25 May, 2017

We Need New Remedies To Old Problems

By Rauff Hakeem

Rauff Hakeem

Rauff Hakeem

We are today determined on investigations on human rights abuses. In effect, what he asserts is that the process did not deliver closure per se. He rightly points out that the work of the South African TRC in dealing with human rights abuse was a middle path that steered between an uncompromising insistence on prosecution and a defeatist acceptance of amnesty and impunity on the other.

Following is the text of the 93rd Birth Anniversary memorial oration of Late Leader of Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) M Sivasithamparam at the Karaveddy, Thachchai Araneri School,  Jaffna made by Leader, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Minister of City Planning and Water Supply, Rauff Hakeem:

Sivasithamparam

Sivasithamparam

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thoughts of Annan Siva evokes memories of his impressive physical appearance and his reassuring authoritative voice. In the twilight days of his parliamentary career he was confined to a wheel chair, which hindered access to the front row which was his rightful place as leader of his party. Instead, in his wheel chair in the aisle of the last row, he used a mike to address parliament with that singularly commanding resonance which earned him the Tamil anonym ‘Simmakuralone.’ His booming vibrant voice gripped the attention of his listeners. He passionately condemned the brutal expulsion of Muslims from the North at the 12th Delegates Conference of the SLMC. He made the profoundly moving declaration then, that he would not set foot in the peninsula until all displaced Muslims were resettled in their original habitations. He kept his word and also it explains how his last rites were performed at Karaveddy on 9th June 2002. Although I have prepared my address in English, I realize that all previous speakers made their remarks in Tamil. Therefore, I will also endeavor to render my views in Tamil as I proceed with my lecture in memory of Annan Siva.

The title of my lecture today is, ‘we need new remedies to old problems.’

The immediate inspiration for my title is the profound advice of Sir Francis Bacon, a celebrated philosopher and former Attorney General of England who lived in the 15th century. He warned, “he, that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils”. Indeed, we do have two old problems. Our first problem is that we don’t know what our problem is. In order to find a solution we must first acknowledge that the problem exists. Once acknowledged, we must define it. Then we must finally commit ourselves to solving the problem.

His Excellency the President, Maithripala Sirisena redefined the problem when he addressed the nation on the 67th Independence anniversary celebration, the first under his presidency at the parliament ground, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. After a long lay off, the accredited Tamil leadership, led by Annan Sampanthan participated (after a long lapse) at the occasion. On that occasion, the President said this: “the biggest challenges we face today, is that of bringing together the minds of the people of the North and South, and through a process of reconciliation bring about coexistence and national understanding, and thus take our great Motherland forward as a land rich in human affection and understanding”.

The President has identified and defined our existential dilemma as a nation. We are yet to make Sri Lanka a land rich in human affection and understanding. It is not a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim problem. It is a problem, dilemma, predicament and plight, call it what you may, and there exists a chasm that needs to be bridged with human understanding and affection.

Now, we must ask ourselves why have we failed to build an all-embracing and central national consensus on what needs to be done to reach a Sri Lankan accord on reconciliation, co-existence and national understanding? I have used the three significant terms used by his Excellency the President in his call for national reconciliation.

Without the personal commitment of each one of us, irrespective of our parochial identities, we cannot hope to reach the goal of meaningful reconciliation. We must avoid the fundamental issue of reconciliation turning into a political dispute. We must encourage an open transparent debate on the historical interpretations that contending groups are clinging onto.

The problem with nations such as ours is that, after independence, we have developed different historical narratives for political convenience. Annan Siva was one of those leaders who carried out the struggle of the Tamil nation adhering to the principle of nonviolence, practicing ahimsa and observing the highest moral standards. Naturally, his approach was overwhelmed by the violence resorted to by militants who had no patience with peaceful resistance advocated by the leaders. If they did not follow the proven path of claiming moral high ground in their struggle for justice, dignity and equitable sharing of our national resources, we could not have achieved anything. To this end, Annan Siva and other members of the Tamil Congress went beyond their party politics and in dedicated themselves to the unity of the Tamil community.

