By Arun Tambimuttu –
This refers to and is a response to a statement released by the Tamil National Alliance on March 14, 2012, which refers to Sri Lanka, makes a critique of her history, the conflict, processes of reconciliation and ends with a call for action by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The document alleges that the Government of Sri Lanka has serious issues with regard to telling the truth and keeping its promises, outlines what the TNA believes are broken promises on political settlement, discusses the conduct of the war and allegations of human rights violations and calls for UNHRC action. The document raises some important issues that are of concern to all Sri Lankans, but is found lacking in moral weight, and is suffused with inaccuracies and part-truths, and is conspicuously silent on the considerable progress made on all these issues.
I write as a Sri Lankan Tamil and as someone who has suffered on account of the conflict. I was a victim of physical torture by the LTTE when I was only 13 years old. I was shot through my ankle, kidnapped and imprisoned. My supposed crime was being the only child of a democratically elected representative of the Tamil people! A few months later they killed both my parents (SAM TAMBIMUTTU, MP for Batticaloa and KALA TAMBIMUTTU) in front of Canadian High Commission in Colombo.
I write also as someone concerned about all citizens of Sri Lanka and because I consider the TNA statement too important to reject without comment, particularly since distortion of reality impedes and not fosters reconciliation and national integrity in the aftermath of a brutal and bloody conflict that held the entire country to ransom for thirty long years. This statement addresses the core issues articulated by the TNA in order to set the record straight and advance the interest of reason over rhetoric and provides a necessary preamble that places the TNA in its historical context. I sincerely believe that this will provide the logical platform for a) assessing the true weight of the TNA statement, and b) restore sanity to the debate on Sri Lanka’s post-war efforts at reconciliation.
The TNA came into being as a political formulation consisting of parties and groups that had resolved to act as the LTTE’s proxy in Parliament and other forums, a fact reflected in its first election manifesto in 2004. The TNA not only recognized the LTTE as ‘The sole-representatives of the Tamil people’, but kept a conspicuous silence on all crimes against humanity and all acts of terrorism perpetrated by the LTTE from the time it came into being until the LTTE was militarily defeated. Even today, when referring to the past, the TNA refrains from condemning the LTTE apart from cursory and tokenistic references.
The TNA leadership has never condemned the numerous atrocities committed by the LTTE including but not limited to the following:
The brutal suppression of Tamil voices opposing the LTTE, through intimidation, assassination of leaders, parliamentarians and political activists such as Raviraj and Ketheeh Loganathan among many others, and massacring of cadres (in the case of other militant groups) and party activists (of parties in the democratic mainstream).
The assassination of Tamils elected to office even before the TNA formally came into existence — those in local government bodies, provincial councils and parliament. [This includes the leader of the TULF, Appapillai Amirthalingam and other noteworthy parliamentarians and human rights advocates such as Neelan Thiruchelvam. The TNA leader R Sampanthan, it must be noted, although a Member of Parliament (1977 – 1983 and 2003 to date) and a Politburo member of the Federal Party and the Tamil United Liberation Front, never once condemned any of these assassinations of fellow party members].
- The ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the Jaffna Peninsula and the innumerable attacks on Muslims and Sinhalese villages in the Eastern Province, effecting rendering 1 in every 10 Muslim in the island an IDP.
- The attacks on places of religious significance such as the Sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura and the Sacred Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
- The summary execution of over 600 unarmed policemen who had surrendered to the LTTE.
- The brutal killing of over 147 Muslims in the precincts of 4 mosques in Kattankudy.
- The butchery of over 100 sinhalese civilians including infants and toddlers in Batticaloa Town
- The abduction and forced recruitment children for combat purposes by the LTTE.
Apart from the above glaring omissions which seriously compromise the moral right to point fingers, it cannot be stressed enough that the TNA is not the only Tamil political formation in the island and does not represent the entirety of Tamils, either in the North and East or the rest of the island. Moreover, on the issue of accountability the TNA has, by omission and commission, been complicit and an accessory after the fact of every single transgression by the LTTE including child conscription, political assassination, suicide bombing and other attacks on civilian targets, as well as other acts of terrorism.
