By Manonmany Sathasivam –
We, the Tamils of Tamil Eelam, have been constantly betrayed by the traitors in our own community. We have no tolerance and cannot suffer from these disloyal actions any longer. We call the former MP, Mr M. A. Sumanthiran, the spokesperson of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), to respect the people’s mandate and resign from his post and leave the TNA forthwith. We call him to do so immediately if he has any dignity at all. Should he fail to do of his own accord, we hereby demand the TNA leadership to honour the wishes of the people and remove him.
Whilst we all acknowledge the freedom of expression and duly respect Mr Sumanthiran’s right to express his own personal opinion, we expect Mr Sumanthiran to mutually respect the purpose of the formation of the TNA and the political aspirations of the people who voted for the TNA. We wish to make it noticeably clear that he should not be allowed to use the TNA as the platform to peddle his own agenda. He is always free to leave the TNA and contest on his own or form his own political party. Then he can freely express his own opinion if he has the audacity to do so.
The TNA’s history has always been intricately linked to the LTTE. The TNA was first formed in October 2001, when a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) and Eelam Peoples’ Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). The then TULF Secretary General Mr R Sampanthan declared “the time has now come for all the Tamil political forces in the North and East to unite under one banner to give full political support to the militants who are involved in the freedom struggle“.
In a 2006 statement, the TNA said “it is in full recognition of this reality and the overwhelming support enjoyed by the LTTE amongst the Tamil people, both in Sri Lanka and abroad, that the TNA as a mark of solidarity sought and received a resounding mandate from the Tamil people at consecutive elections recognizing the LTTE as the authentic and sole representatives of the Tamil people at any peace process”.
In 2013, TNA MP Mr Sivagnanam Sritharan told the Sri Lankan Parliament that the majority of the Tamil people in the North-East had voted for the TNA to support the ideals of the LTTE leader Mr Vellupillai Prabhakaran and said he was “the greatest leader in history, who awoke the previously dormant defiance of the Tamils“.
In 2019, TELO leader Mr Selvam Adaikalanathan spoke on the LTTE’s participation in forming the TNA stating the alliance “was formed for the purpose of liberation of our people”. “No one can break the Tamil National Alliance which was formed as our people’s power with the LTTE’s participation” he added.
Mr Sumanthiran first became part of the TNA in 2010 when he was appointed as a national list MP. He was not democratically elected first time. We appreciate that he may not be aware of the actual history, but we urge him to learn.
Mr Sumanthiran has repeatedly proven on many occasions that he is neither a real human rights lawyer nor a genuine people’s representative. There is no evidence that he ever studied human right law or international law in any university. There is no record of him representing any political prisoners or being involved in any public interest cases. In fact, he always remained a money-minded commercial lawyer based in Colombo and never cared about the lives of the Tamils in the North and East. When Mr Sumanthiran was acting in the case filed by the TELO against the separation of the North and East in 2006, he acted without any professional ethics and withdrew the case without the knowledge of the petitioners.
It is a cheap and unprofessional tactic for any lawyer to claim that he is an expert and to attempt to provide legal advice in an area in which he has no competence at all. Mr Sumanthiran repeatedly continues to shamelessly do this by posing himself as a human rights lawyer and misleading the public by giving wrong advice in international law related issues. For example, at a function held in November 2015 to mark the 25th anniversary of the expulsion of Muslims from the North, Mr Sumanthiran, told the Express “…the en-masse expulsion of Muslims by the LTTE amounts to ethnic cleansing” and went on to compare the same with the Genocide suffered by the Tamils. This proved beyond doubt that not only he is very ignorant of international law but also sadly he has poor knowledge of history. Firstly, Mr Sumanthiran must understand the difference between Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide. Secondly, a United Nations Commission of Experts mandated to investigate the violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of former Yugoslavia, defined ethnic cleansing in its interim report S/25274 as “… rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.” In its final report S/1994/674, the same Commission described ethnic cleansing as “… a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas”. It is a well-known fact that the LTTE neither had a “plan” nor “a purposeful policy” to remove Muslims and create a homogeneous Tamil Eelam, but it was a strategic decision taken at the heat of the moment to prevent riots and following the discovery of weapons in the Muslim houses, shops and mosques in Jaffna. As rightly pointed out by Dr. Gnana Sankaralingam, the LTTE gave strict orders to leave Muslim owned properties intact. Not a single Tamil was allowed to occupy or appropriate those properties and they were safely returned to the Muslim owners who were invited by the LTTE to return during the ceasefire.
