2 December, 2020

Blog

On Sampanthan’s Adjournment Motion In Parliament

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

The leader of the TNA, R. Sampanthan, has moved an important motion in Parliament (10 June 2016), on behalf of the Tamil people in the North and the East. Perhaps as he has moved the motion as the Leader of the Opposition, there is much substance and less rhetoric, both in the motion and the speech that he has delivered. I am not saying that the motion or the speech is completely devoid of ‘political rhetoric.’ But the issues that he has highlighted and the facts and information that he has supplied should draw the attention of not only the government, but also the general public at large who are concerned about the unity and reconciliation in the country. Reconciliation along with ‘justice and equality’ are the key notions that he has also highlighted.

Main Issues

The main issues that Mr Sampanthan has highlighted are fivefold: (1) still remaining large areas of land occupied by the military without handing them over to the original owners, (2) apparent discrimination against the local Tamil youth in recruitment to government jobs, (3) delays in the fulfilment of housing and livelihood requirements of the displaced people, (4) the absence of finality in respect of the missing persons inquiries, and (5) the non-release or delays in processing those who are still in custody under the prevention of terrorism act (PTA).

This article does not intend to address all the issues that Mr Sampanthan has highlighted, but focus on the first three issues outlined above given the competence of the author, and also considering a reasonable length to this article.

Problem 1: Land Issue

Sampanthan has narrated three examples where lands have been acquired but not presently used by the military. First example is in Valikamam, and as he narrates “I went to Valikamam area at the request of some people of that area. I went around. There are large extents of lands in which there are houses which have been damaged, where after several years much jungle has grown, lands on which people lived, lands on which people farmed, which are not being used by anybody, not even being used by the military. But the people cannot return to their homes, the people cannot return to their lands.

He has validly asked the question: Why not?

Then he relates the case of Ottahapulam area and its people. It is of course slightly different to the scenario in Valikamam. The displaced people are scattered and come from different areas. But the essence of the problem is the same. As he says, “They come to that church [in Ottahapulam] from different parts of Jaffna and after mass they returned to wherever they are now having been displaced, some are in camps. Their houses are unoccupied. Their lands are not being used.

Again, his question is: why cannot these people return to their lands and houses?

Then he relates his much controversial ‘invasion’ into a military camp in Kilinochchi!

When I was in Kilinochchi some time ago I went to a place called, ‘Paravipanjan.’People came and complained to me, ‘Sir, our houses are being occupied by the military. Not even they are using it though they are keeping it in their possession. We are unable to go back to our houses. Please come and have a look.’ I went there and looked around. Houses are locked up. No one is using them. Not even the military is using them. The houses are not being used by the people.

He correctly says: “This cannot go on.”

A Possible Solution

It is possible that most or some of these lands are very close to the military camps proper. I am also not defending the way Mr Sampanthan entered the said military area of Paravipanjan or the way it was defended by M. A. Sumanthiran claiming that they were ‘private lands’! That approach was simply irresponsible or non-cooperative. However, there is a serious land issue affecting the ordinary people and apparently the poor. Land should be primarily with the tillers. This is a universally accepted principle.

It is obvious that during the civil war, the lands were haphazardly taken over for military purposes. It is like locating a major military armoury at Salawa (Athurugiriya) in a civilian area in the South. Now the situation has changed. It may not be possible to completely remove the military camps in the North or the East. However, those can be and should be reduced and limited.
It is also possible to relocate the necessary military camps to state owned lands, releasing the private lands to the original owners. This should not be delayed. In the meanwhile, it would be a good gesture on the part of the military to allow the original owners to come and occupy the land and houses even in their vicinity as an immediate solution. I have myself seen military and civilian areas co-existing in Jaffna even at the height of the war. The reasonable time frame for the relocation could be two years, immediately commenced.

On the other hand, the TNA or the civilians should not consider the necessary and limited military presence in the North with hostility. What has to be eliminated or changed is the overbearing presence of the military.

