Responding to an appeal by city councillor Marvin Rotrand for support to the Tamils in wartorn Sri Lanka, Mount Royal Liberal MP Irwin Cotler points out he has been speaking in their defence and for an end to hostilities for some time.
“This is an issue that Irwin Cotler is deeply engaged with,” said Howard Liebman, Cotler’s political assistant at the riding office. He said Cotler has had numerous meetings with members of the Montreal Tamil community to hear their version of events in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka.
The Mount Royal riding, which extends over a large area of Côte des Neiges, has a significant number of people of Tamil origin among its constituents. Last week during the Borough of Côte des Neiges-NDG’s monthly public meeting, Rotrand said equating Tamils with terrorism is “odious.” He said the situation in Sri Lanka is “completely out of control.”
Since 1983, a civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a separatist militant organization that is fighting to create an independent state, has taken a heavy toll.
Aided by an international crackdown on funding to the Tigers, the Sri Lankan government in recent years has managed to regain control of more than 99 per cent of the territory. However, in recent weeks the government’s escalated military interventions, leading towards what it claims will bring closure to the conflict, have resulted in an especially high civilian toll “There’s a tendency in some media to equate the word Tamil with terrorism, which I find is a rather odious association,” said Rotrand. “I think somebody’s got to intervene. This situation’s completely out of control and it’s a humanitarian crisis.”
Addressing the House of Commons in February on Sri Lanka’s independence day, Cotler noted that Canada is home to the largest number of people from the Tamil diaspora outside of south Asia. “Tamil Canadians are gathering to mourn the loss of innocent civilians who have been killed in hostilities with the Sri Lankan government,” he said. “Indeed, we grieve with them for the deaths of innocents and the death of innocence, as well as for the ongoing violations of human rights and humanitarian law. “We in Canada have a particular nexus to this conflict,” he added. “First is an immediate ceasefire with a framework for a sustained and enduring end to hostilities, for while an immediate ceasefire is necessary, it is not enough. We need an accompanying framework to ensure that the ceasefire will be sustained and will endure. “Second, we need a return to the negotiating table for the mediation of a peaceful resolution to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka … (and) an equitable power sharing arrangement within the framework of a federalist orientation … Canada can play a particular role with respect both to the federalist framework and to the protection of minority rights within that federalist framework. “Third is that the Sri Lankan government must allow the free flow of humanitarian aid to the conflict zone and allow international aid workers unimpeded access to the affected areas. The fourth item is that journalists must be given and allowed unfettered access to the conflict area so that they can not only report on the current situation in the north and east but also determine the nature and scope of assaults on press freedom. “Fifth, all parties must be called upon to respect the rights of civilians in armed conflict and to adhere to human rights and humanitarian law norms, including ― and here I make this particular appeal to the Sri Lankan government ― ceasing and desisting from any targeting of civilians and protected persons and from targeting those in protected zones. “Sixth, we must support the call for the appointment of a United Nations special envoy for Sri Lanka to monitor and guard against abuses and to assist the peace process, as has been recommended by the United Nations itself, by the United States Department of State and by other international actors. “Finally, I have excerpts of letters of the past six U.S. ambassadors to Sri Lanka, which have been echoed in other international comments in that regard. They make the point that in fact, the major threat to democracy and the rule of law in Sri Lanka has not only been that which has come from the actions of the government or that which has come from the actions of the LTTE. “We need to appreciate the threats that come from those who wish to undermine constitutionalism, who seek to undermine the rule of law, who seek to undermine the independence of the judiciary and the proper functioning of public institutions. “In conclusion, we need to guard against the abuse of authority to destroy dissent. The concerns I cited above are the major causes of the serious deterioration of the rule of law, human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka. In concert with the government and the international community, there is a lot for us as a House to do to put an end to the suffering in Sri Lanka, to protect human security and to promote peace.”