Still Surprised? Britain Deports Tamils FOR Torture in Sri Lanka
[Phil Miller, Stop Deporation Blog, 24th September 2012]
Human rights groups were outraged at torture risk for Tamils as UK Border Agency went ahead with their sixth mega deportation to Sri Lanka last week. This article goes beyond the liberal outrage and argues that British authorities deport Tamils because they know torture awaits them in Colombo, not in spite of it.
These mass expulsions to Sri Lanka have gone like clockwork since resuming in June 2011: 6 flights in 15 months. But commentators in the liberal press were still surprised by the latest one. Jerome Taylor in the Independent asked: “How dare we allow people to be transported to regimes we know go in for this abuse?”
Well, ordinary people did try to stop it. A man dived under one of the deportation coaches and chained his neck to the chassis (watch this video). A tweet by Jerome Taylor shows he knew about this protest:
Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) September 19, 2012
Why was this direct action omitted from his final article?
Jerome Taylor instead focused on the UK asylum system, hoping that one day it would stop the deportations: “Crucially, our own asylum tribunals are beginning to recognise that returnees have been tortured”. In this way, the UKBA’s routine deportation of dozens of people to face a forensically documented risk of torture is explained by the Independent as an uncharacteristic error by British officials.
Now, in fairness to Jerome Taylor, his coverage on the flight was more detailed than most, and leagues ahead of Charles Haviland’s damage limitation exercise for the BBC (more on that another time). But it is myopic to present the issue as an aberration in the British State’s regard for human rights. Taylor’s article made no mention of Britain’s long-term complicity in the Tamil genocide. If Her Majesty’s Government had not supported the annihilation of autonomous Tamil areas in the north of Sri Lanka, many people would not have had to flee the island in the first place. When this wider context is included (i.e. the British State’s long-term support for a unitary and oppressive Sri Lanka), is it really surprising that UKBA is complicit in repressing Tamil nationalists?
Historically, it was the British in the early 19th century who amalgamated the distinct Tamil and Sinhalese Kingdoms to govern the island as one administrative unit. More recently, in 2009, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) did not attempt to halt Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa from massacring 40,000 Tamil civilians in the Vanni region. Contrast this with William Hague’s active support at the UN Security Council for a ‘no-fly-zone’ over Libya two years later. Or look at arms sales – an obvious way to show how the UK is complicit in Sri Lankan war crimes. Campaign against the Arms Trade report that during the “ceasefire” between the Sri Lankan government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from 2005 to 2008, the UK government approved arms export licenses worth a total of £18 million. In the “post-conflict” period, the UK continues to licence arms sales to Sri Lanka. Tamil areas remain heavily militarised and are under defacto occupation by the Sri Lankan Army. Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods MP, who led the British delegation to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Sri Lanka this month, candidly referred to this “heavy military presence” in the North.
Despite the clear colonial legacy, important NGO’s continue to treat the Sri Lankan state as completely divorced from its former colonial master. Freedom from Torture (FfT) concluded in their latest report that the Sri Lankan authorities may be targeting Tamils returning from Britain in an attempt “to terrorise the Tamil diaspora community in the UK” so they won’t “organise opposition to the Sri Lankan government”. But FfT assume the British authorities are naïve about the consequences of their charter flight policy.
In fact, Britain actively facilitates the process of terrorising the diaspora by organising these charter flights. There was evidence of this as early as June last year, when Barrister Shivani Jegarajah blogged that UKBA was sharing Tamil asylum seekers’ confidential immigration files with the Sri Lankan High Commission before the first charter flight. And yet this key fact is still absent from the debate over deportations to Sri Lanka. Look at another excerpt from Jerome Taylor’s article: “Those who have been tortured have reported how their interrogators are often more interested with what they get up to over here than at home. A number of survivors, including one woman I interviewed last week, have detailed how pictures and video footage of them attending anti-Sri Lankan government rallies in London have been used in their interrogations as proof of support for the LTTE”. Taylor makes no mention of how these images got into the hands of the Sri Lankan authorities, even though the Metropolitan Police’s Forward Intelligence Teams constantly filmed Tamil protesters at the massive Parliament Square protests in 2009, and now sends senior Counter-Terrorism officers disguised as Police Liaison officers to commemorations like the Black July rally in Stratford this summer.
The British Establishment supported President Rajapaksa’s “war without witnesses”. It should be no surprise that they continue working together to cover up their atrocities. The threat of deportation and torture are powerful tools intended to terrorise the surviving witnesses into silence.