24 June, 2024

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Sri Lanka’s Elusive Accountability

By R Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Sri Lankans observe May 1 ‘the International Labour Day” as a holiday. Political parties hold rallies, often as a show of strength. Three decades ago, President Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed by a LTTE suicide bomber, while addressing the United National Party (UNP)’s May Day rally. This year as many as 19 rallies were held in Colombo. The presidential election poised to be held in Sept-October added interest to the rallies. Notable among them was the rally of the UNP addressed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe. The large number of people who turned up at the rally probably cheered Wickremesinghe, after the historic drubbing the UNP suffered in the last parliamentary poll. Wickremesinghe also lost the election.

Sri Lanka also celebrates ‘Victory Day’ on May 18, the day LTTE separatists were defeated when their leader V Prabhakaran was killed. Tamil families observe it as Mullivaikal Day to mourn their kin who perished in thousands in the last stages of war. As has become the norm, in many places zealous policemen prevented families who had gathered to mourn their dead by offering Kanji to others. In contrast, Sri Lankans celebrated the Vesak festival on the full moon day with Dansala, sharing food and goodies with others. Vesak commemorates the birth, enlightenment (nirvana) and enlightenment (Parinirvana) of Buddha.

The month also saw the Amnesty International (AI) Secretary General Agnes Callamard visiting Sri Lanka. During her visit to Mullivaikal, she met with the bereaved families. At the end of her visit, Ms Callamard addressing a press conference made a fervent plea to the Sri Lanka authorities to meet their national and international obligations to find answers as to what happened to thousands of missing and forcibly disappeared people. She regretted the lack of political will by successive governments and called it a stain on Sri Lanka’s reputation and something every Sri Lankan should be concerned with. Entire families of LTTE men that had surrendered had disappeared. “That means young children and babies. I think the Sri Lankans need to ask where are the babies, where are the children?”

As the AI chief pointed out, Sri Lanka has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest number of disappearances in the world – 60,000 to 100,000. Forcible disappearance had started much before the last episode of Eelam War. The Human Rights Watch points out that since the 1970s, “tens of thousands of people have been ‘disappeared’ in Sri Lanka.” While the JVP and LTTE had contributed their share to the tally, HRW says “about 90 percent of them are believed to have been abducted by security forces.” It says the Sri Lanka government had acknowledged that between 1988 and 1990 alone around 27,000 people were forcibly disappeared. The disappeared not only included opposing armed groups but journalists and human rights defenders as well.

Across the Palk Strait, the month of May will be remembered for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on May 21. He was killed by a LTTE suicide bomber while addressing a meeting near Chennai. As PM, Rajiv Gandhi was behind India’s active involvement in support of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. He was the architect of the India-Sri Lanka Agreement (ISLA) in July 1987. Though ISLA prioritises India’s strategic concerns, it led to Sri Lanka’s formal recognition of Tamil identity, language and habitations. Prabhakaran’s mindless killing of Rajiv Gandhi led to the alienation of India’s hands-on involvement in support of the Tamil cause. The LTTE felt its detrimental impact when it fought the last battles that led to its final defeat in May 2009. Fringe elements in Tamil Nadu politics continue to use pro-LTTE political rhetoric to boost their stake in politics. However, Sri Lanka Tamil separatism no longer figures in Tamil Nadu’s mainstream politics. The ban on LTTE activity continues in India. Both central and state authorities ruthlessly act upon any sign of LTTE revival in Indian soil.

Despite the limitations of ISLA, none can deny the Agreement led to 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka constitution paving the way for the creation of provincial councils with limited powers for autonomy. Touching upon ISLA’s shortcomings, Rajiv Gandhi said, “The Government of India believe that, despite some problems and delays, many of which were foreseen but unavoidable in the resolution of an issue of this magnitude and complexity, this Agreement [ISLA] represents the only way of safeguarding legitimate Tamil interests and ensuring a durable peace in Sri Lanka. Some have chosen to criticise the Agreement. None has shown a better way of meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, restoring peace in that country and of meeting our own security concern in the region. We have accepted a role which is difficult, but which is in our national interests to discharge. We shall not shrink our obligations and commitments. This is a national endeavour.”

It is a pity that successive governments in Colombo have failed to use the full implementation of the 13A as a tool for restoring ethnic amity. Instead, they have used the issue to whip up Sinhala Buddhist nationalism to gain political advantage. PM Narendra Modi extended wholehearted financial and material support when Sri Lanka went bankrupt in 2023. This has paved the way for the two countries to build a win-win relationship as never before. However, both PM Modi and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar have not forgotten India’s “obligations and commitments” to Sri Lanka Tamils noted by Rajiv Gandhi. Both have continued to remind Sri Lanka of its obligation to fully implement the 13A, on every occasion of India-Sri Lanka interaction.

