Sri Lanka's Silenced Dissenters Still Speak Volumes

"What has happened to this country? Will the rivers of blood stop?
Will not the long shadow of the guns leave us? Life is much more worth
than to be snuffed out like a candle."

My sister, Dr Rajani Thiranagama, a prominent human rights activist in Sri
Lanka, wrote this. A year later, in September 1989, she was gunned down by
an LTTE assassin. This year is the 20th anniversary of her death.

For that reason, the news of the demise of the LTTE's top leadership - which
ordered her killing and the killings of many other Tamil dissenters - brings
overwhelming relief. The war and carnage has at last stopped and the
insistent bloodletting of Tamil dissent is now over.

Rajani's questions trigger many others in the minds of those who have
campaigned for peace, democracy, and justice for the minorities in Sri
Lanka, as Colombo begins its victory celebrations. It is not enough for the
guns to fall silent. The question looms large whether the Colombo government
will seize this watershed moment to heal wounds, to bring together polarised
communities. Will they be prepared to share power? Will they institute
meaningful constitutional reforms of democratisation and demilitarisation?
Will the Colombo government show true political leadership to kick-start a
national debate on ethnic relations and political power sharing, and will
this process be inclusive and transparent?

The government, despite being overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis, has not
accepted the full assistance of the international community. The "Internally
Displaced Persons" have a new home surrounded by armed guards,
barbed-wire fences and squalor: such conditions are going to deepen and
prolong their trauma.

The continued refusal of full access to humanitarian agencies does not allay
suspicions about the government's intentions toward the refugees and the
LTTE cadres who have surrendered. The last three years have seen a large
number of abductions, extrajudicial killings and disappearances, almost
exclusively targeting the Tamil community as the government of Sri Lanka
relentlessly pursued its military campaign. The militarisation of state and
society has been able to suppress dissent in the south, even mounting
attacks on journalists. We wait to see whether the government will reverse
this downward spiral in democratic governance.

At this moment I remember Rajani, and a long line of courageous dissenters who
fell victim to the LTTE and government assassins alike. Now their courage
and vision speak to us, the people of Sri Lanka, once more.

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