Aarliamentarians of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are to meet on October 20, to determine their stance on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution cosponsored by the Sri Lankan government ahead of the parliamentary debate that is due on October 23. Despite initial disappointments shared by some of the TNA members, PLOTE leader and TNA MP Dharmalingam Siddharthan told The Sunday Leader that in general there is no one within the party who opposes the UN resolution. He added that the government accepted the content of the resolution by cosponsoring the resolution adopted by the UN and therefore the Tamils ‘cannot afford to throw it away’.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
by Waruni Karunarathne
Q: Political parties are having internal discussions on the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka ahead of the parliamentary debate scheduled to be held on the resolution. Has the TNA had any internal discussion to determine your stance on the resolution?
A: Not really. The party is going to meet on the 20th of this month to discuss matters pertaining to the UN resolution. Actually only the TNA parliamentary group will meet on the 20th. Soon after that, the TNA Coordinating Committee is supposed to meet and discuss. It is necessary for us to take our stance before the debate in parliament. In general I do not think that anyone within the party opposes the UN resolution as such. Some of us may be unhappy that the resolution is not up to our expectations.
We do not trust or rely on the internal mechanism. The internal mechanisms in the past were established as initiatives of the Sri Lankan government. It was not done based on external requests or external pressures as such. The difference of the new proposed mechanism is that it was brought in by a UN resolution which is a complete external force. By cosponsoring that resolution, the government also showed their support and accepted the content of the resolution. Therefore, we have to wait and see as to how it will be implemented. We cannot afford to just throw it away. We will also have to monitor the new process and thereafter we can decide whether this new mechanism can be accepted or not.
Q: The Prime Minister said that reports of the Udalagama Commission and Paranagama Commission will be made available to parliamentarians for their reference. There was a question of credibility related to the commissions appointed during the previous regime. With that regard, do you think there is a need to look into these reports now?
A: Definitely, we have to look at those reports. The questions were not raised mainly with reference to the reports but the implementation of the recommendations of those reports. In the past, they appointed commissions and reports were produced but no recommendations given on the reports were implemented.
Mostly, that was what was lacking. If we are to have an internal process, the government need to ensure the safety of the witnesses. Witness security is more important than anything else. At the beginning people will be a little reluctant to come out openly.
It is natural for them to fear for their lives and safety. It is also our responsibility to help people come out. But everything depends on the government as to how they are going to conduct the new mechanism and provide protection to witnesses. It all depends on the governments attitude towards that.
Q: The government has said that the Missing Peron’s Commission headed by Maxwell Paranagama will be abolished and a new mechanism will be put in its place. The Paranagama commission has already dealt with several cases. Do you expect the government to completely abandon its procedures? What are your suggestions for the new mechanism?
A: People have lost confidence on the Missing Persons’ Commission. The UN report has also pointed out certain issues related to the Missing Persons’ Commission. However, until the report is out, we cannot quite criticise what they have done even though we know that there were loopholes in the process. If the government abolish the Missing Persons Commission, then there should be another mechanism in its place. The issue on missing persons is a serious issue as far as we are concerned. Kiths and kins of those who have gone missing are still making desperate attempts to know what happened to those people who went missing. They are still waiting which is a very pathetic plight. They deserve to know what happened to those people. However, we are not sure about the attitude of the new government on this matter. There are various opinions within the government and outside the government in the South regarding this issue. After the debate in parliament, we can see the trend of the MPs in the house.
Q: Despite the promises made by the new government, the Tamil political prisoners’ issue remains unaddressed. How do you expect the government to deal with this issue now?
A: This is the reason why people are suspicious of the new government. This government has claimed that there are no political prisoners as such. That means they see all of them as criminals. That is the direct meaning. There are people that we know who have been imprisoned for having connection with terrorist organisations. In the past, the JVP also took arms against the state and engaged in similar nature of activities. In late 80s, the JVP was given a general pardon. That is why we are asking for a general amnesty for Tamil political prisoners.
Anywhere in the world, if there is a general understanding of peace and building reconciliation, such measures are taken. Political prisoners are there for political reasons. The government first needs to accept that these people are political prisoners. The next step would be to give them a general pardon. If the government does not accept that, I do not know as to how we can resolve this issue. I think the President has now appointed a committee to look into this matter. We will wait and see how the committee comes out with a solution to this issue. These prisoners are now in a hunger strike. It is government’s responsibility to provide a solution.
Q: The fishermen’s issue between India and Sri Lanka continues. Parties like the JVP see it as the inability of the government as well as the Northern Provincial Council to deal with this matter meaningfully. How do you respond to that? Is there anything that the Northern Provincial Council can do to address this issue? How do you expect the government to deal with this?
A: I doubt that the TNA can do much about this issue having the power of the Northern Provincial Council. This issue is between two countries. The Provincial Council has no power to deal with another country. If we had had that power, we would have been very happy.
It is the duty of the government to see that this does not continue. Fishermen in the North and the East have been deprived of their livelihood for a long time due to the war that prevailed in the country. Even after the war, they cannot still continue with their livelihood activities. It is the duty of the government to see that these fishermen are able to go to the sea and their rights are protected.
Else they should devolve the power to the provincial council, so that we will deal with that issue. If that is the case we can look after our fishermen because we have our own security forces. The TNA can only intervene to some extent that is by asking the Sri Lankan government to have proper dialogue with India to solve this matter permanently. The government needs to protect the rights of our fishermen.