Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association (JUSTA) puts forward the following points for voters to ponder when casting their vote on 17th August.
1. The political settlement to the Tamil question requires conditions where the Tamils could live as equals to those in the rest of the country, be able to protect and foster their economy and culture and have the assurance that the demographic composition of lands where Tamil speakers were predominant would not be tampered with by the State to serve a majoritarian political agenda.
The rest of the world and thinking Sinhalese understand and sympathise with this aspiration and the Tamil people have overwhelmingly voted in support of this from 1956.
The internationalisation of the problem has certain consequences. A reasonable settlement is within our means if we approach it responsibly and with dignity. The battle is for us to lose by unnecessary rhetoric that provokes the Sinhalese and Muslims.
2. Most of the contestants are appealing to Tamil nationalism in their manifesto. We should support the one that is coherent while being firm on accepted norms of international law and would come across as reasonable in any public forum. Provocative slogans alone would not help the Tamils to rebuild their lives and obtain for example a return of their lands, except to delude themselves in wishful thinking that the UN would move in and impose a settlement.
We cannot move ahead without a genuine negotiating position reflecting consensuses reached in previous talks with the Government over the years and what the international community would support. Most Tamils desire a federal settlement and have consistently voted for it.
3. A matter of grave importance not only to the Tamils but also to the Muslims and Sinhalese is the question of impunity. The acceptance of impunity in Sri Lankan culture has degraded our public life and our institutions, not least out university system. An opportunity we have to make a start in combating impunity is when the final report on the last few months of the war is released at the UN Human Rights Council. We must insist that the truth be told and the allegations fully investigated, whoever the perpetrator.
Our experience from the 1990s, which includes the Disappearance Commissions, the Bindunuwewa case and the Fr. Jim Brown, ACF and Five Students cases, tells us that previous local mechanisms to deliver justice to victims of grave abuses finished up a shameful eyewash despite faltering attempts to sell these internationally as Sri Lanka’s firm commitment to end impunity.
Justice in cases of grave violations stands a chance of being attainable if our demands are focussed on what could be achieved through the elections. We need to be firm on a political settlement and where international law is on our side what is mostly needed is quiet diplomacy and not public rhetoric. Rhetoric about original Tamil demands over several decades and betrayals by one or more electoral rivals in platform fireworks would merely insult the innocent civilians whose lives were stolen, make us look unreasonable and throw confusion on what we should focus on and achieve now.
It is also of prime importance that our representatives stand united as a single group voicing forcefully our concerns and any fragmentation into small groups would work to our disadvantage in winning our rights.
The immense loss of life in the past decades places on us, the voters, an obligation to avoid courses of action where more lives would be sacrificed on the altar of empty heroic rhetoric by those who will not pay the price. We would have to rebuild our life here and not in some foreign lands.
Jaffna University Science Teachers’ Association (JUSTA)