A longstanding advocate of Tamil rights who has sought to mainstream human rights issues at international fora, The spokesman of the Global Tamil Forum, Suren Surenthiran believes that the OHCHR- proposed hybrid court would be the correct mechanism to take the process of investigating rights abuses in the island.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer, he called upon all Sri Lankans to support the process to ensure a peaceful Sri Lanka for all people.
Q: The Global Tamil Forum has welcomed the OHCHR report that indicated war crimes committed by both sides to the conflict in Sri Lanka. However, the report has ruled out genocide, a key concern of the Tamil Diaspora. Does GTF accept this position?
A: If I remember correctly, the High Commissioner at the United Nations Human Rights Council said, there’s insufficient evidence so far from what’s been submitted and he left it open for possibility of proof in the future. It leaves room to offer more information and to gather new evidence to support any such allegations.
Q: GTF has also accepted the OHCHR- proposed hybrid court to investigate rights abuses which falls short of an international inquiry, which is what GTF has been agitating for? Is there a specific reason for that?
A: There is an element of confusion here.
The international inquiry that the GTF and others called for was conducted by the OHCHR and their report was tabled during the current (30th) session of the UNHRC in Geneva, a few days ago. The hybrid mechanism that GTF supports is the judicial process that will progress the recommendations that were made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in this report that was produced after an international investigation.
Hybrid in this context means a joint local and international combined mechanism.
Q: Irrespective of what is recommended by the OHCHR, the government is sticking to a domestic mechanism, to be worked out in the next three months and to be operational zed thereafter. If the government’s position receives substantial backing of the UNHRC Member States in the coming days, how would GTF match its demand for a probe of an international nature?
A: The second draft resolution that has been tabled at the UNHRC on September 24 has been co-sponsored by the Government of Sri Lanka with other Council Member States and other countries. The second draft resolution states the following in one of the Operative Paragraphs:
“….and further affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators…..”
Q: The GTF statement, released in the aftermath of the OHCHR report refers to ‘substantial participation of international participation’ in both investigation and trial process. However, it appears that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – Sri Lanka’s largest Tamil political alliance – is now leaning towards a domestic mechanism. The TNA represents, for all practical purposes, the people of the former conflict zones and represent Tamil public sentiments. How do you interpret this change of attitude? Does this dilute on someway the demand for justice by the Tamil people in the island?
A: We are grateful to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (both past and present), his/her staff and all who contributed to the important work that went into in producing this report.
Undoubtedly, this whole exercise – the three UNHRC resolutions passed between 2012 and 2014 and the OHCHR investigation and report – restores confidence in the UN system as a whole to all communities and particularly to the Tamil community. Do not for a moment believe that the TNA as the holders of the Tamils’ overwhelming mandate support an exclusively domestic mechanism. They have repeatedly and publicly called for a ‘hybrid’ mechanism. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest otherwise. As Tamil mandate holders, the TNA has so far acted honourably, reasonably and respectfully with a clear understanding of the changing international and local circumstances yet not bartering the justice that we seek for the victims at any stages.
Q: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has called upon the government to reject the OHCHR report and called it an insult to the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Do you think there would be still resistance to the work being taken forward by the Sri Lankan Government?
A: Firstly, the former President must learn to accept and honour the people’s verdict at not just one but two recent elections. Both times, people – be it from Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim communities –voted overwhelmingly to reject the policies of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government’s approach to Sri Lanka’s international obligations. He will be ill-advised to even think that his views reflect the views of the majority people of Sri Lanka. However, I do not want to underestimate the task at hand in implementing the recommendations made in the OHCHR report and the new resolution.
That is why it is immensely important that the government and progressive forces in Sri Lanka of all communities help achieve successful implementation of these recommendations to enable a creation of a peaceful, successful and prosperous Sri Lanka for all people and the generations to come.
Q: Former army commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, has expressed his willingness to appear before any tribunal to answer with regard to allegations of war crimes. What is your response?
A: GTF welcomes his readiness.