By S. Sivathasan –
There are two events taking place in the first half of this year which are seen to have a major impact on the destiny of the Tamils of Sri Lanka. The UNHRC Resolution for an International Inquiry into happenings in Sri Lanka is one. A tectonic shift in the power equation in India is the other. The first envisages a probe of serious human rights violations. The second, why tectonic? For once since 1984, a single National Party; BJP is getting close to an absolute majority. In the seat of power with confidence it can draw four players – Delhi, Chennai, Colombo, Jaffna – on to a single platform. Both will run apace to affect and to influence the course of political fortunes in Sri Lanka.
Geneva and Aftermath
What is the hallmark of Geneva 2014? Sri Lanka’s bluff of 2009 is called in 2014. The UN Institution tolerant of bluster had lost its patience. The world has now seen the sharp insights of powerful states successfully at work. Countries where individual agendas prevailed preferred to remain neutral. India apparently was mired yet in Nehru’s ethos of non-alignment, to put it cynically. To the countries with inhibitions or domestic concerns of their own, Geneva deliberations had made little impression. But the developed West and the developing rest moved as the weightier segment. Why this new orientation? What brought the change about?
Tamils in Sri Lanka, most affected by the war which they call genocidal continue to remain aggrieved. They have thrown up a committed leadership for representation in Parliament. In a significant way they have placed in position the Northern Provincial Council devoted to their cause. They have both worked in tandem to drive conviction in the minds of member states of the Council at Geneva. The support extended by the million strong Diaspora with a growing unity of command among their spokesmen, complemented the efforts of the indigenous leadership.
Drawn from all parts of the world, they acted in concert and struck together. Personal interaction with policy influencers in the international community and with decision making personnel of the UN system had a profound impact. They established their sincerity to the leaders of member countries, making a deep impression in them. Plain honesty, persistence and zeal, unflagging for five years and more had exploded the canards of a rump or proxy engaged in such pursuits for mercenary reasons.
They marshalled evidence to overwhelm the fake and the fabricated churned out by the SL government and marketed by lobby groups and PR firms for pecuniary reasons. To the Tamils the CAUSE was of exceedingly high import. It was not without reason that tens of thousands had marched on snow clad terrain in Europe, US and Canada in the course of this century. The Tamils moving with verve and acting with unity was a rare factor and it made for success. It is set to stay and develop as a going phenomenon.
The youngest Tamil whose life was mercilessly extinguished in the struggle, swung opinion world-wide against SL government and in favour of the Tamils. It was pictured evidence of governmental brutality. A pointer to a myriad atrocities. Balachandran son of the Tamil militant leader became like Julius Caesar mightier in death. He is now an icon of sacrifice because he was a picture of innocence. His memory has become indelible.
Presenting the tragedy videographically in the world arena is a tribute to the dedicated effort of Callum Macrae and his lieutenants. They had withstood many a calumny. Besides all the effect in citadels that mattered, it had ignited Tamil Nadu and inflamed the youth till the flames reached Delhi. No amount of SL government’s concoctions against it carried any credibility. Their fearlessness and persistence established their credentials as doughty defenders of human rights. They seemed to owe a duty to humanity that was spiritual, a personal obligation to prevent a recurrence. More importantly, the Tamil cause was furthered.
Above all effort, was the most trying task placed tortuously in the hands of Ms Navaneetham Pillay. Had she lacked in character, she could have cited ethnicity as conflicting with her duty and slipped out of a morally demanding engagement. In contrast she steered through adroitly and tirelessly much to the acceptance of the highest echelons of the UN and to the appreciation of the international community. A grateful people have dedicated a beautiful Tamil song composed by a Poet Laureate, set to music by a musician of renown and rendered melodiously. Transcending barriers it can melt anyone. It begins with the words “When pain afflicts, won’t you bring mirth into my heart with the melody of the lute?” Context is Father to young daughter.
As on many occasions, President Obama was in the forefront in speaking forthrightly for the cause of the Tamils. He had an efficient flow of information and trusting to the veracity of the facts he made a prepared speech which was televised on May 13th 2009 for all the world to know. On that date he spoke with feeling and with authority conveying emphatically that the Tamils were segregated and confined. He said:
“As some of you know we have a humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Sri Lanka. I have been increasingly saddened by desperate news in recent days. Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped between the warring Government forces and the Tamil Tigers with no means of escape, no access to food, water, shelter or medicine. This has led to widespread suffering and to the loss of hundreds if not thousands of lives. Without action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe.
