| by Pearl Thevanayagam
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd,
As home his footsteps he hath turn'd,
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust, from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour'd, and unsung. - Sir Walter Scott
(September 03, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian)Tamils have been forced to flee their native land in indecent haste leaving behind their homes, possessions and loved ones due to intolerance of the majority Sinhalese who unleashed untold misery on them since independence. They are second class citizens in their adopted homes in the West and they can draw parallel to the Palestinians, Kurds, Sunni Muslims and the Karen community in Myanmar among many other oppressed people in their native lands. Patriotism is the furthest from the minds of the average Tamil when his own survival is under threat.
It is towards this injustice that the United Nations promulgated Geneva Convention of 1951 on refugees following the annihilation of six million Jews during World War 11 by the maniac Adolf Hitler in his relentless pursuit of a blue-eyed and blonde Aryan race.
UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s exit is not the end of war crimes probe. The message is loud and clear. Investigations into war crimes are going ahead, Ms Pillay has done her homework and they are gathering momentum. That she relinquished her tenure does not mean Sri Lanka could lie on its lotuses and say good riddance of a pesky UN diplomat who they felt was an unwelcoming and interfering busybody who pokes her nose into affairs which it felt was beyond her mandate. Her relentless pursuit in bringing redress to war victims who were subjected to state oppression will not fade away with her retirement.
It is Ms Pillay’s persistence which brought alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka to world scrutiny. History will record that Tamils and other minorities have been systemically side-lined in their legitimate rights and distribution of wealth disproportionately.
Seventy three year old Navaneethem "Navi" Pillay born on 23 September 1941 was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. A South African of Indian Tamil origin, Ms Pillay was the first non-white woman judge of the High Court of South Africa, and she has also served as a judge of the ICC (International Criminal Court) and President of the ICT (International Criminal Tribunal) for Rwanda. Her four-year term as High Commissioner for Human Rights began on 1 September 2008 and was extended an additional two years in 2012.
It is her tenacity, awareness of injustice against minorities which took her to the pinnacle of fighting for the oppressed. The daughter of a humble bus driver growing up in apartheid South Africa and being of Tamil origin, she had to endure racism not just among elite whites but also Africans who viewed Indians with suspicion that they were bettering themselves in the economic and political arena.
Her human rights advocacy needs no publicity since it is well documented in that she fought for Nelson Mandela’s release.
Where does Sri Lanka stand in UNHRC investigations into alleged war crimes? Would blocking access to UNHRC panel thwart the attempt to bring perpetrators to book? Local mechanism in the form of LLRC (Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission) based on South Africa’s TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and the government orchestrated international panel who are paid handsomely cannot mitigate or justify war crimes committed in 2008/2009.
It is the stubborn stance of the government that it only sought to wipe out LTTE terrorism and its abysmal failure to acknowledge that it committed genocide against minority Tamils.
Taking step by step what does UNHRC propose to achieve? It has a universal mandate to probe into human rights violations be they state orchestrated or otherwise. The LTTE committed heinous crimes in the name of carving out an enclave in the North and East for Tamils which it perceived were receiving short shrift from the government. The LTTE’s suicide attacks on innocent civilians in the South have not gone un-noticed.
As much as the Sinhala majority were terrorised by the LTTE not to mention its own Marxist JVPers in the two decades between 1971 and 1990 the country underwent a turbulent period of fear psychosis and intervention by India to bring some kind of sanity in quelling their upsurge. The government’s knee-jerk reaction to these uprisings did not help. While JRJ sought India’s help in quelling both the LTTE and JVP insurgency his successor Ranasinghe Premadasa would boot out Indian forces who he felt were interfering into affairs of the country beyond their mandate. The love-hate relationship between and India and Sri Lanka is well-documented in former Indian High Commissioner J.N.Dixit’s book, Assignment Colombo, which he wrote after his tenure.
Premadasa’s apparent apprehension was that once the IPKF (Indian Peace-keeping Force) became redundant they had no business to remain in Sri Lanka thereby dictating to the government how it should handle its insurgency both from the JVP and the LTTE. Ergo he told in no uncertain terms the IPKF should pack its bags and go home by March 1990.
The war waged on the LTTE did not bring the peace dividends since none of the leaders had a clear-cut strategy to sustain its soldiers or the war victims to join the mainstream and provide them with a promising future. The soldiers decamped with weapons who became minor mercenaries who would be hired to kill at will for a small price and the Tamils forced to live under the jackboot of military control even the as the war was deemed over.
For Tamils to regain their legitimate place in the island’s polity there should be a clear strategy in place both by the government and Tamil politicians who seem to be at loggerheads with each other.
War crimes probe aside it would do bode well for all parties be they the government, segments of Tamil leadership to arrive at a concensus so we do not have another Black July or blood-letting in Nanthikadal. We owe it to all our people to make them proud that this is our own, our native land.
(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at email@example.com)