By Suren Surendiran –
Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has recently been under scrutiny by the Tamil media. The organisation’s close association with TNA and some western agencies that are critical on the political aspirations of Tamils, viewed suspiciously by the larger sections of Tamils. Following are excerpts of a telephone interview with Suren Surenthiran, the spokesperson for the GTF by Tamil/English weekly Oru Paper.
Oru Paper: In your interview to Alan Keenan of International Crisis Group, you said the following:
“we don’t prescribe a solution, because we don’t think we have the expertise or the knowledge or the right to prescribe to Tamils in Sri Lanka what they should do; but we do have a role and a responsibility to play, since we wouldn’t be the diaspora except for what happened in Sri Lanka, which made us leave. But the TNA is elected and is there and has the right to propose solutions”
Referring to your previous interviews to international media such as ‘Al Jazeera’, you used to spell out the ‘two states solution’ as the final solution for Eelam Tamils. Two main political parties which operate in our homeland differ in this stand. While the Tamil National Alliance has taken the position of finding a solution within the unitary state of Sri Lanka, the Tamil National People’s Front is for the solution suggested by you. i.e . One country and Two Nations.
Can we assume that the GTF is now taking the TNA’s stand and you are for a solution within the framework of the unitary constitution?
Suren: Not at all, I am sure you have seen many of the recent interviews given by me on behalf of GTF to daily and Sunday newspapers and other media outfits in Sri Lanka and internationally. I have very clearly stated our position. Here’s an example where in one of the newspapers the third time in the past 6 months it was re-iterated that “Tamils have lived in the North and East of the island for many centuries and historically have established those parts as their homeland just as the Sinhalese in the rest of the island except the ‘up-country’ where Tamils from Indian decent have lived. Just as we Tamils, respect this historic fact that there is a Sinhala nation in that island, we want the Sinhalese to acknowledge and respect that there is a Tamil nation in that island too”
As GTF, we want to expose the fact that theSriLankanState(note, not just the government as governments do change) does not have the will or the courage to address the Tamil people’s genuine grievances and the Tamil National question. By systematically exposing this continuous failure by the State with facts and by being and be seen as the most reasonable party to the conflict, we want the international community and other non-governmental bodies to acknowledge that unless there is external engagement and pressure, there will never be peace and stability in that region.
Remember, many of the successful liberations of the recent past around the world have been by adopting similar strategies.
Oru Paper: If an umbrella organisation of Tamil diaspora doesn’t possess the expertise or knowledge to prescribe a solution for Tamils, is the diaspora seriously lacking something here?
Suren: It is true that I said that as GTF, we do not want to prescribe a particular solution. If we prescribed a particular solution, then there will not be any space for any negotiations.
However, that doesn’t mean we can negotiate certain fundamentals. For example, I am born a Tamil or the fact that Tamils have lived in the North and East of the island for many centuries and historically have established those parts as their homeland or the fact that there is a Tamil Nation as well as a Sinhala Nation in that island.
The point about lack of expert knowledge – I clearly told Alan on the phone that the current ground reality and the fast changing circumstances are better known and understood by Tamils inSri Lankamore than us.
Yes, I did say that the TNA are the democratically elected representatives by the Tamils in the island. Therefore, they have all the rights to negotiate for a solution on behalf of the Tamils.
Oru Paper: On the same ICG report, it says “Many believed that the end of the war and elimination of the separatist Tamil Tigers (LTTE) would open space for greater political debate and moderation among Tamils, while encouraging the government to abandon the hard- line Sinhalese nationalism it had cultivated to support its war efforts and agree to devolve meaningful power to the majority Tamil-speaking northern and eastern provinces.”
TNA’s leader Sampanthan, in his parliamentary speech on 7th December 2012, expressed similar sentiments. As the only diaspora organisation that is openly supporting the TNA, do you subscribe to the view that the demise of LTTE has opened up new avenues for a meaningful solution?
Suren: In the history of Sri Lanka, post-independence, as you very well know there had been many phases and approaches Tamils have taken to free themselves from successive oppressive regimes and the State structure including its constitution that doesn’t treat Tamils as equals.
Although none of these phases and approaches have delivered the freedom we seek, all of them have incrementally added to create awareness within the island and internationally. During the history many points of references have been created and established – some temporarily and others permanently. To refer to some of the examples of points of references – the many pacts and agreements signed between Tamil representatives and the governments in power at different stages which were never implemented, the fact that the Tamils came together and passed a resolution in 1976 calling for an independent state, the fact that the TULF won an overwhelming majority in 1977 on a mandate for a separate state, the establishment of Thimpu Principles, the signing of Indo-Lanka Accord, the fact that a de facto state was successfully run by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for a considerable amount of time, the broken Ceasefire Agreement, presenting of a solution based on the document referred to as the ISGA document etc.
In my mind, all of these points of references and others have opened up new avenues for a meaningful solution.
Oru Paper: Can you tell us about the progress on your proposed ‘joint declaration’ and the four pillars programme?
Suren: We have collectively seen remarkable progress on all four pillars at different levels. Just to remind the readers, what these four pillars are:
- Coming to consensus amongst Tamils and Tamil speaking people through their political and non-political representatives in the island and in the Diaspora, which is commonly referred to as a ‘Common Declaration’
- Addressing the socio-economic needs of the people living in the war affected areas
- In seeking justice – Progressing with the call for an international independent inquiry into the alleged breaches of international human rights and humanitarian laws
- Engaging with the civil society in the island without prejudice
Progressing all these above four pillars with the understanding and assistance from the international community.
Oru Paper: Your recent meeting with UNP MP Mangala Samaraweera was viewed suspiciously by the Tamils. Are you trying to forge alliances with TNA, UNP and other pro West parties inSri Lanka for a regime change?
Suren: Understandably, it was viewed with suspicion. Firstly, this was a meeting that wasn’t a formal GTF meeting but was private in nature.
Unless we engage with people within and outside our community, we will not achieve our desired aspirations. In many conflicts around the world including ours many engagements are and were made of which some are/were disclosed and others not. Some are recognised and others were not.
Also the fact that many stakeholders (political, non-political and media) in Sri Lanka and internationally wanting to engage with the GTF inevitably proves that the strategy and approach adopted are by and large working for now, is our assessment.
Oru Paper: Finally, do you believe a regime change backed by external forces would be beneficial towards achieving the political aspirations of the Tamils?
Suren: Our own experiences as Tamils over the past sixty four years since independence, with various different regimes that have been in power, including the current regime. However, the oppressive and dictatorial nature of this regime coupled with corruption in an unprecedented level, nepotism and the State sponsored human rights abuses that prevail with impunity have particularly helped the grievances of the Tamils to be focused at the international level.
Again like I articulated in one of the previous answers, unless there will be international involvement and pressure brought to bear on this or any future regimes, an acceptable political solution will not be found, is our assessment.