Tamil People Are Deprived Of Their Lands – S. Thavarajah

By Camelia Nathaniel

The land issue in the Northern Province is the most pressing issue that needs to be addressed and the government’s approach in dealing with this issue has been deemed slow. The leader of the opposition of the Northern Provincial Council and senior member of the EPDP, S. Thavarajah said that since the conclusion of the war in May 2009, there is no security threat in the country. In an interview with The Sunday Leader he said that the security forces are still in occupation of the lands of the people while the people are still in temporary shelters. Thavarajah added that it would be acceptable or justified if these lands were being utilised for national security purposes. However he said that these lands were just lying idle and even the people are not being allowed to utilise these lands which is unreasonable. “It’s been almost 25 years and these people who lost these lands are still displaced and this is not fair.He also said that people who are still in prison should be released,” he said. Thavarajah noted that if KP and other leaders could have been pardoned, there is no justification in keeping these innocent people in prison.

Following are excerpts of the interview:-

Q:  With regard to the implementation of the UNHRC resolution and the investigations being carried out on the missing persons, how far have we progressed?

A: We still have a long way to go with regard to the investigations. The expectations of the people are that the UN recommendations be fulfilled. Especially the Tamils want the UN resolution to be fulfilled and the investigations with regard to the missing persons to see some progress, but so far the progress is rather slow.


Q: As for the issue of international judges, although the government initially agreed to a hybrid court, the President has said there will not be international judges in these investigations. What is your view on this situation?

A: The TNA has given confusing signals and they have not officially said that international judges should be included. Earlier they said that they wanted an international inquiry, and then they agreed to have a local investigation with international judges participating. However currently they are wavering on their stand and have not made it clear whether they want international judges participating in the investigations or not. Mr. Sumanthiran has been making wavering statements and they don’t seem to be having a firm opinion on what they want.


Q: Although the month of June has been set out as the deadline for implementing the necessary procedures, Minister Rajitha Senaratne has refuted such claims saying that no deadline has been stipulated and that the government is carrying out the necessary implementations. How much time do you think should be allocated for the process, or should there be a time frame at all?

A: I feel that there should be a time frame given for the conclusion of these investigations. Otherwise these investigations will drag on for decades and will not be of any significance to the people who are affected by the war and who have lost their loved ones. There will not be an end.

My view is that the investigations should not be targeted on those low ranking soldiers who fought on the front lines or carried out orders. I feel that the investigations should focus on those who issued the commands. War crimes means those who issued commands should be taken to task and held responsible. The soldiers are innocent and when instructions and commands are given they are compelled to carry out those orders and fight. However the decision makers and those who issued the commands should be the ones who should be investigated and held responsible.


Q:  Regarding the missing persons is it fair to blame just the military?

A: In the case of the people who have been handed over to the military or surrendered, there is evidence to say that they have done so. Then the military should be able to give a proper explanation as to what happened to these people. The families have the right to know what happened to their children or their spouses or parents. The military high-ups and the government just cannot wash their hands off and pretend not to know. They should be able to give the people proper answers, so that they too can move on and put a closure to their pain.


Q: There are allegations that the Tamil people are not the ones who are interested in power devolution or the implementation of the 13th Amendment etc., and this is mainly for political reasons that these issues have been brought up. Do you agree with this theory?

A: No I don’t agree because it is not the politicians but it’s the people who wanted devolution of power. From the 1950’s the Tamil community had been demanding for power devolution but it was the politicians who took it to the politicians in the south as they were just the carriers of the wishes of the people. It was the people wanted the Northern Province to be governed by their own people. In 1977 the people accepted the TULF manifesto, so one cannot say that this is not something that the politicians want and not the people. Definitely it was the people who wanted it to live with dignity within a united Sri Lanka.


Q:  That being the case a majority of Tamils live outside of the Northern Province, and if they can live united under the laws of the south, why is it important to have power just for the North?

A:  Whether they live in the North or elsewhere, they want the powers for the North to look after their best interests. They have perhaps come out of the North because they were unable to live their. There are some who have also left the country and gone overseas because they could not live here. If they could have lived with dignity they would have stayed in the country. The Tamils, whether smaller in numbers, want devolution of power in areas where they have been living for a long time. There is nothing wrong in giving them the power to rule in their areas. It is not separation, but they are being given the power to rule.


Q:  While the TNA claims to represent the interests of the Tamil people, there is a large sector of estate Tamils as well and why is the TNA not interested in the welfare of this sector?

A:  There are other political parties that are representing the estate Tamils. It’s not the TNA but other parties who see to the welfare and interests of these estate Tamils and they are responsible for the rights and interests of this sector.


Q:  For proper reconciliation should the education system also be made to suit all and not referred to specifically by race or religion? (ex; Hindu college, Tamil Vidyalaya, Buddhist college or Christian or catholic schools)

A:  In this instance I cannot answer in general on behalf of the party. My personal view is that religion is a faith and all religions should be taught to all children and when they reach 18 they should be given the right to choose what they want to follow. Ideally it is better to abolish this system of categorising schools according to religion or race, but practically I doubt it is possible.


Q:  In the formulation of the new constitution, should preference be given to any particular race or religion or should we pursue a national stand?

A:  I am unable to comment in the new constitution as I am a member of the committee that has been appointed to listen to the public and make recommendations. As a committee member there is a responsibility on my part to be impartial.


Q:  What is the progress made so far with regard to the gathering of public opinion?

A:  We have made great strides in this regard and so far and we had public hearings in Colombo from the 18th to the 22nd. Some complained that the publicity was not enough, but in spite of all that we were very busy during the five days and due to the number of people we had, we had to split our group into two and do the hearings as there were so many people. Then last week one group went to Gampaha and the other went to Kandy and there too we have been recording a large response from the people and even working till late in the evening we could not handle the large response. However as far as possible we have got their comments and we are in the process of putting it into order. We will be travelling to all 25 districts and so far we have completed three districts and we will gather the opinions of the entire country for the process of formulating the new constitution.


Q:  There are views being expressed that the National Anthem should be in both languages Sinhala and Tamil. What is your view?

A:   We have a position of our party in this regard and we will present our stand when this group goes to Jaffna. So until then I don’t think it is fair for me to comment.

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