The TNA, even while pledging allegiance to sovereignty, has always advocated separatism. Its commitment to reconciliation and peace are highly questionable in light of political statements by key leaders contending that it has chosen a strategy of creating the conditions that could facilitate the division of the country.
Notwithstanding the above, I continue to acknowledge the TNA as a legitimate political entity entitled to preferences and opinions, and therefore worthy of engagement in the spirit of democracy and decency and hence make the following observations on its lengthy though repetitive and slanted statement that is replete also with factual inaccuracies and misleading representations.
TELLING THE TRUTH AND KEEPING PROMISES
The TNA’s complaints regarding discriminatory legislation largely refer to matters that have long since been corrected. In particular the reference to the Soulbury Constitution and Section 29(2)(b) and (c) are no longer relevant with the issue of equality of citizenship being effectively resolved in the 1978 Constitution in the Chapter on Fundamental Rights, a correction that the TNA (as a party and as individuals) has consistently and numerously invoked in order to obtain redress from the justice system. This includes, interestingly, numerous occasions where TNA lawyers have sought and obtained release of suspected LTTE members. The TNA and its lawyerly leaders seem to have conveniently forgotten the fact that fundamental rights legislation essentially makes for class action suits, which effectively means that the kind of affirmative action envisaged in the Soulbury constitution can in fact be realized through judicial intervention.
Similarly, the anomalies pertaining to language have long since been corrected and corrections enshrined in the constitution. I note that while implementation of the same in administrative matters has lagged in certain instances, the situation has improved over the years and has gathered momentum subsequent to the end of the war.
It is unfortunate that the TNA has chosen to leave out these developments in its statement, but more seriously, this omission is reflective of a deliberate objective to deceive and mislead. It is, ironically, deceitful and untrue, and therefore mischievous and irresponsible.
THE ISSUE OF POLITICAL SETTLEMENT
The TNA has commented at length on ‘the non-implementation of the 13th Amendment’. In this regard, I make the following observations.
Almost immediately after the 13th Amendment was passed, the LTTE (of which the TNA became a proxy with its key leaders having largely toed the LTTE-line from the late 1980s) rejected it complaining that it fell short of aspirations of Tamil People and launched a brutal campaign to assassinate members elected to the North-Eastern Provincial Council.
Full enactment of the 13th Amendment was rendered impossible thereafter due to a) LTTE choosing the military option, b) the LTTE reneging on several rounds of talks to negotiate a settlement.
The principal obstacle to the implementation of the 13th Amendment was the LTTE and by extension and proxy, the TNA.
It was with the end of the war that a semblance of normalcy returned to these areas.
Significant improvements in resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction needed to take place before conditions conducive to the holding of elections could take place.
With necessarily gradual demilitarization, resettlement of displaced persons, minimum degrees of reconstruction including infrastructure development (necessitated by the considerable destruction wrought, in particular, by the LTTE), elections have been held for local government bodies in the North and East and for the Eastern Provincial Council. Elections for the Northern Province are to be conducted shortly.
The TNA, while failing to acknowledge the LTTE’s role in hampering these processes and developments, refuses also to acknowledge the new ground realities, including vast changes in demography as well as the new political aspirations of all communities. In fact, meaningful devolution in a manner that is acceptable to all communities (as recommended by the LLRC) has a better chance of succeeding now, simply because its main objector, the military wing of the LTTE, is no longer part of the political equation.
The TNA does not mention the important statistical fact that 54% of Tamils of Sri Lanka live outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces. TNA’s tendency to harp on ‘homelands’ is therefore not only erroneous and misleading but shows scant regard for Tamils living in other parts of the country. It must be noted Sinhalese, for example have become a minority in the City of Colombo, whilst the population make up of many areas in Colombo District has become overwhelmingly Tamil. These changes and realities have not caused Social disharmony, but are accepted, acknowledged and largely celebrated by all communities. We have progressed from ‘the bad old days of 1983’, a fact that well known to TNA and its Colombo resident Leadership, who refused to acknowledge for narrow political purposes.
