Black Lives Matter – And So Do Tamil Lives

By S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole

My son Yovahn, a Junior at Rice University, is a Student Counsellor to Freshmen coming in for orientation. Unlike in Sri Lanka, their own racism was something White racists felt compelled by law and custom to hide. However, with the Donald Trump phenomenon, American racists no longer feel that need. The Police in several cities have been killing Blacks, unabashed that bystanders were filming them. So the university has asked student counsellors to push the slogan “Black Lives Matter.”

I had a call from Yovahn this morning (11.07.2016), saying that some trainees are responding that the slogan implies that other lives do not matter. He really needed a listener in me and went on to justify the slogan saying that no one is saying White lives do not matter whereas many are acting as if Black lives really do not matter.”

That 18-year-old’s perception has escaped the seemingly sophisticated mind of, besides many other Sri Lankans’, the Joint Opposition’s Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s who complained that a bill tabled in the House to put up a Secretariat to look into disappearances in the North and the East implies that there have been no disappearances elsewhere (Ceylon Today, 11.07.2016). It is an attempt to trivialize well-documented disappearances in the North-East. Indeed, our January 8 revolution is coming apart with reports of a British Tamil, Velauthapillai Renukaruban, having been tortured while holidaying here (Guardian, 10.07.2016) and from Shreen Saroor frtom Mannar that Santhiyagu Anton (aged 38) was abducted from Uyilankulam.Tortured Renukaruban

Renukaruban: Tortured on Visit to Marry [supplied photo]

Mangala Samaraweera – No Confidence Motion?

Even worse, in the same article today, Udaya Gammanpila threatened a no-confidence motion against the Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera for being “still of the view that foreign Judges must be employed for [a] war crimes tribunal, despite the President’s statement last week assuring the public that only local Judges would be employed for this purpose.”

The President’s Pledge

Shereen Saroor of Mannar Women’s Development Federation Reports Santhiyogu
Anton’s Abduction by CID

Shreen Saroor of Mannar Women’s Development Federation Reports Santhiyogu
 Anton’s Abduction by CID [supplied photo]

What did the President say last week before the Maha Sanga? Quoting from the Presidential Media Division, he pledged that: “He would not hesitate to act for the freedom and the independence of the motherland. It is the policy of the current government to act according to the advice and guidance of the venerable Maha Sanga in its every activity related to the national security and other matters [my emphasis]. … The President said he would be committed to protect[ing] Sri Lankan society [my emphasis] by respecting the proud history of the country as a Buddhist as well as the Head of the State.”

He should turn his attention to protecting Velauthapillai Renukaruban and Santhiyagu Anton because I like to think we Tamils too are part of Sri Lankan society needing the protection of the President when we are butchered and need the butchers to be punished to keep safe those still alive. I think old history and the Maha Sanga are poor examples for a President to follow when he wants to keep all of Sri Lankan society safe. That old history also shows how Tamil lives came to be no more esteemed than that of beasts.

To see that, let us turn to the Mahavamsa, a chronicle taken as serious history by many Sinhalese. There the king Duttugemunu is in a depression after emerging victorious in a battle where several Tamils have been killed. The Sanga acts quickly. Eight Arahants are sent to counsel him not to worry about “any hindrance in [his] way to heaven” since he had killed only a human and a half – that is, the Tamil who “had come unto the three refuges” and the other who had “taken on himself the five precepts” – and the rest of the Tamils are “not to be more esteemed than beasts”! (Chapter. 25: 98, 103, 107-112).

Buddhism and Truthfulness

The President’s commitment to act as a Buddhist is comforting. The Buddhist tradition of always being truthful and of building hospitals for all kinds of beasts should help Tamils feel safe even if we are esteemed only as beasts.

His commitment to Buddhist truthfulness must help him focus on his promise through a special policy speech in parliament on 01.09.2015 pledging: “I request Sri Lankan intellectuals dispersed around the country and abroad to use your expertise and skills to develop the motherland in this consensual political environment. My Government will establish a special bureau under my directive to coordinate the expatriate Sri Lankans who wish to return to the motherland and we will offer a red carpet welcome to them.”

There is still no special bureau, and yet this morning’s dual citizenship ceremony had Mr. SB Nawinna telling the new citizens they are encouraged to work here! Such unintended promises to individuals to make a good speech, pale into insignificance when examined with unkept commitments to other nations. For example, under the Indian Emigration Act of 1922, the Indian Government permitted emigration of unskilled labour only to countries that provided reciprocal assurance of “perfect equality of status of Indians” with other local British subjects. We know what happened to the Estate Labour as soon as Sri Lankans took over.

More to the point of the recent pledge, here is what the President said after the UNHRC Resolution 30/1: he insisted that Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and integrity weren’t compromised,  and stressed that the new journey started on 8 January must be persisted with, shunning extremists.  Ranil Wickremesinghe said at the same time that the passage of the US resolution and the international community uniting for Sri Lanka were key for the country’s future wellbeing.

And they said much more in the UNHRC resolution A/HRC/30/L.29 itself which they co-sponsored and passed on 29 June, 2015. It states in Paragraph 1 that it
“Takes note with appreciation of the oral update presented by the United Nations High Commissioner to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-seventh session, the report of the Office of the High Commissioner on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka and its investigation on Sri Lanka requested by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 25/12, including its findings and conclusions, and encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations contained therein when implementing measures for truth-seeking, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence;”

And what is that footnote 2 to resolution 25/1? It is that much maligned A/HRC/30/CRP.2, better known as Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), a tome that details atrocities by our armed forces and the LTTE. This report has therefore been endorsed by our government. It lays the foundation for needing foreign participation in its paragraph 1246 after detailing the failures of our legal system:

1246: In these circumstances, OISL believes that for an accountability mechanism to succeed in Sri Lanka, it will require more than a domestic mechanism [My emphasis]. Sri Lanka should draw on the lessons learnt and good practices of other countries that have succeeded with hybrid special courts, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators [my emphasis], that will be essential to give confidence to all Sri Lankans, in particular the victims, in the independence and impartiality of the process, particularly given the politicisation and highly polarised environment in Sri Lanka.

Even more to the point, that 2015 resolution states in Paragraph 6 that it

“Welcomes the recognition by the Government of Sri Lanka that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and to build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, notes with appreciation the proposal of the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for their integrity and impartiality; and also 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. [Emphasis mine].

Our President and Prime Minister agreed to foreign involvement. Buddhist truthfulness demands keeping our legally binding commitments. As someone told me, to tell local people differently is to behave like schoolboy rowdies and to not respect our intelligence.

Congratulating Minister Samaraweera

I would congratulate our Foreign Minister for being a good Buddhist insofar as he seems the only Minister committed to keeping his word and to caring for Tamil lives as well in protecting Sri Lankan society. I urge the President to keep his pledge to the Maha Sanga and be a good Buddhist by honoring his commitments.

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