COLOMBO: The Chief Minister of the Tamil-majority Northern Province of Sri Lanka, C.V.Wigneswaran, has said that accountability for the war crimes allegedly committed in the last phase of Eelam War IV must be established before the Sri Lankan government formulates a new constitution to address the basic political question.
Addressing the Tamil Peoples’ Council in his capacity as its co-chairman in Jaffna on Sunday, Wigneswaran said that the constitution planned by the government will not be drafted to the Tamils’ satisfaction unless accountability issues were satisfactorily addressed prior to that.
He told the council that he had heard from someone involved in the constitution making exercise that the government is planning to brush accountability under the carpet by showing the international community before the September session of the UN Human Rights Council, that it is seriously working on a new constitution to address the political grievances of the Tamils. The plan is to get the new constitution passed by the March session of the UNHRC. By doing so, the government hopes that it can divert attention from the accountability issue and urge the Tamils to look to the future rather than look back at the past.
Wigneswaran said that it is essential for any Sinhalese-dominated government in Sri Lanka not to be seen letting down the predominantly Sinhalese armed forces. Therefore, every effort will be made to dodge the issue of accountability or water down the accountability process.
Government has already said it will not allow foreign judges. But the Tamil people cannot rely on the impartiality of Sri Lankan judges when the accused are military personnel as exemplified by the recent acquittal of six army officers in a case relating to the slaughter of 24 Tamils in Kumarapuram in Trincomalee district in 1996, Wigneswaran said. The Tamils must insist on having foreign judges in the proposed Judicial Mechanism, he emphasized.
On the importance of accountability for the Tamils ,Wigneswaran said that fixing responsibility for the conduct of the armed forces during the war is a duty owed to the young militants whose sacrifices had brought the Tamils’ issue to the attention of the world.
As regards the new constitution ,Wigneswaran said that the Tamils must insist on the adoption of a federal structure with the unification of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to form a single Tamil-speaking province. The Chief Minister said that even if the term federal is not used, there could be an arrangement to give “self rule” as adopted in Spain after the ouster of dictator Franco.
Justifying the call for the merger of the North and East, Wigneswaran said it is necessary to keep the culture and integrity of the Tamil speaking people against encroachments by the majority Sinhalese. Within the united North and East, the Tamil-speaking Muslims could have separate autonomous unit, he added.
Wigneswaran called for vigilance against attempts by the Sri Lankan government to divide the Tamil-speaking people and by-pass the NPC in taking decisions relating to matters pertaining to the Northern Province. When experts recommended that the Northern Economic Zone be located at Omanthai and the NPC agreed, a certain Central Minister insisted it should be in Thandikulam. This finally led to the setting up of an Economic Zone in two places.
When the NPC objected to the project to build 65,000 prefabricated houses for war displaced saying that they are uninhabitable, the Sri Lankan government said that the houses would be given to the displaced Sinhalese and Muslims, thus dividing the displaced. The government also formed a separate committee to resettle displaced Muslims and Sinhalese.
Now an attempt is being made to identify ancient “Sinhalese” villages in the North on the basis of evidence of Buddhist practices, with the aim of settling Sinhalese in these villages. Wigneswaran pointed out that the so-called Sinhalese villages were actually Tamil Buddhist villages because the Tamils were Buddhists in ancient times.