The TNA faults the Government for withdrawing from discussions (with the TNA), but fails to mention the fundamental political truth that Sri Lanka is not made of the Government and the TNA and that only an inclusive process of debate and negotiation can generate resolutions on all outstanding issues of citizenship anomalies, meaningful representation, and ownership in decision-making processes. Moreover, the TNA, during the entire process remained intransigent and insisted on a ‘final outcome’ being agreed upon prior to submitting names to the Parliamentary Select Committee that is mandated to arrive at a comprehensive mechanism to address these issues.
The TNA fails to understand that sovereignty is exercised through Parliament and that only an inclusive process has the chance of winning necessary support and being enacted into law. The Government is not in a position to be presumptuous about parliamentary ‘guarantees’ as sought by the TNA and demanding the same amounts to spoiler tactics.
Most importantly, the TNA’s intransigence included putting forward non-negotiable demands which is reminiscent of the LTTE’s modus operandi when it comes to ‘negotiations’. The quisling does seem to follow the only too well known policy of the terrorist LTTE in this regard. This not only compromises the TNA’s bona fides in terms of wanting settlement but more seriously indicates a malicious desire for continued polarization of the polity, which I suspect is born out of the imperatives of political survival and relevancy; i.e.: solving the problem through political means could effectively stop the TNA from exploiting alleged ‘grievances’, and in effect making a beggars wound out of allegedly outstanding issues, with the cynical goal of achieving its objectives such as that for separatism for instance which most right thinking persons know, the LTTE’s quisling party has not abandoned.
The TNA contends that various commissions appointed to inquire into human rights violations were ‘designed to fail’, citing in particular the Commission of Inquiry (COI) mandated to look into 12 incidents, some by the security forces and police and others by the LTTE, such as the murder of Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Digampathana massacre etc. By the time the Government decided to discontinue the Extended Mandate of the COI, all investigations related to alleged excesses by the police and security forces were completed. Even during the sittings, several indictments were issued by the AG’s Dept pertaining to some cases. Two inquiries (17 Aid Workers, and 5 youth in Trincomalee in 2006) are what the TNA focuses on. With respect to the second, the TNA quotes a statement released by an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) headed by former Chief Justice of India, J.N. Bhagwati, charged with observing proceedings, where reasons are given for ‘terminating involvement’. The TNA fails to mention that Justice Bhagwati disassociated himself from this statement.
The TNA fails also to delineate the context of the process. There were national security issues that had to be taken into account during and in the immediate aftermath of the war and releasing the full commission reports may have been seriously prejudicial to the said national security concerns. Such national security concerns are a sine qua non in any war situation, and be it in the United States of America or any other democracy, national security concerns always impede full disclosure. I am not only confident that given the space for democracy and the rule of law obtained by the elimination of the LTTE, these issues could see closure either with further investigations, or through the release of the relevant commission reports and those responsible brought to justice. I emphasize the fact that I will continue to urge all relevant authorities to ensure that justice is done, in my capacity as a citizen and as the SLFP Organizer for Batticaloa.
With respect to other issues of human rights violations I note that the TNA is in fact celebrating the fact that the LLRC has indeed done its work admirably, despite vociferous reservations expressed by the TNA about its lack of will to do so. This the TNA does repeatedly in the document.
In point of fact the TNA quotes from the document to say that certain persons in government are now culpable in certain violations of the provenances of good governance, for instance. The LLRC report commissioned by the government this means, has put various people in the dock of public scrutiny – in the courts of public opinion — and with time it is certain that whether they are indeed guilty or not will be determined after due process of application of legal or other instruments. But it is hilarious that the TNA cites the LLRC document itself to insist that the government is ignoring legitimate human rights concerns, unaware that its slip shows considerably; i.e.: citing the document itself is an unequivocal admission that considerable progress has been made by the government in the area of human rights.
The TNA refers to ‘the spate of killings and abductions’. I concur with the TNA that there is no place for such things in a democracy, and while noting that there is inherent hyperbole in saying that ‘there were such a number of abductions in so many months’ — thereby discounting for regular criminal acts carried out by undesirable elements which is not unusual but is in fact the norm in any polity – I assert that the TNA itself does not state that these incidents were politically or racially motivated. While noting that no country is immune to such acts, it must be mentioned that the conclusion of the war has enhanced considerably the space and institutional freedom for investigating them and to bring to book those responsible. It is regrettable that the TNA, instead of referring to contexts and constraints or the vast positives that resulted from the end of the war, resorts to inflating the errors and negatives that persist. Other vague allegations in the statement, such as those that preposterously allude to procurement of women for the ‘comfort of armed forces’ I am sad to note, are mere figments of imagination, are grossly irresponsible and counter-productive to reconciliation, and lead us to conclude that the TNA is only interested in continued polarization and cannot deviate from the party’s tried and tested stratagem of sowing discord and wanton mischief.
