What they said at the LLRC

Following report submitted by the Tamil Broadcating Corporation ( TBC) to the LLRC
on 23rd of November 2010

by V Ramaraj, V Sivalingam and S Jeganathan

(December 21, London, Sri Lanka Guardian)
To begin with, we would like to give thanks for the opportunity given to us to put forth a submission before the Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission.

Our radio, the Tamil Broadcasting Corporation, has been operating from the UK for the past ten years, sending its broadcast service throughout Africa, Europe and the Middle East directly through the internet.

Our aims are to uphold the identities of Tamils living in foreign countries and to solve the problems under the title of human rights. We aim to go about this in a humanitarian, democratic and equal way, irrespective of caste, creed or race in international norms. Through this we hope to encourage the unity of Sri Lanka, develop good relationships within races, and fight against terrorism and the abuse of human rights. This is the basis on which we operate, in both a Tamil and Sinhala medium.

However, our radio operated with much difficulty over the years, with constant intimidation from powers closely linked to the LTTE. In spite of this, we persevered to bring current affairs to the fore through many discussions and interviews; through our broadcasts we engaged the Tamil diaspora to discuss the issues that mattered openly and without fear. Due to the nature of our work, we were targeted and our station was on more than one occasion attacked. During the talks between the LTTE and the Government in Norway, the LTTE had pressured the Government to put an end to the TBC broadcasts in Sri Lanka.

It is midst this overwhelming pressure and intimidation that we would like to submit to you a report, covering the period between 2002 and 2009,that details the burden on the conscience and expectations of the Sri Lankan Diaspora. Our radio has many listeners and well-wishers, and maintains continuous good interrelation amongst our listeners. Therefore, we feel we are in a good position to submit authoritatively the feelings of Tamil and Muslim Sri Lankans living in Europe and the Middle East.

The terms of inquiry of this Commission are between 2002-2009, but these problems have a much longer history. The 2002 CFA and its failures cannot be put down to the LTTE attempting to sabotage it. After the independence of 1948 there were many talks which led to pacts, which have failed. This is the background context from which we have to address the whole problem, including the failure of the 2002 CFA.
Tamil refugees have settled in several countries in Europe, amongst them there are those who are involved in politics, directly or indirectly, or terrorist activities, directly or indirectly. Across the spectrum however, there are many adherents of Tamil Nationalism. There was some belief amongst them that they will achieve Tamil Eelam through the LTTE. This was down to several reasons: to the many successful attacks carried out by the Tigers and the attempt by the Government to invite them for peace talks. People who believed in Tamil nationalism supported the LTTE as there were no proposals for an ethnic solution on the Government agenda and they were fed up with Government activities to oppress this struggle through military means. Although these people knew the solution for this ethnic problem could not be solved either by armed struggle or under the slogan of Tamil Eelam, they were forced to accept this ideology through external circumstances. We believe the main reason that people participated in protests and meetings in European countries was to oppose fundamentally the way the Government undertook to oppress the democratic voice of people by violent means and not because of a desire to see Tamil Eelam or support for terrorism. Particularly in the UK, election to local bodies or other position were considerably determined by Tamils as they formed significant majorities in certain constituencies. Hence MPs representing these constituencies took part in the activities of Lankan Tamils who in turn expressed support for the LTTE. We would like to point out that unless the Government of Sri Lanka makes constructive proposals or reforms to address the ethnic problem, then European countries will continue to pressurise the Government of Sri Lanka. If the Government think that LTTE propaganda forces have constructed this state of affairs, then that is false.

A section of Tamils living in Europe operate in a well-organised manner. Their main motive was to collect money for the LTTE. The organised protests, processions, meetings, sports festivals and so on were done to propagate the cause and raise funds for the struggle. They never speak of legitimate solutions for the struggle, but rather speak of murder, rape and robbery of Tamils by armed forces and thereby raise negative feelings amongst the diaspora. They always say they want money to support the Government in Wanni, which was functioned efficiently with the support of 3 armed forces (Army, Navy and the Air Force). It is the reality of this local government’s power that made the Government of Sri Lanka to join the talks.

