Sarath Gamani De Silva, in The Sunday Island, 26 February 2021, where the title runs “Problems in Geneva: Facts that brought us here””
The annual patriotic taunts and the laments of the majority are heard as the day of reckoning approaches in Geneva. We are shouting ourselves hoarse, complaining that the whole world is ganging up against the brave Sri Lankans, to punish them for eliminating the most brutal terrorist outfit the world has ever seen. It is true that what was achieved in 2009 is something that no other country could do in eliminating terrorism. But does that guarantee peace when the basic grievances that led to civil unrest over the years have not been addressed?
This article is not an attempt to justify violence, untruth or deplorable and unprincipled activities of other countries. Nor is it to devalue the achievements up to 2009. The intention is to open the eyes of my own countrymen to the reality of the hopeless situation facing the nation.
As mentioned in earlier articles, the seeds for racial disharmony were laid during the British colonial period. With their divide-and-rule method, they pitted the majority community against the minorities. This was done by establishing proportionately more schools in the North to ensure a better education, and thereby giving them superior positions in government service. Thus, with the country gaining Independence in 1948, and the Sinhalese gaining the upper hand, the minorities, mainly Northern Tamils, felt disadvantaged. They tried negotiations with the Southern politicians. Naturally, their demands like Ponnambalam’s 50-50 were unjust, but we could have negotiated that. With the watershed political upheaval in 1956, the situation became very volatile. With the Sinhala chauvinists becoming very influential and vociferous, taking politicians virtual hostage to achieve their aims, the minorities were getting increasingly marginalised. The Bandaranaike- Chelvanayakam Pact and later the Dudley-Chelvanayakam Pact were not honoured, without working on them to solve the ongoing disputes. There were several episodes of violence against unarmed members of the minorities during that period.
With the overwhelming electoral victory of the UNP in 1977 (followed immediately by another bout of violence), the majority assumed that whatever grievances of the minorities could be stepped over. Eventually, the Tamils were expelled from Parliament blaming their non-allegiance to the Constitution, leaving them with no forum to air their grievances. The terrorist outfits were taking shape in the North, claiming to be the sole representatives of the oppressed. The Southern leaders ignored the political sensitivities of India, which strengthened the terrorists calling them “Freedom Fighters”.
The pogrom of 1983 is the darkest patch in the recent history of our paradise. The unarmed Tamils in Colombo were killed, even burnt alive and their property looted. With the government not making any efforts to curtail the violence for several days, there was a worrying suspicion of state patronage. Many Tamils, who worried about their lives, escaped to Western countries. Naturally, they were warmly welcomed as refugees in those countries as their embassies here were witnesses to what happened in Colombo and elsewhere. From then on, the Eelam war escalated, and it is not necessary to detail here the damage done in both human and material terms over thirty years. Many subsequent peace overtures of the government were rejected by the terrorists, who were determined to establish their own Eelam.
After eliminating terrorism in 2009, what actions have we taken to restore lasting peace? Have we had at least belatedly, an ongoing dialogue sans political rhetoric with the Tamil leaders to see what their grievances are and taken steps to address them? Instead, our politicians kept on boasting of their “victory”, further arousing separatist tendencies with communal rhetoric, purely to ensure that their success in winning the battles will keep them in power for generations. They were fighting with each other claiming credit for what was achieved.
The Tamil refugees who settled down in Western countries were establishing themselves. Well educated and employed, they are working according to a plan. With their natural energy, determination and ambition, characteristics we used to admire in our Northern countrymen for ages, they are flourishing making the best use of the opportunities provided there. The diaspora is making use of their increasing numbers to influence the local politicians, who are interested in winning their votes, to speak up for them at influential fora. They themselves have taken to politics and entered legislatures.
One can imagine the grudge they must be harbouring against us. They will tell the generations to come about barbaric violence they suffered. That generation, about everyone under 40 years of age at present, will not be informed of terrorism, suicide bombers, child soldiers, killing of innocent villagers, massacre of Samanera monks or bombing of Buddhist holy sites. They will be taught only about the 1983 pogrom and unsubstantiated allegations of civilian killings and the elimination of their “freedom fighters” in 2009. In fact, there is a campaign in Toronto schools to have a week declared every year to commemorate the so called “Tamil Genocide”. This and subsequent generations in the diaspora will be increasingly hostile to us. Though the LTTE remains proscribed in many countries, they have managed to operate freely with political patronage.
There is no use in shouting ourselves hoarse about the unforgivable crimes committed by the rebels during the war years if future security and peace is the concern of Sri Lankans. We will be facing this formidable force of the diaspora at every international forum in the future. Our diplomats, who are mostly the kinsmen or other acolytes of those in power and grossly unqualified to represent the country, have failed miserably to give the correct picture to those that matter. The whole world is well aware of the atrocities committed by the Tigers. Yet, successive governments have failed to exploit that knowledge to turn the world opinion favourable to us.
Despite all this, many educated members of the diaspora still love this country. Many of my colleagues there are still dreaming of the day they might be able to return after retirement. They keep visiting us regularly, having bought property here. Some have put up hospitals, churches and indulge in other public service ventures to help especially those in the North. So many doctors having achieved high positions in the health services overseas, help the country train our postgraduate doctors.
Sri Lankan politicians are still fighting among themselves without any concrete plans to counteract the allegations being made. Enough ammunition is being provided to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNHCR, to work against the country. After agreeing to various conditions imposed over the years, but dishonouring them immediately afterwards, the country has become one of the most untrustworthy to deal with. Those in power keep blaming the previous governments for the international agreements reached, without working for a common stance to face the imminent threat. Guarantees are being given repeatedly to the international community about an impartial judiciary to deal with various allegations emanating from the ethnic war. At the same time, new legislation is enacted to ensure that the opponents of the government are punished by a judiciary handpicked by the rulers. While saying that minority rights are being respected, the Muslims are denied their fundamental right to bury their dead.
It is meaningless to claim that other countries should not interfere with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, which is a sovereign state. Having signed many international conventions and agreements, we cannot seek self-isolation when the situation suits us. We have allowed our internal matters to be discussed at international fora by failing miserably to solve them ourselves, often due to political expediency. This has forced our own citizens to seek relief from international organisations. If not for the influence and intervention of external sources, by now many countries in the world would have become ruthless dictatorships torturing their own citizens.
If the gravity of the issue was realised, a permanent secretariat should have been established in the foreign ministry long ago, with experienced diplomats purely to conduct an international campaign against the misinformation, and give the correct picture to foreign countries and various organisations that matter.
Our politicians know that they can fool most Sri Lankan voters all the time. But if they believe they can continue to fool the international community in the same way, they are sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, the whole nation will suffer paying for their folly.
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