Posted May 5, 2009
Call to Action

Queen’s professors demand action in Sri Lanka

Kingston - Queen’s University law professor Sharry Aiken and a group of colleagues are spearheading an assembly of Canadian University scholars who are calling on the Government of Canada to end the bloody conflict in Sri Lanka.

“The largest Tamil diaspora outside of Sri Lanka is in Canada,” states Professor Aiken. “The fact that so many Canadian Tamils are continuing to lose family members and friends in the ongoing crisis is what prompted us as concerned Canadian academics to stand in solidarity with them.”

A statement signed by 125 professors from across Canada notes that most independent observers estimate that more than 200,000 Tamil civilians, many already displaced multiple times, have been under siege in the tiny coastal strip. Confirmed reports indicate that more than 6,400 civilians, including 700 children, have been killed since January 2009.

"I witnessed protests by tens of thousands of Tamils in London, England two weeks ago,” says Samantha King, Professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University. “Many of these people are refugees from the conflict in Sri Lanka. The suffering they have endured over the years is unthinkable. I signed this statement because I want the Canadian government to act swiftly to help bring about a political resolution to the crisis.”

The scholars call on the Federal Government of Canada to work with both parties in the conflict to implement an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire, and urge the International community and the UN to take responsibility for the protection of Tamil civilians.

“The gravity of the situation in Sri Lanka is worrisome, with thousands of civilians killed and hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk,” says Darryl Robinson, Law Professor at Queen’s University. “Even in times of armed conflicts, there are rules that restrict conduct and protect civilians. Countries like Canada can help influence the situation, but the government needs to know that its citizens are not indifferent and complacent and that we are expecting action to help alleviate the crisis and to avoid violations.”


Statement on the Crisis in Sri Lanka

We are writing to express our grave concerns about the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the “safe zone” in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka. Most independent observers estimate that more than 200,000 Tamil civilians, many already displaced multiple times, have been under siege in the tiny coastal strip with at least 50,000 still there. Confirmed reports indicate that more than 6,400 civilians, including 700 children, have been killed since January 2009.

Displaced persons who have managed to flee the fighting have been placed in de facto detention camps by the Sri Lankan government where they are denied freedom of movement, in contravention of international standards. There are over 40,000 displaced people being held in 13 sites in the Vavuniya District in overcrowded conditions without adequate access to healthcare, food and water. There are reports of rape, torture and killings in the camps (Medico International, Germany, April 16, 2009). Civilians who are suspected of LTTE ties have been taken into government custody, leading to fears of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, tactics the government and its allied militias have employed in significant numbers over the past few years (Amnesty International, ASA 37/004/2009).

Recent artillery attacks by Sri Lankan forces have indiscriminately targeted civilians and civilian objects, in contravention of international humanitarian law. There are credible reports that the Sri Lankan army may be using illegal cluster bombs as well as thermobaric bombs in the safe zone with high civilian casualties. There have been more than two dozen incidents of artillery shelling or aerial bombardment on or near hospitals, in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. The presence of wounded combatants in hospitals does not turn them into legitimate targets. Deliberately attacking a hospital is a war crime. At the same time we deplore the LTTE’s forcible recruitment of civilians, including children, for untrained military duty and for labour in the combat zones as well as its practice of forcing civilians to retreat with its forces, deliberately preventing civilians under its effective control from fleeing to safety. Nevertheless, violations of the laws of war by one side to a conflict do not justify violations by the opposing side. They do not permit the indiscriminate use of force by the Sri Lankan forces in response (Human Rights Watch, 20 Februrary 2009).

The overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated dramatically since the current government assumed power in 2006. The Sri Lankan government has utilized the “war on Terror” as a cover to systematically destroy all democratic processes and institutions. Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the ‘Reporters Without Borders’ 2008 press freedom index, the lowest ranking of any democratic country. Political opponents and journalists with critical views are subject to threats, intimidation and assassination. The culture of impunity has been institutionalized. In an effort to shield its own actions from public scrutiny, the Sri Lankan government has barred most humanitarian agencies, independent observers and journalists from the conflict zones. As a result there is a lack of timely information about the situation of the trapped civilians as well as severe shortfalls in humanitarian assistance.

