by Revd. Chandi Sinnathurai
The first thing one notices walking about in the ‘Tiger territory’ is that there aren’t any beggars. Later conversations with the ‘Poraligal’ [Freedom fighters] revealed that there is no reason for poor people to beg, borrow or steal. This was too good to be true – especially in the so-called third world. You only have to go a few hours drive to Jaffna [a State-controlled Tamil territory], and you’ll be surrounded by beggars pleading for money – or for that matter, one only have to go to the capital Colombo.
So, what is the secret? Talk to a few locals; meander around the block; wander at the Bus Station. It’s definitely true that there aren’t not only any beggars here, but also pickpockets and tricksters. The Tamil Eelam Social Services Department takes care of all that, quite efficiently. ‘We have fertile lands; plenty of jobs in the development projects’, one Social worker armed with statistics pointed out, ‘therefore why demean our selves?’
A restorative Justice system is currently in operation in Tamil Eelam. Therefore, it attracts many Tamils, even from the State-controlled territories. Restoring both victim and perpetrator back into the community as honourable citizens – not to be stigmatised as a convicted criminal for the rest of one’s life – that’s the idea! All this waffling in the media about the Tigers running a lawless ‘Banana Republic’ is being mischievously economical with the truth. Having finished off multitudes of writers, intellectuals, journalists, human rights activists, including Jesuit priests [some were U.S citizens]… how dare one might retort, the Sri Lanka State have the audacity to point fingers? It cannot be far from the truth when one admits that there is no democracy in Sri Lanka – people have no voice here; they are being gagged and manipulated. The distasteful truth is that, Sri Lanka is a police State. This is an open secret even within the International community!
Organising ‘Santhippu’ – a meeting with the Chief of Law and Administration was proving to be very difficult. The Tigers control a massive territory. Hence, establishing law and order covering both North and East is not an easy task. Moreover, to be the Chief of Law & Administration needs 8 days a week!
Getting an appointment with Mr. Pararajasingham was like trying to pin-down a cloud. One afternoon, after a sumptuous meal at Pandiyan, Mr. Asok, a Porali with a knack for courteous public relations told me: ‘Father, you have a Santhipu in twenty minutes, don’t forget your notebook and the tape recorder – a vehicle will come to pick you up.’ Asok would politely remind me to comb my hair before an appointment – by now he has understood that the person he’s dealing with is a little bit absent-minded – well, that’s what he thought! However, he was a very affectionate chap. The vehicle arrived on the dot. The Tigers are punctual and very methodical in their approach.
The writer found himself seated in a massive conference room at the Law Centre, sipping chilled Orange Crush with the Chief of Tamil Eelam Law and Administration. Mr. Pararajasingham met us at the door and engaged in conversation. He’s a double degree holder in both law and social sciences. He came across as a slightly reserved and thoughtful person who weighs each word he utters. He shared some interesting stories from his recent meetings with a visiting U.S congressman and his staff.
As we established a good rapport, we warmed up to formal conversation. Having got the permission to roll the tape, questions were fired:
CS: Thinking roughly in ballpark figures – what sort of percentage of the Tamil population will currently come under the legal oversight of the Tamil Eelam Special Bench?
Mr.Para: "The LTTE-controlled territory in the Vanni comes one hundred percent under our judicial oversight. In the Sri Lankan-controlled Tamil territory, slightly over 50 percent of the Tamil speaking population [which includes the Muslims] have voluntarily accepted our judiciary. These people travel long-distances to come to our courts in order to file their cases. Almost 72% of the Tamil-speaking population in Sri Lanka are convinced that justice will be served in the Eelam court system. They come to us because they honestly believe that the Sri Lankan system is inherently corrupt and biased. The justice system in Tamil Eelam, the people have experienced, is much faster in terms of administration and probably cost effective as well. Say for instance, we try and complete a big civil or criminal case within 2 years. We work efficiently within that time-frame. In the Sri Lankan court, the sky is the limit for lawyer’s fees. Clients often are exploited. Within our territories, the lawyer’s fee is paid through the courts. The fees will be around 150 to 500 Rupees, depending on the case. They are not permitted, by law to overcharge. There are some lawyers in the Vanni who earn around, say, 50, 000 Rs. a month. This is honest income – they are not cheating the clients. We have 120 lawyers practising at our courts. Many more are passing out from the Eelam Law College. People welcome such an efficient and just system of law and order."
CS: It is commendable that the Eelam Special Bench has passed social reformation laws – such as abolishment of dowry etc. How practical and effective are such laws in reforming deep-seated malpractices in society?
Mr.Para: "Yes, as you say, father, we have passed and established laws based on social reform. Those who demand and receive dowry are doing so illegally. In the long run, however, we know that these ancient practices, or mal-practices, as you put it, father, will be discarded and surely be replaced by reformed thinking. If someone is proven guilty of receiving dowry, serious action will be taken against that person. The Attorney General’s office is working on passing social reform laws. The abolishment of dowry law was passed in 1997. We studied closely similar laws passed in India and Malaysia. Such laws, however, failed miserably in these countries. We have identified different sections in the Dowry abolishment law. If I choose to give my daughter, a wedding donation either in cash or in kind or both – that’s acceptable under the Tamil Eelam law. This gift, however, is given in my daughter’s name only. There is a legal binding that this gift cannot be transferred to anyone else – this, of course, for obvious reasons. As a parent, one must inform the Legal department of such a transaction. Hence, there will be no room for any corruption and fraud. The freedom of the individual is not curtailed, but the mal-practice of bartering women is abolished."
