By R. Sampanthan –
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I move:
“Whereas two statements were made on the Floor of the House on 09th April, 2013, by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and by the Hon. Minister of External Affairs, pertaining to the Resolution No. A/HRC/22/L.1 on ‘Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka’ adopted by the Human Rights Council.
And whereas the Hon. Minister of External Affairs in the course of his Statement made specific reference to certain matters which need to be further clarified.
And whereas such clarity is necessary in the interests of the country and its people, and to ensure that the people know the truth. And whereas, the constructive recommendations contained in the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and embodied in the said resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council, included the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the North of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formally independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all, and enact rule of law reforms. And whereas the said resolution also expressed concerns regarding the threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.
And whereas no credible efforts are being made to adequately address serious allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law referred to in the said resolution. And whereas the actions of the Government are resulting in further deterioration generally, particularly relating to land issues in all districts of the North and East and desecration of places of religious and cultural importance.
And whereas neither Reconciliation nor Accountability can be promoted by the continuance of the present actions of the Government, and whereas the said actions of the Government are only promoting disharmony and ill-will amongst peoples and impunity amongst those engaged in such actions.
This Motion therefore urges the Government in the interests of the country and all its peoples (1) To take immediate action to reverse its current actions relating to land in the districts of the North and East. (2) To take meaningful and effective steps to genuinely implement the said resolution of the Human Rights Council.”
Mr. Deputy Speaker, having read my Motion, may I state that the country is at a very critical and crucial stage in its post-conflict era. The question before the country is whether in the post-LTTE era, the country is to get back to the practices and processes that were the root causes for the conflict or whether the country is to chart a new course.
If the country was to chart a new course, in order to achieve genuine reconciliation based on accountability and justice, we have much to learn from the various processes that have taken place during the period of the conflict and we should all approach the issue with a sense of inclusiveness and magnanimity. We have always endeavoured to move forward, not backwards. It is in that spirit that this Debate takes place. It is not intended to inflict any harm on Sri Lanka or the Sri Lankan people. It is to enable all – its peoples – to endeavour to live together in a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka.
There were two statements made on 9th April, 2013 by the Hon. Leader of the Opposition and the Hon. Minister of External Affairs respectively. It is with the statement of the Hon.Minister of External Affairs that we are primarily concerned. Sri Lanka is a member of the United Nations and the UN Human Rights Council is an institution of the United Nations. Sri Lanka has also served on the Human Rights Council. We are a part of that institutional arrangement. We have not disassociated ourselves from that arrangement. There may be some resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council which Sri Lanka may not like or agree with.
But, that does not mean that you cease to be a part of that arrangement or that you can deviate from commitments that you have made to the UN system. Some efforts have also been made to make out that security or financial considerations more than the merits of the Resolution are the reasons for the Resolution being adopted. This, in my respectful submission, does not seem quite correct.
From the data available, US foreign aid extended to the 25 Member States that voted for the Resolution totalled less than US Dollar 1 billion for 2012 while US foreign aid extended to the 13 Member States voting against the Resolution, exceeded US Dollars 2 billion for the same year, while US foreign aid extended to the 8 Member States that abstained from the Resolution exceeded US Dollars 1.7 billion for that year.
Yet another interesting feature is that the countries which have a stronger trading relationship with Sri Lanka were those that were most supportive of the Resolution. Within the voting group, those who voted for the Resolution accounted for over 80 per cent of Sri Lanka’s exports, while the countries that voted against the Resolution or abstained from voting accounted for only one-fifth or 20 per cent of the exports. If trade is a sign of a healthy relationship between countries, it is the countries that have the strongest such relationship with Sri Lanka, that are saying that Sri Lanka should improve its governance. India has not been included in this Equation because by virtue of its size, its economic strength and its closeness to Sri Lanka, it stands quite differently.
In regard to security considerations, many countries that have voted against the Resolution are dependant heavily on the US for security purposes; Kuwait, Maldives, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia being some of them. Some of the other reasons attributed for distancing Sri Lanka from the Resolution are :
1. There is to be an oral update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in September, 2013
2. There is to be a comprehensive report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights followed by a discussion in March, 2014.
These, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are inevitable steps in a process that has commenced and are not unusual. If what was required to be done was done in time, this Resolution would, perhaps, never have been passed or would never have come up.
