Appeal from Tamil Civil Society

by 23 members of Tamil civil society in North & East, March 9, 2013

Appeal from Tamil Civil Society to the International Community regarding the upcoming resolution in the UNHRC on Sri Lanka

This appeal, signed by civil society activists who live and work in the North and East of Sri Lanka, seeks to state our position with regard to the resolution on Sri Lanka to be tabled at the 22nd sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. We understand that the resolution will seek to provide more time to the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations contained in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and that it will fall short of calling for an international independent investigation to hold to account those responsible for the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. If this resolution would contain only the above and no further, in our opinion, it would be truly unfortunate.

We firmly believe that giving more time to the Government of Sri Lanka will lead to irrevocable damage being inflicted on the Tamils. There has been much talk about the ‘progress’ with implementing the LLRC. We welcome HE Navaneetham Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report to the 22nd session of the UNHRC wherein she acknowledges the lack of any significant progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC. We also welcome her call for international independent investigations. However we are disappointed that she still believes and prescribes that the problems faced by the Tamils people in post war- Sri Lanka can be resolved using the LLRC framework.

The main problem with an LLRC based approach to accountability and reconciliation is that it entrusts the task of finding solutions to the problems of the Tamil people in the hands of a regime that is responsible for it. The LLRC and the Geneva Resolution of 2012 deposited their trust in a local process that has forever demonstrated unwillingness in dealing with the issues that challenge the very existence of the Tamil people. But in fact the current ‘internal processes’ and ‘local mechanisms’ are those that are responsible for the problems faced by the Tamil people.

The agenda of the present regime is to buy time to complete its agenda of Sinhalisation in the North and East and thus destroy the existence of the Tamil people in this island country as a collectivity and their political status as a nation. Geneva 2012 gave the Sri Lankan Government the time that it wanted to pursue this agenda. The 22nd session resolution by again insisting on a local process will give further time for the GOSL to complete its agenda. It is very important that the Sri Lankan Government’s post-war approach, isn’t seen merely as a lack of commitment to ‘reconciliation’. It is a set of systematic policies that are deliberately designed to weaken the collective existence of Tamils as a political group – as a nation in the North and East of Sri Lanka. In our opinion what is happening on the ground constitutes a continuing, rolling, systemic genocide against the Tamil people. The 2012 resolution failed to take into account this reality. The 2013 resolution, if it is to alleviate the post-war sufferings of the Tamil people, needs to move beyond the LLRC framework. For this purpose, we think that it is time for the UNHRC to invoke the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine and call for a transitional administration for the North and East of Sri Lanka.

The R2P Doctrine suffered a huge blow in May 2009 when the International Community watched over grave abuses being inflicted on the Tamil people. The doctrine will become a dead letter in international law unless used in the appropriate cases, in a timely manner, in the interests of oppressed peoples. The North and East of Sri Lanka needs a transitional administration because the Government of Sri Lanka has failed its inhabitants, the Tamils, historically, including in the post-war context. To call for a transitional administration should not be interpreted as a call for a separate state. The social transition of the Tamil people from an environment of war and oppression to an environment of peace and justice cannot be achieved under the present framework of Governance. Given that the Government of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala Buddhist polity in general, is reluctant to seriously engage with the political solution question we think that an interim arrangement is of urgent necessity. Hence the call for a transitional administration. The idea of a transitional/interim administration has been explored before in the 2002-2005 peace process and in the post-Tsunami context in Sri Lanka. It needs to be given serious re-thought in the current context.

Regarding the subject of accountability as noted earlier we endorse the call by HE Navaneetham Pillay in her report to the 22nd sessions calling for international independent investigations. The LLRC it has been widely acknowledged is a failure on the question of accountability. No steps have been taken by the GOSL in installing a local process to deal with the accountability issues. We believe that the GOSL neither has the capacity or willingness to undertake any investigations. As HE Navaneetham Pillay implied in her statement on the impeachment of the Chief Justice, the appointment of Mr. Mohan Pieris as CJ, an open and vigorous defender of the Government’s conduct of the war, the prospects of accountability through a local process have become nil.  The UNSG’s Panel of Experts report contains the best of recommendations on accountability and should be given heed to.

We conclude sincerely hoping that the upcoming resolution in the 22nd session of the UNHRC will help the Tamil people climb out of the precarious situation that they are in at present. Geneva 2012 resolution was a very weak demonstration of the global community’s power to bring about positive change in the lives of an affected population. Geneva 2013 is an opportunity to correct the mistakes of 2012. As we write this appeal and as the text of the resolution is being debated in Geneva, a journalist in Jaffna has been attacked, Tamils seeking to agitate about the problems of the disappeared have been prevented from doing so in Vavuniya and from Mulliyavalai in the Mullaitivu district there are reports that the SL Army has asked people to handover private lands to make way for a new army camp. This is a clear demonstration that Geneva is not having an impact on Sri Lanka. We hope that you revisit and revise the draft resolution and strengthen it to make it effective in dealing with the problems that we have identified in this statement.

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