By Rev. S.J. Emmanuel –
Historic contribution of The Tamils for the democratic transition
The last regime not only did the Mullivaikal massacre and went further to eradicate the roots of Tamil existence but also changed the governance of the country by constitutional changes and plundering of the state.
A wise coalition of leadership in the south brought out a common-candidate and the regime change was democratically effected with the contribution of all – Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims.
Tamils, encouraged by the courageous call of their leaders to participate in the elections and effect a democratic transition, did not only make a historic contribution in saving the country from a fast deteriorating regime that was arrogantly dictatorial and corrupt to the core.
This change also paved the way in creating democratic space in which accountability for war crimes and political aspirations of the Tamils can be articulated but not realised within Sri Lanka without much military aggression or suppression.
If, Tamils had listened to the calls for boycott, the country would have plunged into further chaos.
Without any promises made to them, the Tamils risked their future on the goodwill and the sincerity of the coalition government. The decisive call by Tamil leaders has demonstrated to the people and leaders in Southern Sri Lanka that permanent peace based on the principles of truth, justice, accountability and equality is within reach if we collectively take courageous and bold steps to achieve it.
But what is happening now?
It is true that the coalition government is entrusted with a heavy responsibility, not only to rectify fundamental errors in good governance, rule of law and corruption that will benefit the whole country, but also initiate bold measures to rectify fundamental issues of the state which have caused a prolonged conflict and a brutal war that left whole Tamil population as victims of successive governments crying for truth and justice.
Coalition government reaping some benefits of the change, but the Tamils fast losing patience
With the coalition government doing their best to effect the promised changes within the 100 days, challenges are emerging both in the South as well as in the North.
While the regime is busy addressing itself to resetting international relations with the major powers, reducing /blocking UNHRC-accusation against the country and removing corruption, the fear of Rajapaksas coming back and the mode of participation of the UNP and the SLFP in the new parliamentary elections are hotly discussed.
The coalition government has done well in making the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) function under a civil governor, in giving some lands back to the people, in the way this year’s Independence Day was observed, in the President’s recent visit to the North and East.
However the Tamils, of whom not a word was spoken before the elections about their grievances for fear of losing Sinhala votes, but who acted decisively in bringing a regime change, appear to be overlooked with regard to their more serious grievances even today.
It is not the words but actions are what needed within the first hundred days of coalition government to demonstrate to the Tamils, justice will be served and they will, sooner than later, have equality and equal stake in the country that belongs to all – Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and all religious minorities.
The Tamil population of victims crying for truth and justice as well as their leaders, who asked them to vote for the regime change, are increasingly impatient and new challenges to people and leadership are fast emerging.
It is an urgent need that the coalition government under President Sirisena, besides addressing problems related to return of lands and resettlement, address itself to the release of uncharged prisoners and initiate moves to search for the missing. Although the question of a political settlement with the Tamils, need more time and effort, some basic principles of a settlement must be spoken out in all seriousness.
My appeal to the South
As a Tamil catholic priest who had besides living and working among the Sinhalese, had also accompanied the Tamil struggle for many decades, I too exhorted the Tamils to participate in the regime change. Hence I wish to place before my Sinhala brothers and sisters the following points:-
This regime change brought out by the progressive forces in the south is a unique and golden opportunity to look in all sincerity to the question as to what went wrong in our post-independent history. The system of government that we inherited and the changes that we made with all enthusiasm then did not make this island a paradise at all. The fact of a multi-ethnic multi religious population was disregarded and an exclusive majoritarian Sinhala Buddhist state was formed as eloquently shown in the national flag. We have inherited a system of government which was successively led by leaders from D. S. Senanayake to Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, we have lived through decades of conflict and war mainly due to systemic errors that overlooked or discriminated the minorities. What happened during the last regime is only a last phase of what Tamils recently accused as a genocide of the state. It is not accusing the government and the leaders who operated the system but the system itself. Instead of blaming persons who took leadership of the state-apparatus, we have to re-examine our foundations and state-apparatus to effect fundamental changes with respect to nation building for a peaceful co-existence of all people.
The present leadership has spoken of “a new culture of politics” and I appreciate the views of some leaders among the Sinhalese prepared to look at the deeper causes of conflict and war. All of us know the limitations of the international bodies starting from the UN and the super powers. Since our goal as citizens of Sri Lanka is to reach peace and reconciliation based on truth and justice, we have to dare to examine the foundations of our state that is almost accused as a failed-state.
My appeal to the Tamils
As one of you I have participated in the struggle with all my convictions on the ultimate triumph of truth and justice. As stated publicly our struggle for truth and justice has a noble/sacred cause, namely freedom, dignity and equality of a people and their basic human rights as a Tamil nation with their traditional homeland. We have gone through a non-violent phase and then a violent phase and now a non-violent internationalised phase. I have been part of all three phases. I will exhort my people who have courageously brought out a regime change, to continue have confidence on their own leaders, preserve their unity of vision and team spirit in reacting to changes beyond our control at the international levels.
Let us not forget that even the most supreme powers of the UN admitted failure in preventing the Mullivaikal massacre. The present effort of the UNHRC is conditioned by the triangular relation between the UNHRC, the Sri Lankan State, a member of the UN and the super powers. We, the victimised Tamils are the objects of their limited and conditioned concern.
The blame for the present situation of the country or of the Tamils cannot be placed only on the Sinhalese people and their leaders alone. As I explained above, we have inherited a system of government initiated by leaders from all communities. Unfortunately it has brought us all to this plight. The present regime change is a unique chance to examine our foundations and do all that is possible for a better future.
Hence, we who are either victims on the ground or diaspora-stake holders, are called to make careful and responsible moves, not upsetting the international concern for our cause, not giving the new regime to effect some fundamental changes to our governance, and not weakening the unity of our current Tamil leadership when prudence and wise collaboration are the needs of this hour.