On 13th April 2002, the LTTE held a meeting in Kilinochchi presided by the Tamil National Leader Mr V Prabhakaran. The meeting was meant to make amends between the Tamil and Muslim communities and was attended by the SLMC leader Mr Rauff Hakeem, Mr Athaullah, Mr Uthumalebbe, Mr Mohideen Abdul Cader, Mr Basheer Segu Dawood, Mr Masoor Noordeen and Mr Masoor Moulana. Also present were the LTTE’s Political Advisor Mr Anton Balasingham, LTTE’s Head of Political Department Mr S.P.Thamilchelvan and District Commanders of the LTTE. Following the talks between the two sides, Mr Anton Balasingham on behalf of the LTTE expressed profound regret and apologised to the Muslims. “I made an apology to the Muslim people that what has happened in the past has to be forgotten, that we are willing to talk to them and resolve their problems,” Mr Anton Balasingham said, assuring the Muslims that they could return to their homes in the North. He stressed that the Tamil homeland and the Tamil territory in the North-East “belonged to the Muslim people also.” Mr Hakeem said that they are willing to forgive the LTTE. Isn’t it the worst third-grade strategy of Mr Sumanthiran to open the old wounds and trigger hatred between the Tamil and Muslim communities for his own selfish reasons?
Should Mr Sumanthiran have any knowledge of international law, he would have simply realised that the Muslim eviction of 1995 does not fall into the definition of “Ethnic Cleansing” in any way. Whilst even the Muslim leaders have accepted and agreed to move on, it is extremely disgusting that Mr Sumanthiran has attempted to mislead the public by wrongly defining it as an “Ethnic Cleansing” in a desperate bid to get the support from the Muslim community.
In December 2015, Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan wrote in the Colombo Telegraph that Mr Sumanthiran went to Geneva and claimed at the UN Human Rights Council that what happened during the last phase of the war, according to internationally accepted definitions, was not Genocide. In December 1997, The Tamil Information Centre (TIC) published a report called “The International Crime of Genocide: The case of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka” and first declared that the what happens in Sri Lanka is a Genocide on the basis of the meticulous research carried out by Dr Lutz Oette, a German legal expert and a senior lecturer at SOAS, University of London. After 2009, numerous internationally acclaimed experts in international law, including Professor Francis A Boyle, Professor Ramu Manivannan, Professor M Sornaraja, Bruce Fein, Lee Rhiannon, Deirdre McConnell and many more concluded that there is more than sufficient evidence to prove Genocide without any doubt. The 12 eminent judges appointed by the Permanent People Tribunal on Sri Lanka (PPT), after hearing the testimonies and carefully analysing the vast amount of evidence for several days, unanimously delivered a verdict that what happened in Sri Lanka is Genocide. This PPT was Promoted by the Lelio Basso International Foundation for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples. The PPT was founded in June 1979 in Bologna, Italy, by a broad spectrum of legal experts, writers, and other cultural and community leaders (including five Nobel Prize laureates) from 31 countries. The PPT is rooted in the historical experiences of the Russell Tribunals on Vietnam (1966-67) and on the dictatorships in Latin America (1974-1976). The importance and strength of decisions by the PPT rest on the moral weight of the causes and arguments to which they give credibility, as well as the integrity and capability to judge of the Tribunal members. These are just few examples. Is Mr Sumanthiran even aware of any of these or does he think that he is superior in knowledge and proficiency to all of these experts? In 2014, Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr Rayappu Joseph briefed the US Diplomat Stephen Rapp, with sufficient evidence, on the structural Genocide that is going on after the end of the war. Is Sumanthiran not aware of what exactly is going on to the Tamils in Sri Lanka?
Mr Sumanthiran keeps arguing amongst the Tamil diaspora is that the time is not right to pursue the Genocide claim because the “ingredients” of it cannot be proved. He also maintains that perhaps they will be able to do so in the future. It is not clear what would change in the future that would help prove the “ingredients” or intent of Genocide. He also argues that the reason he opposed the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) Genocide resolution was that he did not want the claim to be rejected by an international court or the UNHRC. When interviewed by Mr Lathan Suntharalingam in Geneva in September 2015, Mr Sumanthiran went on record claiming that the NPC resolution was a ‘foolish’ move. He blamed Justice C.V. Wigneswaran for having shut off the door for Genocide investigation by passing that resolution against his advice.
