Addressing Parliament on 22 February, Leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said that the Tamil people were very disappointed with the present government and claimed that the Tamils were of the view that the current coalition government under President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were not very different to the previous government under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“There are fundamental issues that needs to be addressed urgently, such as the issues of missing persons, land held by the military, prisoners, and the truth and reconciliation commission,” he said.He also emphasised that his party, the TNA stood for a united Sri Lanka, with devolved powers.
He added that while every soldier was not a war criminal it was important to identify and prosecute those who were behind ‘heinous crimes’ such as murder and rape.
Ever since the enactment of the 1978 Constitution there has been a clamour for the enactment of a new Constitution. That is because there was no consensus in the making of the 1978 Constitution. It was the same with the 1972 First Republican Constitution. There was no consensus in regard to that either. Parties in power which were able to muster the required two-thirds majority framed the Constitution as the party wished. They were not interested in evolving a consensus. The country has become wiser; I hope that political parties have become wiser – I am inclined to think they have. Over a period of time, particularly, after the ethnic holocaust of 1983, there have been efforts at making a new Constitution.
The national question can remain unresolved any longer. I do not think it will be good for this country. In the context of the matter having been internationalised and different statements having been made by different people, I do not think we can go into a situation where there can be recurrence of violence, more Tamils being killed and more Tamils fleeing the country. It is not going to be acceptable to anyone. We are prepared to resolve the matter within the framework of a united, undivided, indivisible Sri Lanka on the basis of our self-respect and dignity being restored, on the basis of our being able to determine our destiny in the territory in which we have lived. We, therefore, call upon the Government to bear this fact in mind. Ever since the country attained independence, consequent to the violence unleashed against the Tamil people 1,500,000 Tamils have fled this country and at least, 150,000 Tamils have been killed. Of course, soldiers have died, our combatants have died and other civilians have died. We accept all that. That is because there was violence. That is because there was an armed conflict and there was an armed conflict for the reason that the matter was not politically resolved. If the matter had been politically resolved, there would have been no armed conflict.
These are fundamental elements in the transitional justice process which needs to be addressed, which have to be addressed. Our people are disappointed. Let me be frank. Our people had the expectation that they would be treated differently by this Government and not be ill-treated in the same way that the former Government ill-treated them. But the people have begun to raise the question as to whether this Government is dealing with them any differently from the previous Government.
It is true that you have released some lands both in the North and the East but much more needs to be done. The Armed Forces do not seem to be prepared to release lands. That is a fact that we have to face.
The Army thinks, well these lands were held by the LTTE and the Tamil people did not protest against it at that point of time and why are they protesting now. You cannot say that. You are not the LTTE. The LTTE were young armed rebels. They came and occupied our land. We had no choice but to hand it over to them. But you are a civilized Government. You are a democratic Government. You are a Government with an international status. You have got to safeguard your international status. You cannot behave in the same way in which the LTTE behaved. They probably think, why should we return lands to Tamil civilians because Tamil civilians want to convict us of war crimes.
Let me say this very frankly. We do not think that every soldier is a war criminal. There may have been certain methods adopted in the prosecution of the war which may have been in violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Persons responsible for such conduct would be at a different level, would be at a command level and not at the level of the ordinary soldier. There may have been soldiers who had committed individual crimes like murder, like rape. If they can be identified and if they can be prosecuted, they must be identified and prosecuted. After all when the JVP insurrection took place in the early 1970s that girl, Beatrice Manamperi was raped by some soldiers. Am I right Bimal? They were identified and convicted. That was the right thing to do. So if there are soldiers who have committed such wrongs, they may have to face the consequences. But a soldier who fought the war on behalf of the Government, on behalf of the State was carrying out the instructions of his Government. He was doing nothing more. I do not see how he can be prosecuted.
This bad blood between the soldiers and the Tamil population must come to an end. There was a time when Tamils could not be recruited to the Sri Lankan armed forces. There was a time when they could not expect the Government to do that but now things are changing. Your armed forces must acquire a different complexion. They cannot be entirely and exclusively or even preponderantly with Sinhala only. They must have Tamils. They must have Muslims. Sir Kandiah Vaithyanathan was the first Permanent Secretary of Defence and Foreign Affairs when Hon. D. S. Senanayake was Prime Minister. He was an excellent civil servant. Anton Muttukumaru was the Commander of the Army. Rajan Kadirgamar was a Commander of the Navy.
They were excellent officials who did an excellent job of work. So, this bad blood between the Tamil people and the Sri Lankan soldiers, Sri Lankan Armed Forces must come to an end. We are now moving into a different era. We must have more Muslims in the Armed Forces, we must have more Tamils in the Armed Forces and we must be able to look upon our Armed Forces with pride.