Colombo Telegraph

A Golden Opportunity For Tamils To Present A United Front And Speak With One Voice

By Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah –

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

After we heard from the ‘kangaroo court’ of murderers sitting in judgment in their own case, i.e.the Army Court of Inquiry, we heard from the man who wants to short change Tamils, Dayan Jayatilleka. He is ready to give Tamils an unsolicited poisoned chalice of an “Avuruddhu” gift called the “13th amendment” which the Tamil politicians and civil society members have rejected out right “as not an adequate starting point.” The Indian delegation has just come and gone with hopefully one message from the Tamils. This is a golden opportunity for Tamils to present a united front, with the blessings of the Indians, to move forward towards fulfilling Tamil aspirations.

Meeting of the Minds

What we need to work on is a meeting of the minds of all Tamils. Now that shouldn’t be a problem when considering the outlook is bleak and we can’t sink any further. We need to set aside our differences and work in concert to save our Nation in the island of Sri Lanka.

Dayan Jayatilleka defended the Hawks; what is he talking about?

Do we have to have to give any credence to a Sri Lankan diplomat who has been sidelined “who has shamelessly taken credit for having cleverly concealed the truth about the mass slaughter of Tamils in Mullivaikal Northern Sri Lanka in May 2009?” No I don’t think so.

Read my article on Dayan Jayatilleka titled Response to ‘Geneva consensus: Setting the record straight’ to know about how he was “basking in the glory of what he achieved that day at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) at a special session convened to discuss war atrocities allegedly committed by both sides in the last stages of the war in Sri Lanka, the out come ( in favour of Sri Lanka) actually sending shockwaves in the international circles,” especially with the international media and rights groups who were left livid.

I have a few things to say to Dayan: Who is he calling the “Sinhala Hawks” when he has brazenly defended the “Sinhala Hawks” singing for their supper at the UN and beyond? The other points I’ll keep for later in the article.

Grim News from the Vanni

The news from the Vanni is bad. I have just heard from a friend who had visited the Vanni and just returned. The North is an open prison, people are overcome by fear; they want to flee: I got this raw unadulterated news straight from ground zero from the horse’s mouth: Women are being used as “sex slaves” and the families dare not disclose it to anyone. They watch as “silent partners in a crime” that they can’t report. The people are held captive against their wishes but can’t speak out. Any activity would elicit a visit from the “bad men” in uniform, the Rajapaksa government’s equivalent to armed Gestapo.

The army snatched my friend’s mobile and broke it before he could take a single picture.

India Must Shed its Obsession with the 13th Amendment

Tamils have broken the ice with the Indians. The Tamil politicians and members of the civil society who met with the Indian delegation visiting the NorthEast province wanted India to shed its “obsession with the 13th amendment: “The obsession with the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution will hardly help the Tamils, politicians and activists in northern Sri Lanka told the Indian parliamentary delegation, which wound up its visit to Sri Lanka on Thursday,” reported Meera Srinivasan for The Hindu.

Differences between Tamils should be Ironed out before the Provincial Council Elections: Contesting each other would be Suicidal

Looking at the Tamil political parties and some members of the civil society, there seems to be a few differences between them that are not hard to iron out. If Tamils remain divided they would virtually let the enemy in; that would be suicidal in a provincial council election if they contest each other.

TNPF and Guruparan want a Transitional Administration Model

Now from The Hindu report both Gajendrakumar of the TNPF (Tamil National People’s Front) and K Guruparan, Law Lecturer of the University of Jaffna ‘”reportedly emphasised that the 13th Amendment was not an adequate starting point in addressing the problems of the Tamils. Responding to a BJP MP’s question whether the Northern Provincial Council Elections opened a ‘window of opportunity’, The Hindu quoting Guruparan reported: “In response, civil society members are said to have prescribed a “transitional administration” model, outside the current Sri Lankan Constitution, as an alternative, where in Tamil representatives have actual powers in realms of education, health and livelihood issues. “In this model, the Sri Lankan government will also have a role and so will representatives of various communities. If the government is willing to engage with this option, we could work out the modalities,” he had told The Hindu.

