The people of the north should vote at the September 21 Provincial Council election in order to send a clear message to the Government and the world about the issues faced by people of the region, including the ongoing militarisation and lack of progress on numerous cases of custodial deaths, sexual abuse and disappearances, a Catholic organisation has urged.
Citing a long list of problems faced by the people of the north and revealing insights about the Government’s election incentives, the President of the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Jaffna Diocese, Fr. S.V.B. Margalarajah said not voting would indicate that the people of the area were not too disturbed by the current state of affairs in the North.
“The development projects such as carpet-roads. railway-tracks etc are only secondary,” the President said in a statement.
He said the only way to highlight the problems of the people was to exercise the right to vote. “Refraining from voting and voting carelessly will only help the ruling government party to secure some seals for them to show the world the people in the North are beginning to give their approval to the government for their development work as well as for their other works in the past” Fr. Mangalarajah said.
Bishop of Jaffna Rev. Thomas Soundaranayagam is the patron of the Commission.
Following is the full text of the priest’s statement:
Voting is a basic right of every citizen. The general public in the North of Sri Lanka had not shown much interest in any election in the last few decades. In this background the Provincial Council election is being held after a long gap on the 2lst of September 2013. It is generally felt that the Sri Lankan Government decided to conduct this election due mainly to pressure placed by her donor countries. If we consider the importance of this election have to say this is not going to solve the basic problems faced by our people- There will not be a meaningful devolution of power to the Provincial-Council in the North. The Government ruling party which has won comfortably in the other Provinces realize very well that it will not be able to win the election the Northern Province and has hinted that there will not be much of devolution of power in the basic sectors. Hence we cannot foresee that the upcoming Provincial-Council will not be able to exercise much power.
However this election is being observed by all and especially by the international Community carefully. The Government ruling party though not able to win, will try to secure substantial number of votes and show the world that the people in the North are beginning to appreciate their development work such as carpet-roads. railway tracks, the proposed express-highway, new buildings for schools, hospitals, markets etc. The Government party candidates with the direct and indirect support of the security forces and other state machinery are hence involved in wide-spread election law, violations. Some of which are:
1. The unemployed youth have been asked in a published advertisement to register their names as members in the ruling party to ensure a job. This advertisement appeared in all the newspapers in the north after the fixing of the date for the election.
2. Some of the ruling party candidates are involved in the recent past in organising along With the government officers ‘mobile services’ to fulfil the needs of the people especially in the villages.
3. In Kilinochchi District the pre-school teachers who have been enlisted as members of the Civil-security staff have been asked to gather votes for the ruling government party. They also have been issued forms to get the names of people who would thus vote for the government party.
4. During the last few weeks in hurriedly organized and publicised functions some houses of and lands of the people in Thenmaradchchi, Vadamaradchchi which had been in the possession of the security forces have been handed over to the owners. These functions were attended by the ruling government party members and the military top brass. The speeches and the whole procedure of these meetings had all the hallmarks of election campaigns.
5. During the last few days we can see the Governor himself who is supposed to be neutral is seen participating in the election-campaign meetings of the ruling government party.
6. Enticements, intimidation, violence including the use of fire-arms have been used to gather votes for the ruling government party. There had been an exchange of gunfire between two contestants of the government party at Kodikamam a fortnight ago.
As election date comes closer we can expect more violation of elections laws.
If the people in the North refrain from voting it will give a signal that we are not affected very much by the huge loss of lives and property in the final stages of the war and blatant human rights violations we are still undergoing. It also will give the message that we are quite satisfied with the carpet road, new buildings and other development work. If the people in the North do not come forward to vote it will be an indication that we are not worried very much about the following issues and some of these are follows:
1. Bombing, shelling which resulted in heavy casualties within the safety zone area proclaimed by the government, use of chemical-weapons, cluster-bombs etc., the fate of those who had surrendered with while flags (including Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph], a former Rector of St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna). There is no inquiry about any of these.
