Thousands of Canadian Tamils and public officials gathered in front of the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park in Toronto to commemorate the second annual International War Crimes Day remembrance ceremony.
Two years ago, the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka came to an end, but the battle within the country between the Singhalese, the Tamils and the international community wages on.
The international Tamil community is urging countries across the globe and the United Nations to establish an independent inquiry into the actions committed by the Sri Lankan security forces during the final days of the war.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government is denying all accusations of wrongdoing and have conducted their own inquests to investigate all of the allegations and testimony from those who were involved or were victims in the war.
The United Nations published a report from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Panel of Experts last month, which came under high scrutiny by the Sri Lankan government and Tamil officials from around the world.
“It’s [the report] is okay, but initially the figures what they have was very low – the figures where peopled died – and then later on, they came up with the true figures, but still the count will become a little more later on,” said Pipira, a Tamil official who works with various NGOs.
“I feel like, and the Tamil people feel like, that the initial figure that the Sri Lankan government said was only 75,000 trapped, but that’s the amount of food and medication they sent to the people and after all, the figure has risen to 300,000 so that means that’s also part of the war crimes because the number of people in custody is higher than that.”
“Credible allegations made by the United Nations report demand nothing short of an independent, impartial and international war crimes inquiry—similar to the tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda,” said the spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Tamils. “The allegations made in the report represent a fundamental assault on the very foundation of international law designed to protect civilians during an armed conflict.”
On Wednesday, thousands of Canadian Tamils all dressed in black packed Queen’s Park along with several Canadian public officials, including the recently elected Tamil New Democrat Member of Parliament Rathika Sitsabaiesan.
As part of its remembrance and commemoration for the thousands of civilians who perished in the civil war, the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT) hosted the second annual War Crimes Day ceremony in front of the Ontario Legislature.
This event included segments of song and dance, speeches from MPs and Members of Provincial Parliament, activists from non-governmental organizations and representatives from the NCCT and TGTE.
“Right now, standing here as a worker, as a Canadian, as a Muslim, I want to be Tamil with you today,” said Shaila Kabris, former Ontario NDP candidate. “I want to be Tamil with you until we can call ourselves all equal. Right now we’re not equal. Right now what is happening is not equal. Why do some people get an investigation? Some people have a trial. Some people go to court. Why isn’t everyone getting that?”
Canadian officials speak out
Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Glenn Murray started the event with a speech congratulating the efforts made by the Tamil community in Toronto. He also awarded the NCCT with an honorary plaque.
Sitsabaiesan read out a speech from Peter Julian, NDP Member of Parliament from British Columbia, in which he apologized for not attending the event, but he noted that he was “with you in spirit” and is in “total support of your goal” of the “worthy cause” because it involves truth and justice for the nation of Sri Lanka.
“I am deeply troubled and shocked by the recent revelations by the UN panel of experts citing the Sri Lanka government and its armed forces as guilty as killing 70,000 innocent Tamil civilians in May of 2009,” wrote Julian. “Everyone should work together to ensure the murderers are brought to justice.”
Michael Prue, NDP Member of Provincial Parliament, thanked the thousands in attendance for contributing to the understanding of Canadians of the history and crises, which he notes, persists in Sri Lanka.
“I remember all those many months and years ago walking down those streets, and there were tens of thousands of people, just like there are here today, in front of the American embassy demanding that there be a peace. And I never saw such a disciplined and wonderful group in my entire life,” said Prue.
He further added that everyone stood in solidarity and promoted the one message to everyone in Canada, despite having the feelings of “despair” and “despondency” because of friends and relatives “suffering in Sri Lanka.
“You’re bringing the whole world’s attention here tonight. You are standing here united as one people to ask for justice, to ask for freedom and to ask for the international community to recognize what happened years ago because the world needs to know what happened there.”
Sitsabaiesan, garnering a loud applause from the audience, spoke in both English and in Tamil where she said she “wanted to be one of the strong voices for those who have been marginalized” in Canada and in Sri Lanka.
Due to the UN report and media coverage, the Tamils have been vindicated and have been proven correct because everything the report stated is what the Tamil community has been saying all along for the past two years.
“The recent report from the UN panel of experts revealed to the world and revealed many of the atrocities that we all knew what was happening in the island of Sri Lanka for many, many decades,” said the newly elected NDP MP. “The war without witnesses that has taken place on the island finally has some international media coverage because of the United Nations report.”
The MP stated that everyone is standing in solidarity for those innocent women, children and seniors who lost their lives or suffered from abuse, rape, imprisonment, involuntary disappearance and torture during the civil war.
Tamils everywhere are still continuing the Tamil Genocide Remembrance Month. This weekend, community organizations will coordinate a tree planting ceremony in Toronto to remember the strife that has plagued the lives of millions.
Next week, the blood donation campaign will carry on.