Sri Lanka: Justice is paramount

The solution to the Tamil national problem must be found through adoption of a new constitution, rejecting marginal reforms through constitutional amendments.

by Vikramabahu Karunaratne

( January 27, 2017, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Last week we witnessed the campaigns of various democratic organisations against disappearances and human rights violations. What happened to Wickrematunge, Prageeth Eknaligoda, Thajudeen and Raviraj attracted attention to the issue of disappearances too. Enforced disappearance is a crime without end. Until parents, wives, siblings, and children know the truth about the fate of a missing family member, they can find it almost impossible to seek justice and reparation. This is the time for all communities to shed tears for these violations of humanistic principles.

All those who came felt they have suffered, and cannot properly mourn their loss. Of these tragedies, Enforced Disappearance has touched every community. Within Lanka there has been virtually no accountability for these grievous crimes, except the general acceptance that these humans were victims of two civil wars. Firstly there was the repression against Sinhala racists that opposed granting power to Tamil people; Secondly the war against Tamil liberation movement. With a backlog of over 100,000 alleged enforced disappearances since the late 1980s, there is no shortage of examples of frustrated justice.

Women seeking accountability

Naturally, family members of the disappeared continue to demand accountability. Their tireless campaign illustrates the impact of these crimes and show the burden placed on those – particularly women – seeking accountability. The lengths to which some families have gone to get attention to their demands are unbelievable. They marched braving very serious threats of retaliation for their activism. Families of the disappeared know what they want and what they need.

It is up to Lankan decision makers to hear their demands and to implement them. Of course some things are impossible. But what happened, where and why should be clear in each case. If Lanka wants to negate its violent past, policymakers must prioritize victims, so they take their rightful place at the centre of the march to future. It should act to criminalize enforced disappearances under Lankan law, and act decisively to protect those who make complaints.

In this scenario Opposition Leader R Sampanthan accused the United National Party (UNP) of working with the Joint Opposition and preventing corrupt officials from being jailed. Some accused, TNA leader appears to be more interested in the corruption in the country than disappearances or the multiple problems the Tamils suffer in their Homeland. They ask, are not the Tamil sufferings important enough to be raised up in the parliament?

Has Sampanthan designated the Tamils as a defeated nation? On the contrary Sampanthan consolidated his power among the Sinhala masses by speaking as a Lankan leader. He would be in a better position now, to raise Tamil self determination now. Speaking in Parliament, Sampanthan said that no one from the opposition has yet been convicted or jailed for corruption. Here he refers to the racist fascistic opposition. He said that some members of the current Government are also corrupt and they must be charged.

Valuable contribution

Sampanthan says the public are fed up of the behaviour of the Government and the Joint Opposition. This is a valuable contribution from the leader of the opposition. Certainly he will be in a better position to fight for the self determination of Tamils.

The new constitution that is being created provides an opportunity to resolve the decades old nationality conflict in the island; that must not be wasted as many such opportunities have been in the past. The constitution must recognize the right of Tamils to self-governance, including in areas of land, and police. The recognition of the North and East of the island as historically the homeland of the Tamils must be preserved, as denoted in the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord.

The solution to the Tamil national problem must be found through adoption of a new constitution, rejecting marginal reforms through constitutional amendments. The mandate given to the TNA by the Tamils in the North and East to seek a political solution providing for self-governance in a unified Northeast must be seriously considered.

Prevention of Terrorism Act

In addition, there are few urgent actions to complete the democratic landscape. Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act immediately. Abolish torture at detention facilities. Release all detainees held under PTA.

Release all land appropriated by the military in the former war zones to civilians. Provide resettlement and rehabilitation assistance through civilian authorities. As in other districts, keep only one army camp in districts in Tamil homeland too. Take steps to develop Tamil speaking regiment in the Lankan army. The practice of the Sinhala military engaging in civilian activities in the Tamil areas must cease. The justice mechanisms for war crimes or crimes against humanity must consist of a combined structure with judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators from all three communities Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim.


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