When Annan Amirthalingam and Annan Yogeswaran were killed in the Buller’s Road incident, Annan Siva too was with them. He however suffered serious injuries. In his waning days, he assumed the leadership of the TULF. He then tried to build Tamil-Muslim relations. Towards this, he held intensive discussions with my late leader Ashraff. Annan Sampanthan, Maavai Senathiraja, Dharmalingam Siddharthan and other senior leaders of the TNA were also associated in these exchanges.

A discussion of “new remedies to old problems,” requires us to deal with some basic issues. With the war behind us, and the immediate post-war triumphalist regime and its practices of impunity, also a memory of a regrettable past, today, we have arrived at a historic phase where we must not shirk our responsibilities to each other in achieving a genuine meaningful reconciliation. Indeed the responsibility of the Tamil and Muslim communities towards national reconciliation acquires a sanctity of its own.

A nonviolent struggle was followed by an armed struggle that went on for another 30 years. The time has now come for the Tamil speaking community to change their approach and perceptions in seeking redress for their grievances. Whilst we talk of reconciliation, our respective positions seem to be in polarized and diametrically opposite positions that seem irreconcilable.

The opinion in the north is that all land occupied by the army should be released. The more zealous in South insist that these should be retained by the army for security reasons. One side wants all political prisoners released. The other side claims that, they do not hold any political prisoners and those in custody are hard-core terrorists.

Meanwhile, the Chief Minister of the Northern Province who is credited with more radical perspectives has suggested in a more moderate frame of mind that both communities should focus on learning and using both languages. Tamil students who learn Sinhala will be better equipped to comprehend the surroundings and expressing their views. This suggestion provoked an immediate rebuttal from Ealavaenthan who described it as “inappropriate and ill-timed.” When the North suggests ‘federalism’, the South says ‘no’ and calls it ‘separatism’. When the North refers to ‘war crimes’, the South insists that there were ‘zero casualties’ and no civilian was killed by the armed forces. A conspicuous female LTTE- cadre Thamilini wrote her biography – ‘Or Koor Vaalin Nizhalil’ in her declining days. Her narrative cites how the LTTE shrugged off reproaches by Tamil people who denounced their atrocities. However, some Tamils claim that the posthumously published book contains inserts by the Sri Lankan army.

Karuna the former leader of the LTTE who broke off reacted to news reports that the LTTE leader Prabhakaran was tortured and killed after his capture with total derision. He said, “I totally refuse this kinds of statements. We should not insult the Leader I genuinely respect. How could it be possible to arrest a leader who gave cyanide to thousands of LTTE fighters and asked them to bite if they were captured by the enemy?” Although Karuna was considered a traitor by many, after the death of Prabhkaran he insisted that Prabhakaran would have never allowed himself to be arrested or killed. That in his opinion was the ultimate insult to his bravery and valor.

These perceptual and conceptual dichotomies need exposure, framing and resolution. These are old problems that need fresh exposure in the light of our post-conflict experiences. They need new framing in the light of present day world order. They need resolution in terms of our new aspirations. That is what I suggest as new remedies to old problems in our search for honest national reconciliation.

We have now arrived at a very sensitive phase of reconciliation- the claim that truth telling promotes peace and reconciliation by an official account of past crimes and misdeeds. It underlines the premise that there can be no peace or reconciliation without justice. That is the basis of true reconciliation.

Now, there is a near universal acceptance of the path-breaking contribution made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. What did the TRC do? What did the TRC achieve? It is extremely educative to follow its aftermath. There is an excellent analysis of the work of the South African TRC by Paul Van Zyl who served as the Executive Secretary of the TRC, published in the Journal of International Affairs, spring 1999.

When the TRC was ready to deliver its report to President Mandela, there arose a controversy. Both former President F.W.de Klerk and the ANC which was the new ruling party launched legal proceedings to block the publication of the report. The African National Congress in its application to the Supreme Court said that the TRC had failed to properly consider its objections to the findings of the TRC regarding its responsibility for human rights abuse. The court rejected the ANC application only a few hours before the release of the report.