The only way to bring the Resolution and this process to a closure is at least to do now what needs to be done and more than that stop doing things that should not be done.
Yet another reason mentioned is that the Resolution seeks to incorporate the Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights which calls for an international investigation. The Hon. Minister states that the High Commissioner for Human Rights called for this international investigation one week after the hostilities ended in May 2009 and wants to know on what evidence she called for an international investigation.
I wish to quote what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on 13th March, 2009, two months before the war ended, while the war was still in progress. She said, I quote:
“Certain actions being undertaken by the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. We need to know more about what is going on, but we know enough to be sure that the situation is absolutely desperate. The world today is ever sensitive about such acts that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
She knew what she was talking about because she was following what was going on during the course of the war. So, she talked about what happened during the war, not merely one week after the war. She talked about it when the war was going on.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights had been even more specific recently when she answered a direct question on this issue. That is quite recently and I would like to quote that question and answer.
This is what the question was and I quote:
“You keep calling for an international war crimes investigation, particularly, into what happened during the final stages of the war. Why is this still so important?”
and the answer that she gave was this and I quote:
“Because tens of thousands of civilians were reportedly killed. Because there are very credible allegations and some strong pictorial evidence and witness accounts indicating that war crimes and other serious international crimes, including summary executions, use of child soldiers and the use of civilians as human shields took place on a large scale. These are crimes that are viewed with the utmost seriousness under international human rights and humanitarian law, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest both sides committed them. Unfortunately, none of the steps taken domestically in Sri Lanka, to investigate any of this, inspire confidence. There is a long history of national inquiries in Sri Lanka that have led nowhere, but to impunity. This makes such an international investigation essential. Crimes like these cannot simply be ignored or pushed aside. If there has been exaggeration or distortions, or unjust allegations, then such an inquiry should also expose those. There has to be justice, if there is to be lasting peace. ”
That was the statement Sir, she made more recently on 24th of February, 2013.
It must be said in fairness to the High Commissioner that she seems to have at all times, before the war ended, when the war ended and after the war ended, known quite clearly what she is saying.
Another reason mentioned is that the Resolution seeks to incorporate the Report of the Panel of Experts appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN which the Hon. Minister likes to call the Darusman Report. Two grounds are alleged for this position that the Hon. Minister outlined for not being able to even look at that Report. One is that the persons that the Panel spoke to asked for an assurance that their identity would not be disclosed for 20 years. Given the nature of the testimony these persons were giving and the persons against whom they were testifying – I cannot see what was wrong in that but what is really the correct position This is referred to Sir, on page six of the Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability under the caption “Confidentiality of the Panel’s records.” I would like to quote what it states:
“E Confidentiality of Panel’s records.
‘23. In some instances, the Panel received written and oral material on the condition of an assurance of absolute confidentiality in the subsequent use of the information. The Office of Legal Affairs confirmed through formal legal advice that the provisions set out in the Secretary-General’s Bulletin on “Information sensitivity, classification and handling” could be applied to its records. This Bulletin provides for classification of a document as ‘strictly confidential’ with correspondingly strict limits on any access for a period of 20 years,…”
This was not something sinister or something unusual. It was the practice being adopted by the Secretary-General in terms of a bulletin which covered such issues that there would be confidentiality for a period of 20 years.
