In a letter addressed to his holiness the Pope on 13 July 2013, a network of Tamil civil society groups from the North-East called on the Pope to ensure his upcoming trip to the island includes a visit to the North-East.
“While we welcome your visit, which may provide to be a potential blessing for the war affected Tamil people, it is is likely that the Government will make use of your visit to boost its standing amongst the international community of states.”
13 July 2014.
His Holiness Pope Francis
00120 Vatican City
His Excellency Archbishop Pierre Nguyen Van Tot,
Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka
Regarding your intended visit to Sri Lanka in 2015.
We write to Your Holiness having learnt from press reports of your intention to visit Sri Lanka in January 2015. The Tamil Civil Society Forum is a network of more than 100 civil society activists in the North-East of Sri Lanka, the homeland of the Tamil people on the island of Sri Lanka. We write to Your Holiness’ seeking to raise certain issues and concerns regarding your visit to Sri Lanka.
While we welcome Your Holiness’ visit we write to gently forewarn Your Holiness of the possibility that the Government of Sri Lanka may utilize this visit to serve their political purposes. We also suggest in this letter how Your Holiness could avoid such crude political instumentalisation of your visit. As Your Holiness is well aware the Government of Sri Lanka stands accused of having committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the last phase of the war in the latter part of 2008 to mid-2009. In the post-war context the Government of Sri Lanka, despite invoking the rhetoric of ‘reconciliation’ has been engaged in acts that are designed to weaken the Tamil Nation. The heavy presence of the military in Tamil areas, appropriation of lands belonging to the Tamil people for use by the Sri Lankan Army, the settlement of Sinhalese in what are historically the traditional homeland of the Tamil people (the North & East of the island), the all perverse use of torture and violence in the everyday lives of the Tamil people, the denial of livelihood support for the war affected population are some examples of the real face of ‘reconciliation’ underway. The recent incidents of violence against the Muslim community are an extension of this larger project to consolidate the Sinhala Buddhist nature of the Sri Lankan state. Both the GoSL’s conduct of the war and their handling of the post- war context, the Tamil people believe amounts to a structural
genocide of the Tamil Nation.
We are informed that Your Holiness in your address to the Bishops from Sri Lanka on the 3rd of June, when they met you as part of their visit to Limina Apostolorum, noted,
“Though the war has ended, you rightly note that much work needs to done to promote reconciliation, to respect the human rights of all the people and to overcome the ethnic tensions that remain. I would like to join you in offering a particular word of consolation to all those who lost loved ones during the war and remain uncertain as to their fate remain close to those who still mourn and suffer the lasting effects of war”
Your Holiness was perfectly right in identifying that ethnic tensions remain high and that there is scant regard for human rights in Post-War Sri Lanka. We are confident that Your Holiness will appreciate, following your visit to Sri Lanka, that Sri Lanka is not merely lacking in ‘reconciliation’ but that the problem is far worse than that – as we have tried to describe above, the problem is one of consolidating an ethnocratic state. Your Holiness will no doubt recall that it is this ethnocratic project that led the Tamil people to take up arms against the Sri Lankan state.
While we welcome your visit, which may provide to be a potential blessing for the war affected Tamil people, it is is likely that the Government will make use of your visit to boost its standing amongst the international community of states. To prevent such appropriation of Your Holiness’s visit we would like to suggest that as part of your visit to the island, that you pay a visit to the war-torn places in the North and East and to meet the survivors of the brutal war waged against the Tamils.
We would like to particularly suggest that Your Holiness visit Mullivaaykkal, the scene of the last days of the war on the Tamil people in May 2009 and offer service at the Church therein. Alternatively or additionally, Your Holiness could visit the Our Lady of Madu Church in Mannar, and meet the affected people, pray for those who died in the war and call for accountability, justice and a genuine political solution.
During your meeting with Head of the State in Colombo we wish to suggest that you openly call upon his Government to stop militarising and colonizing Tamil lands, to restore the troop presence in the North and East to pre-war levels, end violence against women, honestly address the problems of the disappeared and the abducted including Rev. Fathers T. N. Jim Brown and G. A. Frances Joseph, accelerate the process by which surrendered detainees and all those who are in in communicado detention are released and allow people to remember the dead. We have no faith in the Sri Lankan establishment. The only reason for requesting Your Holiness to raise this issue in your meeting with the Sri Lankan President is so that these issues may get more prominence and attention.
We are aware that Your Holiness lived through the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina from 1976 to 1983, during which at least 20 000 people disappeared. We are also aware that Your Holiness saved many lives from the military junta during that period. We have much confidence that you are rightly placed to understand the struggle of our people and to
empathise with our pain and suffering. We earnestly hope that Your Holiness during your visit to the island will help amplify our voice calling for justice and accountability.
We look forward to hearing from Your Holiness and would be glad to be of any assistance with regard to those matters raised in this letter.
(On behalf of the Tamil Civil Society Forum)