It should be acknowledged therefore that the political attitude of the Tamil diaspora is for a separate, rigid administrative body and not an independent state which will give them a honourable solution. This can be traced from the events of 19th May 2009.

If you observe the incidences which occurred after the 19th May 2009, the pseudo-nationalism by the LTTE was a failure and yet, the real Tamil nationalism is rising up vigilantly. This can be attributed to the inability of the TNA, defeat of the LTTE, incidents in Mulliwaikkal, the grievances and experiences of displaced people as well as the attitude of the present Government towards delivering a solution to the ethnic problem.

The incidents after May 19th made Muslims and also Sinhalese to think that they were some way or other cheated out of real closure to the ethnic problem. This made one section of Sri Lanka’s divided community to push towards one nation, and the other section to approach global support. This may lead to global pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka or to support the anti-national elements which may any way be good. But we feel sorry to say that this is due to those in power presently.

Dear Commissioners!

The expat Tamils, many of them aspire to live in a united Sri Lanka. They desire a dignified political solution, and so they are acting towards both. In the past, Tamil people were cheated by the Tamil leadership, including the LTTE, as well as the Sinhala leadership. Due to that, they sought to find an alternative solution to address these problems. During 2002, after the ceasefire agreement, the expat Tamil community felt that there would be an extended peace, and thus went to buy land in Tamil areas, Colombo and other Sinhala areas.

However, during this ceasefire agreement period, the LTTE prepared for a war. The people assumed the objective of the military activity was for the defence of Tamil areas rather than for the purposes of fighting a war. The LTTE accumulated weapons to protect areas under their control because they were not under the impression that there would be peace, rather, that they had to fight to maintain these areas from the Sri Lankan state.

The strong supporters of the LTTE also bought land, mostly in the Wanni region. The 2007 war started in the Mawilaru. The belief amongst expat Tamils is that this was imposed by the Sri Lankan army, because they felt that the LTTE would not want to instigate a war. Rather, the LTTE wanted to keep the Wanni area under their control, and as Mawilaru shares a border with the Wanni region it was in their interest not to fight in that area. Maybe the war started in Mawilaru, but it was imposed by the Sri Lankan army.

During this ceasefire agreement, many expat Tamils returned to Sri Lanka, however their experiences was very negative. Those who stayed in Colombo were asked to register their names at their local police stations. Incidents were also reported that relatives of these expats, as well as their lodgers, were harassed by the police. For those who went north, the LTTE took their passports and asked money from them to compensate for the years they have lived away from the mother land and hence not contributing to the cause.

Young people from the North and East regions of Sri Lanka who were residing in Colombo, were reportedly taken by police in vans to be returned to their native regions. Business people, including expat Tamils, were kidnapped in white vans and some were held for ransom, or killed. The expat community were disturbed by these incidents. In the capital of the country there was virtually no security and the criminals involved in these incidents were not brought to justice, therefore these were practically extrajudicial killings. The personal experiences of the expat community therefore bought them to believe there was no justice for them. Their trust and sense of peace was violated; many became of the opinion that they would not return.

The current situation as of 2010 has engendered a similar mindset amongst expat Tamils. As a result of the closure of fighting, they felt that this would be an opportunity for them to return to see friends and family, many of whom they have not seen for a long time. Yet at the same time, they feel that there is no peace. Those who had escaped the horrors of war do not believe that they would live under the dignity of peace and their democratic rights. That hope has vanished.

Dear Commissioners!