While answering questions at the DAN TV interview, he falsely claimed the international investigation into the war crimes in Sri Lanka had been fully completed and the 251 pages report published by the OISL in Geneva on 16 November 2015 is a complete and comprehensive document. Firstly, Mr Sumanthiran must understand that this report is incomplete because it covers only from February 2002 to November 2011. Secondly, he must stop cooking up a false story such as claiming that the “UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, very specifically said, even with such a report full of horrors as he himself called it, it hasn’t satisfied the test of genocide”. This is completely untruthful, and no such record is available anywhere. He further stated in the same interview that he has spoken to many legal experts who support Tamils and “all of them” advised that there are is not enough evidence to prove the Genocide. However, he is unable to name any single expert, whom he referred in his speech which causes serious doubt on this statement. These facts are more than enough to prove his dishonesty and his knack of fooling the Tamil community.
In January 2019, Mr Sumanthiran told the Parliament that he is ready to admit that the LTTE committed war crimes. He also repeatedly claims that all international reports very clearly say that both the military and the LTTE committed war crimes. However, the OISL Report concluded,
“One of the most disturbing findings of the OISL investigation has been the extent to which sexual violence was committed, often extremely brutally, by the Sri Lanka security forces, with men as likely to be victims as women. The prevalence of rape, often on repeated occasions, was particularly shocking. OISL did not find any information to suggest that the LTTE was responsible for sexual violence….”
Whilst claiming to be very familiar with this report, why did Mr Sumanthiran never quote this in any of his speeches? Is he against his own Tamil community? Isn’t this deliberate omission sufficient to prove his lack of integrity as a lawyer?
Mr Sumanthiran has also repeatedly proven himself as someone not having the qualities of leadership or capable of representing his own people. The most basic quality to be a leader or people representative is the ability to put aside his own personal views and be able to voice the aspirations of the people who voted for him. However, Mr Sumanthiran has always voiced his own misguided opinions and never bothered to give consideration to the views of his own people.
Most recently, on 8 May 2020, Mr Sumanthiran provoked widespread outrage from across the Tamil political spectrum, including condemnation from within his own party, by the comments he made in a Sinhala interview with Mr Samarawickrama, who is a former Director of Media to the President of Sri Lanka. He bluntly lied about the formation of the TNA and also vulgarised the armed liberation struggle of the Tamils. In addition, he stated that he accepts the Sri Lanka’s lion flag and national anthem which sparked widespread anger and outrage amongst Tamils across the North-East, with criticism from even normally supportive fellow lawmakers in his own party. In addition to Mr Sumanthiran’s comments in Sinhala last week, in 2015 he told the Sunday Leader in English that “his party has no allegiance to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” and is “not committed to their ideology“, adding the TNA is not in favour of “terrorism“. Mr Sumanthiran went on to distance himself from the Tamil diaspora groups, stating he has “no connection with the Tiger diaspora” which has seriously offended the Tamil diaspora.
In 2013, TNA MP Sivaganam Sritharan told the Sri Lankan parliament that the majority of the Tamil people in the North-East had voted for the TNA to support the ideals of the LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran and said he was “the greatest leader in history, who awoke the previously dormant defiance of the Tamils“.
In 2019, TELO leader Selvam Adaikalanathan spoke on the LTTE’s participation in forming the TNA, stating that the alliance “was formed for the purpose of liberation of our people”. “No one can break the Tamil National Alliance which was formed as our people’s power with the LTTE’s participation,” he added. Is Sumantiran not aware of any of these statements of his own colleagues?
As the fierce opposition to Mr Sumanthiran began to escalate, the TNA leader Mr R Sampanthan released a Press statement to protect himself by claiming he had “not yet fully seen the views expressed by Mr Sumanthiran in the Sinhala interview. Nevertheless, it is his individual interview – his personal opinion must not be taken to be the stance of the Tamil National Alliance or the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi,” he continued as he sought to distance himself, and the party, from the comments made.
In addition, senior members of Mr Sampanthan’s own party and the TNA alliance, along with leaders of other Tamil parties, who, unlike Mr Sumanthiran, have a long association with the LTTE’s armed struggle for the Tamil’s liberation and the reasons for forming the TNA, have expressed their concern and dissatisfaction against Mr Sumanthiran’s actions and comments. They have said that Mr Sumanthiran’s comments must not be discounted as his own personal opinion, while he holds such a senior position and membership of the TNA.
ITAK leader Mr Mavai Senathirajah voiced his anger and said “Mr Sumanthiran’s comments cannot be accepted. Mr Sumanthiran stated he cannot accept the armed struggle of the LTTE and the TNA is as culpable for these comments as him,” he added.
