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Clare Hilley: Sri Lanka - The New Rwandan Crisis?

Clarehilley Clare, training to be a pilot, is Chair of Croydon Conservative Future and has previously held branch, area and national positions within CF. Having stood in local council elections in both Lancashire and Croydon, she believes that CF should engage in and explore international issues.

The genocides and ethnic cleansing of the Sudan and Rwanda are all too well known. But the murders of innocent Sri Lankans have been occurring for nearly twenty five years, and yet few know of the devastating effects the government there is having on its minority peoples.

The Sri Lankan population is made up of two main groups: the Sinhalese (mainly Buddhist) who comprise seventy four per cent; and the Tamils (mainly Christian and Hindu, and of Indian descent), who make up 18.1 per cent. In 1948, after gaining independence, the Sinhalese dominated parliament passed the Ceylon Citizenship Act. This stripped the majority of Tamil plantation workers of their citizenship, and hence their vote. The law stated that only those born before November 1949, to a father who was also born in Ceylon, were eligible for citizenship.

In order to ease international pressure, the government also passed the Indian and Pakistani (Residents) Citizenship Act. This allowed married couples who had been resident for at least seven years in Ceylon since 1939 (and ten years for those who were unmarried since 1936) to apply for citizenship. Due to discriminating procedures though, of the eight hundred thousand Tamils who applied, only one hundred and forty thousand became citizens. Between 1964 and 1974, seven hundred thousand Tamils were deported against their will, allowing the Sinhalese to take control of the former north eastern Tamil strongholds.

In the 1980s, civil war erupted in the nation when the political tensions reached a peak. Since then, over sixty thousand people on both sides have been killed. Yet despite all the blood shed and violence, little has been achieved. Tamils are still not free to practise Christianity or Hinduism; they still do not have free democratic votes; and a Tamil child must attain grades thirty percent higher than a Sinhalese child if they wise to attend university.

Sri Lanka has one of the worst disappearance records in the world, second only to Iraq. It would be unfair to rest all the blame for the violence on the Sri Lankan government, as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, a militant Tamil resistance group) have a share of the blood on their hands as well. Yet since this January alone, over seven hundred Tamil civilians have been killed, the vast majority of whom had no connections with the LTTE.

Whilst standing as a council candidate in Croydon this past May, I became concerned with a group of Tamils who have fled Sri Lanka in fear of their lives. One of them showed me the gunshot wound he had received from government troops. His only crime had been his descendancy.

It is unacceptable that our party leader and the Shadow Foreign Secretary should condemn Israel for defending itself from attacks by a government backed terrorist group, yet remain silent over the outrages and atrocities performed by a supposed democratic state. In his efforts to become yet more obsequious to the White House, Tony Blair has sided with the Sri Lankan government; he has effectively grouped the Tamil freedom fighters with murderous al Qaeda terrorists, continuing in his over simplification of the War on Terror.

We free citizens of this country talk about being let down by Labour. But we are not the ones who have truly been left stranded by the government. Britain has always fought dictatorship, and championed the cause of freedom. We are the creators of parliamentary democracy, and long before any other nation we had freedoms of association and speech.

The Conservative Party has pioneered these beliefs and enshrined them into the British way of life. It is we who should be the ones to continue this proud tradition by listening to those who have been made to flee half way around the world, leaving behind them friends, family and homes. If David Cameron really does wish to make a better future for our children, he should not simply talk about combating climate change as a be all and end all.

Because greener world or not, many Tamil children aren’t going to live to see any semblance of a future.

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