Problem 2: Youth Unemployment

Sambanthan has also highlighted the plight of the youth without employment. This is a recipe for political extremism in any part of the country, if not terrorism. What he has revealed, whether it is true to that extent or not, is a complicated political matter. He has said that ‘in giving government jobs, the Tamil youth have always been disregarded and discriminated.’ This is particularly true during the war or even before. What is happening now? He has questioned. His prognosis is the following which should be taken into account and investigated as a human rights issue. The National Human Rights Commission should have the mandate to do so.

“All the Government jobs in the North and the East are being filled on the basis of political influence. There are Ministers in Colombo who give jobs to their constituents in the North and the East. The Ministers from the North and the East give jobs only to their supporters. Muslim Ministers give jobs to their supporters. Tamil Ministers may give some jobs, not as many as others, to their supporters. Sinhalese Ministers send their people to the North and the East. Tamil youth, qualified youth deserving a job, are not given jobs. Even the vacancies of labourers in the North and East are being filled by other people.”

This discrimination or neglect has to stop. However, it is not very clear what exactly Sampanthan is proposing. His expressed ideas borders on intensions of partaking in the same type of political depravity that the other politicians/ministers are indulged in. He has mentioned that during the JR Jayewardene presidency, 1,000 Job Bank forms were given to every Member of Parliament and youth were selected for government jobs on that basis. It is obviously not the task of the politicians to distribute jobs.

Possible Solutions

Youth unemployment is a perennial problem in the country prevalent in other provinces as well. However, apparent ethnic/political discrimination in recruiting young to government employment cannot be tolerated both in terms of reconciliation and even otherwise, as a major human rights issue. To rectify past injustices, as suggested by Mr Sampanthan, affirmative action needs to be undertaken; however the exact form of such action needs to be carefully worked out.

Establishment of Job Banks (not distribution of forms to MPs!) in every province with effective branches in districts and local government areas might be the mechanisms through which both processing of applications, assessing of available job opportunities and finally the reconciliation of the demand and supply of jobs could be implemented. Given the technological advances in data processing today, these tasks could be undertaken most precisely. However, the service of the Job Banks should not be limited to the government sector. Major areas of job creation both in the North or any part of the country could be in the private sector, entrepreneurship, self-employment and small businesses.

Along with the processing of available jobs, there could be training and retraining in technical and other skills. As it has been already pointed out by others, the role or the responsibility of the provincial councils, particularly the NPC in this context, should not be neglected or underestimated.

Problem 3: Housing Issues

Sampanthan has also highlighted the housing problem as one of the longstanding issues. During the Rajapaksa regime, the attitude had been negative claiming there was no money. It was Mr Sampanthan and his colleagues that apparently had convinced the Indian government to donate 50,000 houses. “Now the Government is doing something,” he says. He is referring to the newly launched project of 65,000 steel houses. However he has emphasized that “They must be given permanent housing in keeping with their civilization, their conventions, their traditions, and livelihood.” This can be a criticism of the ‘steel houses.’

According the Ministry of Rehabilitation, the remaining case load could be in the range of 75,000 or more.

A Possible Solution

Apart from the military occupation of land, Sampanthan has also expressed misgivings about the ‘military engagement in economic activities causing immense harm and deprivation to the local civilian population.’ However, he has not dismissed the security concerns in the North, or demanded a total military withdrawal from the North or the East. While the economic activities of the military – intrusive of the civilian opportunities in engaging in them – should be stopped forthwith, it might be opportune to explore the possibilities of building the remaining required houses by the military, if it is agreeable to the TNA, the NPC and the civilians.

As what the military has done in repairing the houses aftermath of the Salawa (Athurigiriya) explosions, it is obvious that they have the capacity to do so. This would also be a good opportunity to build rapprochement and goodwill between the military and the civilians in the North.

Other Issues

There are several other issues that Mr Sampanthan has highlighted. Among them is the need for a ‘comprehensive strategic plan’ to address the questions of rehabilitation, resettlement and reinstatement of livelihoods, if we take the other political/legal issues (missing persons and release of detainees) separately. What is required are not name boards. Even during the past regime, there were ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya’ (Northern Spring) and ‘Nagenahira Udanaya’ (Eastern Awakening). Not only the priorities were misplaced and the funds were misused, but also there was no consultation with the people or the people’s representatives.

