The Tamil National Alliance’s expressed its desire to collaborate with the government on rehabilitation and resettlement of the former war zones was overlooked in preference of moves to alter the demographics of the North and East of Sri Lanka, Leader of the Tamil National Alliance, Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, said.
In an interview with Ceylon Today, Sampanthan said, Sri Lanka should be allowed the space to fulfil her international obligations without interference, but added India’s recent stance indicated how the international community viewed Sri Lanka.
Ruling out possibilities of a revival of Tamil militancy, he said, the government should prudently pursue a political solution to the Tamil question, which will inevitably prevent the lunatic fringe from causing ethnic disharmony.
Following are excerpts:
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Q: The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka. What would this mean to the TNA as the forerunner in advocating for the Tamil cause?
A: The resolution was not against – but related to – Sri Lanka.
It came about due to the failure of the Sri Lankan State to deliver upon its duties and obligations, which were voluntarily undertaken as a sovereign State and also accepted under various international covenants and instruments.
It happened because the government failed to comply with the resolution passed in March 2012, which largely called upon the government to implement constructive recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed by the government itself. If Sri Lanka had complied, a second resolution could have been avoided.
Q: India wished to move some significant amendments to the draft resolution at the last moment. What could have been the reason for it?
A: I do not wish to comment on drafts.India’s position, however, has little to do with technicalities, I feel.
It is important to remember that Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and however much the country may be at fault and should deliver, it deserves the opportunity to perform. Other countries would naturally like to expect Sri Lanka to act and provide her every opportunity to deliver on its commitments and obligations by itself.
If other countries have intervened to move amendments to the text of the resolution, it must be only for the reason that the island should be given a further opportunity to fulfil its commitments.
Many countries abstained when the vote was taken the last time, stating that they would like Sri Lanka to have a better opportunity – and more time.
Q: Nevertheless, it is no secret that India, despite its position of not voting in favour of country-specific resolutions, supported the US resolution. Is it the pressure from Tamil Nadu or a new reluctance to remain Sri Lanka’s friend?
A: If India finds it difficult to support Sri Lanka, it must be only for the reason that commitments by Sri Lanka to India have not been honoured. Otherwise, India would not have taken up this position against Sri Lanka.
Further, India would have been of immense use to Sri Lanka in dealing with the current situation. The fact that India voted against Sri Lanka is indicative of how the international community views Sri Lanka – as a country that has failed to honour its international commitments and obligations.
Q: Among the key undertakings to India was the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. How much of the absence of progress in this regard is likely to have contributed to India’s stance?
A: The commitment was to fully implement the 13th Amendment and to build on it – to achieve meaningful power devolution.
Sri Lanka took some steps in this regard, particularly when it appointed a multi-ethnic panel of experts. The report they submitted could have enabled Sri Lanka to fulfil her commitments to India. This report was also in consonance with the contours of a political settlement envisaged by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself. He explained his approach while addressing the APRC (All Party Representative Committee) and the multi-ethnic experts’ panel, on July 2006.
For some inexplicable reason, that report was not acted upon. This is also a commitment he made not just to India, but to other sections of the international community including the United Nations, when the war concluded in May 2009.
Q: The politics of Tamil Nadu have been less than appealing and the intolerance appears to have rubbed off on the public, who appear to occasionally target visiting Sri Lankans. How does Tamil Nadu’s violent reaction to Colombo influence Delhi’s approach towards Sri Lanka?
A: The fact is, if the problem is resolved in a reasonable way, within Sri Lanka, by Sri Lankans themselves, there would be no need for anyone else to interfere or to hold emotional protests.
But, if the issue is prolonged and becomes protracted with previous commitments not being honoured, while civilians become victims of violence, there will be agitation.
In Sri Lanka, civilians of all communities have been victims, more particularly the Tamils. When the atrocities committed are shown to be of a horrendous nature, it is inevitable that other countries and people in those countries pay attention and react in different ways.
We cannot disregard the fact that Tamil Nadu is the cultural home of Tamils and they live just a few miles away. This is not to justify the behaviour of Tamil Nadu, but to emphasize on the need to understand matters in their proper context.
The solution lies entirely in the hands of Sri Lanka.
Q: The LLRC implementation plan makes reference to the resettlement of the war-displaced and the restitution of their rights, especially land rights. There is evidence to show that despite claims, resettlement and land restitution have become serious obstacles to achieve reconciliation? What is TNA’s position?
A: It should be remembered the displaced families in the North and East, particularly in parts of the Vanni where the fighting was quite ferocious, led respectable lives in their villages, having their own homes, lands and livelihoods. Consequent to the manner in which the war was executed, they lost their properties and were rendered destitute.
They were driven from place to place and when they came to the final conflict zone, they were detained in camps. Though the government initially claimed there were only 60,000 civilians in the conflict zone, according to independent estimates, nearly 400,000 people were there. About 225,000 people came out of it. They have now been released from the camps. They are no longer detained, but that does not mean resettlement. The government has not built any houses for them.
When the TNA met President Rajapaksa, subsequent to several visits to villages in the Vanni, to request houses for them, he claimed of inadequate funds. I requested that every family in the Vanni be given a bicycle to start life – that too was not done.
Large numbers of people have not returned to their places of origin for different reasons.
Fortunately for them, other countries and agencies – particularly India – are providing housing.
It is the bounden duty of the State to provide the bare essentials to restart life. They need support and the confidence to start afresh. But the government is only interested in building physical infrastructure – not lives.
We offered to collaborate with the government to assist in the process of rehabilitation and resettlement. I explained to the President, if this is done, there would be ownership and acceptance. We could have mobilized more funds by working together, putting our collective pasts behind. I proposed the Tamil Diaspora could be made a party to the process and that this would help him diminish the pressures he was facing internationally, for other reasons.
But our offer was not accepted, because the government wished to implement its own agenda, which is to further change demographic composition of the North and East Provinces and to alter the linguistic and cultural identities of these areas.
At present, the military is engaged in cultural and economic activities in the North. This does not help us move towards reconciliation. Civil administration should be restored and the military presence minimized for people to experience a sense of normalcy.
These civilians have been rendered destitute and have lost everything, and the actions of the government are certainly far from being commensurate with the needs of the people.
Q: The LTTE had been vanquished. Is there a possibility of a re-emergence of Tamil militancy in the foreseeable future?
A: I don’t think so.
In post-independence, when Tamil political agitation commenced in the early 1950s, such agitations were democratic, peaceful, non-violent and political, despite several anti-Tamil programmes.
Until about the late 1970s or early 1980s, when signs of Tamil militancy surfaced for the first time, largely as a result of political commitments not being honoured and a lack of space for Tamil political ideology, coupled with repeated anti-Tamil programmes by some sections, somehow it still held hope.
Since the early 1980s, there had been Tamil militancy. But Tamils as a people are non-violent and peaceful. It is my firm view that by and large, the vast majority of the Tamil people, whether they live in Sri Lanka or abroad, are opposed to violence.
They look forward to a peaceful, reasonable, workable and durable political solution to the Tamil question. However, there are groups wanting to propagate the fear of a renewal of militancy and to perpetuate that fear in order to evade arriving at a reasonable political solution.
The government’s failure to act positively to reach a political solution is helping these forces to propagate and perpetuate that fear. The government itself is not a party to this myth. Therefore, the government should, at the earliest, take positive steps to ensure that a political solution is in place.
Courtesy Ceylon Today