For Dayan to Note:

The 13th amendment is a non starter – does his version include police and land powers? With the advent of the Divineguma Bill (now law) and the 18th Amendment, a lot of the discretionary and financial powers have been removed from the provincial councils (that were already nothing less than “glorified Municipal Councils: Nadesan Satyendra). Furthermore to his argument that an interim administration outside the Constitution is not possible, let me remind him of the ’72 constitution that was created outside of parliament by a Constituent Assembly that illegally abolished section 29(2) of the Soulbury Constitution. If there is a will there is a way. It’s not about Tamils giving “Sinhala Hawks” an “Avurudhu Gift” by not accepting the 13th amendment and some, the TNA President included, opting for an “interim administration”, the gift that they could inadvertently give the “Sinhala Hawks” would be the gift of a divided Tamil polity against the enemy.

Suresh Premachandran TNA President wants Interim Administration:

Mr Suresh Premachandran, TNA President was not far off with these views when he had told The Hindu Tamils need an interim administration: “We told the visiting MPs that the ongoing genocide has to end here. There are serious livelihood issues prompting Tamils to leave the country. We need an interim administration, overseen byIndiaor the United Nations, until there is a final political settlement for the Tamils.”

Although Sumanthiran speaking for the TNA made it clear that the TNA was looking to the Northern provincial council elections and wasn’t going for any “interim administration” like the ISGA (Interim Self Governing Authority), “till the provincial polls were held” the Island news paper reported.

The Island’s Report: Sumanthiran’s views: “No Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) for the Northern Province till the provincial polls were held?”

TheTamil National Alliance (TNA) yesterday said it had not asked for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) for the Northern Province till the provincial polls were held. This follows news reports that the TNA, with Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph and civil society members, had asked a visiting delegation of Indian Members of Parliament to press the Government of Sri Lanka to establish an ISGA. Asked whether his party had requested the GoSL for an ISGA and whether it was confident that it could obtain what the LTTE failed to during the 2001-2003 UNF government, TNA National List MP Sumanthiran told The Island: “We have never asked the government to establish an ISGA and that was never on the agenda of the TNA. What has effectively happened would have been that the matter pertaining to the ISGA would have come up when the members of the civil society had a meeting with the visiting Indian Parliamentary delegation, which we, the TNA, as a party, were oblivious to. The ISGA has not even figured in our talks with the visiting Indian Parliamentary delegation,” the Island adding that Sumanthiran urged the government to hold the elections to the Northern Provincial Council at its earliest, adding that it had been overdue for the last four years.

Crunch Time: A Single Unified Strategy Needed

So here we are at a juncture when it is crunch time; but haven’t we said it before a billion times. Are we going to continue to stumble and fall yet again without coming up with a single unified strategy and speaking with one voice?

If we don’t we won’t have Tamils living any more in Eelam, that’s not my prediction but that’s reality: Read Krista Mahr’s article, “Amid Abuse and Fear, Tamils Continue to Flee Sri Lanka,” she says, the number of Tamils fleeing has increased talking to Centre for Policy Alternatives Director, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu : “To escape this climate of fear, it appears that an increasing number of Tamils are fleeing Sri Lanka, boarding barely seaworthy vessels, bound for an uncertain future as asylum seekers. This is despite the government’s official effort to reconstruct the war-torn north of the country. “You have a significant number of people leaving postwar, at a point at which the government is assuring that economic development is prioritized and reconciliation is being effected in earnest,” says the CPA’s Saravanamuttu. The fact that so many people are choosing to go “seems to suggest people in the north don’t feel that way. They are voting with their feet, so to speak, and they are paying fairly large sums of money and risking life and limb to do it.” Saravanamuttu says that official numbers of the number of people leaving are unavailable, but to give just one example, over 6,000 Tamils arrived in Australiain 2012, some 30 times higher than the 2011 figure.”

Falling into the Government Trap and Losing Everything

Are we going to fall into the trap laid out by Sinhala governments by complying with the Sinhala agenda of obliterating theTamil Nation; so that soon they can say, “who where what” are you talking about, the Tamils, they do not exist, they are not even “visible minorities”, they are nothing; Eelam what’s that, it’s a figment of the imagination of some delusional people. If Sinhala governments have their way soon Eelam Tamils will be landless and the NorthEast will be denuded of all Eelam Tamils. Call it a self fulfilling prophesy but why not say it when all indications are that it might just become a self fulfilling prophesy.

Tamils will have only Ourselves to Blame if we Remain Divided!  