Consultation is particularly important in the context of proposed initiatives in having a donor conference in Japan to utilize funding for reconstruction of the North and the East and other affected parts of the country. Consultations with the people’s representatives from the North and the East should commence from day one.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    * Civilians occupying lands next to military camps was, perhaps, a security threat, under the conditions that existed prior to May 2009. But, clinging on to that excuse even today, when armed attacks are not practicable anymore, betrays intentions; hinders reconciliation.

    The militancy and armed confrontations have been wiped out. Even if they were to reappear the government has the intelligence and the resources to nip them in the bud.

    Any argument that civilian life next to military camps poses a security threat is merely an excuse to exercise the authority the State exerts over Tamils.

    The role of the military in the present context may warrant Army camps, where the military is confined to its camps, but not the partaking in activities that is conceived as compromising the free movement of public or competing with the economic endeavours of the common man.

    B) When one analyses the causes of the militancy of Tamils, the state instituted manoeuvres to deprive Tamils of youth and general employment and livelihoods, pop out.

    The seeds of militancy were sown by those shortsighted policies, of the governments, that smacked of racial overtones. No wise government would want to walk that narrow alley again.

    C) Salawa explosions did not lead to exploitation of the affected. There is no parallel in the North, even for comparison.

    • 5
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      Dear Prof. Laksiri,
      How do you expect a person to stay in peace at his home when he knows that people who murdered his family members are roaming freely in his garden. The same applies to Security forces in Tamil homelands. Please do not come out with excuses to keep Tamils suppressed. Tamils are well within their rights to demand the removal of these murderers.

      First of all it should be true Srilanka Army and not 99% Sinhala one. Last year I mentioned this to a government delegation that was in UK. Nothing seems to have happened. Government should start recruiting Tamils into the army immediately to have national ethnic proportion represented in the forces. Also of those stationed in northern and eastern provinces 50% should be Tamils. This will keep Sinhala members of armed forces under check from commiting any atrocities on Tamils.
      This coupled with full police powers to provincial council where the police will be overwhelmingly Tamil will put an end to Tamil antipathy towards security forces camps. You could limit army camps to one per district and both navy and airforce to have one camp each per province.

      Look at the way government moved to help people affected by Salawa incident, by immediately repairing partly damaged houses and paying compensation to those with badly damaged houses. Is this not a case of racial discrimination compared to affected Tamils where most of the houses were deliberately damaged by secutity forces either by aerial bombardment or by bull dozing, as acts of revenge. It is seven years since the war ended and nothing much has happened to them. Is this not sound proof that Tamils cannot get justice under any Sinhala regime.

      For your information the naval officer who informed about torture chambers in navy camps where several Tamils have been killed, has been court martialled as have committed a crime. If this is the situation for a navy officer, what will happen to Tamils who will testify before the so called internal panel investigating crimes against humanity.

      • 1
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        Dr Gnana Sankaralingam,

        It’s better to moderate your terminology to convey your views and anger at what had and still happening in the north. We must encourage people like Dr Laksiri Fernando, who is doing in his own way what you expect, teaching Sinhalese to treat the minorities with respect and resolve their problems. Strong language only tempt belligerent groups to defend their stance. The military was given unlimited and uncontrolled power by the previous regime and the present government is scared to withdraw the military from civilians tasks of agriculture, hotel management and occupation of private lands. Th military do not even heed to court orders as they expect the Joint Opposition to come to their defence and allow them to continue with their dictates.

        The minorities have justice on their side as what comes out of UNHRC Resolutions clearly show. But the governments in Sri Lanka can unreasonably reject the UNHRC resolutions or advices because they are confident her friends at UMSC would protect them against taking effective actions against the country.

        The minorities can appeal to the better side of the majority and influential leaders like Dr Laksiri Fernando, Lal Wijenayake and several others and persuade the government to be serious about reconciliation and rehabilitation.