The government of Sri Lanka continues to justify its actions as necessary to achieve an imminent victory over “Tamil terrorism.” However, as long as the human rights of the Tamil minority are subject to systematic violation, the conflict will persist and the LTTE will garner support from Tamils in both Sri Lanka and the diaspora, despite its proscription by various Western countries, including Canada.

There is a critical need for international solidarity in the face of this immediate catastrophe. We believe that the government of Canada has a special responsibility to act to bring about an end to violations of international law and to make a significant contribution to a political resolution of this conflict. As host to the largest Tamil diaspora outside of Sri Lanka, Canada should assume a proactive role in promoting and supporting efforts aimed at resolving the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people including recognition of their right to self-determination. The world-wide Tamil diaspora is strongly represented and plays an important role in the life of many of our cities; their concerns should be our concerns too.

The previous government supported an advisory role for the Canadian Forum of Federations in Sri Lanka while the current government appointed a representative to the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) with a mandate to observe investigations into human rights abuses (the IIGEP withdrew from Sri Lanka in March 2008 in the face of Sri Lanka’s failure to meet even the basic minimum standards in probing rights abuses). Canada is uniquely positioned to reactivate and support such constructive forms of engagement.

We therefore call on the Government of Canada to:
• Work with both parties to the conflict to implement an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire.
• Urge the International community and the UN to take responsibility for the protection of Tamil civilians.
• Urge the UN Security Council to authorize timely and decisive measures to halt mass atrocities in the Vanni region of Sri Lanka, including the dispatch of a special envoy to the region, and the creation of a commission of inquiry into crimes under international law committed by any person or entity.
• Demand that the government of Sri Lanka remove restrictions imposed on access to the conflict zone for humanitarian workers and media and permit international observers in the detention camps.
• Demand that the LTTE allow civilians to continue to leave the conflict area.
• Initiate internationally mediated efforts aimed at achieving a durable political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Signed by:
Nuzhat Abbas, Toronto
Maita Abola Sayo,York University
Lyn Adamson
Sharryn J. Aiken, Law Professor, Queen's University
Greg Albo, Professor,York University
Tariq Amin-Khan, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Benjamin Baader, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba
Zaheer Baber, Professor, University of Toronto
Reem Bahdi, Professor, University of Windsor
Tanya Basok, University of Windsor
Andrew Biro, Assistant Professor, Acadia University
Malcolm Blincow, Associate Professor, York University
Raoul Boulakia, Lawyer, Toronto
Mark Bradley, UQAM
Mike Burke, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Laura Cameron, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair, Queen's University
R. Cheran, Assistant Professor, University of Windsor
Tanya Chung Tiam Fook,York University
Francis Cody, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Janet Conway, Associate Professor, Brock University
Kendra Coulter, University of Windsor
Carol Lynne D'Arcangelis, Instructor, Ryerson University
Radhika Desai, Professor, University of Manitoba
Susan Drummond, Professor, York University
Robin E. Feenstra, McGill University
Christoph Emmrich, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Bryan Evans, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Pascale Fournier, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa
Evan Fox-Decent, Assistant Professor, McGill University
Victoria Freeman, University of Toronto
Doreen Fumia, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Grace-Edward Galabuzi, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Glynis George, Associate Professor, University of Windsor
Wenona Giles, Professor, York University
Sam Gindin, York University
Harry Glasbeek, Professor Emeritus and Senior Scholar, Osgoode Hall Law School
Avvy Go, Director, Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
Ellen Goldberg, Professor, Queen's University
Rebecca Granovsky-Larsen, Ryerson University
Ricardo Grinspun, Associate Professor, York University
Gayle Gross, The NIA Group, LLC
Victoria Gross, The NIA Group, LLC
Tanya Gulliver, York University
