BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Northern Minister of Women Affairs, Ananthy Sasitharan said the International Community had taken a different stance over humanitarian issues in Sri Lanka, thus letting down the war-affected people.
“We were under the impression that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, would somehow help us to find a solution to our grievances. However, his recent stand and statements were in total contrast to the promises he previously made. I am of the view that further expectations will not result in anything fruitful,” she said in an interview with Ceylon Today.
Following are excerpts
It has been more than 300 days since relatives of missing persons began the protest urging a solution to find their loved ones. You have initially engaged in such protests as your husband was one of them. How do you view the current situation in this regard?
A: One of the primary reasons for my political entry is that more than 1,000 persons including my husband had gone missing during and in the post war period; a lasting solution is a much-needed concern.
From provincial to international level, we have addressed grievances of missing persons and their families. However, the Government and the International Community have ignored the claims of relatives of missing persons who had continuously protested urging to find the whereabouts of their loved ones.
International agencies that meet the relatives of missing persons, listen to their stories as if it is a new story, which they have never heard before. These are only moves and agendas to safeguard the Lankan Government.
The TNA hierarchy had failed to sincerely look at the issue of missing persons. From the day members of the LTTE surrendered during the end of the war to date, the TNA has failed to find a lasting solution even after the change in government; they have failed to take up the issue in a proper manner to the Government. The Government will never solve this issue. The Government feels they are not answerable as long as they have the support of the TNA. Even at international level, it seems the Government is now eased from the pressure and shows innocence.
Therefore, there seems to be no solution to the problem of missing persons. The affected have been neglected.
You have on many occasions said that even the international community had let the affected people down. However, initially you were one of those who claimed that only the International Community could solve such humanitarian issues. Why have you taken a completely opposite stand now?
A: All the affected people including me expected the UN and the International Community to find a suitable solution to our humanitarian issues. We believed that the Human Rights Commissioner will somehow help us to find a suitable solution for our grievances. However, his recent stand and statements were completely different to the promises he previously gave. Therefore, I now feel the International Community has taken a different stand over humanitarian issues in Sri Lanka. I am of the view that further expectations will not result in any positive result.
You filed a writ of Habeas Corpus seeking the whereabouts of your husband Sasitharan alias Ezhilan. What exactly is the current situation of this legal process?
A: We filed a writ application at the Vavuniya High Court. The proceedings were changed to Mullaitivu since we surrendered in that area. Only after the change in Government that this case was even taken up for hearing.
Currently, the Mullaitivu Courts has recorded evidence from all the witnesses , thus the case has been reverted to the Vavuniya High Court for the verdict to be delivered.
Surrendering of LTTE cadres soon after the end of the war is not just between the LTTE and the Government. Countries such as Norway and Japan were connected to the surrender. Recently, Tamil National People’s Front Leader, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam who was directly connected to the surrender has given a clear description of the situation that prevailed at that time.
Recently, former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that they won the war with the help of India. Therefore, India is also aware of the surrender of LTTE cadres at the end of the war.
We did not secretly surrender. We surrendered in the presence of many people. Around 1,000 of them surrendered on the promises made by the security forces that they will be released on a General Amnesty.
In April 2017, an Army Commander while giving submissions in Courts, stated that he had details of those who surrendered and were under his custody.
Later he submitted that those details were taken from the Ministry of Rehabilitation. This list included 12,000 LTTE cadres who were released after rehabilitation. Anyhow, it should be noted at this juncture that being in one’s custody was different from the rehabilitation process.
This Commander was of the view that this particular list obtained from the Ministry of Rehabilitation did not include Ezhilan’s name.
If his name was there in that list, there was no need to file a Habeas Corpus Writ seeking the whereabouts of Ezhilan. There are contradictions in this issue. There are only 21 families that have filed legal action and the rest have isolated themselves from such incidents.
It is unacceptable to say that the rest refrained from seeking legal assistance due to threats. These 21 families have sought legal action and they too are subject to threats.
At this juncture it is a must that I find the whereabouts of my husband. Similarly, the rest who went missing also need justice.