  • 8
    1

    The only answer anyone can guess on the serious shortcomings in the North and East is that the government is still at war against the Tamils. It is very simple as that. When the armed forces are occupying private lands and not allowing the owners to resettle , it is inhuman and a crime against humanity and it is called a war. There is no other answer to the problems mentioned by Mr Sambanthan. He attended the Independence Day celebrations in 2016 which no other Tamil leaders attended in the past. He raised the lion flag twice which no other Tamil leaders dare to raise it because the flag was not accepted by the Tamil people, yet he raised it to show the Sinhalese a friendly gesture. But the Sinhalese do not understand that language. That was why the Sinhalese created Prabaharan. If the Sinhalese goes on suppressing the Tamils and subjugate them ,then one day another Prabaharan will rise. Sure and certain.

  • 1
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    Dr.R.N.

    Nice essay,is that not so?
    Would not the Colombo University,confer a degree Honouris Causa to Hon:Sampanthan?
    After all Dr.Laksiri,went out of his way to do so for Gotabhaya Rajapakshe in 2009!

    • 4
      3

      Plato,

      I think it is wrong to pass judgements on the basis of present perceptions. Gotabhaya was a hero to many, for the role he played in ending the war. Although various incidents and actions had cast a shadow on him, everything was overwhelmed and forgiven by this role. What is emerging now on his role in post-war poltics, was not known then.

      Such events have unfolded throughout history. One man’s villain is another’s hero/saint!

      As to Mr.Sambanthan, it is better that he be not conferred an Honourary Doctoray. History has thrown at his feet the opportunity to pull the Tamils living in Sri Lanka from the political quagmire there are yet in and set them on the path to progress and prosperity as equals. We and future generations will then remember him forever.

      Dr.RN

      • 1
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        Mahinda Rajapakse and Gotabaya Rajapakse were conferred honorary degrees by the University of Colombo, by the then VC supported by Laksiri Fernando as a gesture of gratitude for her appointment as VC which she did not deserve – she was later elevated as Chairman UGC too – and had to resign when the Sirisena regime was elected.

  • 3
    2

    There is the stigmatism characterizing Sri Lanka as a racist Country. Several other Country Leaders have permanently dismissed Sri Lanka as an incorrigible racist Country. The present leader of the opposition and the TNA as a whole could not do anything about improving their dignity even after the International Community made adverse reports, and accused major leaders for war crimes though the rest of the world very well knows there has been prolonged genocide for several decades. It is great of you being a Sinhalese to remind the world of Sampanthan’s motion in Parliament. It is because of this racism the new regime called “Good Government” that replaced the so called bad Government is unable to get the real criminals to books. Because they are Sinhalese and because they killed Tamils, they are heroes to Sinhalese. The Tamils will never be given the same treatment in Sri Lanka just like the rest of the world is thinking. However your good feelings for Tamils will be remembered by the whole humanity around the World especially by Tamils.

  • 0
    0

    [Edited out] Please write instead of posting links – CT

  • 1
    5

    Dear Dr Gnana Sankaralingam

    Though you have natural emotions, please remember that Prof Laksiri is a cultured and moderate academic from the sinhala community who understands the problems of the tamils very well. He is a friend of Prof A.J.Wilson son in law of SJV Chelvanayakam and so understands the problems of tamils. I am surprised that you made such opinions – then googled your name and found you as a old Royalist. I am an old Thomian Tamil Hindu and believe in unity with all communities. We have to communicate our side of the problem with buddhist monks and extremists and get their cooperation. Unfortunately, tamil leaders have not spoken much to the clergy and the extremists. We need a tamil with good sinhala language skills to begin this project.

    • 2
      0

      Dear Rajah,
      Please make comments in your own name without hiding. Since you have found out that I am an old Royalist, I wish to tell you that out of my 75 Sinhala class mates, barring a few, the rest are not in favour of granting any tangible rights to Tamils. If this is the case, you could imagine the rest of Sinhalese. We have spoken to Sinhalese both lay and clergy, with no success. I am a Tamil with good Sinhala language skill, having passed official language written exam while in service. There is Mr. Wigneswaran an old Royalists who can fit into the role. I wish to recall what he said to Buddhist priest in Nagadeepa, “If you take one step towards peace, we are prepared to take ten steps to achieve it”. The problem is none of the Sinhalese is prepared to take even that one step forward. If you mention your name, I can find out whether you are a Thomian from the number of friends and relatives who are old Thomians. Prof. Laksiri may be a friend of anybody, but my contention is that he is not making any effort to educate Sinhalese about justice to Tamils. He is trying to pacify Sinhala extremists by suggesting things which is a compromise to the inalienable rights of Tamils to demand equality, dignity and safety. What I have written is very fair to all and could be implemented if there is a will.