Sri Lanka’s political scene continues to lack clarity on the presidential election. Tamil (including Tamils of Indian origin) and Muslim minority roughly form 25 percent of eligible voters. Their vote can make a difference between the winner and loser. In 2015, Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidential contest to Maithripala Sirisena, when Tamils and Muslims overwhelmingly voted against him and in favour of Sirisena.

Among the mainstream political leaders Wickremesinghe probably enjoys a better equation with Tamil and Muslim minorities. Wickremesinghe seems to be working on a plan to win over Tamil support. His initiatives on devolution of powers had a poor start as Tamil polity has not been able to come upon a common agenda. In democracies, this is only to be expected. This is where parliamentary initiatives are needed; unfortunately, Sri Lanka parliament has been overwhelmed by existential issues. Paying attention to an “untouchable” issue like devolution of powers to Tamils is not on their priority.

President Wickremesinghe has had some success in restoring land rights of Tamils. On May 24, he attended a function held to distribute 1286 freehold land deeds to people across Jaffna district. Under the “Urumaya” programme, 13,858 freehold land deeds are set to be distributed in Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Mannar districts of the Northern Province.

Though President Wickremesinghe is serving in the interim capacity, he has come up with a few controversial enactments. The Economic Transformation Bill is one such effort. It sets ambitious targets for the country’s economy for the next two and a half decades. The Bill provides for a National Policy on Economic Transformation and for the establishment of the Economic Commission, Investment Zones Sri Lanka, Office for International Trade, National Productivity Commission, and Sri Lanka Institute of Economics and International Trade. Though the Bill seeks radical changes, it has not been circulated to elicit public opinion. It has the potential to upset Wickremesinghe’s presidential ambitions.

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has not yet made up its mind on its presidential candidate, though President Wickremesinghe is probably hopeful of winning its support. The opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), which broke away from Ranil’s United National Party (UNP) will probably again field its leader Sajith Premadasa. However, its leader General Sarath Fonseka has announced his intention to contest as an independent. Ranil Wickremesinghe can be hopeful of gaining support from the SJB ranks due to old loyalties. The leftist National People’s Power (NPP) will field the JVP leader AK Dissanayake. Smaller parties like the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP), Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), Mawbima Janatha Party (MJP) led by entrepreneur Dilith Jayaweera, the Democratic Left Front, the Communist Party and the Independent MP’s Forum have launched the new political movement ‘Sarvajana Balaya’ (SB). It is yet to make up its mind on the presidential election.

Unless Sri Lanka elects a president who is accountable to the people, it matters little to the people. We can only hope the newly elected president is better than the last one.

*Col R Hariharan, a retired MI specialist on South Asia and terrorism, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Email: haridirect@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 3
    1

    The Indian election results are out and BJP now needs its alliance members SUPPORT to form the next Government. A question has arosen about Foreign interference in order to bring the downfall of Honerable N.Modi and bring chaos in an advancing country. This interference needs to be investigated fully as we SL citizens worry that External Forces may a role to sabotage AKD’s ambition.

  • 2
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    Has the author RH ever enumerated the ATTROCITIES caused by the IPKF?
    Tamil Speakings Citizens in SL [TSC] had to endure them in addition Security Forces of GoSL and Tsunami. It is very sad that the world has turned a blind eye on Tamils plight [& currently that of Palestinians]. Kurds too suffer without their own country.

  • 2
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    Why is the Indian Govt; soft peddling on the issue of implementing the 13th A. in full as agreed upon in the Accord signed in July 1987? Is it because they now repent their entry into Srilanka with the IPKF?
    The Accord is an International Treaty. Indian Govts merely ask their Srilankan counterparts to honour the accord now and then but are more interested in projects in Srilanka [Ambani ] etc. The fact remains that the Indians played an important role in the last stages of the War to destroy the LTTE.

    Both the Sinhalese and the Tamils could have reached an accord and brought abut a homespun solution to the National Question in the country.
    At the end of the day,Srilanka fears India and the Tamils mistrust India.

