Remembering The Brave Young Tamil Doctors 9 Years On

By Arujuna Sivananthan

Many of us who worked hard to shine the spotlight on Sri Lanka that includes;

  •  Convincing the first head of a foreign government to visit Jaffna,
  •  Keeping it on the international agenda,
  • Working to secure an unprecedented resolution setting up an independent international (OISL) inquiry into war crimes, crimes against humanity and mass atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict,
  •  Helping build a consensus to pressure Sri Lanka to co-sponsor a resolution accepting the findings of the OISL inquiry, and,
  •  Through significant remittances sustain the Northeastern economy of Sri Lanka, supporting families and charities such as schools, hospitals, orphanages and local NGOs to create work-life opportunities for war victims,

were appalled and shocked by pages 66 and 67 of former BBC reporter Frances Harrison’s book on Sri Lanka’s civil war, Still Counting the Dead: Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War.

It speaks volumes to the wanton callous disregard of some self-appointed representatives in the London Tamil diaspora for the sanctity of human life.

The following paragraph makes very chilling reading.

“I too received a call that weekend, from a Tamil doctor in London who wanted to tell the media that rebel medics wished to cross into army territory, bringing with them hundreds of civilians and injured people. He’d already tried UN and the Red Cross, who were unable to help. The doctor was flustered and distraught, unsure when he’d be able to speak to his colleagues on the ground again, aware their lives hung in the balance. I told him it seemed odd to negotiate surrender through the media – direct negotiations with the government might be better given that time was running out so fast. He consulted colleagues in a Tiger front organization in London, who insisted the medics should take their cyanide capsules because surrender was not an option. I was left wondering if they just wanted to score a propaganda point in the media, rather than actually save lives.”

Four brave doctors and their team stood by 430,000 Tamils being slaughtered in an act of genocide in Mullaivaikal, Northeastern Sri Lanka. The doctors were non-combatants who chose to stay in the warzone placing their lives in harm’s way and serve their people.

They and their team performed thousands of medical interventions saving as many lives. Some were victims of banned incendiary, thermobaric and cluster munitions. Shifting front lines forced them to constantly move location and resort to building make-shift operating theatres.

Their hospitals were incessantly shelled by Sri Lankan forces and had to rely on the very limited medical supplies provided by Sri Lanka’s government, who were actively perpetrating a war crime by denying them.

One doctor, who also suffered shrapnel injury from Sri Lankan army shelling, vividly described how a patient was coming out of anaesthesia mid-procedure due to the necessary rationing of anaesthetics. In another instance he told me how had to perform an above wound amputation on a leg that had a cluster bomblet embedded in it. The wound itself was superficial and his team was initially going to extract the embedded shrapnel. However, one of them recognised it as a cluster bomblet, thus averting catastrophic consequences.

Some of these doctors were to later provide invaluable evidence to governments, parliamentarians and the UNHRC inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Sri Lankan forces, forming the basis for a resolution passed by it demanding Sri Lanka investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes in a hybrid court with international judges.
Yet the irony is while two female English journalists Harrison and Marie Colvin were trying to save Tamil lives, some self-appointed Tamil representatives in London were involved in inciting the death of four doctors who saved thousands of Tamil lives.

Foreign governments too thought their lives precious that they facilitated their exit from Sri Lanka and granted them sanctuary.

Sri Lanka’s civil war was many things to many people. For a few it was about residing in the safety and comfort in the West while inciting malevolent acts with callous disregard for the sanctity of human life and using it to prop up what would have been otherwise a mediocre nondescript existence. In this instance it also involves breaking English law that carries with it severe sanctions.

These individuals could have faded away.

On the other hand, it cannot be discounted that these people are still active or perhaps worse, which is being active with an altogether different guise.

In England, the Crown Prosecution Service’s policy on such a very serious act is clear.

  1. A person commits an offence under section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 if he or she does an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or attempted suicide of another person, and that act was intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide. This offence is referred to in this policy as “encouraging or assisting suicide”. The consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is required before an individual may be prosecuted.
  2. The offence of encouraging or assisting suicide carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. This reflects the seriousness of the offence.

Inciting, encouraging, assisting suicide or attempted suicide is an offence in the UK. The Police’s guidance is that there is a moral obligation to report a crime.

*Dr Arujuna Sivananthan is the Chairman of the British Tamil Conservatives.

The Suicide Act 1961

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