Bruce Fein and Sri Lanka's Tamils

In the video embedded below, Riz Khan speaks with Mahinda Gunasekara the President of SLUNA, James Ross the legal and policy director for Human Rights Watch, and Bruce Fein.

Bruce Fein is introduced to the show as the legal counsel for a group called Tamils for Justice. However, on the Tamil Tigers' official website -- Tamilnet -- the cover page of the genocide indictment that Fein submitted against Gothabaya Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka states that Fein is the counsel for Tamils against Genocide [TAG].

It is then safe to say that Tamils for Justice and Tamils against Genocide are operated by the same individuals.

I pointed out previously that Jan Jananayagam the spokesperson for TAG had close links with the Tamil Tigers. She claimed to have spoken with the senior Tiger leadership during the final days of the conflict. Not every Tamil rights group has direct contact with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The Tamil Tigers were cornered and no average Joe could converse with it's leadership. Unless of course they were Tigers themselves, or represent the interest of the Tigers.

Al Jazeera
There was no immediate comment on the situation from the LTTE, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers. Reports are impossible to independently verify as the government has barred most journalists and aid workers from the conflict zone.

Jan Jananayagam from a group called Tamils Against Genocide, who has spoken to the LTTE, told Al Jazeera: "The Tamil Tigers have called for international intervention.

"They have said they are willing to co-operate with the UN and America. They do so because the people are suffering in the most enormous way," she said.
Jananayagam not only spoke to the Tigers, but also carried a message from them to Al Jazeera. She however failed to inform the Tigers in that conversation that there wouldn't be any suffering if they laid down their arms and allowed the civilians to flee.

The media networks must think a just and fair debate on Sri Lanka has to include a spokesperson from the Tamil Tigers who claims to represent all Tamils.

Bruce Fein should perhaps listen to his own advice. Tamils are different from the Tigers. No elected government in Sri Lanka is entrusted with the task of making Tamil lives miserable. Sri Lanka was always at war with Tamil extremism. Not all Tamils are Tigers, but all Tigers are Tamil.

Unfortunately when it came to protecting the lives of 20 million citizens of Sri Lanka, racial profiling became the norm. The Sri Lankan government had to make a decision. Should law enforcement pay close scrutiny to a minority because suicide bombers could be hiding among them, or sideline the safety of all, including Tamils, and protect civil liberties and rights.

Sri Lanka was at war. Desperate times required desperate measures. Asking Tamils from Tiger controlled territory to carry special passes, or more scrutiny at a checkpoint, is not intended to discriminate against Tamils. It is a desperate attempt to protect Sri Lankan citizens. Tamils included.

Bruce Fein does not represent Sri Lanka's 4 million Tamils. He represents a group calling it's self Tamils against Genocide. Which in return represents the interests of the Tigers. Those languishing in camps do not represent all of the island's Tamils either. Fein is wrong when he thinks Tamils living in Colombo are refugees. Some have lived in Colombo for over 60 years. When you turn a lawyer into an expert on what Al Jazeera terms is an "ethnic conflict," he will then say anything to suit his client's interests and his argument.

Bruce Fein is a lawyer hired by a group which is funded and operated by individuals who sympathise with the Tamil Tigers. Their solution for Sri Lanka's Tamils is to hand almost half of the island's land mass to a group who abducted Tamil kids as child soldiers. Their solution is for a democratically elected government - with Tamils in it - to give a group - which pioneered suicide bombings - the authority to represent all Tamils on the island. That is not democracy nor is it an answer to Sri Lanka's problems.

The Tamil Tigers and the movement's support base has made every attempt to get even with the Sri Lankan government after the crushing defeat inflicted on them. They have been involved in protests, smear campaigns, genocide indictments, blocking loans, and even attempted to try and prevent the New Zealand cricket team from touring the island.

Every such endeavour has failed.

Jan Jananayagam attempted to run for EU parliament promising to help the Tigers get even with Sri Lanka. She failed. An attempt to block an IMF loan failed. The IMF granted more money than Sri Lanka had requested. The New Zealand cricket team is currently in Sri Lanka for their 2009 tour. The smear campaign isn't working either. Tourism arrivals are on the rise.

Fein's genocide indictment is yet another expensive failure. His facts are skewed by the Tamil Tigers' version of facts, and it wont hold up in any court.

