Leader of the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian Dharmalingam Siddharthan is of the view that while an international investigation was what the Tamils wanted, their demands have been downplayed by suggestions of a domestic investigation.However in an interview with The Sunday LeaderSiddharthan said that although he does not have complete faith in a local mechanism, he has faith in the current regime and hopes that with international observers justice will be done.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
by Camelia Nathaniel
A: In the past too there was a commission to investigate the missing persons and all that but the point is that nothing worked properly. Nothing has produced concrete results. Even though the LLRC report was there it was not implemented. We have seen a lot of commissions reporting on several matters but with no results, and this is the reason why we the Tamils specially don’t want to trust an internal investigation be it a commission or any other department that is set up. It is our view that no internal investigation will serve the Tamil’s demands.
Q: As you pointed out there was a commission set up by the previous regime as well. Are you saying that there is no difference in that commission and the current mechanism?
A: Well I cannot say that there is no difference at all. Earlier the commission was what the president had appointed on his own accord. However this one has a certain amount of international commitment as well. But still the mechanism is going to be totally internal and therefore it will be difficult to guarantee the safety of the witnesses. Moreover this internal investigations lack the confidence of the people. For that reason I doubt that the Tamils will be able to trust an internal investigation.
Q: Will this effort tally with what the UN Human Rights Council expects, since they expect a report by next September according to the resolution?
A: Talking about the time frame, if there is a genuine effort it can be done. You cannot have very long time frames and work on this sort of matters. If this process is given a very long time frame, what usually happens is that it will fade away. If it is spread over two to three years, by the end of it everyone would have forgotten about it. Therefore it is good that there is a specific time frame and 18 months is reasonably adequate to conduct these investigations. I personally feel that if the time frame is shorter it would be better as we already know the subject that we have to deal with. However since we have been given this time frame its fine with us, but the issue here is that the Tamil people may not trust this local mechanism as it has never worked before.
Q. How do you think the government should balance between accountability and reconciliation?
A: Well that is a very good question, as accountability and reconciliation will not go hand in hand. Certainly when the accountability issue is raised, it will stir up emotions within the Sinhala community and even the Tamil community. Even the report has spoken about war crimes of both sides. So then it will create a lot of sentiments.
However at the same time we cannot forget what happened and the truth must come out. There is no question of taking revenge on anyone. Revenge will only hamper the whole reconciliation process. If we do things with the intention of taking revenge on anyone, then the whole mechanism will not work. But having said that the wrong doers must be punished and only then will we be able to stop the same thing from happening again. This is a very complicated issue which is very emotional and must be handled very carefully, but internally it’s very difficult.
Q: The new government waged a huge campaign against crime and corruption, but so far there is no tangible outcome. What is your party’s take on this?
A: First and foremost if the country is to progress then this corruption must be done away with. But we have seen that whenever a new government comes into power they always talk of the corruptions of the previous government. However nothing is done and after some time the same thing continues with the new governing party as well. Hopefully though, this time let’s hope things are different. There should be a sincere effort to correct the wrongs of the past and make the country free of corruption.
Q. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has emphasised the fact that the process of truth seeking should be short, and they will have day to day sittings and only one appeal against orders. The Supreme Court will decide whether foreign defence counsel would be allowed. Are you convinced that this will be a fair process?
A: The time should be managed very carefully as the people will not come out with the truth at once, it will take time. Hence I accept what the prime minister says there is 18 months and we hope that the investigation can be completed by then. Also there is much to be done like making the judiciary independent. When the judiciary is independent then any investigation can work.
When the judiciary is not independent and there is political interference nothing can work properly and credibly.
Q: Not all parties within the TNA are happy with the UNHRC for agreeing to a domestic mechanism. Do you agree with the decision to settle for a domestic inquiry?
A: We were demanding for an international investigation and we feel that this is kind of downplaying our demands. However we are still demanding for an international inquiry.
Q: Some Sinhalese parties say that it is not only the Tamils who have been affected and this whole process cannot and should not be just about the Tamils only. Do you feel that the Tamils are being unfair?
A: The truth is that the whole thing started because of the actions of the government of Sri Lanka. It’s not just one government but successive ones. However we do accept that these actions affected the Sinhala and Muslim communities alike. Whatever the inquiry be it international or domestic, this has to be fair by all communities and all communities should learn from the past mistakes.
However, the serious crimes that have been committed should be dealt with and those responsible should be punished. But the whole process should be with the intention of addressing the root cause of this conflict and make sure what ever happened in the past should never be allowed to happen again.
Q. The draft resolution calls on the GOSL to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Constitution. How would you interpret it?
A: Regarding the 13th amendment I feel that it has been watered down very badly. Even the powers given are not enough for the provincial councils to function very effectively. This is our stand even today. But even with these limited powers we were not able to function because of the financial restraints and plus the governors role in this whole process. With regard to the other provincial councils they are under the ruling party itself. So they have no problem with the central government as such. Moreover they never demanded for separate devolutionary powers for themselves, because they were happy with the central government. For us though it’s a problem as we wanted more devolutionary powers to look after our own affairs in our part of the country and this is hampered severely by the actions of the central government. They have taken away a lot of powers from the council.
The central government is trying to control the council through the governor. So even the land powers and the police powers are very important and without these I don’t think that the Northern provincial council can function effectively.
Q: The Prime Minister also hinted that the Right to Information (RTI) Bill and the Audit Bill would be presented to Parliament shortly after Cabinet approval as part of building democratic institutions to strengthen democracy.What is your stance on the RTI bill?
A: I certainly feel that the right of information is every citizen’s right. The people need to know what is happening. We welcome this wholeheartedly. However when it is presented in parliament only we can really know what the contents are.