  • 2
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    Colonel retired Kuri Kuri, we all know the double game and treachery that Hindia played towards us Eezham Thamizh and you as fellow Thamizh should be ashamed of supporting this treachery. India only used our desperate plight to gain a foot hold on to the island and to teach the pro-western Chingkalla chauvinistic JR government a lesson so greatly helped the LTTE to grow. Once they achieved what they wanted, India betrayed us and turned the Hindian Raping and Looting force against the Eezham Thamizh civilians. This made Prapakaran also go crazy as he was coerced to agree to the 1987Indo Sri Lankan accord, an international accord, that still has not been implemented. He could not take think straight and wanted revenge for what happened to the LTTE fighters and the innocent Eezham Thamizh civilians at the hands of the foreign raping and looting force, that had arrived on a foreign soil to keep peace but instead, was taking revenge, on innocent Eezham Thamizh civilians by killing raping them and looting their possessions, no better than a mob of Chingkallams and fake Arab South Indian Thamizh origin Sri Lankan Muslims or Moors, during a state sponsored anti Thamizh pogrom.

    • 2
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      Yes, I admit Prapakaran was stupid and could not think straight if he had planned the assassination of Rajiv Gundy, who was behind the IPKF fiasco. However, this still does not excuse India’s treachery, shortsightedness with regards to the Eezham Thamizh issue and its overt and covert support to all Chingkalla led governments from then on to commit war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing on the indigenous Eezham Thamizh and steal their lands. What has India gained by this nothing. It has earned the ire and distrust the Eezham Thamizh, and as for the Chingkallams and these fake Arab immigrant South Indian origin Thamizh Sri Lankan Muslims , who have always been anti Indian, and Thamizh, they have got what they wanted from Hindia, and as usual run back to China and Porukistan and giving them all sorts of facilities and bases, especially in the strategic Eezham Thamizh areas, that overlook South India, which they will soon take over by chasing and ethnically cleansing more Eezham Thamizh and settling more Chingkallams and fake Arab South Indian origin immigrant Muslims.

      • 2
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        Now Hindia is being blackmailed by the very Chingkallams whom they helped to commit genocide on the Thamizh and still overtly and covertly helping them. If Hindia want it can make the racist anti Hindian Chinkalla Buddhist Fascist state, to fully implement the 1987 agreement and Sec 13A with land and police powers and get rid of the occupying racist Chingkalla armed forces, who really are a hindrance to peace but are only there to destroy ancient Hindu temple and build Buddhist Viharas over them and to harass and chase the local Thamizh in order to take their lands to settle outside Chingkallams from the south. Most probably Hindia also want this the damnation of the Eezham Thamizh and their destruction as a people and the destruction of their ancient homeland, culture, language and history and heritage, as for some reason it fears them more than the 100 million cinema crazy Thamizh Nadu Thamizh, as it thinks the 3.2 million Eezham Thamizh population are far more industrious, capable, hardworking than the Thamizh Nadu Thamizh and given the chance will come up and be prosperous and will influence the Thamizh Nadu Thamizh and they do not want it.

        • 2
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          They think they want the Thamizh Nadu Thamizh to join them in their Eezham dream. This is far from the truth. Eezham is an ancient Thamizh name for the island meaning land of gold or toddy, from the Cilam palm. Hence the Eezhava of Kerala. It only denotes the island and not the ancient Thamizh lands in India. All the ancient names for the island have Thamizh origin, Lanka or Ilankai is from ancient Thamizh word Ilanku or Ilankuthal meaning to shine or be resplendent, Chingkalla Theevu, meaning the land of red or copper(gold coloured)Che/Chey/Cheppu meaning red or copper+ Alam ( a coastal land) = Chingkallam. The word Sinhala is a Prakrtized form of this ancient Thamizh word and has nothing to do with Lions or Aryans all this is a myth as most of the modern day Chingkallams are descended from ancient, medieval and recent native and immigrant Thamizh who converted to Buddhism and Prakritised their Thamizh with the Pali of Buddhism. Serendib or Cheran Theevu, meaning the island of the Chera or Naga an ancient Cobra worshiping Dravidian people who adopted proper Thamizh as their mother tongue around 3000 years ago. Chera is another name for Naga as ancient Thamizh Chera Nadu was full of snake or cobra worshipping Naga tribes, like the Nairs, Oliyars, Parathavar etc.

          • 2
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            The ancient Naga ancestry is the predominant ancestry of the Eezham Thamizh, mixed later with male immigrants from somewhere in Northwest India and later Chola immigrants during the reign of Raja Raja Cholan. The Eezham Thamizh may be in many ways close to the Thamizh Nadu Thamizh but in reality we are genetically far closer to the Chingkallams with whom we have shared the island for thousands of years and now want to destroy us, than to the Thamizh Nadu Thamizh. We may both be Thamizh but we really have our own unique identity, culture, and form of language, food habits and our ancient Saivite religion, despite the fact many of us like me are Christian. We want to keep and preserve our own unique culture and history and do not want to join Thamizh Nadu, Hindia, or create a pan greater Thamizh Nadu. It will be a nightmare for us. We do not want to be swamped with Thamizh Nadu/Kerala Thamizh and their culture and get destroyed. We have never been Indian and have a unique culture that evolved separately from mainland India and want to keep it that way.