What is your own position in regard to confidentiality? There was a Bill called “Assistance and Protection to Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill”, Bill No. 1306 which was tabled in Parliament on the 6th of June 2008. The judgment of the Supreme Court in regard to that Bill was tabled in Parliament on the 5th of June. The Second Reading commenced on the 17th of June. It continued on the 19th of June. I have with me here a copy of the Bill and copies of the relevant Hansards. What happened after the 19th of June? You abandoned the Bill. The Bill was not proceeded with. Why did you abandon the Bill? The Bill was brought to this House to enact legislation to ensure the safety of victims and witnesses, to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses. The Bill was brought to this House under pressure from the International Independent Eminent Group of Persons who had been invited to this country and appointed by the Government to overlook the work of the Commission that was inquiring into very serious human rights violations like the massacre of the five students in Trincomalee and 17 aid workers in Mutur. Of course, they eventually withdrew from the country. Having endeavoured to make their best contribution, they stated in a public interview that they gave before they left the country that there was no commitment on the part of the Sri Lankan Government, no will on the part of the Sri Lankan Government to investigate grave violations of human rights in keeping with international norms and standards. What happened in the course of that inquiry that was conducted by the Commission appointed by the Government? The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons wanted evidence to be led before the Commission by an independent counsel. Persons who were representing the Sri Lankan Government in regard to human rights violations before the Human Rights Council in Geneva were the same persons who were leading evidence on behalf of the victims before the Commission of Inquiry. The International Independent Eminent Group of Persons stated the view that there was a clear conflict of interest when the same lawyers handled both these contradictory positions leading evidence on behalf of the victims on the one hand and defending the Government and its armed forces on the other hand by the same people before the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons wanted a law enacted for the protection of victims and witnesses. That was how you brought the law, but you abandoned the law. Some of the witnesses left the country. They were afraid to stay in the country. The Commission commenced calling evidence through teleconferencing. That was stopped. Two persons appearing on behalf of those who were accused of the crimes before the Commission protested against evidence being recorded through teleconferencing and directives went out to the Commission that such evidence should not be recorded and the recording of such evidence was stopped. This cannot be denied. It is all a matter of record, it can be proved. Why did you do that? You say that it was wrong on the part of the Panel of Experts to have adopted a normal rule that is applicable in the UN system, where persons who gave information or evidence in regard to sensitive matters, had a right to keep those matters confidential for a period of 20 years. Is this fair? When this is your own record, how can you complain about the adoption of what has been a regular procedure, a regular process in the UN?
What is the position today in regard to the inquiry pertaining to the massacre of the five students in Trincomalee and the 17 aid workers in Mutur? The Commission itself submitted a report. Where is that report? Why has that report not been made public? Why are they being concealed? More than that, let us see what the Government’s position is in recent times. The Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe, the President’s Special Envoy on Human Rights, goes to Geneva on the 27th of February, 2013. What did he state in Geneva in regard to these two matters? He said, I quote:
“ ‘The government of Sri Lanka’s efforts continue, through the relevant agencies, to bring finality to the crimes involved in these two cases. I am able to announce that in the case of the five students, the Attorney General has instructed the Police to commence a non-summary inquiry before judicial authorities. Thus this matter may be brought to a conclusion and is concrete evidence of our commitment to accountability,’…”
Five students who were standing on the beach in Trincomalee, who were in the university or had passed their GCE (Advanced Level) and awaiting admission to the university, were slaughtered on the beach. They were shot and killed. Seven years later, on 13th February, 2013 a Minister of this Government has the temerity, the impudence to go before the Human Rights Council and say that a non-summary inquiry is going to be started and very soon things will be brought to a conclusion. I do not think the non-summary inquiry has started even now. A non-summary inquiry, Sir, as you know, probably starts in 10 days’ time. The trial would take place in the High Court or in the Assize Court in three months’ time or six months’ time. Here, seven years have passed and you have the impudence and impertinence to go before the Human Rights Council and say that a non-summary inquiry was started and that you are confident that things will be brought to a conclusion and that that is concrete evidence of your commitment to accountability. That is your history and with this history, you question confidentiality being given to persons who testified in regard to very sensitive questions for a period of 20 years by the UN Panel of Experts.
The other ground of objection against the Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability has been that the report had been prepared entirely outside the intergovernmental process.
I wish to deal with this matter because it is a fairly important question. This entire process on the question of accountability, this entire issue on accountability commences with a Joint Communiqué issued by the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General of the UN when the Secretary-General visited the country on 23rd May 2009, some days after the war came to an end.
I will read from that Joint Communiqué. It states, I quote:
“Following is the joint statement by the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations at the conclusion of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Sri Lanka on 23rd May”.
“The Government expressed its commitment to ensure the economic and political empowerment of the people of the North through its programmes”.
Then, we come to the issue of accountability. It says, I quote:
“Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address these grievances.”
You accepted your international obligations. You said that you will fulfil your obligations in keeping with what was required to ensure the protection of human rights and you agreed, committed yourself to undertake measures that will address the question of accountability.
There was a specific commitment on the part of the Sri Lankan Government made in this Communiqué to address the question of accountability.
