful reasons that the party and the government, no matter how much it cares (or does not care) cannot make a difference. For the same reasons, many times in the past (like in Darfur, or Rwanda, or Cambodia) we have stood by and let atrocities happen. Not necessarily because we do not care, but because Britain is not the world's policeman: we don't have the right, or the power, to stop things like this happening.

    But that doesn't make it right.


    - Jeremy (from the train)

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