The Tamils Against Genocide counsel also outlined how he would prove "intent" of genocide. He pointed out that Sri Lanka was a unique nation whose history was the history of cultural genocide, and how much of the restraint was lifted after the British left the island. The myths of the Mahavamsa say that Sri Lanka belongs to no one but the Sinhalese, and the text celebrates kings for slaughtering Tamils. Secondly, the teachings of Dharmapala, celebrate the purity of the Aryan race and establish the idea of racial supremacy. Because Dharmpala is as sacred to the Sinhalese as Jesus to the Christians, a notion of supremacy has been entrenched in them. This legacy is being continued by Sinhalese Buddhist monks. Every Buddhist classroom in the South is an instruction in genocide. Mr.Fein also pointed out that this was one of the reasons why Buddhist monks launched protests against peace on the island and continuously agitated against the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) from 2002-2008.
The above is part of what Fein's case is built on. You don't have to be an expert on Sri Lanka to know that the above is garbage. Sri Lankan history provides stronger evidence that Tamils and Sinhalese have co-existed in harmony, and as one people for centuries. I have also written about the day to day existence of Sri Lanka's people. Ethnicity is irrelevant to most Sri Lankans.

Isn't it callous to ask Bruce Fein "what the way forward" is?

"Sunshine is the best disinfectant," said Fein in response to Khan's question, which asked him "what is the way forward."

Fein then went on to ramble about a media blackout, little human aid allowed for Tamils, and no human rights groups in Sri Lanka, before admitting that there is nothing more to be done than to just talk about it.

A very expensive spokesperson.

The video below --ironically also by Al Jazeeera-- disproves much of what Fein says. It makes a mockery of Riz Khan's questioning as well.

When other Al Jazeera correspondents gain access to Sri Lanka, and speak first hand to people fleeing the conflict zone, how could it be called a media blackout? Sure.. media access is limited, but couldn't Khan have said: "Mr. Fein our correspondents have been given access -- be it limited -- to the front lines."

Why didn't Riz Khan say: "Mr Fein the Tamils we spoke to who fled the Safe Zone were all relieved to be in government territory, and they spoke of how the Tigers sold them Red Cross aid."

Sri Lanka's official response to some of Fein's claims can be found on the Ministry of Defence website.

Regular readers of this blog know how frustrated I get when I see incompetent public speakers addressing the media. Sri Lanka was poorly represented on Riz Khan's show, and there is nothing you and I can do about it. Sri Lankan community organisations like SLUNA should entrust the task of talking to the media to young, educated, and more capable speakers. Gunasekara may be an ideal candidate for president of SLUNA. A capable spokesperson he is not.

The Riz Khan show embedded above was open to the public. Viewers were allowed to submit their questions. Rizvi Juaideen's comment which was aired expresses the frustration many Sri Lankans share when the term "ethnic conflict" is used on Sri Lanka.

Rizvi's message to the show read: "There was no war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils. It was a war between the government and brutal terrorist organisation called the LTTE. But the Western media always try to describe it as war between two ethnic groups."

Going by Rizvi's name he is most certainly not Sinhalese. That is a Muslim name and belongs to yet another Tamil speaking minority on the island.

It was only the Tigers, and those sympathetic to the movement, that gave the notion that the Tigers were fighting for equal rights. It is documented that Prabhakaran and the Tamil Tigers were a group of bank robbers and common criminals who changed their Modus operandi to a liberation movement.

Fein says "the Tamil Tigers only came into being after years of peaceful Gandhi like protest." Again Fein has associated the Tigers with moderate Tamils who carried out peaceful protests from the 50s. Discriminatory laws that existed in the 50s -- like the "Sinhalese only" language policy-- were squashed several years before the Tigers existed.

The peaceful "Gandhi like" protest were all linked to Sri Lanka's national language policy which made Sinhalese the official language of Sri Lanka after independence from Britain. The peaceful protesters were not all Tamil. The Sinhalese protested the law as well. The government subsequently changed the flawed policy in 1958. How then does one claim that the Tigers were as a result of peaceful protests going unheard? The Tigers came into existence in the late 70s.

Let's also not forget that Sri Lankan Muslims speak Tamil as well. They, however, didn't wage war over it. The story of Sri Lanka is complex, but it gets easier to understand when you remove the Tamil Tigers, their paid agents, and their propaganda out of the picture.

The most recent campaign by the Tigers is to force Sri Lanka -- via Western media outlets and unaccountable human rights organisations -- to resettle the displaced quickly. It is important to note that these concerns are not out of compassion, but more to do with trying to free their battle hardened cadres who are yet to be screened in refugee camps. Thankfully the Sri Lankan government does not share such misplaced compassion.

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