I would next refer to the “Terms of Reference” under which the Secretary-General appointed the Panel of Experts. This is what the Terms of Reference says. I quote:
“In the Joint Statement of the Secretary-General and the President of Sri Lanka issued at the conclusion of the Secretary-General’s visit in the country on 23 May 2009, the Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process to address allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed during military operations between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The President of Sri Lanka undertook to take measures to address these grievances. At this time and against this background:
1. The Secretary-General has decided to establish a panel of experts to advise him on the implementation of the said commitment with respect to the final stages of the war.
2. The purpose of the panel shall be to advise the Secretary-General on the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience relevant to the fulfillment of the joint commitment to an accountability process, having regard to the nature and scope of alleged violations.”
This was the Terms of Reference on the basis of which the Secretary-General appointed his Panel of Experts. It is at Annex 2.8 on page 145 of the Report of the Panel of Experts under the Terms of Reference.
The Secretary-General appointed the Panel of Experts to advise him in regard to the implementation of the commitment made by the Government of Sri Lanka and in regard to the fulfilment of the joint commitment to an accountability process. That was the reason why the Secretary-General appointed the Panel of Experts. What have you to complain about? What was the need for an inter-governmental process in this situation when the Government concerned is a consenting party to the achievement of the given objective, and on the basis of that commitment made by the Government concerned the Secretary-General of the UN appoints a Panel of Experts to advise him, and they have come up with a report on the basis of the Terms of Reference under which they were appointed. What is the need, I ask you, for an inter-governmental process when you have given a commitment to the Secretary-General who has told you that accountability must be addressed, and you make a commitment to him and that is contained in a Joint Communiqué where you have agreed to address that commitment, to deal with that commitment, and on the basis of that undertaking that you give the Secretary-General of UN, he appoints a Panel of Experts to advise him.
I do not see in this situation what need there is for an inter-governmental process because the Government of Sri Lanka which is the Government concerned has already given its consent to the accountability process being carried out and to that question being addressed. There is no need for an inter-governmental process thereafter. The Secretary-General of UN has sent the Report of the Panel of Experts to the Government of Sri Lanka and also to the UN Human Rights Council. The Government of Sri Lanka had involved itself with the Panel of Experts; it has interacted with the Panel of Experts. Though a visit by the Panel of Experts to Sri Lanka as wished by the Panel did not materialize, the Government of Sri Lanka has interacted with the Panel of Experts. Of course the visit by the Panel did not materialize because that is not an unusual thing in Sri Lanka. Recently, I think when the Chief Justice was impeached there was an international investigating group appointed by the International Bar Association headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Justice Sharma, to visit this country and make an inquiry in regard to the impeachment process but they were not able to come here.
They conducted their investigations from abroad and came up with their report. So, the Panel of Experts or independent international investigators being denied a visit to this country is nothing new. But, the fact of the matter is that, here in this instance, as far as the Panel of Experts appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN is concerned, you have clearly given your consent to that process being undertaken and you cannot now say that there must be an intergovernmental process and that your consent has no relevance.
This Panel, Sir, has been quite frank. They have stated that its mandate did not extend to fact-finding or investigation. The Panel states in Page i of its Report, I quote:
“The Panel determined an allegation to be credible if there was a reasonable basis to believe that the underlying act or event occurred.”
The Report further states, I quote:
“Allegations are considered as credible in this report only when based on primary sources that the Panel deemed relevant and trustworthy.”
So, the Panel, Sir, has been quite responsible in regard to what they did because they have come to certain conclusions. I would briefly read this for the purpose of record. Page ii of this Report states, I quote:
“Allegations found credible by the Panel
The Panel’s determination of credible allegations reveals a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka. The Government says it pursued a ‘humanitarian rescue operation’ with a policy of “zero civilian casualties.” In stark contrast, the Panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law was committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, 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.”
This is contained in Page ii of the Panel’s Report and in conclusion, the Panel states, I quote:
“Thus, in conclusion, the Panel found credible allegations that comprise five core categories of potential serious violations committed by the Government of Sri Lanka: (i) killing of civilians through widespread shelling; (ii) shelling of hospitals and humanitarian objects; (iii) denial of humanitarian assistance; (iv) human rights violations suffered by victims and survivors of the conflict, including both IDPs and suspected LTTE cadre; and (v) human rights violations outside the conflict zone, including against the media and other critics of the Government.”