Van Zyl argues that the fact that both the ANC and the National Party that institutionalized apartheid were disappointed with the report was the strongest affirmation that the TRC fulfilled its mandate. That claim however is tangential to the point I wish to make. Paul Van Zyl then proceeds to make an observation that we in Sri Lanka should take note of. He says I quote: “It also demonstrated that any attempt to deal with past human rights abuse is likely to be both complex and contested.”

We are today determined on investigations on human rights abuses. In effect, what he asserts is that the process did not deliver closure per se. He rightly points out that the work of the South African TRC in dealing with human rights abuse was a middle path that steered between an uncompromising insistence on prosecution and a defeatist acceptance of amnesty and impunity on the other.

So, what happened in South Africa? There were attempts to find the truth. There were also attempts to penalize those responsible for alleged atrocities. On one hand, only a few faced inquiries and interrogations. Even then, only a minuscule number of cases had adequate evidence to merit prosecution. The outcome then was a sense of defeatist amnesty. At the same time, to forget the culture of impunity but to allow those people, who tortured you, who killed your own kith and kin who were seen to be openly engaging in human rights abuses live amongst you. Move with you. This was the state of final reconciliation in South Africa.

These are not issues that can be settled in a day or two. Reconciliation is a process and not an overnight phenomenon. Even in South Africa there remain issues that need full closure. We can only endeavor to achieve what is practical and doable.

In this context, what I wish to say is that the process of reconciliation even in the case of South Africa involved a process of a realistic assessment of the extent of compromises the two sides were ready to concede. Reconciliation is not a one-way street. It is a wide thoroughfare where both sides can meet at an acceptable median.

Inquiry of all alleged abuses and violations over the decades and meting out justice and reaching closure is not a practical proposition. For example, the white flag incident refers to a grave war crime. The allegation is the execution of surrendered persons by the army. If indeed such an incident occurred, it surely deserves to be investigated. War crimes are universally condemned, and therefore perpetrators of such crimes should be punished.

There are also grieving parents of thousands who perished by swallowing cyanide capsules at the command of the LTTE leadership. Their grief is particularly sharper in their bafflement of not comprehending why the LTTE leaders did not follow the same prescription. They cannot believe that LTTE leaders, who wanted their offspring to prefer death to surrender, followed the opposite. Is it possible? Is it true? They ask, and these are issues that also call for closure. We must accept that these are difficult, grievous, painful issues that nevertheless need to be openly spoken about.

I carry very fresh memories of meeting with LTTE Leader Velupillai Pirabhaharan. We communicated for about three to four hours in Tamil. That was when the international community had great confidence in the Norwegians as interlocutors between the LTTE and the Government and capable of negotiating a lasting peace. The leaders in the South were constantly meeting with the LTTE. There were several MOUs between the LTTE and us. Every time they were breached Tamilchelvan conveyed messages from Prabhakaran by telephone. He would repeatedly reassure us that maters will be resolved. But those pledges were never honoured.

Just as the LTTE observance of pongu Thamizh gave strength to Tamil sentiments, it created a grave sense of fear and suspicion in the South. The impact of those fears was such that it brought about the down-fall of the government that entered in to the ceasefire agreement. Despite the understanding reached between the Muslim political leadership and the LTTE, the constant violations by the LTTE also forfeited the confidence of the Muslim people in the East who questioned their leaders. Revisiting these incidents, finger pointing and retrospective blame apportioning serves no purpose.

In this instance, I wish to quote a Sri Lanakan Tamil legal luminary who has withdrawn to a diasporic refuge, the former Attorney General of Sri Lanka, Shiva Pashupathi. It may sound controversial to some of you, nevertheless, I wish to bring it to your attention as they came from him. I quote “I think it is better to avoid using words such as ‘genocide’, ‘federal constitution’ and ‘amalgamation’. In the current situation, it will become very difficult to find a solution if we talk about genocide. We need to forget about the past because there is no point in talking about genocide, unfairness and discrimination and blaming the government. It would be very useful if we can think of how we can negotiate with the government and bring a solution for the betterment of the whole country. We do not know whether we will get the similar opportunity again or not and hence we should not miss this opportunity.” Finally, what he says makes sense. Yet, it will be very difficult to digest for people who suffered.

