By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Following my request addressed to the Swiss Ambassador to invite to Jaffna the Swiss Institute for Federalism of Fribourg, Switzerland for a series of Seminars and Conferences on devolution of power, Mr.Davide Vignati, First Secretary, Political Affairs of the Embassy of Switzerland, Colombo contacted Dr.Eva Maria Belser who is here, the Director of the Institute who confirmed her availability. It is she who identified Professor Nico Steytler from Cape Town and Mr.Maurizio Maggetti to accompany her. I had considered such a Seminar urgent on account of the Constitutional drafting process which was being put in motion early this month in Colombo.
Thus with the support of the Institute for Constitutional Studies we had jointly organized this Seminar mainly for the benefit of the Northern and Eastern Provincial Council Members. I had then suggested that the University fraternity as well as the Civil Society too must be given an opportunity to listen to the learned speakers. The Swiss Embassy readily agreed.
While the Seminar today will predominantly be a platform from which our Resource Persons, Professor Eva Maria Belser of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, Maurizio Maggetti, Research Fellow at the Institute of Federalism (Incidentally he has worked in Sri Lanka with the Berghof Foundation and Sarvodaya) and Professor Nico Steytler of the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa would be sharing their knowledge and wisdom, both theoretical and practical on the whole issue of different constitutional models for power sharing during this two hours’ session, their inputs would be beneficial to all of us Sri Lankans to identify constitutional mechanisms that would suit our particular ethnic background and context. Solutions would have to be later identified on the basis of the knowledge we receive to suit the existing circumstances.
It gives me great pleasure while welcoming the learned speakers to also welcome all you Civil Society members. Civil Society is the aggregate of non- governmental organizations and institutions that manifest the interest and will of Citizens. They belong to the third sector of Society distinct from Government and Private Sector business community. In other words you all are individuals and organizations in a Society who are independent of the Government. You are mostly non – governmental organizations and professionals. Today the world over in democratic societies apart from the Government the Private Sector and the Civil Society including NGOs, play an important part in helping any community to develop and prosper.
You are as much a part of Society as any others. If the people or their political representatives are not taking adequate interest with regard to the future of the polity it is your duty to direct the people. That way your position is one of trustees of the conscience of the people. You owe it to the people to lead them. You are amply qualified to do so with many of you being professionals. You will be able to appreciate today the thoughts and words of the learned Lecturers. You need to learn from them and help the masses themselves to learn from you. You have to educate the masses at the grass root level.
Let me start the brief introductory talk from our TNA Manifesto of 2013. That was the Manifesto by which a large majority of the Members of the Northern Provincial Council were elected to the Northern Provincial Council. With regard to our stand on a political solution it says thus –
The principles and specific constitutional provisions that the TNA considers to be paramount to the resolution of the national question relates mainly to the sharing of the powers of governance through a shared sovereignty amongst the Peoples who inhabit this island. The following salient features of power sharing are fundamental to achieving genuine reconciliation, lasting peace and development for all the Peoples of Sri Lanka:
- The Tamils are a distinct People and from time immemorial have inhabited this Island together with the Sinhalese People and others
- The contiguous preponderantly Tamil Speaking Northern and Eastern Provinces is the historical habitation of the Tamil Speaking Peoples
- The Tamil people are entitled to the right to self-determination
- Power sharing arrangements must be established in a unit of a merged Northern and Eastern provinces based on a Federal structure, in a manner also acceptable to the Tamil Speaking Muslim people
- Devolution of power on the basis of shared sovereignty shall necessarily be over land, law and order, socio-economic development including health and education, resources and fiscal powers.
It is in this context that we are seeking solutions for our ethnic conflict. Of course our learned Lecturers would give us the knowledge with regard to the various models of power sharing, the challenges we have had in pursuing various models of power sharing and the various perspectives that prevail in multi ethnic societies. We Sri Lankans will have to identify mechanisms that would suit us as we sit down to prepare a new Constitution for us.
There is a tendency among some of us to compromise on fundamentals saying it might not have the approval of the majority community. What we must remember is that there is nothing unreasonable in our requests when weighed in the scales of International Law and international experience. Our request in the context of our past and present is quite natural and normal. We seek to protect a victimized group of human beings victimized by successive pogroms and riots on the one side and political deception on the other.
But the objections raised by those from the majority community is based on falsehoods and fear. The question before us is whether we should compromise on our reasonable requests in the light of baseless fears expressed by the leaders of the majority community. The first of these fears expressed is that if the right of self-determination of the Tamil speaking peoples of the North and East is accepted it would lead to separation. The experience in the world had never been so. I am sure our learned resource persons would vouch for this fact.
Second fear expressed is that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country and the Tamils who are immigrants of recent yesteryears are asking more than they could and should. That is not so. History does not support the Mahawansa story. Also there is no ethnic group called the Sinhalese. The Sinhala language itself came into being only around 6th century AD. There was no Sinhala language before that. It is ideal to get a group of International Historians to investigate these facts. There is on the other hand contrary evidence of the existence of pre Buddhistic Hindu culture in the North and East available.
I am only interested in dealing with the baseless fears of the majority community. There may be other fears too.
But let me say this. The time is opportune for the Sinhalese under the humane leadership of President Maithiripala Sirisena to look at the ethnic problem anew. To look at it reasonably and rationally.
It is to bring in reason and scientific approach we have got down these learned Lecturers.
Let me welcome the Guest Speakers and our Organisers and look forward to a fruitful Seminar this morning.
*Justice C.V.Wigneswaran – Chief Minister, Northern Province. Speech delivered at the deminar on “Constitutional models of power sharing, challenges and perspectives in multi ethnic societies”
organized by Institute of Constitutional Studies in Collaboration with Fribourg University, Switzerland – Supported by the Government of Switzerland on 19.01.2016 at 10.00 am at the Public Library Auditorium, Jaffna.