The TNA also refers to proportions of communities in the public sector. The TNA does not mention that 30 years of terrorism effectively wrecked the education of the Tamil community and created conditions where Tamils were either discouraged (by the LTTE) to join the public sector or hesitated to do so for fear of reprisals from the LTTE. Today, conditions are improved and continue to improve and I am hopeful that these anomalies will correct themselves over time.
I regret to note that the TNA cites isolated incidents without substantiation to indicate some kind of deliberate state-led policy of marginalizing minorities. There is for instance no state led campaign to destroy Hindu temples though some rouge elements may have done so in the fog of war, in isolated documented instances. This sort of hyperbole and mischievous misrepresentation is irresponsible on the part of the TNA and I am forced to conclude that such ‘incidents’ are part of the TNA’s wish-list in its determination to entrench polarization.
It is symptomatic of this desire for discord, that the TNA chooses to loosely and irresponsibly portray all efforts at rebuilding conflict-ravaged areas as attempts to ‘bribe the Tamil youth.’ Its leader has in fact once gone on record saying so. Interestingly, the TNA says nothing of the LTTE’s considerable role in devastating the said areas and this begs the question whether the TNA prefers there to be no development or reconstruction in the North and East.
THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR
The matters raised with regard to the conduct of the war are consistent with the positions taken by the TNA from its formation, namely an abject deferment to the will, dictates and propaganda of the LTTE. There is absolutely no mention of the fact that it was the LTTE that put hundreds of thousands of civilians into danger by forcing them at gunpoint to join its retreat — holding them hostage continuously until they were rescued at great cost by the Sri Lankan security forces. The TNA ignores evidence of the LTTE shelling a church which had been turned into an orphanage, the deliberate pilfering of supplies amounting to deliberate starvation of civilians, the shooting of civilians fleeing into Government controlled areas and the deployment of suicide bombers (including children strapped with explosives) to deter such movement.
The TNA statement quotes a section of a speech made by its leader, R. Sampanthan in parliament (January 21, 2009) regarding death and destruction. This quote does not contain one word of censure on what the LTTE was doing at that point and must therefore be read as symptomatic and confirmation of the TNA’s complicity in the designs and atrocities of the terrorist organization.
I note with regret that the TNA has chosen to regurgitate widely exaggerated numbers in trying to determine how many died in the last stages of the war. The TNA, in its calculations, leaves out LTTE cadres who perished in battle, those who died of natural causes, those who fled to other parts of the country and abroad without registering at receiving centres, and those who were killed by the LTTE as they tried to flee. The TNA does not dispute the comprehensive account of relief supplied to the conflict zones put together by the Commissioner of Essential Services and says nothing of the many congratulatory notes to the Sri Lankan government authored by independent international organizations that were privy to the indefatigable work done by state agencies including the security forces in ensuring that the maximum was done to alleviate the suffering of those held hostage by the LTTE. These absences in the TNA statement severely compromises that party’s integrity and stated concern for Tamil people and its commitment to peace and reconciliation, I note with considerable regret.
The TNA fails to acknowledge that after the LLRC Report deals with every aspect of the conduct of the war, going to the extent of saying that military fire may have been directed at no fire Zones. This again is an acknowledgment by the TNA itself that the government has been sincere and its appointed commission has done its job and done it well. To reiterate, the TNA’s slip shows when instead of waiting for the government to take the next step which is to act upon the LLRC’s findings on the conduct of the war, the TNA repeats ad nauseam the mantra that ‘the conduct of the war was deplorable.’ No doubt some aspects of the conduct of the war weren’t wholesome. This is precisely what the LLRC concludes, and which finding is precisely what the Sri Lankan government has committed itself to act upon. However the TNA typically ignores this sanguine reality, or the fact that concrete steps have been taken since the release of the Report (in addition to already operational policy decisions on rehabilitation, reconstruction, demilitarization and democratization) with respect to accountability issues. For example, the Attorney General is to be tasked to investigate and prepare indictments on criminal acts committed during the war. Additionally Commissions of Inquiry have been instituted by the Army and Navy to investigate all allegations of wrongdoing while the Attorney General’s Department has been mandate to investigate all civilian killings. Therefore the claim that ‘promises have not been kept’ is, sad to say, a barefaced lie on the part of the TNA.
