Despite the October chill, over 30,000 British Tamils and supporters took to the streets on Saturday, to highlight the desperate situation faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka who remain detained in ‘concentration camps’, and in protest against UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s failure to protect these innocent civilians.
As the Sri Lankan government continues to pledge to release the imprisoned civilians within 180 days, the protesters marched through central London highlighting the fact that over 280,000 of them continue to endure arbitrary detention, and the promised release deadline is only 30 days away.
Tens of thousands congregated at Victoria Embankment, chanting slogans and brandishing harrowing placards. They called for the immediate release of the imprisoned civilians and an international independent probe into war crimes, while strongly condemning UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s inaction.
The protesters, young and old, marched past Parliament, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Park Lane and into Hyde Park. Members of the Tamil Youth Organisation engaged with the public, handing out leaflets explaining the purpose of the mass demonstration.
Large banners and bill-boards depicted civilians languishing behind barbed wire, and the enactment of scenes from the camps, with armed military imposing aggression on the detainees, grabbed the attention of many tourists and passers-by on London’s streets.
Alongside the messages of protest against the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, many demonstrators hoisted United Nations flags, appealing to them to uphold international peace, security and human rights.
Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said: ‘These are detention camps! With the human rights record of the Sri Lankan government, we must end the trade concessions.
‘If they refuse to listen, if they do not set the people free from the camps, they could face individual target sanctions against them.’
Andrew Pelling, Independent MP for Central Croydon asked: ‘How can it be that a five-year-old child, who stands behind barbed wire, can be a threat to the Sri Lankan government?
‘It’s clear they are willing to brand anyone, even a five-year-old child, as a terrorist.’
Sarah Colborne, Palestinian Solidarity, said: ‘Struggle for justice, for human rights, for quality and for freedom is universal.
‘If governments do not act, we must act ourselves.’
Cllr Julian Bell, Leader of the Ealing Labour Party and researcher for the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils (APPG-T), declared: ‘The eyes of the world have turned away.
‘The UN Human Rights Council has accepted the report about the human rights violations and also the war crimes committed in Gaza.
‘Why not the same thing for Tamil people in Sri Lanka? We need to make sure there is an independent investigation into war crimes.’
Andrew Higginbottom of Latin-American Solidarity added: ‘We demand that the International Red Cross has immediate access to the camps.
‘Sri Lanka sent their general to Europe to say that this video is a fabrication and a fraud.
‘If it is a fabrication, then you will open the doors of the detention camps and allow the UN investigators in there.’
Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East and Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: ‘We need world powers in one united voice calling for an end to these camps.
‘The UK and EU should demand the camps be closed.
‘Sri Lanka’s favourable trade preferentials by the EU must not be extended.
‘I appeal to the Chairman of M&S, Tesco, Asda – stop buying goods from this country until they unlock the camps.’
Cllr Daniel Bessong, Liberal Democrat Chair of Brent’s Black & Minority Ethnic Consultative Forum, said: ‘Let’s campaign together so that there will be a free Tamil Eelam in our lifetime.’
Joan Ryan, Labour MP for Enfield North, added: ‘Not IDP camps – these are detention camps.
‘We call upon the United Nations to live up to its mandate to protect those whose human rights are being trampled underfoot, and speak up and do all that it can on behalf of the Tamil people held in these camps.’
Siobhain McDonagh, Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, said: ‘It cannot be right to keep a tenth of your population behind barbed wire at the same time as asking the international community for aid to keep them there – and it’s only the aid from the international community that is keeping them there.’
Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, complained: ‘We don’t know the full story because they won’t allow the reporters in to find out.
‘We’ve heard of the young women who are taken away by groups of soldiers – young men taken off and never seen again.’
John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said: ‘No government can stand aside while people are imprisoned in the camps and enduring this intolerable suffering, so we’re calling upon all governments of the world to move against Sri Lanka and demand the freeing of the Tamil people in the camps.’
The representative of the Tamil Youth Organisation stated: ‘In this so-called ‘age of human rights’, human rights in itself, has failed the very people it was meant to protect.
‘The international body set up to prevent such disasters, the UN, has not done so.
‘When lives are on the line, and there is not only such an obvious distortion of justice, but a blatant disregard for justice itself, the UN should have acted months ago.’
Protesters issued a Memorandum to UK Prime Minister Brown, urging him to actively seek the release of the innocent people held against their will, especially with the impending monsoon which raises fears of an imminent humanitarian crisis. This was delivered with the following demands:
‘We want the British government to demand,
‘1. The Sri Lankan government releases immediately all the Tamil people held against their will.
‘2. The UN, ICRC and INGOs are given full and unhindered access to care for and protect the civilians and help them return to wherever they choose to live.
‘3. A list of all those still alive and in custody be published, so that families can stop searching for loved ones.
‘4. Those who continue to be detained as alleged LTTE combatants be treated in accordance with the provisions of international law, and urgently given access to legal representation.
‘5. Independent, international investigation into war crimes committed during the war.
‘6. The Sri Lankan government stops its activities that are designed to destroy the character of the Tamil Homelands.
‘7. The international community actively objects to the reappointment of Ban Ki-Moon as UN General Secretary’.