Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Seeking Justice in a Racist State

EelamNation.net editorial, March 26, 2008

These are ordinary, simple but credible people, with no time for terrorism, with a common sense approach to justice, who come forward to assist the Commission to seek the truth. Instead of the Sri Lankan state protecting them, it has alienated and outlawed them while protecting and defending the real perpetrators of the crimes.

For a Tamil-speaking person seeking justice from the racist state of Sri Lanka is like writing a letter to Santa Claus...  Fighting terrorism in Sri Lanka is synonymous with denying justice to the Tamil people and oppressing them.

In Sri Lanka the state is said to be fighting terrorism, but it is actually at war with the Tamil-speaking people. The Sri Lankan state, with its justice system and security forces highly politicised, a public service that is subservient, is effectively President Rajapakse with the powers of almost an absolute monarch, his brothers and their sycophants. When it comes to the oppression of the Tamil people they act in unison.  In so far as the Tamil-speaking society is concerned, Sri Lanka is a police state at perpetual war against them with terrorism used as a pretext.

In this column we focus only on the matter of dispensation of justice in the immediate context and not on other forms of the numerous injustices that the Tamil-speaking people have to endure.

This is not to say that all Sinhalese people are free of injustices and have recourse to justice within such an authoritarian police state.  

It will be recalled that one of the Rajapakse brothers, while being an advisor to the President, brazenly referred to a Tamil parliamentarian from the Plantation sector publicly as “Para Thamala”, the worst form of derogatory racist remark that could be used against a Tamil. Instead of his being immediately sacked, he was soon elevated to the rank of a cabinet minister. 

Take the most recent case of the journalist J S Tissanayagam who has been taken into custody without any reason being given and kept there purely for being a Tamil. In his petition, Tissanayagam a credible and respected journalist, has said that his “arrest and detention amounted to discrimination on the basis of his ethnicity”. He has also stated that his arrest without reasonable ground for suspicion and against the due process of law and the manner in which the investigation was being conducted was a violation of his rights guaranteed under Article 13 (1) of the Constitution. Who cares for the provisions of the constitution and its amendments? --- Not even the President of Sri Lanka, but unfortunately that is the only recourse that Tissanayagam is left with.

Take again the conduct of the Commission of Inquiry (Commission), having been appointed to carry out an investigation, to inquire into how previous  investigations had been carried out and identify those who committed the human rights violations, including the various killings but  not to prosecute them. The Commission has now been turned into a court of law with all the legalistic drama being enacted with, for example, an untutored parent, Yogarajah, who had lost his two sons in two different execution-style killings by the Special Task Force (STF) come to testify, being grilled on the legality of a statue in Trincomalee. Further, the parent has stated that while the post mortem was being carried out, he had to sign a document claiming that his son was from the LTTE, for the body to be released.

Imagine a minister of state offering a house in Colombo to a father as replacement for the life of his son who had been gunned down by the STF.  This is what Dr Manoharan, the father of one of the boys killed in Trincomalee, in execution style, had to say at the Commission of Inquiry proceedings: “I have no confidence and trust that I will get justice from the government of Sri Lanka. There are several reasons for this. The minister who spoke to me said ‘you are trying to approach international human rights organisations and create an issue and trying to tarnish the name of the country.’ Even this commission could be dissolved before the proceedings come to a proper conclusion.” This is exactly what the Sri Lankan state is trying to do to the Commission with all kinds of impediments placed on its way. It now transpires that the minister has all along known who the killers are. This reveals why the Commission was conceived and what a fraud it has been, taking its members for a long ride.

Consider the evidence Ravi Shantha, the aunt of one of the Action Centre la Faim (ACF) aid workers killed in August 2006 in the northeastern town of Muttur, telling the Commission that too much time had passed and she did not trust that she will be given justice in this case. Shantha said to Reuters after giving evidence about the last known movements of her nephew, Ambigavathy Jayaseelan. “It’s almost two years. Nobody has talked about justice and I do not think I will able to get it, even after this,” at the end of an emotional four hours in the witness box (Reuters).

These are three different persons, and near relatives of the victims, who seek justice. These are ordinary, simple but credible people, with no time for terrorism, with a common sense approach to justice, who come forward to assist the Commission to seek the truth. Instead of the Sri Lankan state protecting them, it has alienated and outlawed them while protecting and defending the real perpetrators of the crimes.

In a climate of threat, direct and indirect, to the lives of anyone who might identify persons responsible for human rights violations the Commission will get no where if it is to depend on Tamil witnesses now said to be living in Sri Lanka. On its own admission some have disappeared.

If you are in Sri Lanka and Tamil-speaking, do not flirt with justice for you will only be wasting your time. Justice in Sri Lanka is no longer blind.