Therefore, refraining from seeking action will not solve this issue. We all must unite in this struggle to find our loved ones.
This struggle will not end with me but my children will continue in this effort.
Although you were a member of the TNA, you have been criticizing the TNA. Are you still a member of the TNA?
A: When I decided to contest the provincial elections, I did not belong to any political party. Later I officially joined the Illankai Thamil Arasai Katchi (ITAK). I won the provincial elections after obtaining a ticket from ITAK.
I was affected in the struggle and this is the only reason I stepped into politics. However, I am not just a politician. My intention is not only politics, I want to sincerely support my people. I gave certain promises to my people in the Election Manifesto. I can only function according to these promises.
I come from a deprived background. During the change in government, I refused to support President Maithripala Sirisena or former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. When my husband surrendered to the security forces, former President Rajapaksa left the country and President Sirisena took over as Defence Minister. Therefore, I decided I will not support either of them. Apart from being a member of ITAK, I could not act against my conscience. There was no other member within the same party who was affected like me; therefore, I began to fight for my rights. The ITAK hierarchy took disciplinary action against me. They took a decision to remove me from the post of Secretary to the Women’s Wing , but I remained as a member of ITAK. For three years I was told that I could not be the Secretary to the Women’s Wing of ITAK.
TNA spokesman Sumanthiran is making many unacceptable and disappointing statements. According to my knowledge, he however is making these statements without the approval of the others in the party. These statements are all his own. If they took disciplinary action against me, they should also take disciplinary action against Sumanthiran for making these statements.
I have supported Chief Minister Wigneswaran, in the process of obtaining a political solution. He understood the grievances of our people and his stand on the political solution is agreeable.
I am still a member of ITAK. I will however not function against my conscience. ITAK has not invited me for any party event, after I was served with disciplinary action. I am quite clear where I stand.
Do you predict any changes in the vote base at the upcoming Local Government elections?
A: When we came into politics in the Provincial Council elections in 2013, people believed in us and extended their fullest support to the TNA. However, the situation was different then and after the change in government, the TNA chose a different path. People have realized this change.
Recently fisticuffs were exchanged between ITAK members during nominations. This caused disappointment among the people.
Therefore, a comparatively lower percentage in voting in the North for the TNA could be expected.
The recent TNA stand has made the people to conclude that they are similar to the Eelam People’s Democratic Party. Both parties are of the same stance.
It is said that the conservative culture in Northern Society had prevented educated Tamil women from entering politics even after the 25 per cent quota was implemented with electoral reform. How do you assess this situation?
A: Women in the North are reasonably well-educated and knowledgeable, however the culture in the society has definitely held them back from entering the political arena.
I always encouraged women in the North to enter politics. I have been taking my struggle forward, being the only woman representative in the Provincial Council, where it is dominated by men.
Although the 25 per cent quota is implemented, due to cultural barriers many women in the North who are knowledgeable and eligible have stood away from entering politics and this is quite a sad development.
Also I would like to point out that political parties in the North have included women who were unsuitable for nominations, so that they could be puppets of the dominating males.
Tell us the projects your Ministry has undertaken to support war-affected women?
A: Our Ministry does not have enough funds to support all the affected women. But I have taken up personal and unofficial initiatives to support them. They have benefitted from these initiatives. We lack the support of the central government in developing the projects at provincial level.
We lack cadres in the Ministry to take our projects to grassroot level. I have written to the central government to deal with this issue.
What steps has the Provincial Ministry of Women‘s Affairs taken to curb sexual violence against women in northern society?
A: We have personally attended to cases by providing legal assistance and certain cases are directed by us to the Police to take further action.
We want to initiate steps to avoid sexual violence-related incidents. However, we also have a special unit which treats and provides support to victims of sexual violence.
In the current context, how do you view the contribution of the TNA to find a political solution?
A: During my four-year political involvement, I have realized that the Tamil people will not get a political solution. When there is no initiative to ensure accountability for human rights violation, it is quite clear that we will not get a political solution.