GTF asks Tamils to back TNA
By Mirudhula Thambiah
Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Director Suren Surendiran said his organization urges the Tamil people in Sri Lanka to support the TNA in the upcoming parliamentary elections by casting their votes in toto, also by and large all Sri Lankans to reject chauvinistic forces in the country.
Following are excerpts:
Q: The Sri Lankan Diaspora organizations including the GTF and the BTF are propagated among the Sri Lankan Sinhalese in the South as separatists’ forces attempting to divide the country. Also your organization is propagated as agents of imperialist and hegemonic forces against the Sri Lankan Government. What is your position on this propaganda?
A: The GTF from its inception has always called for a negotiated political settlement for the Tamil national question. GTF does not prescribe or propagate a particular solution, but proactively encourages for a negotiated settlement.
Scare mongers who themselves are agents of hegemonic forces who propagate such false sentiments. People of Sri Lanka from all ethnicities are far more sophisticated to fall for such absurd scare mongering. They collectively have demonstrated at the recent presidential election very clearly that they absolutely reject any such attempts by forces that encourage hate and hostility between communities.
Q: The GTF is only confined to Sri Lankan Tamils or Tamils globally?
A: Tamil Diaspora from Sri Lankan origin, who are also referred to as Eelam Tamils is over a million living in various parts of the world including India, largely due to external displacement. Just over 10 per cent of us are vociferous in publicly articulating political aspirations. A less vociferous 90 per cent of us of whom I will refer to as the ‘silent majority’! Although less vociferous, they are yet concerned and caring for their brethren in the island. In my humble opinion, GTF’s strategy and its approach are supported by a large section of the ‘silent majority’.
Q: It is said that your organization was providing arms and financial support to the LTTE, which is defined as a terrorist organization by the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the world community. How do you justify?
A: This is factually incorrect, therefore there is nothing to justify. The GTF was only formed at the end of the armed conflict in May 2009. GTF was formally inaugurated at the British Parliament in February 2010. GTF is absolutely committed to a non-violent agenda.
Q: There is an allegation that the GTF represents the elite of the Tamil Diaspora, which compromises with the Sri Lankan Government and functions in the interest of imperialist forces such as the USA, Europe and India. How do you justify?
A: The GTF works on a four pillar strategy inter alia,
1. Agreeing between Tamil representatives based in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora a Common Framework Agreement (CFA).
2. Engaging the civil society, political and non-political representatives of the South without discriminating on language, religion, social status or party affiliation to communicate and engage to explain our grievances and understand from them their own grievances and why resolving the political issues including the Tamil National Question is seen or felt as a threat to them. Explain the possible mutual benefits that will be gained by all communities as peace dividends if a durable political solution could be negotiated to the Tamil national question.
These types of cross community engagements at different levels of society can also be a way to bridge the trust deficiency that exists between communities that has been promoted over the past nine years’ reign of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
3. Actively lobby and create awareness within the international community, international institutions and governments regarding the injustices and alleged breaches of international laws, including international human rights and humanitarian laws that amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Lobby for international independent investigation of both sides to establish the truth and obtain justice to enable the people who lost their loved ones to be able to move on, which may allow sustainable reconciliation between communities in the future.
4. To work to resolve the socio economic needs of the people in the war affected areas with international help.
We intend to do all of the above with the help of the people in Sri Lanka, in the diaspora and the international community including India.
I cannot see anything elitist about these pillars of activities or how they could or should be described as serving imperialists’ interests. These are very clear and transparent steps to building peace and successful nations.
Q: Is there a change in your role in the ethnic issue of the Tamils of Sri Lanka with the Sri Lankan Government after 8 January? If so, what are the changes? Is it a positive or negative change?
A: The GTF congratulates the leadership shown by all Sri Lankan political parties and their parliamentarians, and in particular the leadership shown by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for successfully adopting the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Passing of the 19th Amendment along with other steps taken to democratize the State and its institutions have significantly altered the unfortunate political culture and practices adopted in Sri Lanka in the recent past. These newly adopted progressive changes annul the trend set by the previous regime, and effectively place the country back in the right course to work towards more meaningful and democratic constitutional changes in the future.
We also recognize the positive steps the government has taken to address certain immediate concerns of the Tamil people. These include removing of military Governors and appointing civilians as Governors for the Northern and Eastern Provinces, transferring of small sections of land back to the rightful owners, releasing of a few Tamil political detainees and the review of the proscription of Tamil Diaspora individuals and entities. Though limited in scope, they are still significant.
However, large swathes of private land are still illegally occupied by the military, a disproportionate number of military personnel still remain in the North and East, intimidation and arbitrary arrests still continue, military remains engaged in day-to-day life of Tamils in North and East, sexual violence continues against the tens of thousands of war widows and others, Tamil men and women still live in fear even more so in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, several hundreds of political prisoners still remain in custody without being charged, the Prevention of Terrorism Act has still not been repealed. Above all, the Tamil national question remains unresolved.