Those were the conclusions that the Panel came to in regard to the Government. The Commission also found six core categories of potential serial violations against the LTTE. I do not think, Sir, there is a need for me to read that out here.
Before I finish with the Panel’s Report, I would also like to state what the Panel had to say on accountability which is important. In regard to accountability, the Panel of Experts states on Page iv of their Report, I quote:
“… accountability goes beyond the investigation and prosecution of serious crimes that have been committed; rather it is a broad process that addresses the political, legal and moral responsibility of individuals and institutions for past violations of human rights and dignity. Consistent with the international standards mentioned above, accountability necessarily includes the achievement of truth, justice and reparations for victims.”
That was in regard to the report of the panel of expert, Sir. Now, before I conclude, I would also like to say a few words about certain other issues. As one who has been closely observing the conduct of the war and its various dimensions from within the country and also as one who has been fully involved in the various efforts to evolve an acceptable political solution and as one concerned about the relationship between the conduct of the war, its end and a political solution which seems quite illusive, I wish to express my views on these issues, Sir, because they are very important as far as the country is concerned.
The official estimate of the Sri Lankan State was that there were around 70,000 Tamil civilians confined in the area, in the Vanni where the war took place. Eventually around 300,000 Tamil civilians came alive out of this area. Most of the estimates cautiously put the figure at around 250,000. Our own inquiries revealed that the total number of Tamil civilians trapped in this area was closer to 400,000. This was the view of the affected Tamil civilians. There is without question, a sharp discrepancy between the figure stated by the Government and the true figure. No explanation has been offered in regard to this sharp discrepancy. Is this indicative of the culture of impunity reaching its zenith, totally disregarding and distorting the truth?
Essentials such as food, medicine, shelter and other requisites would have been and were officially made available only on the basis of the Government’s official estimate of 70,000 which inevitably must mean that a large number of Tamil civilian citizens would have been without food, medicine and shelter for weeks and months, such essentials being largely made available only by the Government.
All Non-governmental Organizations both domestic and international were ordered by the State to leave this area in the Vanni in September, 2008. These NGOs were rendering immense service in vital areas inclusive of shelter, food and medicine to these Tamil civilian citizens. These Tamil civilian citizens were thereafter deprived of such services. These NGO personnel were surely not fighting along with the LTTE against the Sri Lankan security forces. No reasonable explanation has been offered as to why these NGO personnel were en-masse directed to leave the area, when the displaced Tamil civilians were in dire need of their services and assistance particularly in the context of the Government’s clear underestimation of the total number of displaced Tamil civilian population in this area at that critical time.
Even UN personnel and ICRC personnel did not have free access to these areas. Has any reasonable explanation been offered as to why liberal access was not provided to these personnel? If liberal access was provided to these UN and ICRC personnel given their mandate, they could have made a significant contribution to alleviating the suffering of these people.
No one had access to this area. All media personnel were kept out. Media Personnel were sometimes taken on conducted tours; they had no free access to find out things or collect information by themselves. Has any reasonable explanation been offered in regard to the need to maintain such a high degree of secrecy? Does not this total lack of transparency, suggest that the truth was sought to be concealed.
The persons who came out of the conflict area were confined by the State under compulsion in camps, enclosed with barbed wires. There was no access to these camps. Tamil Members of Parliament were not able to visit these camps. They were denied entry. Relations and friends of these Tamil civilians were not able to visit these camps and meet these people, or be of assistance to them. These displaced Tamil civilians could not take up residence in host homes with relations or friends. This restriction which cannot be justified under the laws of the land was relaxed several months later. Was there a justifiable need to prevent contact between these affected Tamil civilians and others? Is this not again indicative of the culture of impunity that had become all pervasive. There seems to have been an assumption, that in regard to these Tamil civilians, persons in authority could act according to their whims, regardless of domestic or international law. These rules applied to all persons in the camps; men, women, youth and children. It was not confined to only persons who needed to be investigated.
Genuine reconciliation is not a purchasable commodity. It cannot be achieved by giving them false promises or by conferring on them partly benefits. To think that this can be done would be an insult to their self-respect and dignity.
