Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Coomaraswamy Replies

Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy has replied to the articles concerning her speech at McGill University. (Comments on Coomaraswamy Speech and Coomaraswamy and McGill Must Be Sued )

We has received the news that Dr. Coomaraswamy has been appointed UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict. We congratulate her and trust that she will work for the benefit of children. We also know that civilians in Jaffna and elsewhere, who have appreciated the work she has been doing at the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission, will regret her leaving her position there after all her recent good work on their behalf.

Dear Editor Tamil Sangam,

I have read with concern the articles appearing on your website with regard to my speech at McGill University upon receiving the Robert Litvack Award. Let me just make a few points of clarification.

            1. During the 1980s, and especially after 1983, I was the contact person for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in Sri Lanka and during that period I assisted in recording the violations committed by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamil community and in mobilizing international attention on the Tamil question in Sri Lanka. As a result everyone in the human rights community knows that history - it was  known to those present when it came to making the speech. No-one doubted those credentials. Since then a great deal has happened, I became the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and the situation in Sri Lanka became murkier. Muslims were driven out of Jaffna, their places of worship ransacked, in the East mosques had been attacked and  Sinhalese border villagers were massacred. More  Tamils had been killed by Tamils themselves  than  by the Sri Lankan army. In this context, Tamils no longer have the moral high ground they had in the eighties as we are also perpetrators as well as the victims. It is essential that we recognize this as a community. Self criticism is important for transformation and without transformation we cannot move forward..

            2. Secondly, I was not referring to the diaspora community when I spoke of criminal and terrorist activity, nor did I say that as a community we are engaging in that activity, I was referring to how we are portrayed in the media and in reports both locally and internationally. All we have to do is google the last three articles in any major newspaper in the world with the word Sri Lanka Tamils and you will see the portrait that emerges - we are always referred to in the context of criminality, terror, brutality and  violence. This saddens me greatly. As a Tamil I must take responsibility for what is done in my name and it pains me to see that we are perceived in this manner. I was giving expression to that sadness.

            3. Thirdly, I am a firm believer in non-violence. Though I completely agree that successive  Sri Lankan governments have to take a great deal of responsibility for the violence and destruction in the northeast, which some may say, left  the Sri Lankan Tamil leadership with no option but  to pursue an armed struggle. However, the commitment to armed struggle as the primary mode of agitation and the repression of the state has taken an enormous toll on the civilian population. We once had the highest physical quality of life next to Colombo. Now we have some of the worst indicators, not to mention the fact that half the population has fled the NorthEast. This also saddens me. The cycle of violence must convince all of you that violence is no longer the answer. Even if it were so originally (though I disagree), at least now we must transform and accept a democratic political framework like Sinn Fein and the ANC if we are to move forward. Otherwise, given the array of national, regional and international factors, we are on  a course that may perhaps lead to self-destruction. The writing is on the wall.

            4. Fourthly, the Sinhalese are not like White South Africans or the white elites that run the US and UK. The majority of them are also impoverished and  suffer from poverty, discrimination on the basis of class, caste and other factors. I also believe that as a community they value generosity if they do not feel insecure and threatened. I feel we did not do enough in building alliances and partnerships with our Sinhalese friends. Instead we played to their ideological nightmares thus accentuating the situation. Undoubtedly,  successive governments discriminated against the Tamils, but I think in fighting that discrimination the means are as important as the end.  We must recommit ourselves to democratic and humane means both for dealing with our Sinhala brethren as well as in dealing with the differences within our community. History will not spare us if we choose another course.

These are my personal views and not the views of the Human Rights Commission. I made the speech in McGill also in my personal capacity. I will be grateful if you would give this letter the same publicity that you gave the letter criticizing my speech.

Thank you.

Radhika Coomaraswamy

N.B. February 10, 2006 People have asked me about the sentence "More Tamils have been killed by Tamils than the Sri Lankan army"- I meant after the ceasefire- I regret the error.

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