            • 2
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              The ancient Naga ancestry is the predominant ancestry of the Eezham Thamizh, mixed later with male immigrants from somewhere in Northwest India and later Chola immigrants during the reign of Raja Raja Cholan. The Eezham Thamizh may be in many ways close to the Thamizh Nadu Thamizh but in reality we are genetically far closer to the Chingkallams with whom we have shared the island for thousands of years and now want to destroy us, than to the Thamizh Nadu Thamizh. We may both be Thamizh but we really have our own unique identity, culture, and form of language, food habits and our ancient Saivite religion, despite the fact many of us like me are Christian. We want to keep and preserve our own unique culture and history and do not want to join Thamizh Nadu, Hindia, or create a pan greater Thamizh Nadu. It will be a nightmare for us. We do not want to be swamped with Thamizh Nadu/Kerala Thamizh and their culture and get destroyed. We have never been Indian and have a unique culture that evolved separately from mainland India and want to keep it that way.

            • 2
              1

              We are only fighting for our just rights for our ancient nation in our own lands and for self-determination for just our own land, as we know we will never get any form of dignity or justice from the Chingkallams and now even from the Hindians who also want to destroy us . Hindia keeps on mouthing about EEzham Thamizh rights but in reality overtly and covertly supports the racist Chingkalla state in every way and helps them to destroy us as it is Hindia’s goal too. We know this, we are not idiots and do not need an LTTE or stupid self serving Thamizh politicians from Hindia to tell us this. We are largely are very intelligent and educated people, especially the diaspora and have realized this truth long ago, especially after the IPKF fiasco and everything that Hindia has done to us since then. See how you treat the Eezham Thamizh refugees in Hindia and other refugees, treat them with scorn disrespect and refuse to give them anything. Compare this to the way you treat refugees from Porukistan, Tibet, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

              • 2
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                Only the poor of the poor amongst ran to India for refuge, the rest of us, even the peasants knew will not be treated well in India and fled to the west, around a million of us and see the difference we have thrived and become very successful there, even the peasants who could not speak any other language other than Thamizh. Many of us in important positions, professionals and in politics as fully fledged citizens in these western democracies. Now compare this to the position of the 100000 Eezham Thamizh refugees in Hindia, still living in squalid conditions in refugee camps, denied everything and scorned. Hindia and Chingkallams know given the chance we will thrive be successful and for different reasons do not want to and want to destroy us. So, we do not trust you Hindians. Especially self-serving Hindian Thamizh traitors who shamelessly do the bidding of North Indian anti Thamizh.

                • 2
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                  It is only a strong vibrant Eezham Thamizh majority in the north and east of the island, kike in ancient times that will keep India safe and strong and once they are destroyed and replaced by anti-Indian Chingkallams and fake Arab South Indian immigrant origin Sri Lankan Muslims, who will invite Hindia’s enemies to the shores of South India. This knowledge was very well known to ancient Indian dynasties, especially to the maritime powerful dynasties like the Cholas, Pallavas and the Kalinga. This is the reason the Pallavas and later Rajah Rajah Cholan and his son Rajendran Cholan, safeguarded the ancient Eezham Thamizh homelands in the north and east and Saivaism from being taken over by the Chingkallam’s and prevented them from becoming Chngkalla Buddhist like the way the rest of the island evolved. They even sent thousands of Chola immigrants largely Vellalar and some Brahmin to increase and strengthen the Thamizh identity in these lands and preserve their ancient Saivite religion, that flourished throughout the island before the arrival of Buddhism.

                  • 2
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                    Kalinga Magha from Kalinga also when he invaded and ruled the island for 21 years to settle a dispute with regards to the throne, was very kind and benevolent to the island’s Thamizh and protected them but was very cruel to the Chingkallams and even destroyed all their religious buildings and he was instrumental for the Chingkallams abandoning their ancient lands in the north central areas, and moving large scale to the south, west and central parts. Even the Cholas never did this but strange this Kalinga king did this to them, despite the Chingkallams falsely claiming an ancient Kalinga origin. This is the reason the Chingkallams hate us as the think all ancient Indian invaders protected us but destroyed them, so we helped them but the reality it is many of the modern Chingkallam not the Eezham Thamizh are descended from these invaders who remained behind.

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