Reverend Father S. J. Emmanuel who heads the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), one of many groups recently proscribed by the Government, says the GTF is absolutely committed to a non-violent agenda and seeks lasting peace in Sri Lanka, based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.
Here are excerpts of an interview given to the Colombo Gazette:
Q. As Sri Lanka commemorates five years since the end of the war, as a key member of the Tamil Diaspora what would you say are the feelings of the Tamils overseas five years on?
Combination of feelings of deep sorrow for the loss of life, immense sadness that justice hasn’t been served, five years since the massacre of innocent life breaching international laws, hopelessness that the situation on the ground for Tamils, Tamil speaking Muslims and Christians are deteriorating faster, disbelief in the Sri Lankan justice system, helplessness for the vulnerable, particularly the tens of thousands of war widows who are being abused, disappointment that the southern civil society is still by and large quiet on the injustices of the past and present, however the Tamil Diaspora is determined to achieve justice, unwavering in fighting inequality, united that we will stand together with the brethren back home, conciliatory with the likeminded of all communities in resisting all injustices and finally resilient that we will not give up until durable peace is achieved by negotiating for a political solution.
Q. The Government is today talking of reconciliation and equal rights for Tamils. Where has the Government gone wrong in its attempt to facilitate real reconciliation in Sri Lanka?
Unfortunately the wrongs will be a longer list than any rights to facilitate real reconciliation. To list a few of the long list of wrongs:
- Not acknowledging that there were breaches of international laws and agree to an international independent investigation to serve justice to the families and friends who have lost tens of thousands of their loved ones.
- Not willing to unconditionally negotiate for a political solution that will address genuine grievances of the Tamil people.
- Militarising the Tamil dominated north and east and administering it for all intense and purposes through an occupying military force.
- Rapidly and systematically colonising the Tamil areas with Sinhala people with intent to alter the demography of those areas.
- Formalising government sponsored ‘land grab’ in Tamil areas of the north and east.
- Building Buddhist temples with public finances (government sponsored) in areas not natural habitat of the Buddhists.
- Disregarding, destroying and disrespecting cultural and religious beliefs of minorities and their worship places.
- Making arbitrary amendments to the constitution that weakens the democratic fabric of good governance of any country.
- Banning of organisations and proscribing individuals to suppress freedom of speech and dissent without providing evidence of any sorts that will stand in a court of law.
- Government sponsored violent suppression of freedom of speech and independent journalism.
Q. Some are of the view the actions of Tamils Diaspora groups like the Global Tamil Forum are a barrier to Sri Lanka enjoying real peace and reconciliation. How do you see this?
More than how I see it, why not kindly ask the readers to decide? We, as an organisation have gone on the record on several occasions stating publicly since inception, post end of the civil war that “GTF is absolutely committed to a non-violent agenda and it seeks a lasting peace in Sri Lanka, based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.” – Does this policy statement make the GTF a barrier to Sri Lanka enjoying real peace and reconciliation?
Q. The recent listing of several Diaspora groups by the Sri Lankan Government has further strained relations between the Government and the Diaspora. Has the GTF been able to convince countries like the UK that the allegations raised by the Government against the GTF in particular have no basis?
GTF didn’t have to convince any country or even the people of Sri Lanka as the government hasn’t placed any single credible evidence that will stand in a court of law. Hence, not a single country has formally accepted the proscription law. To the contrary many governments including the UK, Canada, the US and many other European and African countries have publicly stated and by action proven that they do not accept these arbitrary banning orders.
Q. Five years after the war what role can the GTF play to help Tamils heal the wounds of the war and bridge the gap, if any, between Tamils and the Sinhalese?
Government actions and the lack of actions of the southern civil society and collective political opposition are widening the gap between the communities. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and most of his coalition partners systematically create these wedges between communities to ensure that they as a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist group remain in power.
Global Tamil Forum has as part of its strategy, engage and work with civil society groups, across the country without being biased on the basis of political, religious, social standing or language to explain and understand each other’s grievances and feeling of mistrusts to create a conducive environment that will enable alternative governance structures to be negotiated to achieve durable peace in the island, where communities and nations could live side by side as friendly neighbours.
Q. Where do you see Sri Lanka heading by May 2015?
Unfortunately all of the indications are that Sri Lanka will consist of a far more polarised society with no mutual respect or tolerance for different communities, cultures or religious believes, where law and order will be of near non-existence, freedom of speech, dissent and independent journalism suppressed to an extent where Sri Lanka will be sliding towards being classified as a lawless and failed State with an international inquiry that would possibly have found several of the senior government and military personnel guilty of breaching international humanitarian and human rights laws and committing of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the end of the civil war that ended in May 2009.
Q. Pope Francis has announced a possible visit to Sri Lanka next year. As a Christian priest do you think the visit by the Pope can help address the issue of religious minorities being threatened?
Indeed His Holiness’s visit must help expose and comprehensively address the grave dangers faced by religious minorities in the island of Sri Lanka, where government sponsored vigilantly groups which unfortunately include men in robe, have taken the law in their own hands to threaten and in some instances damage and destroy places of worship of faiths, other than of Buddhists’ .
As a man of God who has served my people of all religions and communities up and down the country throughout my adult life, who has been a teacher to some or most of the current senior Catholic Clergy in Sri Lanka, I can only pray and hope that His Holiness’s visit will help to bridge the differences between faiths.
May I also share that my thoughts and prayers are with all the friends and families from both communities, who lost their loved ones, during the civil war.
Report by Easwaran Rutnam