Charu Lata Hogg
Associate Fellow, Asia Programme

By pursuing an unrelenting and bloody military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan government has won the war in Sri Lanka but the crucial question remains on whether it has won peace. With over 8000 Tamil civilians dead since January, thousands more seriously wounded and maimed and around 250,000 displaced, this is not the bloodless liberation of Tamils that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse claims to have brought about. Instead, what remains is an aggrieved and starved minority within the country and an embittered and aggressive diaspora across the world.

With journalists and international organizations banned from the conflict zone, this war has been fought without any witnesses. But rules of war have been violated repeatedly by both sides - the Sri Lankan military has used excessive force, bombed hospitals and self-declared safe zones; the Tamil Tigers have forced children to fight and fired on civilians trying to flee areas of fighting. And the world has watched silently, with the United Nations deliberating for months whether the matter should be raised in a special session either at its Human Rights Council in Geneva, a multilateral body set up to address situations of such egregious human rights violations, or at the UN Security Council. This, despite the unanimous resolution taken by the UN General Assembly in 2005 that the Security Council should take 'timely and decisive' action when 'national authorities are failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.'

China, Russia, Libya, Vietnam and curiously, Japan, have opposed having the Sri Lankan situation discussed at a formal session of the Security Council. In fact, geopolitical realities have played out most starkly on the issue of international action on Sri Lanka. Conscious of China's increasing influence in the island nation, India has, with some degree of discomfort, continued to support the Rajapakse regime's militaristic agenda. Japan, despite its role in advocating human security, has stayed silent on the killings of thousands, not wanting to lose its leverage to China.

So what lies ahead for the future of the Tamil political identity in Sri Lanka? For over two decades, the LTTE positioned itself as the sole representative of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. The LTTE, despite its decreasing popularity with Tamils within Sri Lanka, was able to survive largely due to the unflinching support of the international Tamil diaspora, which came not willingly but because of the brute force that the group exercised on the community. This diaspora will be crucial to the development of a Tamil resistance movement of any strength. Though hundreds of underground LTTE cadres are said to be present in Sri Lanka, particularly in the East, they would find it difficult to mobilise themselves, in the face of heavy clampdown by the Sri Lankan government.

However, given that the Sri Lankan government has so far not addressed any of the core issues which lie at the heart of the conflict, resistance from the Tamil community will be an inevitable outcome. What form this movement takes depends on a series of factors which include how the Sri Lankan government engages with Tamil and other minority groups in Sri Lanka, what sort of political negotiations take place with Tamil representatives in Sri Lanka, and how much legitimacy these representatives enjoy within the Tamil population. But undoubtedly the Sri Lankan government needs to start the process sooner rather than later, because the seeds of radicalization will be sown in the camps where the displaced, already traumatized and starved by the conflict, wait to go home.