      • 0
        1

        Dear Dr Sankaralingam,

        One problem in answering your questions is that you (have) come to firm conclusions and then ‘accuse’ others on your perceived (subjective) views. Answering to Rajah, you say “Prof. Laksiri may be a friend of anybody, but my contention is that he is not making any effort to educate Sinhalese about justice to Tamils.” Of course you may be correct for the present, because I am at my old age (71) with ill health and now back again in Australia. It is possible that you are unaware of what I have written in Sinhala in the past or numerous radio talks given on the subject, one time almost every Saturday (2003-2005) going to the SLBC early morning. Even here I was giving radio talks (in Sinhala) until recently but have now terminated. Even if you have seen or heard of them, you must not have been satisfied with them!

        Anyway, let me ask you one fundamental question. Why do you think that I should “make any effort to educate Sinhalese about justice to Tamils?” This is simply incomprehensible to me. I am a private individual. It is my free will to do so or not. I am a liberal minded person. As I respect other people’s will, I also stand for my own will. I think we have a difference in our personal philosophies, although you went to Royal College and me to a provincial school!

        When you made your initial comments on my article, even I thought some of your propositions were quite feasible and valid in respect of the limited military presence and composition. This is irrespective of your initial outburst. I myself talked about a limited military presence and some of my proposals were intentionally ‘provocative’ to generate discussion. However, I cannot commit to an exact formula because some others may have more brilliant ideas. And finally it is up to the politicians to thrash out the details. As individuals, we have to be open minded in these discussions in my view, while I have no objection for any others’ views. However, I have neither inclination nor capacity to answer all the questions come across to an article. Please don’t be offended.

        Let me ask you another question. After referring to your experience at Royal College you come to the conclusion that, “… barring a few, the rest are not in favour of granting any tangible rights to Tamils. If this is the case, you could imagine the rest of Sinhalese.” Again after referring to what Mr. Wigneswaran (old Royalist!) has said at Nagadeepa, you again come to the conclusion: “The problem is none of the Sinhalese is prepared to take even that one step forward.” Don’t you think you have a prejudice; whatever your bitter experiences are? As a person coming from a social science background, I don’t think your ‘deductions’ are valid. Why do you jump to conclusions so quickly? Why do you come to hasty and subjective decisions? I don’t think this is helpful in resolving any dispute.

        • 2
          0

          Dear Prof. Laksiri,
          If you are honest about granting justice to Tamils, please canvass for foreign intervention amongst the Sinhalese, as none of the poltitians in power will voluntary cede anything to Tamils. I am also as old as you but fortunately healthier. I lived for 44 years in Colombo, sold my properties for a song, did forgo my pension after working for the government for 18 years and migrated to UK, as I found that it was impossible for me to live in peace in Srilanka. Even now I cannot relocate back as peace and dignity are far away for Tamils. I am a straight forward person and believe that everyone should be treated equally, which I am afraid is not the norm in Srilanka. At least in UK, I can sleep in peace without fear of persecution. Since you are in Australia, please impress upon the Sinhalese in Srilanka, how there is peace between Sinhalese and Tamils due to the impartiality of Australian government in regard to education, employment and economic activity and also that law is implemented fully to prevent any attacks on Tamils by Sinhalese.

  • 4
    0

    Dr Laksiri Fernando,

    I quote the following from your article.

    “it might be opportune to explore the possibilities of building the remaining required houses by the military, if it is agreeable to the TNA, the NPC and the civilians.
    As what the military has done in repairing the houses aftermath of the Salawa (Athurigiriya) explosions, it is obvious that they have the capacity to do so.
    This would also be a good opportunity to build rapprochement and goodwill between the military and the civilians in the North”.

    The end of the quotation!

    The first question is why the military should have the capacity to build houses for the civilians?