I have raised in Parliament several times, the issue of the manner of the conduct of the war. I have done this while the war was being conducted. I have stated that the war was being conducted with wanton disregard for the safety and well-being of Tamil civilian citizens. There is a widely held view that the war was conducted with the view of also subduing, subjugating and suppressing the Tamil people. This view holds the position that while the war was conducted so as to destroy the LTTE, which was waging an armed struggle against the Sri Lankan State in the name of the Tamil people, at the same time, yet another objective of the war was suppressing and subjugating the Tamil people and thereby negating the need for a political solution. This is a question to which an answer should be forthcoming, and it can come only from the Government. The answer should be in the form of credible and tangible action that demonstrates the Government’s commitment to a just and acceptable political solution.
I must say with much regret Sir, that we still do not see these happening and we do not know whether it will happen going by things that are presently being said and being done in this country. Sir, the Tamil People have complained from after independence that they were subjected to discrimination, deprivation, inequality, injustice and exclusion; that the democratic verdicts of the Tamil people for a change in the structure of governance was not duly recognized, that governance was not with their free will and consent and that the Fundamental and Human rights of the Tamil people were being violated with impunity.
This commenced shortly after independence and has continued.
The Tamil people have lived in this country for as long as any other people. They have preponderantly lived in the Northern and the Eastern Parts of the country. They have their own civilization, culture, customs, language, and by religion are largely Hindus or Christians. They have thus lived together as a people. While being willing wholeheartedly to be a part of the Sri Lankan polity, they treasure their rich Tamil identity and wish to preserve it. The Sinhala people themselves have their own rich identity and wish to preserve it. Since Independence, the Tamil people have begun to realize that they were not treated as equal citizens, the Tamil people were driven to feel that they were second-class citizens, who would not be treated as equal citizens by the State or even given necessary protection by the State when they were victims of wanton violence by those who wanted to subjugate them. They were discriminated against in the fields of education, employment, economic opportunity, utilization of resources in the districts which they historically inhabited, and denied their basic fundamental human rights such as even the right to life. They were denied equal protection under the law.
Sir, since the 1956 Elections, the Federal Party was overwhelmingly returned in the North and the East at every General Election; in March 1960, July 1960, 1965 and 1970. The Tamil people voted overwhelmingly for sharing of powers of governance and for regional autonomy in the North and the East. The Federal Party in its Election Manifesto in 1970 renounced a separate state, and called upon the Tamil people to vote against any candidate who contested on a separatist ticket. All such candidates were defeated. But, the democratic verdicts of the Tamil people were not recognized in any effective way. The Sinhala people were able to decide on their governance, they were able to exercise their sovereignty. The Tamil people by reason of their being numerically a minority in the whole country, were not able to have a say in their governance, in keeping with their democratic wish, even in the areas in which they were a majority, they were denied their sovereignty. They were being governed without their consent and against their will. Tamil political leadership made every effort through peaceful and non-violent means to bring about a change in the structure of governance.
The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957, the “Satyagraha”, peaceful non-violent civil disobedience campaign in 1961 by which civil administration in the North and the East was crippled for some months, and in which tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, men, women, youth and children, participated; the Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact in 1965, the National Government between 1965 and 1970 when the Federal Party was a partner in the National Government and the contribution of the Federal Party at the Constituent Assembly proceedings between 1970 and 1972 for reasonable accommodation of Tamil aspirations which was denied, when it was sought to replace the Constitution under which the country attained independence, and which had provided certain fundamental safeguards, for the minority people, with a new Republican Constitution and the consequent walkout by the Federal Party from Constituent Assembly, are amongst the milestones along that path.
The enactment of the 1972 Constitution and the provisions contained therein, relating particularly to the structure of Governance, Religion and Language, breached the compact under which the country was granted independence in terms of the Soulbury Constitution. It was the enactment of the 1972 Constitution and the entrenchment of the unitary character of the State, which was not contained in the Soulbury Constitution and which was in direct contravention of the Tamil proposition for a Federal System of government, wherein powers of governance would be shared, the removal of the safeguards provided for in the earlier Constitution for the protection of the rights of minority people, the language and religion of the majority community being accorded primacy, and the various other acts of discrimination and deprivation and the violence unleashed against the Tamils as a People consistently and persistently in 1956, in 1958, in 1961, in 1977, in 1981 and in 1983 that led to the demand for a separate state and total sovereignty in 1976. The 1977 General Election was contested by the TULF on the basis of this demand. All Tamil Members of Parliament elected from the North and the East, barring one, were from the TULF.