“Now is the time to put aside some of the political issues that are involved and to put the lives of the men and women and children who are innocently caught in the crossfire, to put them first. So I urge the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and let civilians go. Their forced recruitment of civilians and their use of civilians as human shields is deplorable. These tactics will only serve to alienate all those who carry them out. I am also calling on the Sri Lankan Government to take several steps to alleviate this humanitarian crisis.
“First, the Government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives including several hospitals and the Government should live up to its commitment not to use heavy weapons in the conflict zone.
“Second, the Government should give United Nations humanitarian teams access to the civilians who are trapped between the warring parties so that they can receive the immediate assistance necessary to save lives.
“Third, the Government should also allow the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to nearly 190,000 displaced people within Sri Lanka so that they can receive additional support that they need.” Having highlighted the three steps he pledged that,
“The United States stands ready to work with the international community to support the people of Sri Lanka in the time of suffering. I don’t believe that we can delay. Now is the time for all of us to work together to avert further humanitarian suffering.
“Going forward Sri Lanka must seek a peace that is secure and lasting and grounded in respect for all of its citizens. More civilian casualty and inadequate care for those caught in resettlement camps will only make it more difficult to achieve the peace that the people of Sri Lanka deserve.”
Implicit in the 3 steps urged by Obama were the prevalence of the following:
Indiscriminate shelling, use of heavy weapons, no access to UN teams to assist trapped civilians, no access to Red Cross to 190,000 displaced people and humanitarian suffering. Fears were also expressed of a crisis turning into a catastrophe.
May I add that it is this peace that Sri Lanka has given the slip to and which the UNHRC has caught on in five years. Since Obama has a parental concern, Geneva and by extension the four power centres are likely to develop a rapport and move together.
Among world leaders David Cameron, Prime Minister of UK stands out for the stout defence of human rights. His tough position against violation of human rights and for restoring the rights of Tamils provided a beacon to the leading Western powers. In his unflinching posture he was unreservedly supported by Miliband brothers, Labour Party and the Liberal Party. Such a principled stand certainly transcended mere national interests.
In like manner was the long, sustained and forthright leadership that Stephen Harper Prime Minister of Canada and John Baird, Foreign Minister provided to mete out justice to the beleaguered Tamils. With the leading lights of the world coming together and acting in unison, International Investigation has become a fact of life. Tamils breaking out of the siege is now a proximate possibility
What is comforting to humanity is that the better elements of the International Community have joined hands to suppress inhumanity.
Vichy France and De Gaulle France were never the same. Nazi Germany and the Federal Republic are at the poles. In the short term, it is the tenor of the government that conditions our attitude to a state. So it will be after a political sea change from Congress India to Janatha India. Tamil Nadu and SL Tamils are poised to redraw their relationship with the power centre in a freshened Delhi. In the developing context of an impending international investigation, Geneva is constrained to deal differently from the past with Sri Lanka. From May onwards India’s stance with regard to Sri Lanka will be considerably different. The difference will make its way inevitably to Geneva.
The visit of Navaneetham Pillay to Sri Lanka and to the North together with interaction with those affected was path breaking. Her forthright presentation in Geneva had a clear impact on member countries. So did the labours of the strong presence of Tamil parliamentarians and the forensic skill of MA Sumanthiran MP. Tamils have thus got increasingly involved at Geneva.
Independent of developments in Geneva, political upheaval in India is altering her approach towards Sri Lanka relations and a drastic change has begun to unfold. From the present to the near future an axis is developing among four centres of power where policies will be moulded for a new ethos in Indo Lanka Relations. The centres are Delhi at the apex while Chennai, Colombo and the Northern Provincial Council located in Jaffna get drawn into its vortex. All four will have much to do with the UN system in Geneva as well.
Tamils can see new vistas opening and prospects growing for a resolution of the National Question. Very fervently they look forward to the triumph of Truth, for Justice to prevail and for Democracy to strike roots.