    Let them do it during an emergency as they had allegedly done during Salawa (Athurigriya) explosions.

    It may be a praiseworthy humanitarian act during a crisis!

    But why should the military carry out this construction during normal times with government money. Are they idling?

    The construction of houses is a civilian activity that provide employment to the unemployed or underemployed.

    In addition to providing the houses for the needy, the activity also prop up economic activity through multiplier effects.

    Again why should the military buildup rapprochement and goodwill with the civilians.

    Is it to facilitate military take over Or to justify their continued presense in the north?

  • 0
    1

    terrorist tactics, whatever form of negotiation and international persuation on the part of the tamils-
    nothing will pay any results until wimal, gamanpila type of people are given political recognition by many of our majority community.take only the case of ambassedors, ministry secretaries and heads of state corporations in this country.count the number of minorities holding positions and we will know to what extent minorities are ignored and discriminated. the benefits accrue through these positions are not shared and they are accumulated by only one section of the people who possess the political power.
    even the UNP would like to get the majority votes of the minority and after the victory it do not want them to ask,demand anything. during JRs’ time tamil minorities suffered a lot after voting him to take over the power- a la 1983- minorities have to develop a strategy to overcome this syndrom.
    -dayal

  • 0
    0

    Sri-Krish.

    Your last line….

    Is it to facilitate military take over or to justify their continued presence in the North?
    I was thinking over your line this whole evening;
    In all fairness to Dr.Laksiri,he certainly would not have meant that the houses be constructed in the North with the objective of realising the ambitions of the military!
    But to suggest that the Military be involved in the exercise is rather farfetched.

    • 1
      0

      Plato,
      in an article published inCT in 2014, i raised the issue of the Pakistanization of our armed forces in the following terms;

      “The armed forces have been brought into the realms of civilian life-a Rajapaksa first and the beginning of the Pakistanization of Sri Lanka.”

      (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-land-where-hope-was-killed-and-despair-was-reborn/)

      Now that several years have passed since the end of the war, the armed forces must be called out only in emrgencies such as the incident in Salawa and the landslips in the Kegalle district. Although they are equiped to build houses well, fast and effciently, these skills should be utilized only within the armed forces.

      The curse of Pakistan has been the extent of involvement of the armed forces in civilian life, which gives rise to ambitions to rule the country. This has happened several times in her sad history. The Pakistani army is a major obstacle to resolving the Kashmir issue!

      The armed forces should not also involve even peripherally in governance, as much as the priesthood!The armed forces must be much respected and by implication respectable institutions displaying values that can be admired- bravery, honesty, discipline, frankness, battle readiness,etc, mingled with humanenes.

      Dr.RN

  • 0
    0

    Dear Plato,

    Let me clarify,

    What Dr Laksiri Fernando meant or not meant is not the issue!.
    The implication of his proposal is our main concern.

    The military is not a civilian force whereas the Police is, although both may be armed, of course to different extents.

    The Police as a civilian force and are required to be friendly with the people they serve in order to provide required services effectively.

    A popular military is very dangerous to democracy itself. When the military becomes more popular than the political leaders or when the Politicians mess up everything, the tendency for the military is to take over the entire country.

    That is why the Military in all countries during normal circumstances is mainly confined to barracks away from any contact with civilians as far as possible.

    The military may take over a country with good intentions, but in the long run, they will become a menace

    We got rid of Mahinda Rajapakse easily when he exhibited authoritarian tendencies simply through the votebecause we had some democracy left, but could we do so if there is a real military dictatorship?

    Democracy first!

    Food for thought!

  • 0
    0

    Dr RN,

    Thanks,

    You have nicely elaborated on the perils of military getting involved in civilian affairs eloquently.

  • 0
    0

    mr.justice, you are correct. the VC lady tried very hard to confer doctorates to two war mongers and rewarded handsomely- UGC chairman position. another point is that she cleverly manipulated one or two reluctant tamil academics to make the proposal to confer doctorates. she was clever to get the VC position without that much of experience over the heads of some of the senior academics who were lecturers when the lady was an undergraduate!that means she was more than clever.
    -dayal

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