News that Sri Lankan authorities have just fined three ignorant French tourists and imposed suspended jail terms on them for posing with Buddha statues in an irreverent manner seems a tad over the top. All the more so, while that country’s government continue to turn a blind eye to the perpetrators of genocide in the final stages of the bloody civil war back in May 2009.
A UN panel of investigators has found credible evidence of probable war crimes. The Sri Lankan army may well have executed hundreds, possibly thousands of unarmed combatants and civilians in an orgy of violence in the final weeks of that country’s bloody civil war. The Sunday Times reported that over 20,000 Tamils were slaughtered. The ABC’s Four Corners screened horrific images of Sri Lankan soldiers summarily executing prisoners while simultaneously recording these crimes on their mobile phones.
Seems the Sri Lankan civil war gained little traction in our national psyche. There was barely a murmur of protest earlier this year when our national cricket team toured Sri Lanka. Yet footage on our television screens of theinhumane killing of our livestock in Indonesianabattoirs generated outrage, and prompted the suspension of all livestock to that country.
Make no mistake, as far as civil wars go; Sri Lanka’s was particularly brutal and bloody. Characterised by political assassinations, suicide bombers (one such attack killed Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991) and atrocities, perpetrated by the protagonists – the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils. The war spanned 28 years, culminating in the deaths of at least 80,000, most civilians. Approximately 300,000Tamils have fled the country.
Back in the 1980s in Melbourne, my Tamil housemate recounted to me his narrowly evading government death squads who were plucking his fellow Tamils from cars as they were fleeing the country and shooting them with impunity on the roadside. I haven’t forgotten his tale. And it seems such a tragedy that the killings would continue for another three decades.
If even a modicum of the Four Corners footage is true, (and it has been verified by independent experts) Sri Lanka has a long long way to go before it can be regarded as a fit and proper country to participate in any international sporting competitions.
Since last year’s Ashes debacle, Cricket Australia has been more concerned about reviewing our team’s performance rather than considering the sensitive mix of sport and politics.Cricket Australia even commissioned corporate heavyweight Don Argus, former head of BHP Billiton, to lead a seven month long inquisition to sniff out and expose the culprits for this apparent national humiliation. But coughing up that urn and its contents to the Poms hardly comes close to offering tacit consent to a regime that has the blood of its own citizens on its hands.
Elite athletes serve as role models for their legions of fans young and old. International cricketers are not exempt from this rule. Sending our national team to a country whose human rights abuses in recent times warrant investigating did our cricketers and the game of cricket a massive disservice.
While the willow was striking the red leather onwell-manicured Sri Lankaovals in the country’s south, a few hundred kilometres to the north, thousands of people were living in limbo and traumatised and thousands more remained unaccounted for. No doubt many of the dignitaries in the stands watching the cricket were the very same people complicit in what is the ethnic cleansing of so many Tamils.
By agreeing in such indecent haste to this cricket tour, Cricket Australia conferredon Sri Lankan’s Governmentlegitimacy it does not deserve. It is,to use the well-worn cliché,sending the wrong message.The situation could have got a whole lot worse but fortunately Sri Lanka’s bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games was unsuccessful.
Well may we respect images of Buddha. But what about the rights of Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority, the long suffering Tamils?