I note that the objection raised by the TNA regarding the military conducting inquiries shows only ignorance on its part about procedures accepted all over the world where the first step is in fact a military inquiry, subsequent to which, if necessary, judicial oversight come into play. Even cursory knowledge of how the United States, for example, has and is carrying out investigations into grave instances of abuse would lay to rest the concerns expressed by the TNA. Sadly, it is unthinkable that lawyers of the calibre of TNA MP M. Sumanthiran are unaware of all this and it only reinforces ones perception that the TNA is intractable and averse to progress on the fronts of democratization and reconciliation. Since the TNA could not have been ignorant of what has been pointed out here it seems its leadership intentionally intends to mislead the readers of the document in this, as in many other issues.
With respect to the issue of law and order, I welcome the LLRC recommendations and I am hopeful of speedy implementation, especially considering the significant improvements that have taken place in the aftermath of 30 years when entire institutional arrangements were rendered ineffective, mostly courtesy of the LTTE. While I note that there is rehabilitation on multiple fronts (e.g LTTE cadres in rehabilitation facilities, former combatants entering the democratic process, including some in the TNA) I will continue to agitate for full investigation of all allegations with no impunity granted for any offender.
On the whole, the TNA has not acknowledged the development, poverty alleviation, reconstruction, restoration of infrastructure, clearing of land mines, resettlement and the rehabilitation of LTTE cadres and their reintegration into society after being given training and skills necessary for them to obtain gainful employment, a procedure that is unique and indeed unthinkable in the case of corresponding categories such as the Al Qaeda and Taliban. It leads me to conclude that the TNA is not interested in giving internal mechanisms and processes the time and space needed to be effective.
I regret to note that the TNA has endorsed moves in the UNHRC that violate the spirit of that institution and seek to impinge on the sovereignty of our nation.
I wish to state unequivocally that if these insidious moves bear fruit, it will most certainly polarize our society and derail the reconciliation process. I hope that the TNA will rethink its strategy of bartering the return to normalcy and the real chance of peace and reconciliation in order to retain its political relevance.
The TNA Statement has tried to mislead the UNHRC by mentioning (vide para 1.3) that the Official Language Act of 1956 made Sinhala the official language but fails to mention that by subsequent legislation Tamil is also now made an Official language.
The TNA statement ends by making all manner of ex cathedra assertions to the effect that the Sri Lankan government either cannot come up with a political solution, or is chronically unwilling to make good on commitments regarding human rights and other governance issues.
It is again amusing that the TNA makes this assertion in the same breath as it were after having cited the LLRC document liberally. The TNA must be congratulated for so firmly jettisoning the bottom off its own argument, with such great dispatch. Which government that cannot make good on its commitments releases a report for instance which is tantamount to, in effect, being the basis for the TNA’s own indictments against the Sri Lankan government?
As surely as the Sri Lankan government has thereby delivered on the commitment to take a substantial leap towards reconciliation, it will deliver on the next step, which is to implement the LLRC report through its own devices and not through redundant interventionism.
This kind of banshee signing-off statement of the TNA document that loudly screams that the Sri Lankan government is insincere or duplicitous — while at the same time acknowledging government’s own LLRC report’s efficacy repeatedly — is needless to say confirmation of what is generally known about the TNA, that it is a party of scaremongering untruthful mischief makers to put it mildly, whose only intention is to sow discord and misrepresent the facts to serve its own narrow political ends, that I might add do not even today, jettison the madness of espousing separatism without any just cause or reason for having to separate.
*Arun Tambimuttu –SLFP Organiser, Batticaloa