UK_04_a_103736_445Thousands of people came together to take part in a rally through London, in remembrance of the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians who were killed, maimed and displaced by Sri Lankan forces in Mullivaikkal in May 2009.

Leaving Marble Arch at 1pm, the crowd – from toddlers to octogenarians – braved the unseasonably cool May weather to walk to Waterloo Place, near Piccadilly Circus. With the generous co-operation of the Metropolitan Police, busy London thoroughfares such as Park Lane and Piccadilly were closed on a busy shopping day in order to let the procession pass.

At 4pm, Waterloo Place was filled by an estimated 15,000 demonstrators, waving vivid flags and banners. They were then addressed by a number of politicians and activists, who joined the crowd in expressing their still-raw grief at the massive loss of Tamil life that occurred during the Mullivaikkal massacre.

In addition to joining the crowd in their sorrow, two main themes emerged in the speeches:

The still-urgent need for an independent and international investigation into the events of 2009 and the on-going genocide against the Tamil people;

The inappropriateness of holding the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in a country that stands in such complete opposition to Commonwealth Values.

MPs from all three main parties addressed the crowd and were notably united and forthright in declaring their opposition to the decision of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to attend the meeting, along with his Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

The messages given by these British politicians were reiterated by politicians from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, as well as leaders of diaspora Tamil organisations and a Tamil Nadu student activist who played a prominent role in the recent student uprisings there.

Lee Scott MP (Con), leader of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils, reaffirmed his commitment to “stand by the side” of the Tamils until justice was done  and said that he would continue in his attempts to persuade David Cameron to boycott the summit.

Mr Scott was joined by his Conservative colleague Roger Evans (Con, London Assembly Member), who compared the events of 2009 to his personal experience of visiting Srebrenica, following the massacre of Bosnian Muslims that took place there. Mr Evans maintained that justice cannot be restored without an independent, international investigation taking place and the International Criminal Court prosecuting those guilty of committing war crimes. He also conveyed a message from the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, thanking British Tamils for the valuable contribution they have made to the culture and economy of the city.

Simon Hughes MP (Lib Dem, Deputy Party Leader) also reaffirmed his commitment to work for justice for the Tamil people. Regarding the Commonwealth meeting, he confirmed that he and many in his party oppose the idea of the meeting taking place in Colombo, saying “it was the wrong decision” and that the “Commonwealth made a grave mistake”.

Siobhan McDonagh MP (Lab) commended the crowd on their attendance in such large numbers. She advised the audience to go and see their MPs and tell them that “they are ashamed the British Prime Minister is going to Sri Lanka” for the Commonwealth meeting. She went on to chastise the Prime Minister for announcing his intention to attend a full six months before the meeting – calling it an “insult to the Tamils”.

Prominent Tamil figures from Tamil Nadu also played their part in the event, beginning with a video address by Pazha Nedumaran (President, Tamils National Movement, World Tamil Confederation) a long-time advocate of Tamil Eelam. He called on the International Criminal Court to investigate the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapakse, who he accused of committing genocide. Mr Nedumaran expressed his fear that – if the Commonwealth meeting were to go ahead as planned – Mr Rajapakse would perversely end up assuming chairmanship of an organisation that stands for human rights and represents 54 countries, instead of being indicted for war crimes.

Mr D Pandian MLA, Tamil Nadu State secretary of the Communist Party of India, echoed these concerns. In addition to calling for an independent international investigation into the Mullivaikkal Massacre and a boycott of the Commonwealth meeting, Mr Pandian called on the Indian Central Government to stop treating Sri Lanka as a friendly nation, reiterating a resolution that was recently adopted by the Tamil Nadu state assembly with overwhelming cross-party support.

Mr Vaiko (founder, MDMK), in a video address, reiterated his Indian colleagues’ calls for the British government to follow Canada’s example in boycotting the Commonwealth meeting. He also reminded the British government of its historical connection with the formation of Sri Lanka, and suggested that – among the Commonwealth nations – the UK bears a special responsibility to safeguard Commonwealth values.

Miss Dhivya, a student leader from Tamil Nadu, also addressed the crowd by video. She recalled her horror at watching the events of 2009 unfold, and related how these events led to the Tamils of Tamil Nadu rallying behind the Tamil people’s struggle for freedom. Condemning several decades of Indian Government assistance in Sri Lanka’s persecution of Eelam Tamils, culminating in 2009, Miss Dhivya called for an Indian boycott of Sri Lanka in the spheres of politics, culture and sports.

Mr S Sritharan MP, from the Tamil National Alliance in Sri Lanka, addressing the crowd via video remarked that, in addition to remembering the past, the anniversary of 18 May 2009 should inspire the Tamil diaspora to lay the foundation for a bright future for the long-suffering Tamils of Eelam. To underscore this point, he recounted the many ways in which Tamils in Eelam are being persecuted to this day, including recent land grabs in Valigamam, planned colonization of Tamil areas by Sinhala families, displaced Tamils being forced to live in forests and the on-going structural genocide by the Sri Lankan state.

The crowd also received support from Dr Vikramabahu Karunaratne, a prominent Sinhalese politician and leader of the NSSP, who declared that the NSSP stands by the Tamils who fight for justice and freedom in their homeland.

The crowd was also addressed by two leaders of diaspora organisations. Father S J Emmanuel, leader of the Global Tamils Forum, recounted the many ways in which the Sri Lankan state is attempting to “eradicate the roots of Tamil existence” – including the flooding of Tamil homelands by Sinhala military personnel, the desecration of Hindu temples and their replacement by Buddhist stupas, and the grabbing of Tamil lands. He called on Tamils to keep pricking the consciences of the UK, USA and India to stop their connivance with the Sri Lankan state. He made a special plea to the British Prime Minister to boycott the Commonwealth meeting, urging him to think beyond the narrow interests of trade and tourism and to act in a manner that entitles Britain to call itself “Great Britain”.

Mr Ravi, the General Secretary of the British Tamils Forum, thanked the crowd for attending and recalled the desperate attempts that the same crowd made – ultimately in vain – in 2009 to prevent the massacre, by demonstrating in Parliament Square for several weeks. He also commended the crowd’s brethren in Tamil Nadu, particularly thanking the students’ campaign for their support in the Tamil struggle. He urged the audience to continue to contribute in every way possible until Tamils win their freedom, reminding the crowd that “each Tamil has a part to play in the freedom struggle”.

The large turnout at the rally, the biggest since 2009, sends a clear message to the international community of the Tamil people’s undying yearning for freedom.

It was also announced that another event would be held in the coming weeks to commemorate the forthcoming 30th anniversary of the Black July massacre of 1983, and to draw attention to continuing acts of genocide by the Sri Lankan state –particularly the uprooting of Tamils from their traditional homelands through land grabs.