Tamil Issues And Our Position

Sampanthan.jpg 2Given the destruction and devastation the North-East has gone through over a long period, recognition of that reality and implementation of appropriate programmes, also involving the provincial administration would have greatly helped to bring about national reconciliation. The people in the North-East directly affected by the war, yet need to be put on their feet. They need to stand on their legs.

Excerpts from the speech at the budget debate made by TNA Parliamentarian Mr.  R. Sampanthan on 30th October 2014

I want to commence my speech, Sir, by conveying our deepest sympathies for the national calamity that occurred at Koslanda where due to an earthslip, a large number of people have perished; a large number of people have died and people have suffered immense devastation and destruction.

 The North and the East was devastated and destroyed by a vicious war. From the point of view of infrastructure, due to the efforts of various countries in regard to the North, particularly India and other countries and other organizations, very much has been done but very much more needs to be done. While the Government has pompously participated in the inauguration of projects undertaken and accomplished at the expense of other countries and organizations, the Government’s own contribution has been negligible. The President very frankly told me that the Government had no money to provide houses. India came forward to provide 50,000 houses to the people in need.

I wish to ask these Gentlemen whether in the context of the manner in which the Government is treating them, as clearly demonstrated by the allocations made for the Ministries which they are in charge of and despite their hanging onto the coattails of the Government, whether they should not be withdrawing from the political scene and cease to be a hindrance to the Tamil National Alliance working out with the Government, a peaceful, honourable and an acceptable resolution of the conflict pertaining to the national question.

The people in the North-East directly affected by the war, yet need to be put on their feet. The Government’s insensitivity caused either by the lack of political will or its narrow political agenda is disappointing. Continuing dependence on their present friends can only further alienate the people of the North and the East from the Government.

Sir, one must realize that the North and the East has suffered immense damage. The Government is largely responsible for that situation of an armed conflict commencing in this country. It is not that I support an armed conflict, but the fact of the matter was that an armed conflict became inevitable in the context of the Government not performing its duty and the Government should therefore realize that there is responsibility on the part of the Government not merely to evolve an acceptable political solution, but also to take steps to ensure that the North-East is rebuilt and reconstructed, and that the people who occupied the North-East are able to live in those area as equal citizens.

During his speech, Sir, His Excellency the President has also referred to political issues. I do not think, Sir, that these statements of the President are in accordance with the true position. We are committed to the evolution of a political solution within the framework of a united and undivided Sri Lanka. The Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement, ever since its inception, the date of Agreement is 29th July 1987 – the first commitment in the agreement is that the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka must be preserved. It is the expectation of the vast majority of Tamil people that there will be a political solution that would enable them to live as equal citizens within a united and undivided Sri Lanka. I propose, Sir, to refer to certain speeches and certain commitments made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in regard to the contours of a political solution. I would first refer to the speech that President Mahinda Rajapaksa made to the inaugural Meeting of the All Party Representatives Committee and the Multi-Ethnic Experts’ Committee that he appointed. Under the heading “Unity, territorial Integrity and Sovereignty”, this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to say on 11th, July 2006. I quote:

Each party represented here has its own solutions to the national question. I will not impose a solution on the country. But, you will through your developments, through your deliberations provide a solution to the national question.”

Then, again, Sir, continuing under the heading “Devolution for the People by the People”, this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, I quote:

Any solution needs to as a matter of urgency, devolve power for the people to take charge of their own destiny. Then, Sir, continuing further, under the heading “Some Concluding Thoughts”, this is what President Mahinda Rajapaksa said, I quote:

“Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country. President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed Parliament on 19th of May, 2009, on the day the war came to end. In the course of his address to Parliament, this is what he said: “Mr. Speaker, it is necessary that we give to these people…” – that means the Tamil People – “…the democratic freedom that is the right of people in all parts of our country”. Similarly, it is necessary that the political solutions they need should be brought closer to them faster than any country or government in the world would bring. It should be a solution acceptable to all sections of the people”. Similarly, I seek the support of all political parties for that solution”.