I am not suggesting that what Mr.Pashupathy says is the only way out. Yet, as it comes from such a distinguished person as a former Attorney General and in later years a legal consultant to the LTTE, his studied advice deserves our serious study. It is the duty of the Tamil national leaders to mull over the advice proffered by him.

At the same time, I would like to quote the learned Leader of opposition and Leader of TNA Annan Sampanthan when he responded to the President’s Independence Day address. I quote: “We would like to achieve just fair, practical, permanent and ever lasting solution. We should not disturb the current effort to achieve the political solution. Therefore, we all need to try our best to achieve the political solution not only for our own benefit but also for the benefit of the whole country. This is our duty. We should not walk away from it.” These were the sentiments expressed by the Leader of Opposition who is here on stage in our midst.

There were many references made about the triumvirate that often traveled to India and continued an engagement with India. It was made up with Annan Amirthalingam, Annan Siva and Annan Sampanthan. Their tireless toil on behalf of all minorities culminated with the 13th amendment. This should be improved on and fine-tuned to suit our collective aspirations. That is the opportunity that awaits our judicious exploit.

Meanwhile, the government we have helped to install in office and on which we continue to repose our faith confronts problems of immense proportions. Constitutional changes, intended to transform society, world over are usually made by governments in the first six months of receiving their mandate. We, on the other hand have passed nearly thrice that period. It is only natural that we face difficulties. We should expect to reach some compromises whilst not conceding our essential demands.

We have reached a pivotal point where we need to make “compromises without harming our interests.’ I am not making any definite pronouncements. However, there are many accommodations, give and takes that need to be agreed upon between Tamil-Muslim communities. Let us be patient now. We have already had lengthy discussions on what we can agree on.

Talking about them again and identifying commonalities can be done by comparing our notes. Politics is the art of the possible. It is not a science of norms.

So, at this point in time, we should strive to achieve what is possible. Let us remember Annan Shiva who dedicated his life for this task and pay homage to his memory by exploring possibilities. He epitomized a spirit of deep humanity. Within his giant-like frame, he held noble human emotions that drove his restless soul in the service and betterment of his community.

In this great man’s name, allow me to leave you with some thoughts on defining “Compromises avoiding harm”. In the Sonappu cemetry where he was laid to rest, I remember the text written on a banner. “Uththamanaar em thalaivat oorvalaththil uyirodu paadaiyile pohindraar; Setthavaraai naam ellaam veethiyile nitkindrom,”(The great soul walks away with life while we are left dead on the wayside”).

