To strengthen Tamil-speaking community: TNA Urges Govt to Rethink Strategy

BY SULOCHANA RAMIAH MOHAN | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 27 2021
Focus To strengthen Tamil-speaking community: TNA Urges Govt to Rethink Strategy

BY SULOCHANA RAMIAH MOHAN 

On their journey to the US and Canada, the two Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs M.A. Sumanthiran and 29-year-old Shanakiyan Rasamanickam were carrying the message to strengthen the Tamilspeaking community, including the Muslims in the North and East for a political settlement. 

This occurred with the participation of the international community and banned Global Tamil Forum (GTF). It received a raving welcome, despite a bitter reception from a faction of the Tamil Diaspora who are bent on separatism and demanded the two “traitors” should leave Canada without being stooges of the Government of Sri Lanka. Members of the delegation included the two TNA MPs and members of the GTF and well-wishers. 

In Washington, the delegation met Assistant Secretary of State, Ambassador Donald Lu, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Ambassador Kelly Keiderling, Acting Assistant Secretary Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Lisa J. Peterson, Ambassador Michael Kozak of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, and Director for South Asia Security Affairs and Director for Democracy and Human Rights of the National Security Council at the White House. 

The delegation also met senior staff members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Assistant Administrator of USAID, Legislators from the United States Congress, and former US Ambassadors to Sri Lanka and Assistant Secretaries for the region. In New York, the delegation met the US Deputy Permanent Representative for the UN General Assembly, the Permanent Representatives to the UN General Assembly for Norway, and the Irish Republic, along with senior officials from the Office of the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. 

Journey to US and Canada 

Prior to their departure, Sumanthiran and Shanakiyan met Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament, implying that they may have informed him about their trip to Canada, a country that had welcomed over 300,000 Sri Lankans during the ethnic clashes and the ensuing 30 years of war. Also, in February this year, former US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz met TNA members and discussed the current situation in the North. This discussion was held at a hotel in Jaffna. TNA Kilinochchi District MP S. Shritharan, former MP Mavai Senathirajah, and former Chairman of the Northern Provincial Council C.V.K. Sivagnanam were present. 

In June, the TNA parliamentarians also met the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, who pledged to support equality and implementation of the 13th Amendment. The TNA also met British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton on 18 November and the problems faced by the Tamils in the North was discussed. 

The tour to the United States and Canada included a few key elements, such as merging the North and East, uniting the Tamil-speaking community of the North and East, including Muslims, and urging their support in finding a permanent solution to the national issue through the defunct 13th Amendment. 

Sumanthiran and Shanakiyan had met top US officials over 10 times. They met Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu. He tweeted, underscoring that human rights and reconciliation are central to US foreign policy on Sri Lanka. He said the US joins Sri Lankan Tamil people in search of lasting peace and full voice in deciding their country’s future. In Ottawa, there were two meetings, one with MPs and the other with the Global Affairs Ministry. They were also invited to speak to Sri Lankan Muslims living in Canada. 

The journey to the US began after the TNA made numerous attempts to meet the Government to discuss the pending matters, such as the reforms brought to the new Constitution, but those attempts were either postponed or ignored completely. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, instead said what is needed is developing the region. His commitment to discuss the devolution of power, PTA prisoners, and revoking the PTA is bleak to date. TNA Leader R. Sampanthan, on planning a meeting with the President, said all attempts were futile or with little reception. 

This has been raised as concerns by Sampanthan, the senior most Tamil politician in the country. He told the diplomatic circle about the Government’s lackadaisical move in focusing on the issues of the Tamils of the country. This was a longstanding issue from the time Sri Lanka gained Independence noted Shanakiyan, while addressing a meeting in Toronto last week. He said he does not want his grandchild also to talk about the same issue and that would only prove that, as an MP, Shanakiyan had failed too. 

All of this resulted in Sampanthan sending the two orators to the United States and Canada to meet several top US Government officials as well as the very own Tamil Diaspora, which has been a major stumbling block for the Government. The Tamil Diaspora network is one of the most powerful, and their connectivity is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are the quickest in running news pitches about the Sri Lankan Government on YouTube news channels and holding discussions about every move made by the Rajapaksas, the TNA, and all negative incidents that occur in the country. Such channels are popular in Tamil Nadu as well, where they are frequently watched and created. 

The Tamil Diaspora has been criticising the Government since the war ended. However, it is the TNA that has been cornered on all occasions. Tamils in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Australia, and Canada are divided on many issues, and a separatist faction has rejected and dejected the TNA, claiming that they are not the sole representatives of Sri Lankan Tamils. However, there is a sizable Tamil community that supports the TNA’s vision and views, including the Canadian Tamil Congress and the Global Tamil Forum, and would like to see the Tamils have devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka. 

Despite the fact that the TNA’s popularity is dwindling, it is Shanakiyan who has unquestionably lifted the spirit of the TNA and has been warmly welcomed by Sri Lanka’s Muslim community. As a trilingual politician, he has been expressively explaining the plights of the country’s Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims in all three languages, capturing the attention of the Southerners. The TNA was apt in selecting Shanakiyan over many of the stalwart members of the TNA. Shanakiyan, during the tour, maintained that most of the discussion and thoughts were not of the TNA, and his own. He explained that he does not need to take the permission of the TNA to speak to the Tamil audience, and he will not do that on all occasions. 