Shubhra Gururani, Associate Professor, York University
Denise Hammond, CUPE
Barbara Jackman, Jackman & Associates, Barristers and Solicitors
Kajri Jain, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Amina Jamal, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Donna Jeffery, Associate Professor, University of Victoria
Ilan Kapoor, Associate Professor, York University
RM Kennedy, Centennial College
Samantha King, Associate Professor, Queen's University
Gary Kinsman, Professor, Laurentian University
Mustafa Koc, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Joy Kogawa
Jane Ku, Assistant Professor, University of Windsor
Anton Kuerti
Lee Lakeman, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter
Jack Layton, Leader, New Democratic Party of Canada
Genevieve LeBaron, Professor, York University
Jean Lee
N. Gitanjali Lena, Lawyer
Eleanor MacDonald, Associate Professor, Queen’s University
Audrey Macklin, Law Professor, University of Toronto
Ali Mallah, Canadian Peace Alliance/Canadian Arab Federation
Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
Susan McGrath, Associate Professor, York University
Pat McKendry
Susan McNaughton, York University
Adele Mercier, Professor, Queen's University
Nchamah Miller, Network of Latin American Investigators for Democracy and Peace
Srimoyee Mitra, SAVAC
Kevin Moloney, York University
Colin Mooers, Professor, Ryerson University
Khaled Mouammar, National President, Canadian Arab Federation
Katharine N. Rankin, Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Mary-Jo Nadeau, Trent University
Mera Nirmalan-Nathan, Ontario Public Interest Research Group
Peter Nyers, Associate Professor, McMaster University
Obiora Okafor, Professor, York University
Leo Panitch, Distinguished Research Professor, Canada Research Chair, York University
Stephen Pender, Associate Professor, University of Windsor
Steve Pitt
Srilata Raman, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Narda Razack, Associate Professor, York University
Judy Rebick, Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, Ryerson University
Darryl Robinson, Assistant Professor, Queen's University
Stephanie Ross, Assistant Professor, York University
Carole Roy, St. Francis Xavier University
Andre Schmid, Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Craig Scott, Professor of Law, Director, Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security, Osgoode Hall Law School
Alan Sears, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Mitu Sengupta, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Tyler Shipley, York University
Sadeqa Siddiqui, Centre Communautaire des Femmes Sud-Asiatique, Montreal
Preethy Sivakumar,York University
Haema Sivanesan, SAVAC
Jamie Smith, York University
Susanne Soederberg, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Political Economy, Queen’s University
Aparna Sundar, Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Donald Swartz, Associate Professor, Carleton University
Cheryl Teelucksingh, Associate Professor, Ryerson University
Vimalesan Thasan, York University
Nishant Upadhyay, York University
Ravi Vaitheespara, Associate Professor, University of Manitoba
Chris Vance, York University
Heather Vidito, CUPE
Karen Walker, York University
Rosemary Warskett, Associate Professor, Carleton University
Mel Watkins, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto
Melissa Autumn White, York University
Cynthia Wright, York University
Jesse Zimmerman, York University
Endorsed By:
Elizabeth Allen, Massey University, New Zealand
Gnana K. Bharathy, Assistant Professor, Old Dominion University, USA
Anne M. Blackburn, Cornell University, USA
Piya Chatterjee, Associate Professor, University of California Riverside, USA
Lawrence Cohen, Professor, University of California Berkeley, USA
E. Valentine Daniel, Professor, Columbia University
Öivind Fuglerud, Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
Anita Hillestad, Norway
Paul Knight, Massey University, New Zealand
Ram Mahalingam, Associate Professor, University of Michigan, USA
Dennis McGilvray, Associate Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder, USA
Mr. J.B.P. More, Institute for Research in Social Sciences and Humanities
Kathleen Morley, Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
Madhusree Mukerjee
Tove Nicolaisen, Professor, University of Oslo, Norway
Lalsangkima Pachuau, Associate Professor, Asbury Theological Seminary, USA
Peter Schalk, Professor, Uppsala University, USA
Janikke Solstad Vedeler, Norwegian Social Research
Jonas M.N. Sørensen, Norway
Margaret Trawick, Professor, Massey University, New Zealand
Padma Venkataraman, MANGAI - Theatreperson
Sita Venkateswar, Massey University, New Zealand
Mark Whitaker, Professor, University of South Carolina, USA

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