So what is our response to the complete erosion of our social, civil, political, democratic and human right including our right to our home land, nationhood and self determination;’ what is our response to the occupation of our land by the Sri Lankan military at the ratio of 1 soldier to 5 civilians and 1soldier to 3 civilians in Vavuniya and the army’s interference with our daily lives; what is our response to the desecration of our temples and churches; what is our response to the appropriation of our private lands and the take over of our state lands and the deprivation of our peoples’ livelihood; what is our response to the ongoing structural genocide to change the demography of our traditional home land and destroy the Tamil national identity, religions, culture; what is our response when we have been reduced to the opposition in the Eastern provincial council.

Assault on Press Freedom

Take for instance the assault on press freedom; what is our response to our missing and murdered Tamil journalists; what is our response to Tamil BBC broadcasts being continuously interrupted so much so the BBC took the unusual step to suspend operations; what is our response to the destruction of Tamil press offices and machinery. The Uthayan newspaper has been destroyed 37 times; it was subjected to a “second armed attack in ten days,” say Reporters without Borders. Mannfred Nikolai who has more than 6,000 followers tweeted that Sri Lanka is ranked 162nd out 179 among nations in the 2013 world press freedom index. What is our response to the news that the last attack has rendered the machines useless. This spells disaster not only for press freedom, not only for the Tamil media, but for Tamils, deprived of the right to freedom of information as they face a provincial council election; an election where they are unwilling participants, because a boycott would bring the scoundrels into the council, those who committed the dastardly acts, those subjugating our people as we speak. So do we stand helpless and divided! No I don’t think so.

Kangaroo Court’s “Empty Findings”        

So what is our response to the Sri Lankan farce, the so called Army Court of Inquiry that has exonerated itself completely from any wrong doing, engineering a major cover-up of gigantic proportions, hoping it would get away with it; blaming it all absolutely on the “LTTE whom it refers to as LTTE terrorists”.

The Rajapaksa government has the audacity to think its ‘kangaroo court’ can pass for a “credible and independent” body worthy of respect to inquire into “credible” allegations of mass atrocity crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity made against its own senior officers including the President, the Commander in Chief made by not only Channel 4 UK but by two eminent UN Panels the Dublin Tribunal and all the major international human rights NGOs and UN workers.

Ms Yasmin Sooka of the UN Panel of Experts has summarily dismissed the conclusions of the ‘kangaroo court’ as “empty findings”.

To Tamils the findings won’t stand in court when there are stacks of evidence, numerous items of video and pictorial evidence, testimonials, satellite images, expert witness testimonies of women, seniors and children taking cover in bunkers and those in ‘no fire zones’ shelled, bombed, rocketed and massacred in cold blood (that they as an “additional measure of safety added 500 meters more to the boundaries of the ‘no fire zones’ does not absolve the evil minds) The scale of atrocities committed, the heavy weapons used, the denial of food, medicine and humanitarian aid and the senseless executions, that has been documented can’t be denied.

Court has No Standing, Not a Single Civilian Casualty

This ‘kangaroo court’ has no standing for it interviewed only murderers from Senior Field Commanders down to Officers and no other witnesses. It told a bare faced lie that the Sri Lankan Army did not kill a single civilian: “The evidence before the court has conclusively established that the humanitarian operation conducted strictly in accordance with the ‘Zero Civilian Casualty’ directive made by his Excellency, president Mahinda Rajapaksa which the “commanders at all times obeyed,” the court concluded.

It’s an insult to the intelligence of reasonable people to say that the Sri Lankan army “was a well disciplined military force” engaged in humanitarian rescue operation and that they followed their President’s order of zero civilian casualties. Contrary to those blatantly false claims the Sri Lankan army was the most deadliest and savage army that did not treat the captured or the dead or even those who surrendered with dignity, so many were found stripped naked with their hands tied behind their backs, most of them sexually abused, even gang raped and subjected to mutilation before they were brutally executed. Many of the dead were found fully naked and transported after the bodies were stacked into vehicles in the most degrading and inhuman manner; we have seen a prisoner interrogated, tortured and then executed and the body burned in the latest ‘no fire zone’ documentary. We have seen execution videos of many prisoners executed at close range. We have seen children and one iconic child of the LTTE leader given a snack and then executed at point blank range.

Not only that the ‘kangaroo court’ found the “Sri Lankan troops had refrained from firing heavy weapons and this self-imposed moratorium had caused heavy casualties to Army troops,” but hadn’t given any casualty numbers, so that the Sinhala people would know how many Sinhalese died due to Rajapaksa’s hawkish policies, breaking the cease-fire and waging war..