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Latest comments

  • 5
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    Mr Hakeem, HR Boss Bedouin Prince does not want to know how Mr Pirahaparan fed Potassium Cyanide to Kids. All Mr Bedouin Prince wants to investigate is why White Flag waving Pirahaparan ,and his Police Chief and the Intelligence Chief were gunned down in Nanthikadal?. And how the genocidal Srilanakan Army made at least 40,000 disappear in a couple of weeks in the middle of virgin Forests in Mullative. BTW what are those lengthy chats with Vellalas?. Is it about how best to divide the spoils?.Because there is no mention of anything about the great majority of the inhabitant population here..
  • 4
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    It’s all talk during the day, exactly the opposite action in the night. Those who sustain on communal politics should be the first to be hanged for the thousands of deaths caused for 30 years. Note this: “So, at this point in time, we should strive to achieve what is possible.” Implies, the rest later. Federalism today to separatism tomorrow.
  • 5
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    Mr Hakeem himself is clearly confused and does not seem to understand the problems, even after 66 years of history, that he and his party together with the other Tamil politicians are part of the past and current problems, aiding and abetting the subjugation of the Tamils, the land grab and structural genocide, jumping from bed to bed with the regimes in power for their own self- interest, and not for the people and community in our Homeland. If he can’t understand the problems of the past, and the existing current situation and the happenings, how can he foresee the problems coming in the future? Yes, we need new remedies to this continuing old problem, and the answer to this long drawn ethnic problem is at the end of the book. “ One Country two Nations”, a Sinhala Nation and a Tamil Nation, to live and let live, to live in peace with dignity, to protect our values, culture, heritage, religions, and to develop and prosper as two good neighbouring nations. A must WIN – Win situation. Our Tamil leaders – Hindus, Muslims, Buddhist and Christians need to be very clear and be honest, to defend and protect our roots and for our future generations, for we don’t want to see a future banner saying “ Our souls left our land and body, when we kissed our arse goodbye “. Wake Up and Call for It. Manicka Vasagar
  • 7
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    Please do not engage in communal politics. Please do not encourage Saudi funded rich Wahabi Salafists to isolate our fellow Muslims from other Muslims and other Lankans. This is a worrisome dangerous trend. I did not hear you condemn a single ISIS terrorist jihadi attack; did you see what happened in Bangladesh? So be a secular leader who just happens to be a product of a secular school in Colombo rather than a communal leader. Lankans gave the answer to BBC who could ont even get 30,000 votes for its banshees. SLMC won so much because it partnered with UNP. Also never play the opportunist card again to always be in power and always have cabinet posts. People lose faith in leaders who are so power hungry. They will do and say anything and accept bribes to remain in power.
  • 4
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    Sivasithamparam is a well known LTTE supporter. Even his dies as a LTTEer.
    • 3
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      Sivasithamparam’s young son died as LTTE cader.
  • 7
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    Did you suddenly wake up after Ramadhan? What have you accomplished for the people of Sri Lanka?
    • 3
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      Upul “What have you accomplished for the people of Sri Lanka?” Nothing, other than creating a “Kumari File” !
  • 0
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    [Edited out]
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    He was [Edited out]
  • 3
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    Muslims in Sri Lanka know very well that TNA is an indian tool and any political devolution further than 13 A would result in making whole of SL especially NE part of indian hegemony. They are wise enough to know the result of being an indian hegemony
  • 3
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    Will someone enlighten us as to the date and time this oration took place and whether the leader of TULF V Anandasangaree was there at all? Was this Sivasithamparam memorial function reported in newspapers? “Ladies and Gentlemen” Surely someone chaired the meeting. Who was it? Hakeem: “Annan Siva was one of those leaders who carried out the struggle of the Tamil nation adhering to the principle of nonviolence, practicing ahimsa and observing the highest moral standards” Why did ahimsa fail Rauff? Hakeem: “Our first problem is that we don’t know what our problem is.” The problem has lasted 67 years. Do not tell me that you do not know what it is. Hakeem again; “In order to find a solution we must first acknowledge that the problem exists.” Every Lankan knows that the problem exists – exception is Mahinda Rajapaksa who surmised”There are no minority Lankans”. Hakeem yet again: “Then we must finally commit ourselves to solving the problem” Lankan politicians are committed to keeping this alive for ever. Hakeem: “With the war behind us, and the immediate post-war triumphalist regime and its practices of impunity,…..” You were part of that regime Rauff. The lecture is greasy – neither here nor there. Hakeem avoided concrete suggestions. The Teflon approach worked in the past, presently and in future too.
  • 6
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    The Hon’ble Mr. Minister has made an excellent presentation -conveyed profound and lofty ideals! Congratulations. -Tell me Mr.Minister, what motivated you & your team to join the Rajapakse gang and demonstrate in Geneva denouncing and decrying war crimes probe? -Was it out of respect for Siva Annan, Amir Annan and Sampanthan Annan? – What motivated your support and vote for the 18th Amendment? – How come you stayed with mother Mahinda and nourished yourself, breastfed by him sucking up until he was left dry -then crossed over to Maithri,as Minister? – Did you not claim in Chennai (Madras) soon after the war that Muslims-and not Tamils- had since become 2nd largest ethnic community in Sri Lanka? – How come you folks have mastered the art of Hunting with the Hounds and running with the Hare?. LET THE SOULS OF ALL YOUR immortalized ANNANS REST IN PEACE – NOT, in PIECES
  • 2
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    Rauff Hakeem You are a shame on the Muslim Community. Just STFU. Do not dump your garbage in the public space.

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