By Ananth Palakidnar
Chairperson of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) Rev Fr. S.J. Emmanuel in a candid interview with Ceylon Today spelt out the shortcomings affecting the people in the North and East. He said as far as strengthening peace and reconciliation, apart from depending on politicians all right-thinking people must engage themselves in the peace building process. Religious leaders and intellectuals should not leave room for extremist ideologies and must play their role with farsightedness to face the challenges in creating peace in the Island.
Despite the Government taking the initiative to deal with land issues and resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), humanitarian issues still remain on a large scale to be resolved. All efforts should be put in place to put the future generation on the right path, he emphasized and added that disunity in the TNA will strengthen chauvinist elements in the South.
How do you see the post-war situation in the North and East from your position as chairperson of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF)?
A: Well,when the present Government was established in January 2015, the people in the North and East anticipated the new regime would fulfill their political aspirations and the post-war humanitarian issues would be resolved. But I hardly find anything moving constructively towards strengthening peace and reconciliation and implementing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutions co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in October 2015.
My intention is not to engage in politics. I met President Maithripala Sirisena and Minister Mangala Samaraweera in London and Geneva earlier and discussed on dealing with the post-war issues in the North and East. The post-war issues are multifaceted. Confrontational attitude in politics is not going to help at all in dealing with sensitive humanitarian issues.
Flexibility and greater understanding are the need of the hour. As far as strengthening peace and reconciliation, apart from depending on politicians, all right-thinking people must engage themselves in the peace building process. Religious leaders and intellectuals without leaving room for extremist ideologies must play their role with farsightedness to face the challenges in creating peace in the Island. Despite the Government taking the initiatives to deal with land issues and resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), humanitarian issues still remain on a large scale and remain to be resolved.
What is your observation on the present state of Tamil politics?
A: The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) emerged as a political force to voice political and humanitarian issues of the people in the North and East.
However, the present state of the TNA is saddening. They started off very well, with the combination of moderate politicians and former militant outfits which had entered the political mainstream. But now, the coordination and unity in the TNA remain shaky. Constituent parties in the TNA are critical of the leadership. This negative trend will lead to weakening the Tamil political scene. Disunity in the TNA will strengthen the chauvinist elements in the South. The people in the North and East have placed their confidence on the TNA. So the constituent parties in the TNA must respect the expectations of the people they respect and should not give room for petty differences. If the TNA allows its leadership to get weakened, the Tamil political scene will turn into a mockery. Therefore, the unity which existed before 2015 in the TNA should prevail again in the best interest of the people in the North and East.
As you maintained a good understanding with the leaders of the present regime, what is your view on the performance of the regime in the past three years?
A: Well, the people in the country brought this Government to power to establish good governance. What I see is the leaders of the present regime are more loyal to their parties and concerned about safeguarding the interests of their respective parties instead of focusing on the progress of the country.
When two pilots fight inside the cockpit, the passengers in the plane are in danger. So,a similar situation is happening in the country. The international community also expressed its satisfaction when the present regime was formed in 2015. When the leaders of two different parties come together and rule the country, they should reconcile between themselves before going for greater reconciliation in the country.
They came to power with the pledge to eradicate corruption and to reach a solution to the North and East problem by bringing out a new Constitution. But hardly anything has been done to bring out a new Constitution. Even Opposition and TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan has expressed his dismay over the lethargic approach of the Government in bringing out a new Constitution.
Apart from addressing grievances of the people in the North and East, more attention should be paid to humanitarian problems of the people in the central hills of the country. Social justice should be equal to everyone.
Before leaving the Island, when the North and East armed struggle intensified,I had formed the Centre for A Better Society to bridge the progressive forces between the North and South, I was at the Kandy seminary at that time. Seven of my students are now Bishops in the country. I taught my students to learn about other religions as well. The intention of forming the Centre for A Better Society is to bring all right-thinking people together, to remove inequality and maintain unity and integrity of the country. The late Fr. Tissa Balasuriya and several intellectuals from the South remained supportive of me.
However, when I voiced for equal rights of the people in the North and East and highlighted their grievances, in the past I was misunderstood as being a sympathizer of extremism.
As we all now embarked on a task of rebuilding a reconciled nation, we must shed our differences and work with dedication from grassroot level.
How do you assess the functions of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) from the time it was formed?
