As this year marks the 72nd International Human Rights Day, we Tamils, observe this day with a hope that in future there may be a time when we can celebrate this day when our lost rights are fully restored. Around the world it is an important day and many nationalities celebrate this day. Unfortunately the Tamils who became victims of the Sinhala state agenda mourns this day. It was in 1948, the United Nations celebrated its first UN Human Rights Day and it was the same year the Tamils lost their right to self-determination to the Sinhalese and became subservient to their agenda of setting up, a one nation, one language, and one culture model.
Among the present dangers, the Tamils living in the North and East continue to face the bouncing back of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has been exclusively used against the Tamils to disastrous effects. PTA which was introduced in 1979 and enforced as a permanent law in 1982, is a tool by which the state can detain any suspect for a period of 18 months without trial.
The PTA allows courts to admit as evidence; any statements made by the accused at any time and provides no exception for confessions extracted by torture. The PTA has long been criticized as an abusive law that has been used to crush dissent and forcibly disappear people, along with other violations. The ambiguous terminology of the law allows governments to arbitrarily detain civilians and peaceful activists, and put them through brutal treatment to imprison them of false allegations.
The Sri Lankan authorities have acknowledged the inherently abusive character of the PTA but have failed to repeal it as promised. The last government claiming to be a government of good governance proposed its own legislation to replace the PTA but failed to amend the draft law due to the inability secure sufficient support.
To this date there are 96 political prisoners languishing in jails. Some of the convicts have spent more than 20 years without seeing sunlight for years. Some suspects have spent more than 10 years without any charges against them being proved and there is no hope that they will get Presidential pardon which has been generously bestowed on hardcore Sinhala criminals recently.
Moreover, army officers accused of war crimes are appointed to important offices. Even the civilian intelligence agency is headed by a senior military officer.
Though the previous government made tall claims of returning land grabbed by the Sri Lankan armed forces from innocent Tamil farmers and fishermen, the affected communities have disputed these claims. The struggle of the ordinary people continues at the Mullikulam fishing hamlet, where the displaced have been waging a peaceful struggle against the autocratic state which is in no mood to return the land to its rightful owners.
It is the same story with the simple farmers who lost their land to the armed forces at Keppapulavu. Despite protests for more than three years and repeated assurances from the previous President, their fertile land continues to be under the control of the armed forces. Where will these people go? In the name of state security, the armed forces established the High Security Zones (HSZ) but after the war, is it necessary to maintain them?
Moreover, these High Security Zones on Tamil public land has been converted into resorts, military farms, hotels and even a factory! How can they still be classified as High Security Zones when they have no purpose to exist? There are also instances of Buddhist monks deliberately installing Buddhist statues and planting Bodhi tree in lands belonging to the Tamils and Muslims and preventing them from re-claiming from state authorities as part of a nefarious ‘Sinhala Colonization’ plan.
During the course of the thirty year old armed conflict, it was estimated by the UN that the armed forces destroyed more than 160,000 houses. Who is going to rebuild them and who’s responsibility is it to provide shelter to those displaced by the war?
The relatives of the Disappeared and unaccounted persons still await the whereabouts of their loved ones, most of whom were taken into custody during the last days of the war and its aftermath. Though the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) released a list of the missing persons, it was a disappointment for thousands as there were no news of tracing their loved ones who had surrendered to the armed forces.
On the eve of Children’s Day on September 30th, the head of the Mullaitivu Missing Persons’ Association, Mariyasuresh Easwary, was threatened by two military officials at her house and demanded information about the protest her Association was planning on October 1st as many of those surrendered in 2009 were children below the age of 18, whose whereabouts are still unknown. Apart from being denied our right to mourn our deceased brethren on November 27th and May 18th, the government has also cracked down on lighting lamps on November 28th, which is celebrated as Karthigai Deepam and an important religious festival for the Tamils.
The atrocities committed by the armed forces in a free for all to loot the resources of the North and East is immeasurable. After the conclusion of the war, the Tamils hoped for peace to dawn their land and a new wave of progress as promised by the then President and present Prime Minister, who had assured 13+ to the Tamils. After more than eleven years of the war, there is no political solution offered to the Tamils, on the contrary their lives have been rendered miserable with the piling of agony in the form of continued human rights abuses against them.
The present regime is in no mood to reconcile with the Tamils or the Muslims, in this context, where do these communities go seeking redressal of their grievances? Though scores of UN Special Rapporteurs have visited Sri Lanka and produce many credible reports, what actions have been initiated against the state which has wronged the Tamils and Muslims?
When our basic right to self-determination and the right to be recognised as a nation has been denied, how can we meaningfully celebrate a Human Rights Day when there’s no value for the lives and properties of the Tamils and Muslims in the country? As 2020 witnessed catastrophic changes, once again we hope there will be a change in the coming years and Tamils too along with the other nationalities would be able to meaningfully celebrate the International Human Rights Day.
*The Author is a Member of the TGTE and seeks a peaceful political solution to the Tamil Right to Self Determination.