He not merely talked about a political solution, but a political solution that will be guided by the tenets of Buddhism. The people of this country are substantially Buddhists. Now, I want to refer to the third Statement that the President made which also defined the contours of his thinking in regard to a political solution. That was the Joint Statement, Sir, made by the President after the visit of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN to this country on the 23rd of May, 2009. In that Joint Statement signed by both the President and the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, this is what he stated:

“The Joint Statement released by the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN Secretary-General states that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Secretary-General agreed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio- economic development. The Secretary-General welcomed the assurance of the President of Sri Lanka contained in his Statement made in Parliament on 19th May 2009 that a national solution acceptable to all sections of people will be evolved. Anyway, the situation being, Sir, that the LTTE had been decimated and if there was an impediment from the Tamil side in regard to a political solution, that impediment was no longer there. The President appointed a Panel of Experts. We are prepared to discuss the political solution based upon the Report of the Panel of Experts appointed by him. Two Experts who were Sinhalese did not indicate their position.

Therefore, the position is that it would not be quite correct to say that the TNA is not cooperating in the matter of a political settlement because the TNA is quite prepared to extend to the President the fullest cooperation to ensure that a solution is arrived at on the basis of statements that he has hitherto made.

All these processes that I have referred to were domestic processes largely on the initiative of the President indicating the nature of his commitment and the nature of his desire regarding a political solution.

Bilateral talks commenced between the Sri Lankan Government and the Tamil National Alliance in January 2011. The President had been re-elected in January 2010. TNA had been re-elected substantially to represent the Tamil people in the North-East in April 2010.

We tabled a Position Paper in January 2011 setting out our position. The Position Paper defined the position of the TNA in regard to a political solution at the bilateral talks that took place between the Government and the Tamil National Alliance. The Government delegation agreed to respond to enable the commencement of a meaningful discussion. I wish to explain in some detail what happened when the Government did not come up with their position at the bilateral talks.

I must refer to the fact that bilateral talks took place between the Government of Sri Lanka and the TNA which commenced in January 2011 and went on till January 2012. No talks have taken place thereafter. The Government has also talked about a Parliamentary Select Committee. There has been a Resolution adopted in Parliament in regard to the Parliamentary Select Committee. Sir, I need to make the position clear in regard to what our stand is in respect of the bilateral talks and the Parliamentary Select Committee.

At the conclusion of the General Election in April 2010, the TNA made a public request that the Government should engage with the TNA in respect of two matters. The first was the evolution of a political solution to the national question and the second was the immediate and urgent concerns of the Tamil people in the aftermath of the war. Although the President agreed with the Leader of the TNA in early November 2010 to set up two separate Committees for same and despite names being forwarded for that purpose, only one Committee was appointed on 5th January, 2011 consisting of representatives of the Government and the TNA for a long-term reconciliation.

Bilateral talks between the Government and the TNA commenced on 10th January 2011. The TNA tabled this document at the first meeting itself indicating its position on a political solution which was in line with the President’s own Speech at the Inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Experts Committee in July 2006. At the second meeting held on 3rd February 2011, TNA submitted an outline of its proposed solution and at the third meeting held on 18th March 2011, at the invitation of the Government Delegation, the TNA placed on the table a comprehensive set of proposals. The Government delegation requested time to respond to the TNA’s proposals and at every meeting thereafter apologized for not being able to respond and asked for further time. Thereafter, the President invited the TNA Leader for a meeting on the 2nd of September 2011 and the following agreements were reached at that meeting. In view of the inability of the Government to respond to TNA’s proposals it was agreed to bring to the table the previous proposals and the President’s Speech at the Inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Experts Committee. Bilateral Talks will recommence and continue on the basis of these documents.

Two, once a measure of consensus is reached on substantive issues at the Bilateral Talks, that agreement will be taken before the Parliamentary Select Committee either as a Government proposal or as a Government-TNA agreement, the TNA would join the Parliamentary Select Committee at that point of time.

