Damiano Raveenthiran | VP Social Media Promotions
Throughout my travels and the many stories I’ve been told, I realized how important human rights are to generations. Family histories can portray some of the struggles and hardships that people go through when their rights are not protected. They can also remind us to keep fighting to protect human rights. As a child, I often wondered about my family situation. However, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I began to understand how things turned out.
My family is originally from the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has a history of a civil war that went on between the government and a rebel force called the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” or LTTE for short. The war started in 1983 and ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the assassination of their leader. From what my family and those around me have said, the war began due to government discriminating between two ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils. My own family is a part of the Tamils.
People also told me that the main issue was access to post secondary level education. My mother often said that on the university application itself, one of the questions being asked was whether one was of Tamil or Sinhalese descent. After a while, Tamils started noticing that less and less of their people were being accepted into universities. This created less future opportunities for them. Some even said that out of a town of one thousand applicants, none would be selected because of their Tamil heritage. This eventually led the Tamil Tigers to fight for the cause of an independent land for Tamils.
When the insurgencies began, nearly 30 years ago, the government of Sri Lanka sent troops into Tamil towns and villages. They wanted to eradicate anyone who was a supporter of the LTTE. When I was a child, I often asked my parents why Tamil people were spread out around the world. My mother would always tell me the same story.
In 1984, the government came to her village in search of supporters of the LTTE. The government forces wanted to ensure that no one fought for an independent Tamil Land. They rushed into my mother’s neighboring house and kidnapped all the sons of the family. Before leaving, they showed the neighborhood what would happen if anyone was associated with the LTTEs. They took the older son to the streets, beat him nearly to death in front of his own family, then placed electric wires under his fingernails and electrocuted him to death. It was at this point that my grandparents chose to make the most difficult decision of their lives. Their youngest son at the time was a strong and reliable 16 year old. If the soldiers saw him, they would have definitely killed him. This is due to the fact that he would make a strong fighter. To protect his son, my grandfather paid a large amount of money and put him on a plane leaving the country. His son (my uncle) made it to Norway with no money, no clothes and no knowledge of the language. He then became a refugee in the country, put himself through school, and eventually became a Norwegian citizen.
My uncle then moved to the United Kingdom, where he has been living for over 10 years as an entrepreneur.
Like a lot of Tamil families, we do not have many relatives left in Sri Lanka. The majority of Tamils have fled to other countries around the world. Today the Tamil community has spread out everywhere from the Middle East and Australia, to Europe and North America. Many of them lived in urban cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. They left Sri Lanka hoping for a better life away from discrimination. Their stories resemble mine.
In recent years, Tamil communities worldwide have tried to take action about these atrocities. Amnesty international have urged the United Nations to inquire about the violations of human rights that occurred in Sri Lanka. That full story is explained in
Before the Tamil communities started to take action, I was surprised at how little people knew about Sri Lanka. I did not understand why there had been limited media coverage in Sri Lanka for nearly 30 years. It appeared to me that Sri Lanka’s journalism industry was not able to get some of their stories out to the general public. This prompted me to do some research and read about the issue. I found out that the Sri Lankan government did not respect their constitution when it came to freedom of expression. Newseum.org states that in Sri Lanka:
“Journalists were subject to several forms of legal harassment and physical intimidation. Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, it and other laws and regulations place significant legal limits on the exercise of this right.” “Journalists throughout Sri Lanka, particularly those who cover human rights or military issues, face regular intimidation and pressure from government officials at all levels.” “Official rhetoric is markedly hostile toward critical or “unpatriotic” journalists and media outlets.” “State-controlled media and the Defense Ministry website have been used to smear and threaten individual journalists and other activists.” “As a result, levels of self-censorship have risen considerably.”
So that was the issue, freedom of press was not tolerated in a war zone country. Most people are afraid to tell their war stories to the world. They do not want to be prosecuted by their government. Therefore those responsible for the war crimes are not held liable. Growing up, I saw firsthand the damages of a silenced voice. This is why I believe that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are essential in order to ensure that no violations of human rights occur. It will also help guarantee that the culprits behind these attacks on humanity are held accountable.
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