South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Hand over petition to Indian High Commission

Sri Lankan trade unionists and human rights activists on Wednesday protested outside the Indian High Commission here, demanding justice for victims of the recent police firing in Thoothukudi.

They held posters with solidarity messages, some likening the Thoothukudi incident to a similar shooting incident in Sri Lanka in 2013, when the Army opened fire at the residents of Rathupaswala, about 40 km north-east of Colombo, as they protested against drinking water contamination caused by a nearby factory.

“We are demanding justice for the 13 persons killed in Thoothukudi. We would like to tell the people there that many of us here — Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims — stand in solidarity with their struggle, as we too have experienced similar attacks,” said M. Mayuran of the Mass Movement for Social Justice.

The Thoothukudi incident found a strong resonance in Sri Lanka, because the government “privileged the interest of private companies and their profits over people’s lives,” according to Sandun Thudugala, Executive Director of the Colombo-based Law and Society Trust. “Farmers and working people hardly figure in our governments’ economic policies. They are just discarded,” he said, adding: “This is a small gesture, but individual struggles will not be enough. We need to build strong and wider networks of solidarity across the region.”

Organisations involved in ongoing struggles around land rights, environment, fisheries, fair wages and working conditions in Sri Lanka participated in the protest. In a petition handed over to the Indian High Commission, protesters noted: “Justice begins with the banning of Sterlite, but it does not end there.”

Participants said there was an apparent pattern in State repression of resistance in the neighbourhood. “Most governments in our region seem to be curbing dissent and the right to protest. When you look at the Maldives, India and Pakistan, the governments have responded to several protests with intimidation, attacks or killings,” said Deekshya Illangasinghe, Executive Director, South Asians for Human Rights.

Pointing to the prevalence of environmental issues in the region, labour organiser Wijepala Weerakoon said it was time the trade union movement incorporated environmental concerns into their struggles. “While we campaign for job security and fair wages, we must also highlight the environmental cost in such ventures,” said Mr. Weerakoon, treasurer of the Commercial and Industrial Workers’ Union.

Wednesday’s picket was among other actions by Sri Lankans condemning the killings, including protests earlier held in Jaffna.

By: Meera Srinivasan


Updated On: MAY 31, 2018 00:25 IST