By Ananth Palakidnar
The Tamil National Alliance Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran, defending the NPC's genocide resolution as democratic and timely, emphasized on the need for the war victims to prepare themselves to gather more evidence in order to strengthen the OHCRC's OISL report to be released in September this year. He also added that an internal investigation with the OHCR's supervision, unlike the local investigations in the past, is essential to ensure a constructive UN investigation into the alleged war crimes in the country. Excerpts from the interview:
: What is your view on the recent 'genocide resolution' passed by the Northern Provincial Council?
A: The resolution is timely and the facts which have been listed out in it are nothing but true. It was a sheer democratic action and very well drafted, taking into consideration the grievances of the people directly affected by the war. Various comments could surface with regard to the resolution, but it was aimed at seeking justice for the people who have been affected by the ruthless war in the North.
The Chief Minister of the Northern Province or the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) cannot be criticized for bringing about the genocide resolution, since the NPC represents the people who were very much affected by the war. So the NPC, which represents those people and being a democratic institution, has done its part in the right manner in bringing out the resolution. The Chief Minister has clearly pointed out the atrocities committed systematically towards the Tamils since the country gained independence. Therefore without addressing the genuine grievances of the people affected by the communal upheavals in the past, we cannot talk of reconciliation. Therefore, the genocide resolution was brought out to identify the perpetrators who had committed the war crimes and bring justice to the war victims. The resolution is not at all meant to hurt the feelings of those who strive for peace and reconciliation in the country.
Q: The release of the OISL report (OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka) has been delayed by six months and instead of in next March, the report is expected to be released in September this year. Your comment on this new move?
A: It is clear that the OHCHR is firm on dealing with the findings it has gathered through its channels. So the delay in releasing the report will not affect the OHCHR's actions with regard to the alleged war crimes and the human rights violations committed in the North and East. Of course the TNA expected the report to be released in March. But on the insistence of the new Government the OHCHR has decided to delay the release of the OISL report. The TNA leader Sampanthan has clearly stated that the release of the report should not be delayed due to political reasons. The OHCHR officials have even agreed with the concerns of the TNA and responded that there was nothing political. The new Lankan Government's request to delay the OHCHR's OISL report indicates that it has accepted the UN's investigation.
Q: Do you think the delay in releasing the OISL report will make way for the perpetrators to do the manipulations over the accusations against them with regard to the alleged war crimes?
A: Nothing like that. The OISL report has its own findings. It cannot be influenced or adjusted. The TNA is constantly in touch with the OHCHR officials. On the other hand the people who had experienced the adverse effects of the war should do everything to strengthen the OISL report by adding more evidence to it. When the report is released in September it should bear the right weight. The war victims should come forward without any hesitation to strengthen the report further. They should be bold enough to give their evidence. There are several witnesses who had seen for themselves, directly, the atrocities committed during the war. A large number of key witnesses had given their evidence in the past, secretly. However, they should now cooperate within the other six months to make the OISL report more meaningful.
How do you comment on the proposed internal investigation under the supervision of the OHCHR in Sri Lanka?
A: A local mechanism to hold an internal investigation into the alleged war crimes is important. It will not be a strategy adopted in the form of commissions in the past. The internal investigation under the supervision of the OHCHR will help in a big way to protect the witnesses as well. In any country, to support the OHCRC action, an internal investigation is also carried out in addition to the UN investigation.
Therefore, the internal investigation, which is the Lankan Government is clamouring for, will only add weight in an extensive way to the UN action. Here again the people, without any hesitation, must cooperate in the investigations in whatever form to reach a constructive end results.
Q: The new Government has come forward to resettle the Internally Displaced Persons from Valikamam North in a thousand-acre area, creating a model village. Is the TNA in favour of this new arrangement?
A:The TNA has rejected the 1,000-acre model village plan for resettling the IDPs in the Valikamam North. The plan was mooted by the Army several years ago. So we don't want the new Government to go ahead with this plan. However, we were told that the 1,000-acre resettlement plan will not be carried out and we are yet to see how the Government will respond. The IDPs from the Valikamam North should be resettled in their original places without shifting them to new locations. We have discussed the issue with the new Government leaders and emphasized that the IDPs should be resettled in their original places, during our discussions with them prior to the elections.
Since the IDP issue remains a huge humanitarian problem in the North and East, the Government must do everything to resettle the IDPs, not only in the North, but also in the East, in the areas such as Sampoor before UNHRC sessions in Geneva on 2 March.
The TNA was promised by the government leaders that the IDPs will be resettled in their original places. But still nothing has happened in expediting the resettlement process.
The IDPs are still remaining in makeshift shelters in the areas of Keppapilavu, Paravipanchan, Sampoor Mulliyan and in Valikamam North, in the Peninsula.
Q:How do you assess President Maithripala Sirisena's recent visit to India?
A: Well the visit is significant as far as the regional politics as well as the Lankan Tamil issue are concerned. The TNA welcomes the closer ties between the two countries. The TNA has already briefed the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on the political and the humanitarian issues in the North and East. India being instrumental in introducing the 13th Amendment, the country is firm on the implementation of the Amendment. So the Indo-Lanka relation is vital as far as the Tamil issues are concerned.
Q: What will be the TNA's stance at the forthcoming Parliamentary polls to be held in the middle of the year?
A: Well, we will continue to support the present Government. The TNA has already expressed its support to the new Government on its 100-day programme, to bring changes. We have agreed upon on solving several key problems in the North and East. As a democratic Party, we believe that through healthy interaction we could reach out for several things. So the TNA will remain supportive of the present Government even during the Parliamentary polls.
Q: The TNA leader R. Sampanthan and yourself came under criticism from other TNA members for attending the 67th Independence Day this year, on 4 February. What have you got say about it?
A: There was no hard and fast decision, to boycott the Independence Day, among the Party members. We have extended our support to the new Government to win our rights and to address the grievances of our people. So it was after 42 years we expressed our goodwill towards the new Government which has made the pledges to address our problem. The TNA leader and myself have attended the Independence Day.
The celebration this year was not anything to display military hardware. It was a simple ceremony and President Sirisena had clearly stated the need to solve the national question. He had said that the end of the war is not the end of the problems. Therefore our presence at the Independence Day this year has highlighted our desire for peace and reconciliation.