Young People and Human Rights: Art Comp

Rights of Passage - 2005 competition

The silent war

By Esha Anura, 13, NSW

The silent war charts the personal claim that ongoing civil conflict has on its citizens despite being out of the international eye.

In my life I have witnessed the abuse of human rights in many different ways, from viewing it on television to witnessing it in person. Each and every one of these events has impacted on my life and helped me realise how fortunate I have been to grow up living in Australia. Australia is a nation that has given me respect and protected my entitlement to human rights

My family originated in the North-Eastern province of Sri Lanka, from the Tamil community, which is the majority in this region. Almost all of my family grew up in this area. The Tamils are an ethnic minority of Sri Lanka, with the Singhalese people making up the majority.

Approximately three decades ago a civil war broke out when the country adopted a new constitution. This constitution severely restricted even the most basic human rights for Tamil people. The Tamils feared that this could lead to more injustice and wished for their own nation. The Singhalese government did not want to give up their traditional land and created a policy to stop this from happening. This policy stated that if the Tamils wanted their own nation they would have to fight for it, and that is exactly what they did. This led to the formation of a Tamil guerrilla group called the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), known commonly as the Tamil Tigers.

As time progressed the civil war intensified, and pitted countrymen against each other and led to neighbours becoming enemies. The Tamils living in Singhalese dominated areas soon found themselves under siege, their shops, businesses and homes burnt to ashes on several occasions.

Some of the strategies employed by the government, through the army, had no moral or legal grounds. After committing genocide in cities they moved on to rural areas, slaughtering villager after villager and killing thousands of innocent people. I am aware that the Tigers have carried out some pretty gruesome crimes themselves; they have used suicide bombers to target army checkpoints and government buildings, and this is perhaps a sign to register their commitment to their cause.

Many people living in wealthy countries did not pay attention to this tiny island or indeed its brutal conflict. I think that for too long the international community has stood aside and watched this tragedy unfold. Even today, aside from Norway's initiatives, other nations aren't exerting themselves in order to create an interim peace agreement so a final settlement can be obtained. I have often wondered, why all this aloofness? Maybe things would be different if Sri Lanka had any oil reserves.

However, what is disheartening about this war is that hundreds of thousands of people have died fighting, not just Tamil Tigers and civilians but soldiers too. These people's lives have been taken in vain, as the situation remains the same as it was thirty years ago. For no apparent reason families have been torn apart through death and destruction. I have experienced the pain and anguish experienced by these people through the death of my own uncle, who was killed when a bomb was dropped on the boat he was travelling in.

Due to all these casualties and annihilation an entire generation has grown up in mutual hatred and fear. Seeing all these atrocities and devastations has helped fuel my ambition to join the United Nations and hopefully one day become its leader.