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Mar-04-2013 11:11printcomments

Tamil Rights Still Not Addressed

“The government is the accused party, so the argument is a non-starter” - Tamil National People’s Front Lawyer Gajan Ponnambalam

Suresh Premachandran , Mano Ganeshan and Gajan Ponnambalam
Suresh Premachandran , Mano Ganeshan and Gajan Ponnambalam

(COLOMBO TamilNet) - Opposition member politicians claim that Tamil rights have not been addressed in the aftermath of the war. With reports of strong objections emerging from the ongoing UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva, where Special Human Rights Envoy, Mahinda Samarasinghe, spoke of a campaign of disinformation and even accused UN High Commissioner, Navanethem ‘Navi’ Pillay, of being biased – but this came amidst reports that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) would be travelling to Geneva to campaign against Sri Lanka.

TNA MP, Suresh Premachandran, however, wished to clarify these reports. “We are not campaigning against Sri Lanka. We are campaigning against war crimes – against missing people… the wrongs against Tamil people,” Premachandran said, adding, just as the President used to campaign for human rights, so the TNA too would be doing the same thing. There was no pro-LTTE group, which had invited the TNA, as earlier news reports had suggested. “The TNA has its own agenda,” Premachandran said, and confirmed that the group would be meeting with representatives of the UNHRC to discuss the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Campaign Against War Crimes

He also said he felt the government had ‘not at all’ safeguarded their rights. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report had called for missing people to be recovered, but an army-appointed tribunal had said there were no missing people, Premachandran pointed out.

Meanwhile, lawyer and President of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Gajan Ponnambalam, said the party totally rejected the LLRC report, as it was effectively a government-appointed commission, appointed primarily with the objective of ‘whitewashing.’ As the LLRC had been appointed by the government, it was not a credible starting point, in fact it was being set up to be criticized, Ponnambalam said.

The last UNHRC resolution had called for an implementation of the LLRC, but the LLRC fell short in terms of allowing for mechanisms of accountability, Ponnambalam said.

“The government is the accused party, so the argument is a non-starter,” Ponnambalam said. Proper accountability mechanisms must be set up, he added.

“All the Tamil political parties say that there is a systematic campaign against democracy and the Tamil people, being carried out. The Sinhalisation of some areas is well underway, and there has been military infiltration into every aspect of civilian life,” Ponnambalam said, adding, “In such an environment, it would be difficult to ascertain the ground realities and carry out an impartial investigation. Therefore, an interim administration, monitored by the UN and other parties, should be allowed to step in until the situation was resolved.”

Sovereignty Vs Human Rights

When asked if this would not harm the country’s sovereignty, the TNA MP said sovereignty and human rights were two different sides, and when the State defaulted in terms of human rights, its right to sovereignty was overridden.

Even two months ago, over 50 Tamils had been picked up for no particular reason, he added. Some of them had been formerly in the LTTE, but had not been rehabilitated as they had been living as civilians for over 25 years – yet, they had suddenly been picked up for rehabilitation, Ponnambalam said, adding “Normal life is at the whims and fancies of the military.”

Ponnambalam also condemned the recent arrest of Jaffna University students on Remembrance Day last year.

“If there is any place which pushes the limit on what is politically correct… it is the university. If the university can be treated this way, can you imagine the oppression of the civilian people?”

Democratic People’s Front (DPF) Leader, Mano Ganeshan, said his party felt the TNA’s stance was acceptable. Earlier, the TNA had refrained from going to Geneva to give the government an opportunity to address the many issues faced at the end of the war.

For instance, a Satyagraha held in Thelipillai, Vadamarachchi had been disrupted when three personnel had been seen threatening to arrest the protesters. These people could only be army personnel as it was a High Security Zone, he said. The Satyagraha had been held against the seizure of fertile land by the army to set up a High Security Zone. As such, it was clear there were still many issues faced, Ganeshan said.

The politicians also weighed in on the recent photographs circulated showing former LTTE Leader, Prabhakaran’s son, Balachandran, eating a snack before he was killed. Ponnambalam said that an international inquiry should be held into the events depicted in the photographs.

Balachandran’s death was not an isolated incident either, with several other LTTE operatives believed to be killed. Ganeshan said the government has always strenuously denied previous complaints. “They will say it is doctored… a cut and paste photo. But I don’t think so,” Ganeshan said.

Premachandran said that the pictures had clearly been taken continuously and probably even from the same camera. He added that Sri Lanka was a signatory to the Geneva Convention, which spoke of the need to keep prisoners alive and preserve their dignity.

Oppression Continues

While the military presence is not immediately felt on the roads in the North, military camps remain open in the outskirts of town. In April last year, residents of Jaffna said they felt oppressed by the presence of these camps. In Mannar, civilians even claimed that the government was trying to rewrite history, claiming that former British Governor, Frederick North’s, residence was actually the site of the ancient Aliranee Palace. Many are resigned to their new lives and even the army presence, but it was clear that some still felt anger and fear.

In that sense, reconciliation has not yet been achieved. Yet, the government has always hit out at threats to the country’s sovereignty, and has already shown that they mean to continue to do so. In that sense, the TNA delegation may do more harm than good. Premachandran told The Sunday Leader that the delegation would be leaving on Thursday and would stay until their voices were heard. So who will get the last word? That will only be seen when the votes are cast.

Representatives of the Ministry of External Affairs were not available for comment.



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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.