The expats in Europe are discussing the current situation after the war, as well as their experiences and political future. Of special note is the report put forward by the APRC leader, Professor Tissa Vitharana. TBC radio has held very wide discussions on this report. Professor and Minister Tissa Vitharana, Muslim Congress leader Rauf Hakeem and Nizam Kariappar all participated in these discussions on TBC radio. TBC also organised meetings in France, Germany, Switzerland and Great Britain to hold such discussions about the report. In response to the APRC proposals these are the main things that came out of the discussions:

1. Accepting that the minimum unit of devolution is a provincial council
2. Annex C of the 13th amendment should be withdrawn as it allows central government to control the provincial councils
3. The operational area of the provincial councils should be clearly demarcated for competence to legislate; the central government has purposively kept the demarcations abstract so that they may impose their control where there are ambiguities.
4. The formation of a second chamber, the Senate, is something expats also support as well as the intentions behind the formation of this Senate because of its inbuilt balances.

During the sittings of the APRC, it has been observed that there is support for their proposals amongst the expat communities and it is growing, especially after the end of the war.

The terms of inquiry of this Commission are between 2002-2009, but these problems have a much longer history. The 2002 CFA and its failures cannot be put down to the LTTE attempting to sabotage it. After the independence of 1948 there were many talks which led to pacts, which have failed. This is the background context from which we have to address the whole problem, including the failure of the 2002 CFA. There are a few important pacts over this long period, notably the Banda-Chelva pact of 1957 and the Dudley-Chelva pact of 1965. However, the real milestone was the Indo-Lanka pact of 1987. This is because this is the first pact which involved the help of an outside country to resolve these internal problems, thus international support was also there. Yet, Tamils were not part of the pact; they were not signatories to it. This was therefore a bilateral agreement. This pact failed to give mutual understanding between the communities and in actuality created an even further gap between the communities in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government used the LTTE to weaken this pact; there was a war between the IPKF and the LTTE, and the Prime Minister of India was murdered- as a result of these experiences the 1987 peace accord failed. This history has also led people to believe that in turn, the 2002 CFA would fail, which is an important element as to why it ultimately did.

The CFA of 2002 was weakened by its history, but these failures were attributed to the United National Party who was seen as giving over parts of the country to the LTTE, who in turn were preparing for war. These developments indicated that the CFA was never for the purposes of peace. The latest war against the LTTE has been said to be one against terrorism but also in protection of the motherland; anybody who criticises the war is a traitor. The essence of this approach totally disregarded the underlying problems which had caused tensions in the first place but also attempted to define Tamils as traitors to the country. The campaign calling for the protection of the Mother Land is the one which has directed this line of thinking. The CFA of 2002 was thus used as a tool to help divide the country; the UNP were blamed and labelled as friends of the LTTE. As a result, both Tamils and the UNP were defined as traitors to the country. The campaign during the war did not feature a new approach or solution to the national question. Rather, the war was driven through the lens of a Sinhala nationalist viewpoint. This lead to a culture of fear was created amongst minorities.

When the CFA was operational, the LTTE leaders visited Western countries. They engaged in meetings with western expats, and during those meetings, they claimed that the CFA had given the opportunity to set up separate, autonomous administrations. This opportunity had come because they had equal strengths, and therefore they needed to maintain their military structure.

They were careful to use language which did not touch on this explicitly, but it was couched in terms of maintaining a military structure. Essentially they were campaigning for money. When the Sri Lankan state accepted the CFA, they recognised that there was in fact an administration in Wanni. They also accepted the fact of the LTTE’s military strength. If we take this statement of facts at face value, for the sake of argument, we can say the CFA failed because they did not observe or implement the CFA properly. We come therefore to the conclusion that the failure of the CFA come down to one, the failure to implement the peace accord and secondly, that the Norwegian Monitoring Group did not carry out their functions properly. If that is so, both sides had never expected peace to come out of the CFA. It only functioned as a peace accord in name.