Fellow former TNA lawmaker Mr Eswarapatham Saravanapavan said that “TNA or ITAK should not be used as a platform to participate in acts against humanity or make a mockery out of the struggle for Eelam“. He also asked Mr Sampanthan to “remove Mr Sumanthiran from his position.”
Mr K.V. Thavarasa, President’s Counsel, renowned lawyer and the President of the Colombo District Branch of the ITAK said “Mr Sumanthiran has no authority to vulgarise the armed struggle. Mr Sumanthiran expressing such opinion has created unhealable wounds and caused pain in the hearts of the Tamil people”.
Mr Charles Nirmalanathan, another former lawmaker with the TNA, asked Mr Sampanthan to “remove Mr Sumanthiran as the spokesperson for TNA” and that “Mr Sumanthiran should not comment against the armed struggle carried out by the LTTE“.
Mr Selvam Adaikalanathan, leader of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), a TNA constituent party, said “Mr Sumanthiran’s comments are absolutely inexcusable. Saying that the whole armed Tamil struggle is wrong is absolutely unforgivable.”
The leader of the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) Mr Dharmalingam Siddarthan, another TNA member, said, “Mr Sumanthiran is speaking without knowing the history of the armed struggle”.
Mr Gnanamuttu Sirinesan, a former TNA MP from Batticaloa, urged “the leadership of TNA to address and take responsible action against Mr Sumanthiran for his comments. The TNA party is accountable for the comments made by their media spokesperson, Mr Sumanthiran, and for his remarks to please the Sinhala chauvinists, he must be punished,” he added.
Former ITAK youth wing leader and current head of Tamil Thesiya Valvurimai Iyakkam, Mr V Sivakaran said “Mr Sumanthiran, by telling one story in the North, another story in the South, one story in Tamil and another story in Sinhala, has commercialized the politics of the Tamil’s emancipation.” He added “from time to time opportunists have arisen in the Tamil side. Mr Sumanthiran was the cause for abandoning of many by the TNA and the ITAK. The TNA should firmly understand whether the party is for the people or the people are for the party; and if the people are for liberation or liberation is for people“.
Lawyer and the deputy leader of ITAK youth wing, Mr S Dineshan said “Tamil National Alliance (TNA) received the votes of the Tamil people in the North and East. Therefore, the media spokesperson for the TNA, making such comments is never acceptable. I fully condemn such comments and the leader of TNA should certainly take action on this“.
Former TNA Northern Provincial Council Member Mr T Ravikaran said “the Tamil people will not accept Mr Sumanthiran’s comments which dishonour the Tamil liberation struggle and the people involved in it – including the fallen LTTE cadres, disabled militants and also the LTTE leader, Mr Velupillai Prabhakaran”. He further added “Tamil leaders fought in many ways to combat the atrocities against the Tamil people. It was clearly evident that the fight against oppression of Tamils could not be solved by non-violent means. The LTTE was formed after the youths began to bear arms to fight for the rights of Tamil people. The LTTE carried out their movement in a way that was accepted by all Tamil people and helped establish the TNA. Therefore, I want to reiterate that Tamil people will not accept when anyone discredits or delegitimises the armed struggle or those involved in the armed struggle”.
Mr Pararajasingham Uthayarasa, Secretary-General of Sri-Telo, condemned “the comments that Mr Sumanthiran made rejecting the whole armed struggle” and asked, “whether the TNA will take action against Mr Sumanthiran for his comments”.
Chief Justice C V Wigneswarwan, former Chief Minister of the Northern Province said he was “astonished” by Mr Sumanthiran’s comments, rejecting the LTTE’s political and armed efforts. “How can he be a MP of TNA, which had been created by brother Prabhakaran? As a former student of mine, his comments bring me great shame. The reason behind the formation of TNA is well known by not only the Tamil people but by the Sinhala people too. The TNA formed with aspirations to gain independent democratic rights for Tamils is showing signs of instability. Does Mr Sumanthiran not know the history surrounding the party or is he pretending not to know? He should be reminded that he is a spokesperson for the party formed by the LTTE. Mr Sumanthiran may be proud of being treated like a servant, but he is not entitled to do so, when talking on behalf of the Tamils. After living cosily in the comforts of Colombo, he has no rights to return to the North and East to belittle the struggle of the Tamil people”.