The TULF, under international advice was willing to make a compromise on the demand for a separate state. Mr. A. Amirthalingam, the leader of the TULF and the leader of the Opposition in Parliament stated this both in Parliament and outside, shortly after the inauguration of 1977 Parliament. Sir, if the LTTE was regarded as an impediment on the Tamil side, to the evolution of an honourable political solution, the LTTE is not there any longer. It is absolutely fundamental that the forces of nationalist brinkmanship should no longer influence the political agenda on the other side. We are strongly of the view, that this is a continuing phenomenon and that this must be quickly arrested and contained, and that it is only the Government which has the power and authority to do so. I have not the slightest doubt that the vast majority of the people in this country, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are amenable to an acceptable, honourable and peaceful political solution within the framework of a united, undivided country.
Sri Lanka achieved its Independence without a shot being fired. None of the peoples in Sri Lanka opposed Independence. All peoples extended their co-oporation to achieve Independence. Why did the country, over the course of sixty years, have to degenerate to its present position? We did not achieve Independence by militarily vanquishing our colonial rulers. We did not achieve Independence through a non-violent civil disobedience campaign, such as the “Sathyagraha” campaign waged under the leadership of the great Mahatma Gandhi in India.
We achieved independence because we the peoples who inhabited Sri Lanka, though diverse and with different historical backgrounds, were united and because the international system and international laws would no longer condone colonial rule. Peoples under colonial rule were entitled under international law to the right to external self-determination. The United Nations was the guardian of the international system and international law under which we became entitled to receive independence. The United Nations is the guardian of the international system, of international laws, of international conventions and practices. Such a custodian is necessary to preserve the international system and ensure compliance with international laws and international conventions and practices.
Today, this country misuses the strength of its independence to exclude a section of the people based on ethnicity from the benefits of that independence and to reduce them to the level of inferior citizens. These are people who did not oppose independence. They supported independence.
We call high officials of the UN terrorists and we threaten to arrest them. We vilify the Secretary-General of the UN because the Secretary-General of the UN asks that we comply with the commitments that we have made. Not complying with commitments that we have made is a part of the culture of impunity that has become so deeply ingrained in our pattern of behaviour and system of governance in this country.
Sir, with due respect, the term “democracy” has no meaning as far as the Tamil people are concerned. The democratic verdicts of the Tamil people since 1956 clearly mandated substantial self-rule and autonomy in the North and the East within a unified country. The democratic verdicts of the Tamil people were not accommodated within the framework of a united, undivided country. The resulting position was that while the Sinhala people had an effective say in their governance, the Tamil people did not have any say in their governance in keeping with their democratic verdicts. In fact, it could be said that the anti-Tamil pogroms over the decades, were related to the political demands of the Tamil people. For about three decades since independence, the political struggle of the Tamil people was non-violent and peaceful. During this period there was every opportunity for the conflict to be amicably and peacefully resolved. Despite Tamil political leadership strengthened by democratic mandates from the Tamil people extending its hand of friendship and cooperation, this was not achieved. During this period of around three decades only the Tamil people were victims of violence. The next three decades with the emergence of the LTTE saw substantial parts of the country, particularly the North and the East engulfed in extreme violence. All people were victims of this violence. All communities in the North and the East were also victims. The Tamil people in particular were the most severe victims in every way. The armed struggle of the LTTE has now come to an end.
The position now is much worse than before the war came to an end. In addition to all the deprivation they suffered earlier, they have now lost everything they had owned and possessed earlier.
They never had before and do not have now a sense of economic or political empowerment. To put it in simple language, the Tamil people do not have the ability to take control of their lives. This is because their democratic verdict is not respected. They have to deal with masters and rulers. They cannot deal with persons whom they have elected as their representatives to attend to their needs and to exercise political power on their behalf; to whom they can talk freely; whom they can question and who are answerable to them. They can only deal with masters and rulers who can be merciful as they wish to be, can be rude and arrogant if they wish to be. Are not the Tamil people being treated grossly differently from the Sinhala people? Is it not the true position that the Tamil people have a price to pay because they are Tamils? Mr. Deputy Chairman of Committee, this cannot continue.