The actions of the LTTE sympathisers in Europe only functioned to strengthen the Wanni administration. The repercussions of these actions were such that the democratic forces that were working in the Western countries warned of future dangers if such a route were continued to be pursued. But the strength of these democratic voices was limited. One of the main points to acknowledge is that the Sri Lankan state ignored the democratic elements who are attempting to work against the LTTE. In the North and East of Sri Lanka, the independent and democratic organisations forces attempted to work against the LTTE’s anti-democratic, terrorist and violent actions. The Sri Lankan government deliberately failed to take any constructive action in light of this, failing to strengthen, protect or even unify these forces. Instead, they chose to stand a side and watch them destroy each other. There was a parallel situation in Western states also. In the West, there were many campaigns which were against the Sri Lankan state, which worried the Sri Lankan government. Yet, they were also negligent of the democratic forces in those countries that campaigned against the LTTE, partly because they were also not supportive of the Sri Lankan state. This was because these pro-democratic groups exposed the human rights violations of both parties. For example, the LTTE recruitment of child soldiers was made evident to various human rights organisations, with factual support provided by these pro-democratic groups.

The Sri Lankan Embassies functioning in Europe had to analyse this situation and had to act on it. But because those working in the embassies are politically appointed, they limited their activities to Sinhala expatriates. In the United Kingdom, they appointed a career diplomat High Commissioner. As she was a career diplomat, she organised various sections of the people, and gave the opportunity for expat Tamils to also participate in these matters.

Thus the embassy became a good platform for discussion across the various sections of the Sri Lankan expat community. Whilst it only lasted for a short period of time, it gave a good picture of how the Embassy could function to facilitate communication within and between the communities. However, prior to and post her tenure , the appointees had only spoken with expat Tamils to campaign against the LTTE, rather than realising the importance of reconciliation. It appeared that the embassy was prioritising acting as an intelligence gathering outpost as opposed to working with the democratic forces towards reconciliation. They expected that everyone would simply support the government position, and not considering that these individuals are Sri Lankans.

At this moment in 2010 we have to register the developments taking place in Tamil areas and focus on that. These development programmes did not gain the participation of those living in these areas; rather the military is the body through which decisions relating to these areas have been taken. International experience shows that this decision process leads to corruption and waste. Due to the war, many people had left their homes. Now, both the government and the military are citing various, and contradictory, reasons for these individuals to not return to their homes. They have set up military camps, claimed land mines have not been removed, as well as claiming that these land-rights are no longer with these individuals (partly due to claimed illegal settlements set up by the LTTE). There are many more reasons cited. Those decisions have to be made for the benefit for the public, but rather than explain the reasoning behind their action, they have refused to elaborate, leading to doubt as to their true intentions. The land problem has created a problem for a future civil war. Amongst the Tamil people it is believed that if the military move from these areas, then civil war will erupt. This matter should be resolved through legal avenues. We need a civil administration that functions properly. The people who are living outside the country who own land and houses are worried about the illegal occupation of their property. The government should allow the space for civil administration in these areas to grow.

The government desires investment from the Sri Lankan expatriate community. For that to occur, they need to address these worries and developments. The main factor for lack of outside investment is lack of security for investors as the government has allowed such a volatile situation to develop. They have also not set up transparent mechanisms to ensure that the investments would be utilised in the Tamil areas. If they allow the provincial council with enough rights, then the opportunity for investment would be stronger. If the government wants to observe these things, then they can appoint an audit commissioner there to ensure that the investment is used for only rebuilding and development purposes.

In Sri-Lanka, if we expect racial reconciliation and North/East re-development, then the Government must ensure expatriate Sri Lankans dual nationality, as well as change the laws of the country to deliver justice. Those who are living in the West have expressed an aspiration to live in their Motherland for the latter part of their lives. Also many educationalists, investors and professionals who could be facilitated to go there would in turn help the country.

The TBC are thankful for the opportunities given here in the West. It has facilitated good relations with Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities living in the West. At the same time, if minorities are to be bought under the unifying umbrella of a Sri Lankan identity, then the majority community must change in a considerable way. We believe these changes have to be through structural, political, social and cultural means. We believe that this Commission’s duty is very significant. If they expand to foreign countries, then this will help to ensure that many sections across the Sri Lankan community can be involved, in turn making the Commission’s report more representative and all-encompassing.

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