The Chief Justice further added “It is important to listen to the struggles and requests of the Tamil people and voice their concerns. If not, he should stay away from politics or compete for a party that addresses the needs of the Sinhala people. We need to raise awareness and educate the Sinhala people about our liberation struggle. There are many Sinhala people who understand the need for brother Prabahakaran to pursue an armed resistance. There are Sinhala leaders in the South who talk about the struggles and need for justice of Tamil people. We need to eliminate any efforts that belittle the Tamil liberation struggle and the sacrifices made so far. If I [C V Wigneswaran] was asked the question in Sinhala, I would have clearly stated that Prabhakaran’s struggle was caused by Sinhala politicians.”
The Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) tweeted, “A few days ago in a Sinhala interview TNA’s MP Mr M.A Sumanthiran claimed that he nor his party have ever condoned the armed Tamil liberation struggle and that he would readily accept and hoist the lion flag of Sri Lanka and sing its national anthem. This statement is particularly treacherous as it comes in the run up to the 11th year commemoration of the #Mullivaikkal #TamilGenocide on #May18.”
Mr Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, leader of the TNPF said, “Mr Sumanthiran is oblivious to Tamil nationalism. That is why he has insisted that he never accepted the armed resistance for the Tamil struggle. He has also said that he accepts and identifies with the Sri Lanka lion flag and the national anthem and rejects the Vaddukoddai resolution. Our pain has persisted for many years. For 11 years we have insisted that their party’s political actions are deviating away from the party’s fundamental aspirations it was formed from. Mr Sumanthiran has also applauded Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government for their role in the civil war.”
The Crusaders for Democracy, a party made up of former LTTE cadres, released a statement voicing their anger over Mr Sumanthiran’s comments. They warned that “they will withdraw their support from the party,” in response to these comments.
Several civil society organisations also condemned the TNA spokesperson, including the Association of the Families of the Disappeared stating “Mr Sumanthiran is loyal to Colombo and prefers Colombo. He does not care at all about the Tamil people. He is acting on the belief that the Sinhala people see him as s similar figure to Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan. He serves to protect the constitution of the Sri Lanka government.”
Families of the disappeared in Vavuniya conducted a protest on their 715th day of continuous demonstration carrying a large banner stating, “Tamils will get freedom first after removing panderers Sampanthan and Sumanthiran from Tamil politics.”
The Tamils diaspora around the world finds it extremely offensive and unforgivable that Mr Sumanthiran refers to them as “Tiger Diaspora” which clearly exposes the fact that he shares the same perception of the Sri Lankan intelligence on the Tamils living abroad. They remain outraged by his previous false accusation that his alleged murder attempt in Feb 2017 was planned abroad as this statement has placed the diaspora activists at further serious risk of persecution by the Sri Lankan authorities when they go to Sri Lanka. Reliable information is now coming to light that this alleged plot was staged by Mr Sumanthiran in a bid to seek STF protection. As a result, Mr Sumanthiran has become directly complicit in the arrest and torture of the 5 ex LTTE members who were accused of this murder attempt and remain imprisoned. These facts establish his affiliation to the Sri Lankan authorities and makes him complicit in torture of not only these 5 ex LTTE members but also the Tamils activists who were abducted, detained and tortured upon their return to Sri Lanka.
In summary, it is obvious that Mr Sumanthiran has always been acting in contravention to the wishes and expectations of the Tamil people who voted for him and his TNA party. By his recent interview, he has created an unhealable wound and pain in the hearts of the Tamil people who are already suffering from agony of loss and have been left without justice. Whilst, his freedom to express his own personal opinion is acknowledged by the Tamils, he has clearly failed to respect the views of the Tamil people he and his party (TNA) represent. By proving his inability to put aside his own views, he has proved that he is not capable of representing his own people in a democratic manner. He should not be allowed to use the TNA as a platform to sell his own agendas and views. He has every freedom to stand on his own or create his own party to promote his own views. Given he is unable to honour the mandate of the Tamils who voted for the TNA, he should immediately resign his position as the Spokesperson and leave the TNA. Should there be any self-respect and dignity left in him, he must immediately resign before the TNA removes him. Unless, the TNA should act to the mandate of the people and remove him or lose all the support from the Tamils.
*Manonmany Sathasivam, is a senior lawyer and Attorney-At-Law practicing since 1981. She is currently serving as the Acting District Judge & Magistrate in Vavuniya in Sri Lanka. She is also a human rights activist who has filed number of Heabus Corpus Petitions and also worked with the Association of the Families of the Enforced Disappeared.