Selective assessment of Tamil refugee status must be avoided: Experts

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Toronto, Aug.13 (ANI): Respected independent observers, have said the international community must avoid being selective about upholding the rule of law and respect for human rights insofar as the plight of Tamil refugees staying in and coming from Sri Lanka are concerned.

Institutions such as the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict-prevention body led by retired Canadian jurist Louise Arbour; the United Nations; Human Rights Watch; and The Elders, a 12-member group of ex-leaders including Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter, have said every Sri Lankan Tamil must not be viewed as a terrorist because he or she is seeking refuge in another country.

"There has been a deafening global silence in response to Sri Lanka's actions, especially from its most influential friends," the Globe and Mail quoted Annan, as saying in The Elders August 3 statement.

"The international community cannot be selective in its approach to upholding the rule of law and respect for human rights," he added.

Observers worry that the Canadian Government will exploit fears of terrorism to justify a draconian rewrite of its refugee policy.

Even worse, they fear it will miss the boat on why Tamil Canada came to be in the first place: Sri Lanka's failure to reconcile with its largest minority.

"The numbers of Tamils leaving Sri Lanka over the last 25 years have ebbed and flowed directly in relation to the human-rights circumstances in the country," said Sharryn Aiken, associate dean of law at Queen's University in Kingston and an expert in refugee issues.

"When there was a hope for peace, people didn't leave in the numbers we see right now. If Sri Lanka was making genuine attempts to address the human rights problems within its borders, I would agree with the cynics," she added.

"But to the extent that it hasn't, and there's ongoing, very serious problems in the country, I think we should hold our cynicism in abeyance for the moment," she said.

The comments assume significance as Canadian officials continue to keep watch on the British Columbia coast for ships carrying Tamil refugees, amid fears the defeated Tamil Tigers have chosen this country to revive their separatist cause.

Tamil Canada is said to have dispatched refugee lawyers and leaders from Toronto, its de facto capital, to handle refugee claims and steer the media to the humanitarian angle.

Tamil Canadians have even enlisted the new Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, elected in April to push from outside for a sovereign Tamil state in Sri Lanka.

The TGTE's two B.C. members have been organizing medical and legal help, children's aid, counselling, clergy and charitable support, and have consulted Sikh and Chinese immigrant groups for expertise.

It's been more than a year since the Sri Lankan Government defeated the Tigers and brought a decisive end to 26 bloody years of civil war.

Despite claims of adhering to social democratic principles, Colombo has repeatedly rebuffed calls for an independent probe of war crimes alleged on both sides during the conflict.

Instead, Sri Lanka has framed its victory over the Tigers in the post-9/11 vernacular - as a key win in the global war on terror, which brought peace and liberated Tamils, in Sri Lanka and abroad, from the Tigers' terrorist clutches.

By that reckoning, Tamils who still see the need to board a boat and flee, or who lob criticisms from abroad, are equated with terrorists or sympathizers. (ANI)

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