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Review: Human Rights Film - War & Waves

Review: Human Rights Film - War & Waves - Sri Lanka

By Jamie Melbourne-Hayward - AUT Journalism School

A story of Sri Lankan hardship will evoke the consciences of Aucklanders when it screens on the final night of the Human Rights Film Festival this Friday May 23.

The short film, War & Waves, documents the struggle of Sri Lankan people following the devastating December 2004 tsunami and the recent reigniting of violence in northern Sri Lanka.

Click to enlarge

Image: A Muslim IDP schoolchild - by Fionn Skotis.

The natural disaster killed 30,000 Sri Lankans, left half a million homeless, and four years later thousands are still waiting to be re-housed.

On top of this, bitter division between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, has displaced a further half a million.

War & Waves address the plight of those living in temporary shelters, whose makeshift communities continue to grow with the conflict.

The producer of War &Waves, Fionn Skotis, says the film centers on the rights of people to return to their property, and rights to adequate housing laid down in international law.

"Up until recently these rights have been largely ignored, but it (rights to housing) is emerging more in international practice.

"Sri Lanka neatly illustrates two of the principal causes of displacement; natural disaster and conflict," says Mr Skotis.

Fighting has intensified since January, when the government pulled out of a six-year truce with the Tamil Tigers, pledging to wipe them out.

Dr Upalimanu, part of a 5000 strong Sri Lankan community in New Zealand, says Sri Lankans have suffered greatly from the tsunami, and continuing violence makes moving the country forward difficult.

"Both sides want innocents killed in the violence, because it justifies what they are doing," said Dr Upalimanu.

The conflict in Sri Lanka stretches back to when the minority Tamil people were preferred by the British under imperial tactics of divide and conquer.

"The Tamil are more English than the English, and after independence (1948) the Tamil elite thought they had the right to do whatever they liked," says Dr Upalimanu.

The majority Sinhalese people eventually gained a democratic majority, and following the government's 1983 announcement of Sinhalese as the official language � a language the Tamil people do not speak - the nation was tipped into violence.

"This was a very, very silly idea," said Dr Upalimanu.

"But you see, for 25 years we waited for people to help Sri Lanka, and now the Sri Lankan government is forced to take help from Iran and China, and sadly is moving away from traditional friends."

Mr Skotis, a film director for the Centre on Housing Rights and Convictions, traveled to Sri Lanka during filming.

Some of the worst suffering he witnessed was the Tamil Tigers enforced exodus of 20,000 Muslims from their homes in the north

In one scene from War & Waves, the banished Muslim community re-enacts their forced eviction: "To keep alive the memory of where they came from, and what happened to them," says Mr Skotis.

"The whole place is pretty corrupt; there is suffering on both sides and people dare not defy the government or the Tamil Tigers."

Following the recent hurricane in Burma, concerns have again been raised as to how much aid reaches common people under military governance.

After the 2004 tsunami Dr Upalimanu coordinated New Zealand's aid relief to Sri Lanka.

"I could not tell if the medicine and supplies were going to reach the people, or if the Tamils were going to use them for violent means," said Dr Upalimanu.

With recent crack downs on operations funding the Tamil Tigers in both Britain and Canada, and 30 countries labeling them as a terrorist organisation, opinion is turning against the validity of the Tamil Tigers violent means of self preservation.

"They are now terrorists, and they hold the country to ransom," says Dr Upalimanu.

In Sri Lanka the ongoing conflict continues to waste precious materials which could otherwise be utilised for rebuilding people lives.

War & Waves follows a human vein, visiting various shelters throughout Sri Lanka to highlight the plight of people waiting to return to their ancestral homes.

"People spoke of a deep longing to return to where they are from," said Mr Skotis.

The short film's final screening will precede Afghan Chronicles on Friday 23 May.


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