Invitation to Tamil Diaspora and TNA’s Dilemma
By Sugeeswara Senadhira
Sri Lanka is totally committed to achieving a tangible progress on the entire range of issues relating to accountability, reconciliation, human rights, peace and sustainable development and will continue to work with the United Nations mandated human rights system. However, this will be done in keeping with the Constitution and the international obligations voluntarily undertaken. This is the message conveyed to the United Nations Assistant-SecretaryGeneral (ASG) for Political, Peace building and Peace Operations, Khaled Khiari who was in Sri Lanka last week meeting top leaders.
During the discussions the Government reiterated Sri Lanka’s rejection of the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 and pointed out that domestic processes are vigorously addressing relevant matters in this regard. The UN official’s visit is the first such dialogue since UN SecretaryGeneral António Guterres’ met President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in September in New York.
The President reminded UN Assistant Secretary General about his talks with the UNSG during which he expressed willingness to invite the Tamil diaspora to discuss ethnic reconciliation. The President said the internal issues of Sri Lanka should be resolved through an internal mechanism of the country and the Tamil Diaspora would be invited for discussions in this regard. The President told Khaled Khiari last week that he hoped the invitation would be met with positive initiatives.
Pro-LTTE supporters disrupt meeting
However, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) the major Tamil political party in Parliament did not show any enthusiasm about the President’s suggestion to include the Tamil Diaspora in the discussions to solve the imbroglio, mainly because the open rift between the Diaspora and TNA. Earlier this month, proLTTE supporters, who dominate the Diaspora caused a major disruption at a meeting attended by TNA Parliamentarians Abraham Sumanthiran and Shanakyan Rasamanickam in Toronto.The demonstrators, waving LTTE flags and banners denounced TNA Spokesman Sumanthiran as a traitor, while demanding a separate state for the Tamil people.
The pro-LTTE protestors claimed they were rejecting the main Tamil party’s push for a political settlement to Sri Lanka’s ethnic question. Both TNA Spokesman Sumanthiran and TNA Batticaloa District MP Rasamanickam addressed the meeting, which was organised by TNA Canada to give the two MPs an opportunity to brief members of the Tamil community residing in Toronto about ongoing diplomatic efforts to push for a political settlement. While opposing Diaspora involvement, the TNA wants the United States to pressure Sri Lanka. Sumanthiran and Rasamanickam visited Canada after their talks in Washington with high-ranking officials at the US Department of State.
The TNA delegation met with officials from the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the US State Department. Following the meeting, the Office of Global Criminal Justice Tweeted that “listening to perspectives and concerns of minority groups in Sri Lanka is essential to promoting reconciliation”. The TNA Delegation also held talks with the Acting Assistant Secretary of State to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, Lisa Peterson.
The Bureau tweeted after the meeting that advancing protection and political representation of minority groups in Sri Lanka was “a priority” for the United States. Tamil delegation said the talks were “laying the foundation for a US role in formulating and implementing a durable political solution.” The United States is reasserting its interest in Sri Lankan issues with its re-entry into the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The US withdrew from UNHRC during Trump’s presidency, denouncing the UN agency for its bias attitude.
Tackled through a domestic mechanism
However, Sri Lanka’s oft repeated position is that the internal issues of the country would be tackled through a domestic mechanism and there is no constitutional provisions for foreign probes. Despite its objection to foreign interference, Sri Lanka is always ready to cooperate with the United Nations. Explaining this position to UN Assistant Secretary General, President Rajapaksa listed the steps taken to create an environment where all communities can live freely.
The President pointed out that the Minister of Justice is from the Muslim community, the Attorney General is from the Tamil community and many of those holding other key posts are of different communities. President Rajapaksa said the Government has undertaken a great task in building unity among the communities and therefore, no one should have any doubt in this regard. During his talks with Khiari, Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris outlined the recent progress made in domestic processes in relation to reconciliation and human rights, including the proposed revisions to the Prevention of Terrorism Act and reiterated the Government’s commitment to achieving tangible progress.
Sri Lanka pointed out to the UN official how the country has successfully dealt with post-conflict human rights humanitarian, and reconciliation related issues arising in the aftermath of conflict. The steps included handing over all the LTTE child soldiers to their parents, release of over 90 per cent of military acquired lands to owners, demining, rehabilitation and rebuilding of the North and the Eastern Provinces, and reviving economic activity. Tangible progress has been made on the entire range of issues relating to accountability, reconciliation, human rights, peace and sustainable development.
These steps could be taken forward at a faster pace if the Tamil political representatives extend support to the Government instead of seeking American or Indian interventions. Minister Douglas Devananda, leader of Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) has proven how the grievances of Tamil people could be removed by working in close cooperation with the Government. The TNA could take lessons from the EPDP about how to share power and work to uplift the people in the North and East.