US State Department created uproar 

The visit to the US State Department and a tweet that named the Sri Lankan Tamils as minority Tamil, irked the Diaspora, who wanted that statement to be withdrawn. Within their network, they reprimanded Sumanthiran for calling the Tamils as ‘minority,’ when they are the inhabitants of the North and East. To this end, Sumanthiran told the audience in Canada that it was not his views. 

On 21 November, Sumanthiran said “We are not responsible for what the US State Department had tweeted and the faction of the Diaspora is looking for points to create an uproar, but they are not worried about it, as they have one message, and that is to fight for justice only and it could be for any community that calls themselves Sri Lankans. The meeting was suspended after some Tamils stormed the venue, but was held the next day. 

They also met Sri Lankan Muslims living there. Sumanthiran pointed out that at the Pottuvil to Polikandy protest march, there were Muslims who joined them, when they passed their villages, and said the Muslims should journey with them throughout until a political settlement is found. He said the political settlement would be born out of the blessings from the Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims, and Muslims cannot be isolated. 

He also quipped that on most occasions, the Muslims have not been supportive of the Tamils, in their fight and their aspirations, whereas they have stood with them and their needs for more collaboration and connection with both communities to strengthen the North and East to achieve their goals. Shanakiyan stressed that in Parliament, he is called a Tiger, while in Canada he was chided for not being a Tiger supporter, and this is the challenge that he and the TNA face in Sri Lanka.

However, their whole visit was about getting the approval of the Tamil Diaspora to unite and strengthen the party and the Tamil people, he said. Shanakiyan said many of the Tamils want to migrate to Canada and EU countries, whereas his plea was that the Tamil Diaspora come forward to create cities like in Canada in the North and East in Sri Lanka. He also said due to land-grabbing and negative political culture, the Tamil identity is destroyed, and the Tamil areas are captured systematically, and very soon there will be no land left for Tamils and Muslims, he added. 

Although there are many forms of gaining rights for our people, all the activities and projects that they expect will be set up, so that we follow the non-violent path of our traditional party, the TNA, and embody their long-standing aspirations for our people in Sri Lanka. I have faced a lot of opposition and the opposition is the reason for my growth. I’m not going to be bullied anytime soon, Shanakiyan highlighted. Shanakiyan stood his ground that in the Eastern Province, major changes are being brought by the Government to spite the Tamils living there, and very soon politically they will not have a say. 

The two parliamentarians also visited the Canadian Parliament. “We discussed matters concerning human rights, the need for a political solution, and how we can uplift the current economy. It was on an invitation of a Canadian Member of Parliament. We discussed the issues we face in the North and East, such as illegal land-grabbing and resource exploitation, the associated political crisis and human rights abuses, and put forward a number of proposals for future development projects that could benefit our people, and our solemn demands that the Government of Sri Lanka exert appropriate pressure on the Government of Canada to reach solutions for our people as soon as possible,” they said. 

The TNA MPs have told several local Media that their tour “sounded positive” and it is now left for the Sri Lankan Government also to rethink a strategy to make up things for the betterment of Sri Lanka. The TNA duo said within a country there are different communities, and their traditions and religions should be respected, before considering ‘One Country, One Law’ and that would bring ethnic harmony.

TNA calls for a more engaged US role  

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) delegation had many engagements in the US between 15-22 November, articulating Tamil people’s concerns to key US Government policymakers and Members of the US Congress. The TNA delegation expressed its deep appreciation to the US leadership at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in promoting accountability, reconciliation, and human rights in Sri Lanka. 

While calling for continued leadership of the United States Government (USG) at the UNHRC and in light of Sri Lanka’s failure to make satisfactory progress on implementing UNHRC Resolution 46/1, USG was encouraged to consider a multifaceted approach in addressing the many challenges in Sri Lanka. The particular focus of the current engagement was to call for a proactive US role in promoting a holistic approach to reconciliation, which would include addressing the root cause of conflict and human rights violations, the denial of political rights to the Tamil people. 

The delegation emphasised that addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace, dignity, and meaningful power devolution is critical in guaranteeing nonrecurrence. The present conditions in Sri Lanka and the serious economic difficulties faced by the people, and the vulnerability of the country for external manipulations – were also highlighted to the US. The challenges faced by the Tamil community on a daily basis to protect their land and preserve their identity in the Tamil majority Northern and Eastern Provinces against rampant militarisation and State-sponsored initiatives aimed at altering regional demography was discussed. 

Details of some of the recent land appropriation measures by the Government of Sri Lanka were presented and the urgency to counter such measures with international assistance was sought. The opportunities and challenges for changing the present conditions in Sri Lanka was highlighted and the transformative role that the USG could play, in alignment with India at this critical juncture was underscored. Preventing further deterioration of the governance and economic ills of the country and fostering equality and reconciliation among all its communities was emphasised and called for. 

BY SULOCHANA RAMIAH MOHAN | Published: 2:00 AM Nov 27 2021

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