Since the Thirteenth Amendment was considered inadequate, Presidents after the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment had taken various steps to improve on the Thirteenth Amendment. There was the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee during the time of President Premadasa, there were three other Constitutional Proposals of 1995, 1997 and 2000 during the time of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, there was a Speech made by the President at the inaugural meeting of the APRC and the Experts Committee and there was the Majority of Experts Committee Report, a Committee appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself. Bilateral talks recommenced on 16th September, 2011 and the above agreement was minuted and later confirmed at a subsequent meeting on 20th October, 2011. Thereafter, three dates, 17th, 18th and 19th of January, 2012 were fixed to continue with the dialogue. The Government delegation failed to turn up for talks on 17th, 18th and 19th of January 2012 insisting that the TNA must first nominate its Members to the PSC contrary to the agreements previously reached. With this, the bilateral talks came to an end. The first was the discussion held on the 27th January, 2012 between the Leader of the TNA and three Members of the Government delegation at which it was agreed that the TNA would nominate names to the PSC simultaneously with the commencement of bilateral talks but that the PSC would be convened only after a consensus is reached at the bilateral talks. After several rounds of discussions with the Government as well as the TNA, an agreed text was prepared as the Agenda for the PSC and placed in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition on 24th May, 2012. We are committed to finding a political solution within the framework of a united, undivided Sri Lanka. But, it must be an honourable solution; it must be a reasonable solution; it must be a workable solution; it must be a durable solution. The meeting was attended by the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva – Chairman, The Hon. (Prof.) G.L. Peiris, the Hon. (Prof.) Rajiva Wijesinha and the Hon. Sajin De Vass Gunawardena on behalf of the Government. I stated at that meeting:

“This meeting happens consequent to a meeting I had with HE. It is further recorded in the Minutes, Sir, I quote:

“Thereafter Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva stated the TNA must agree to join the PSC so that the agreement reached here can be placed before the PSC as the joint TNA-SLFP proposal. The TNA also agreed that if the TOR was amended in this way, once an agreement was reached with the government delegation at these talks, which can be placed before the PSC as suggested, they would join the PSC process.”

I am also tabling, Sir, the Agreement that was arrived between the Government delegation comprising of the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, The Hon. (Prof.) G.L. Peiris, Minister of External Affairs, the Hon. Sajin De Vass Gunawardena, and myself in regard to the basis of which talks should commence. It contains, Sir, very important positions – I am tabling* that, Sir, and request, that be included at the end of my speech.

Then, there is a statement made by Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe to Parliament on the 24th of May, 2012 where Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe underlined the basis on which talks could commence. He had discussed this matter with the President and the President had agreed with his agenda and Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe made a statement in Parliament on the basis of his agreement with the President in the hope that there will be a favourable response from the Government, and once that response of the Government was available, talks would commence. I would just read one paragraph in his statement, Sir. It states, I quote:

Furthermore, Sir, the Minister, Hon. Patali Champika Ranawaka, in the course of a statement explained the dire consequences that would arise from vesting land and police powers with PCs. The Minister, Hon. Wimal Weerawansa who was also on the Parliamentary Select Committee, in the course of a statement at that time said, “We would have been happy, if the Thirteenth Amendment was removed altogether, but some people in the Government are not keen on doing that. Therefore, we are asking the Government to remove the police and land powers in the Thirteenth Amendment. Furthermore, Sir, the Minister, Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella went on to say this in the course of a statement that he made.

There is no use in proceeding with talks, if they want to discuss those issues”. That was the position. There are provisions in the Constitution pertaining to land and police powers; there are provisions in the Constitution pertaining to the merger of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces. How can the TNA go to the Parliamentary Select Committee in this situation? I quote:

“It was noted that the proposed changes raised doubts about the commitments made by the Sri Lankan Government to India and the international community, including the United Nations, on a political settlement in Sri Lanka that would go beyond the 13th Amendment.

‘The changes would also be incompatible with the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), set up by the Government of Sri Lanka, calling for a political settlement based on the devolution of power to the provinces,’ ”

It was after this statement and after the special National Security Adviser of India visited Sri Lanka and met with the President that these proposals were abandoned that this was given up. Before I conclude, sir, I would also like to refer to what the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission were in regard to a political solution. “The Commission takes the view that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive Governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people.”

 “To this end, the Government must take the initiative to have a serious and structured dialogue with all political parties, and those representing the minorities in particular, based on a proposal containing the Government’s own thinking on the form and content of the dialogue process envisaged. Sir, where is the Government’s proposal? Where is the Government’s proposal? Is the Government yet prepared to come up with the proposal? Does the Government have a proposal?

Therefore, Sir, the collapse of the bilateral talks was entirely due to the Government’s actions. The Government did not attend the bilateral talks on the 17th, 18th and 19th of January, 2012. We made two efforts thereafter to recommence the talks. That is part of this country’s Constitution.

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