Amidst the positive attitude of the present government, GTF, for its part, is fully committed to playing a constructive role in making all these reality, especially finding a political solution.
Q: It is said that Tamils of Sri Lanka now feel that the Tamil Diaspora community including your organization has betrayed and taken sides of the imperialist forces and the present Sri Lankan Government by giving up the demand for the right to self-determination of Tamils. How do you justify?
A: The right to self-determination is a fundamental right of every human, be it Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim, Malay, Burgher or Chinese.
When GTF has such a clear position, I do not believe anyone can or will accuse us of any betrayal. Negotiations haven’t even started as yet. How could anyone conclude or accuse of anyone taking any sides.
Q: Do you agree that the diaspora community can only be a pressure group but not a deciding group in winning over the demands of Tamil people?
A: The political destiny of people of Sri Lanka, including Tamil people, must be decided by the people who live in that island. The diaspora has a lot more to offer than just being a pressure group. Tamil Diaspora has many thousands of people who have specialist skills in various rewarding professions. A great proportion of them are willing to help build our nation. The collective wealth of the diaspora is probably worth a good portion of the entire earning population that lives in Sri Lanka.
May I also humbly refer you to GTF’s four pillar strategy and particularly the last pillar, as mentioned above.
Q:The current Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera who was once against the diaspora is trying to earn the solidarity of the diaspora community by organizing a special event. Do you feel the change in him will bring in positive result to the Tamil cause?
A: The Tamil cause will never be dependent on any single person or an event.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs has very clearly articulated in Parliament and in several of his speeches delivered locally and internationally the shift in foreign policy from that of the previous regime.
One of the major shifts is the proactive engagement with various countries, big and small, developed and developing, East and West and above all the active engagement with international institutions such as the UN. Rajapaksa regime by and large had a policy of disengagement and denial.
The minister by his presence at a recent meeting between the TNA and the GTF in London has also demonstrated his willingness to engage with the diaspora.
These could all bear positive fruits if they translate into resolving grievances of the people in Sri Lanka, particularly the grievances of the Tamil and war affected people of North and East.
Q: Are you currently in a position to pressurize or influence the TNA, the so-called main force of the Tamils of the North and East?
A: The TNA has won an overwhelming majority votes in successive elections in the North and East. Therefore, I think it is naïve and ludicrous to refer to the TNA as the ‘so-called main force.’ TNA is the main force!
GTF works and aligns itself with the TNA as the elected representatives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. In doing so, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the TNA. When you work as a team, we share ideas and thoughts. We debate issues, agree and disagree as any vibrant democratic minded group of people of any community will.
Q: Currently the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lifted the ban on diaspora organizations by permitting them to visit Sri Lanka. It is said that the Sri Lankan Government has offered concessions through this to relax your muscles in the demand for the ethnic issue. What have you got to say?
A: Except for the LTTE, I do not believe there are any other organizations that are banned in Sri Lanka. GTF and a few others were ‘listed’ under Gazette regulations 1758/19 dated 15 May 2012 and 1760 of 31 May 2012, by the previous government of Mahinda Rajapaksa to give effect to the UN Resolutions 1373 and 1267. I do not believe as suggested in the question that any of the ‘listed’ organizations including the GTF have been ‘de-listed’ by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as yet.
Q: Is TNA your local branch or are you its international branch?
A: GTF works and aligns itself with the TNA as the elected representatives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. In doing so, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the TNA. When you work as a team, we share ideas and thoughts. We debate issues, agree and disagree as any vibrant democratic minded group of people of any community will.
GTF from its inception has always called for a negotiated political settlement for the Tamil National Question. GTF does not prescribe or propagate a particular solution but proactively encourage for a negotiated settlement.
TNA is an affiliation of several registered political parties in Sri Lanka. TNA has stood for various elections in the North and East under several manifesto commitments and overwhelmingly won those elections without any exceptions.
Q: It is said that you have changed or eased your stand in the international inquiry on war crimes against the Sri Lankan Government. How do you justify?
A: What evidence do you have to prove that GTF has changed or eased its stance on the accountability issue.
GTF has called for an independent international investigation against both parties to the armed conflict to establish the truth and serve justice to our people.
GTF sees, addressing accountability in a credible way that satisfies the victims as fundamental to building sustainable and durable reconciliation between communities.
: Now that the Sri Lankan Government has declared general elections, what would be your position as the Diaspora of Sri Lankan Tamils?
A: GTF was the only Tamil Diaspora organization that urged Tamil people in Sri Lanka to vote for change at the 8 January presidential election.
We are urging our brethren to come out and vote in historic numbers in support of the TNA at the forthcoming general elections.
Q: It is said that the TNA parliamentarians have obtained money in the name of development in the North and East from the government or UNP secretly and unofficially. There are allegations that the above move is dishonest in the history of the struggle of the Tamils. How do you view this?
A: I’m sure due process of governance within the concerned political parties and the law of the land will take its course to investigate any such baseless allegations.