A: The general perception in the North is that the NPC has failed significantly in developing the Province. There are complaints of corruption in the NPC. It has been indicated that allocations made for the NPC have not been properly utilized. The NPC has the power to develop the Province. Provincial Ministries could play significant roles in developing sectors which remain under their purview. Instead of making use of what the NPC possesses, craving for more power is meaningless. I am for full-fledged devolution of power, while we demand for more power to be devolved, the existing power should be properly utilized and the available resources should be properly utilized.
It is disheartening to note the problematic state in the TNA which even affects the NPC. Since the Northern Province remains a war-torn area, plenty needs to be done to develop infrastructure in health, education, agriculture and fisheries. The NPC should be more development-oriented.
It should maintain a good rapport with all premier institutions in the Province. A confrontational approach will not lead to a successful Provincial administration.
What is your comment on the Tamil diaspora’s role in the post-war scenario?
A: The Tamil diaspora was active when the separatist war was in progress. Some of the diaspora organizations function even now without any concern for those affected by the war. Thousands of people have been directly affected due to the three decades of separatist war in the North and East. There are widows, orphans and disabled persons.
A large number of Internally Displaced Persons are living below the poverty line without proper houses or livelihood support.
The separatist war has come to an end and the LTTE is no more. Therefore, the money collected during the war time in foreign countries by the Tamil diaspora should now be diverted for the welfare of the people affected by the war.
Even rehabilitated cadres are in a desperate state without any livelihood support. Despite being integrated into society, they face many problems for their survival. They lost their youth, education and several other opportunities needed to build them. There should be a collective effort made both locally as well as from abroad to support them.
What is your view on the Trans National Government of Tamil Eelam headed by Viswanathan Rudrakumaran?
A: The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) was formed soon after the end of the war. It is a self-proclaimed government in exile. However, it has not been recognized by any country. The TGTE must understand ground realities and engage politically in a meaningful way, instead of misleading the Tamil diaspora in foreign countries.
The people in the North and East cannot face another catastrophic situation. The TGTE should function to develop proper political engagement. The TGTE’s functions should not lead to extremism.
The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) was launched in Westminster in 2010 as an umbrella organization of several Tamil diaspora organizations abroad. The GTF played an important role in highlighting post-war grievances at the UNHRC in Geneva and even played a significant role in seeking the attention of the international community towards bringing successful resolutions on dealing with post-war political and humanitarian issues in Sri Lanka.
What is your assessment on the implementation of the UNHRC resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in 2015?
A: Well, there is a long way to go in implementing the UNHRC resolution of 2015. It is an internationally accepted arrangement for Sri Lanka to improve its human rights situation and to address post-war grievances.
Of course, there is a huge delay in the implementation of the UNHRC resolution of 2015. Even the TNA has pointed out the lethargic state regarding the implementation of the resolution. The Government has not interacted properly with the people in the South on the implementation of the UNHRC resolution.
The International Community is watchful of the developments taking place with regard to the implementation of the resolution.
Recently the UNHRC came under severe criticism of the Donald Trump administration. However, US criticism is not going to affect the UNHRC resolution which was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. The US even played a key role in bringing the resolution.
Certain political circles in the Island have misunderstood the criticisms made by the Donald Trump administration on the UNHRC. They think these criticisms are advantageous to Sri Lanka regarding the implementation of the resolution. However, the resolution will remain and Sri Lanka is compelled to implement it. The country cannot simply escape from commitments it made to the UNHRC resolution of 2015.
As the resolution is focused on improving the human rights situation as well as strengthening peace and reconciliation, Sri Lanka should ensure the successful implementation of the UNHRC resolution of 2015.
The law and order situation in the North has deteriorated now. Law-abiding citizens in the North are terrified over several recent incidents in the peninsula. Even former State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran has commented that such incidents did not exist when the LTTE was active.
What do you say about the present law and order situation in the North?
A: Former State Minister Vijayakala Maheswaran has expressed her anguish over the sad state of the law and order situation at present. I was born in Jaffna. I belonged to the era of legendary Rev Fr. Long of St Patrick’s College, Jaffna. The Jaffna Peninsula remained a highly disciplined region, excelling academically. However, the situation has now changed drastically. A huge gap exists between the period when lived in Jaffna and the present Jaffna.
Instead of depending on the law enforcement authorities, society should be disciplined from grassroot level. A greater participation of all people in society is the need of the hour, to guide the younger generation on the right path.
It is sad to see alcohol and narcotics having infiltrated Jaffna on a large scale, spoiling the lives of youngsters and misleading them to engage in antisocial activities. As I mentioned, all efforts should be put in place to lead the future generation on the right path.