2. Those who have been taken in for questioning from their homes and camps, those who have been taken by white van and then those who have disappeared including Fr. Jim Brown a Catholic Priest belonging b the Diocese of Jaffna. There is no responsible reply for all these.
3. The Political prisoners who had been attacked at Vavuniya prison and then in Anuradhapura and Colombo by the jail-guards where two of them, Dilruckson and Nimalaruban were killed and a number of them injured. These unfortunate people are yet to get justice.
4. Thousands of Tamil Political prisoners who am languishing in prisons some including women for more than 15 years are there without being charge-sheeted in spite of recommendations, hunger-strikes and promises for special courts for speed-trials, no action has been taken to release them.
5. Though some lands and houses belonging to the people have been handed over with much publicity, 90% of the lands occupied especially the 6381 acre land in Valikamam North (where there were 24 G.S. divisions) is under army occupation. In this region the lands belonging to the Catholic Church where there are Catholic Churches, Convents, institutions etc are in 55 pieces of lands. The lands belonging in the Hindu temples etc should be much more than these.
6. Even the problems of the resettled people are not yet resolved. They are not able to restart their lives afresh. Eg. Some of their ancestral lands have been taken over by the army as in the case of the inhabitants of Keppapulavu in the Mullaitivu District. When the people at Kokkuthoduvai and in the neighbourhood went restart their agricultural activities in their paddy-fields they were sent back as their paddy-fields had already been divided and given to Sinhalese families in the neighbouring villages
7. In the last few months the owners of houses and lands which were left behind by the security forces had gone clean up their property. In some places they were able 1o l:ind skeletons and other human remains Eg. At Pallappai in Vadamaradchchi the house-owners found the remains of 17 bodies. In the same manner the people found human skeletal remains at Allaipiddy and at Mathagal. There is a strong suspicion that these were of the remains of the people who were arrested and then disappeared. The news of these has been brought to the notice of the appropriate authorities and the news of these findings appeared in the media. A proper inquiry will be able to bring out the truth.
8. Due to the heavy military presence and their unrestrained movements especially in the Vanni region the families with no male support and families with young girls live in constant fear. Of the many reported cases we give here only the latest ones. Few weeks back at Pooneryn in Kilinochchi dist ct a 38 year old married woman with three children had gone to the backyard of her house to gather palmyrah leaves. There she was sexually abused by somebody in military uniform and who had their faces covered. Due to heavy bleeding this woman was admitted to the Kilinochchi hospital. This incident had been brought to the notice of the responsible authorities and so far no action has been taken. A
similar incident took place some two years back in Kilinochchi and the people in the neighbourhood caught the soldier involved red-handed and a case has also filed the case is yet to be finished. A few months ago at Neduntemy also a school-girl was abused and after persistent protests of the villagers the soldier involved was handed over to the police for further action. This type of incidents are own rare.
9. The attacks on the news-paper offices in the North and the media-men are frequent and so far the culprits have not been brought to books.
lf we refrain from voting giving the reason that this election in not going to bring about a substantial change to solve are basic grievances it will be an indication that we are not disturbed very much by the current state of affairs in the North just mentioned above. We may not be affected directly by some or even most of the issues above mentioned. Yet we have to give the message to the ruling Government and to the World that the above mentioned issues are primarily for us to live in peace with dignity each one in his ancestral house and land. The development projects such as carpet-roads. railway-tracks etc are only secondary. To do this right now the only available means is to exercise our right to vote. In the midst of conclusion caused by the pushing in of disproportionate number of independent candidates besides a number of political parties, the people have vote and vote carefully and cautiously. Refraining from voting and voting carelessly will only help the ruling government party to secure some seals for them to show the world the people in the North are beginning to give their approval to the government for their development work as well as for their other works in the past.
Fr. S.V.B. Margclcrafah.
President Commission for Justice and Peace of the Diocese of Jaffna