A lesson that needs to be learnt Sir, from this country’s history since independence is that Sri Lanka has not been able to evolve a Constitution based upon the consensus of its people, its multiethnic polity. Both the 1972 and 1978 Constitutions framed after independence, lacked a Tamil consensus and were instrumental in character being enacted by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party respectively to further their political ambitions. Such a Constitution based on consensus is basic to the progress and prosperity of a country and its people. Countries with such Constitutions despite difficulties, have acquired respectability, stability, progress and prosperity. Sri Lanka during their major part of its post independence history had been embroiled in internecine conflict, which in the past three decades have been violent, and has inflicted immense harm on the country. Our experiences in the past several decades, should make us all realize that in order to ensure that there is no repetition of the bitter and acrimonious experiences of the past, we resolve to put this era behind us and commence a new era based on hope and justice. The evolution of an acceptable Constitutional arrangement based upon consensus which is inclusive in character and accommodates the legitimate political aspirations of all its peoples, its multiethnic polity, is fundamental to the achievement of an honourable peace with dignity and justice. Democratic rights, Fundamental rights and Powers of Governance, need to be restructured in such a manner that would be acceptable to and find substantial consensus amongst Sri Lanka’s multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual and pluralist society that constitutes Sri Lanka.
“Democracy” is perhaps the most important and most precious of all tenets that needs to be properly understood. It is the fulcrum on which fundamental rights and good governance moves. Most unfortunately the tenet “Democracy” in Sri Lanka is not understood. It is understood in the crudest possible perspective in Sri Lanka. Most people think that democracy is a vehicle to win an election by hook or by crook, thereby capture power, wield and enjoy such power. It may be said that this malady to a fair degree, has afflicted the body politic, who are beneficiaries of the abuse of the power so achieved.
It must be understood that inclusiveness, tolerance, pluralism, egalitarianism and justice are the hallmarks of a truly democratic society. This is not to state that the wishes of the majority of the people are irrelevant, but it certainly means that the wishes of the majority of the people must be guided by these fundamental elements, and that the political leadership should have the wisdom to guide the people in this regard. Great democracies the world over have acquired unity in diversity, respectability, stability and prosperity by adopting this spirit. A State, which does not accept these principles, cannot be regarded as a truly democratic State. In today’s context, Sri Lanka’s democratic credentials do not stand the test of scrutiny. The Sri Lankan State regrettably stands out as a majoritarian State, which does not uphold the rule of law, particularly in regard to the minority peoples, that excludes legitimate minority rights and concerns, disregards the democratic verdicts of the Tamil people, and is strongly influenced in its governance, by sectarian nationalist thinking. This must change, and this is yet another lesson that must be learnt, if there is to be voluntary and genuine reconciliation, peace and harmony. A State, which claims to be democratic, but which distorts democracy, and practises majoritarian authoritarianism, will inexorably traverse the path of self destruction. To be truly democratic, is a lesson that a Sri Lankan State needs to learn early.
Sir, I do not wish to take anymore time, but I do want to say that as far the Tamil people in this country are concerned, they are for an honourable peace. They want a reasonable, workable and durable political solution to the conflict that has affected the country. I think such a solution is needed not merely by the Tamil people, but by the whole country.
As my Motion would indicate, Sir, I was also due to speak on a number of other matters incorporated to the UN Human Rights Council Resolution, particularly on land issues and even on issues where places of religious and cultural importance to the Tamil people have been vandalized and desecrated. Sir, lack of time prevents me from speaking on some of these matters. I am hoping to deal with these matters in a different way and I do hope that those matters need not be once again raised in Parliament. I would appeal to the Government to reverse its present line of thinking and action and think in terms of dealing with the problem, the issue, in an honourable way while evolving as I said before, a just and a reasonable political solution.
I thank you, Sir.
*TNA leader R. Sampanthan’s Speech in Parliament on 21st May 2013 –
ACTION RELATING TO LAND IN NORTH AND EAST AND IMPLEMENTATION OF RESOLUTION OF HRC