And in a stinging rebuke to the international community the court “also noted the International Community had failed in their duty to stop the war crimes committed by the LTTE terrorists.”

Not a Humanitarian Rescue Operation’ it was a “Hostage Taking Operation”,

I say the ‘humanitarian rescue operation’ was actually a “hostage taking operation”, as nearly 300,000 people were put in ‘internment camps’ tightly packed with poor facilities for months, in conditions that were less than human; quite a number died there and the youngsters were taken as LTTE affiliates and disappeared, some were raped and abused; there are allegations that items of jewelry were taken by the soldiers.

Yes the Rajapaska government’s handling of issues of accountability and impunity for heinous crimes shows utter contempt not only for the international community but for the tens of thousands who perished.

Even “Western Powers can’t avoid the vagaries of war”

The Sri Lankan Army Commander’s final salvo absolving the army of all criminal liability came with his “concluding remarks”: “In any war even those fought by western powers using state of the art hi-tech equipment, civilian casualties are inevitable due to the vagaries of war…that if any new evidence is presented by giving precise information on casualties, such instances will be investigated further by giving that person the opportunity to present their evidence.”

Ms Yasmin Sooka: “Colombo’s Contempt for the International Community”

Need for Independent International Investigation

Ms Sooka did not mince her words when she said she was shocked at Colombo’s contempt for the international Community, underscoring the need for an international independent investigation and I quote:

“Colombo’s contempt for the international community seems to be increasing. The recent media release on the findings of the Military Court of Inquiry stretch credibility.

While I have not had access to the full report and to the evidence presented to the Military Court of Inquiry, I am shocked by the Court of Inquiry’s findings. I was a member of the Panel of Experts appointed by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, to look into accountability for the final stages of the war. The Panel rejected with utter certainty the notion that the Sri Lankan Military mounted a “humanitarian rescue” and that the war was conducted with “zero civilian casualties”. The Panel’s work revealed “a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the government of Sri Lanka. The panel found “credible allegations” which, if proven, indicated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the rebel liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers). The Panel concluded that “the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace”. It also found that as many as 40,000 civilians may have been killed in the final months of the civil war, most as a result of indiscriminate shelling by the Sri Lankan military. The Panel’s work was further vindicated by the report of Charles Petrie, the UN official appointed by the UN Secretary General to look into the role played by the UN agencies on the ground during the conflict. Charles Petrie suggested in his report that the number of civilian casualties is probably closer to 70,000. This figure is staggering and points to an enormous loss of life. The Catholic Bishop of Manner has suggested that more than 147 000 people remain unaccounted for.

The Panel rejected the notion that in any war there are casualties which are inevitable. The Geneva Conventions exist for a purpose to ensure that the lives of innocent civilians are protected at all time.

The findings of the Military Court of Inquiry exonerate the military of any responsibility and attest to the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka and the Military cannot be trusted to investigate the crimes committed during the final phases of the conflict.

That is why an independent international inquiry is needed.”

What is our Response when brought down to the lowest common denomination by a Sinhala Government

So what is our response to the Tamil National question when we have been brought down by a rabid Sinhala government to the lowest common denomination and cannot sink any further? We have lost our people, our land, and our rights; are we going to lose our surviving and future generations too?

It’s critical that Tamils make their position clear, that they do not work at cross purposes and look as though they seemingly were at odds with each other. The need of the hour calls for clarification of positions and consensus on the issues relating to provincial council elections or speaking with one voice on an interim administration in our message to India.

At last we have the unreserved support of the people of Tamil Nadu and a student population that’s agitating for our rights. At last we have major Indian political parties, Tamil Nadu state wide as well as from the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, distinguished politicians and a Chief Minister voicing their disapproval of the Sri Lankan government’s massacre of the Tamil people, who want the army to pack its bags and leave the NorthEast, who are not only calling Mullivaikkal a genocide but are open to looking at viable political solutions that would guarantee Tamil rights.

One Voice One Message

Let Tamils show the same fervour and single mindedness we demonstrated carrying the Vaddukoddai resolution forward, and giving it an overwhelming mandate.

This is a golden opportunity for Tamils to present a united front and to speak with one voice, conveying one message to the Indians.

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