CS: The lawyer who practices in Eelam takes an oath not to defend a lie or a lawbreaker. Say, for example, that your client is a murderer. You are permitted to appear on his behalf on the condition that you will plead for a lesser sentence. Knowing that he has committed a homicide, you cannot manipulate the law and win the case. In such a context, what happens to the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’?
Mr.Para: "Good question that. The lawyers who practise in Eelam take an oath of honour on defending the truth. Let’s say that your client is a murderer. You can appear before the Special Bench and plead on your client’s behalf, for a lesser sentence. However, the lawyer will not, under oath, appear before the Special Bench, and pretend as though his client is innocent. That is bending the law and it's unscrupulous."
"Looking at the past, we think of G.G Ponnampalam, one of the famous criminal defence attorneys. He was notorious for winning all the criminal cases. – of course; you have to pay big money! His legal tactics and intimidation of witnesses will not work in the Eelam court. G.G will be a total flop in our courts. Truth and justice will be upheld at any cost. To put it bluntly, Eelam lawyers are not licensed to lie or to deal with half-truths."
" In our penal code there are four reasons for capital punishment: 1) Murder, 2) Rape, 3) Drug trafficking, 4) Organised crime and big robberies.
In these matters, due process will need to be thoroughly followed through. Such decisions are made with extreme care, looking meticulously at each case and understanding the context and situation in which these crimes have occurred. Out of the 37,000 cases we have dealt with in the past 12 years, only 4 extreme cases ended in capital punishment. I think that will give us a perspective. Once a Sovereign Eelam is restored, our national leader Mr. Pirabakaran prefers to abolish capital punishment altogether. Our concern is not retributive punishment. We have established, as you rightly point out, a restorative justice system."
CS: The Tamil Eelam justice system is leaning towards restoring the lawbreaker as a law-abiding citizen. The legal administration is closely linked with the social services, as we understand it, and thereby offers both moral and financial assistance, not just to the victim, but also to his dependants. Could you please tell us as to how all this works?
Mr.Para: "Father, your observations are very acute. You’re correct. Our primary concern is to restore; not just to mete out punishment for a crime and then to throw the offender outside the jail. That is a vicious cycle. There is a good chance here of re-offending. That’s no help to the victim or to the society. We must restore the dignity of the person concerned and teach them life skills and provide the offender opportunities to get employment; then chances of re-offending are quite remote. In fact, we usually sit and converse with the offenders and we eat together – I take personal interest in this matter. We treat them as individuals – not dehumanising them as a "number" in the jail. We treat them with dignity. This is how we try and rehabilitate. We help the person’s dependants with financial assistance. Instead of making the offender focus on his jail cell and the sentence, we create a rehabilitant community. We hold seminars and motivational workshops on helpful themes. We have found these to be quite successful."
CS: Finally, let us imagine for a moment that the UN has given recognition to the Tamil territories that have been liberated by the LTTE from Sri Lankan State. This liberated territory, with the consent of the UN, is also given recognition of its sovereignty over defence, finance, economy, foreign affairs, etc; in your legal view, would such a proposition, hypothetical at this stage, be acceptable to the Tamils? Will this result in a lasting, honourable peace between the Sinhala State and the Tamil Eelam?
Mr. Para: "Sure. This is, of course, a legitimate proposition that will restore fundamental human rights to the Tamils. Even in the current Peace Process Interim Document, we have requested a mechanism through which we manage our own affairs, including law and order. We do not need any outside interference. We are best equipped to resolve the problems of our own people. We will certainly welcome such a move from the international community – it will not only restore the rights of our people, who have seen nothing but war and tyranny particularly for the last 30 years, it will also grant us the inalienable right to determine our political destiny. We are, as you have witnessed, operating a successful De facto State. We’re confident that the international community will soon alter their views and will do something positive for the Tamils."
We concluded the formal conversation and engaged briefly on an off-the-record conversation. Mr. Pararajasingham was quite frank in saying that the so-called free world must come and witness what is really happening in Tamil Eelam. The Sri Lankan State propaganda and its foreign minister cannot guide the international Community for too long by spinning vicious lies about the Tamils, he said. Mr Pararajasingham led me through the corridor, where his Security men stood at attention. He gave a firm handshake, and bid farewell by saying: ‘Father, I hope you will tell the true side of our story.’
The narrative of the Tamils is a painful story indeed. There is, however, startling apathy and shocking indifference to the suffering of the Eelam Tamils – in spite of all the communication networks in our global village. One hopes that things will change.
This writer shall continue to write about his own reflections and about the next encounter with ‘Castro’ – Chief of International Relations.
Posted May 21, 2005