Q: We heard a lot about Sri Lanka and the Tamils in the past. Is the conflict over?
Well, certainly the armed conflict is over. But the diplomatic struggle to find a permanent political solution to the long standing ethnic conflict and to find justice to the victims of horrendous human rights violations is still going on.
The war ended in May 2009, in other words almost a decade ago. But the government of Sri Lanka has not taken any constructive measures either to find a political solution or to find remedies to accountability.
The war ended with the help of the international community on a promise by then government in power that ‘as soon as they bring the war to an end, they will give a permanent solution to Tamils’ in the North and Eastern province in the island, which is known as the hereditary land where Tamils live for thousands of years. That government had two third majority in parliament for nearly six years but they found excuses not to find a political solution rather than finding a solution.
This is the pattern with every government in power since the independence of the island in 1948. However, the conflict is purely based on language and culture, not on religion as some misinterpret!
Q: Most of us, do not really know what this conflict was all about, so it might be interesting to know a little what is was all about. Could you give us a short explication?
In Sri Lanka there are two main linguistic groups – Sinhala and Tamil. Of course English is widely in use here. Out of these two linguistic groups – Sinhalese who are numerically the majority consist of Buddhists and Christians. The Tamils consist of Hindus (Saiviets), Christians and Muslims.
Sri Lanka then known as ‘Ceylon’ had three Kingdoms in the island. Out of these three Kingdoms, two belonged to Sinhalese and the third was ruled by the Tamils. This is well documented and witnessed by the colonial masters who ruled Sri Lank. First, the Portuguese (1505 to 1658), then the Dutch/ Netherlands (1658 to 1795) and the third and final one was Britain from 1795 to 1948.
When the Portuguese and the Dutch ruled this island, they kept those three Kingdoms separately without any interference. When the British ruled this island, they amalgamated all three Kingdoms together in the name of ‘easy administration’ in 1833. When the British gave independence to the island in 1948 - unfortunately, they gave the power to the numerical majority Sinhalese. Since then discrimination started against Tamils. The majority Buddhist who are Sinhalese started a slogan that this island belongs only to the Sinhalese. This marginalised the Tamils, when I say Tamils this includes Hindus, Christians and Muslims as well. This slogan created a lot of political turmoil and the Tamil political leaders started a peaceful non-violent campaign for their political rights, I mean Tamil speaking people in the North and East of the island.
These peaceful non-violent struggles for more than three decades were met with violent responses. This eventually made the Tamil youths to start an armed struggle which was initially supported by India during the time of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
This armed struggle was brought to an end in May 2009 with the help of several countries.
This war has led to almost one million Tamils seeking political asylum in Western countries and India. Thousands of Tamils are still missing or unaccounted for; there are almost 90 thousand war widows in the North and East, hundreds of political prisoners, many have lost legs and limbs, Tamil lands were under military occupation. Actually it is a genocide. We know that like the Armenians genocide in Turkey and others, this will also take time to be accepted as a genocide. We are pleading the International community to consider the plight of the Tamils seriously.
Q: You are the founder and the secretary general for the Tamil Centre for Human Rights. Why did you set up this organization?
It is a long story.
In fact, I sought political asylum in France in 1989. Since then we have notice that even though international human rights organisations like Amnesty international were working on what was happening in Sri Lanka, not everything that was happening in each nook and corner of the North and East was being reported.
So we, some Tamils, established the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR in 1990 in France with the aim of reporting incidents which were not covered by the media and organisations like Amnesty international.
We reported violations like – arrests, torture, rapes, disappearance, killings etc. to the UN Special Rapporteurs and Working groups. Also we started to attend all the UN Human Rights Forums since 1990 with our documented reports to those sessions. You can see all these details in our website – www.tchr.net
Q: Is there a difference between the Tamils and the “ordinary citizen of Sri Lanka? If yes, please explain.
I think I have answered this question in the second question. However, I will try to explain in another way. It is a question of cultural identity. If Sri Lanka had treated Tamils equally and fairly, since independence, then there would be no difference. All citizens would have their rights respected and would not suffer the extreme discrimination that exists.
The very naming of the island as Sri Lanka was done under the new Constitution of 1972, which emphasised Sinhala identity. Sri means resplendent in the Sinhala language. That constitution gave preference to the Sinhalese in several ways, including privileging Buddhism, which in Sri Lanka practices superiority over other religions. It reinforced the domination of Tamils by the Sinhalese. For this reason, there is ambivalence.
Tamils, who are aware of their history and rights, and the struggle for social, economic and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights, do not feel they can uphold successive Sri Lanka regimes which discriminate against, and persecute them as a people.
Q: Finally Mr KIRUPAharan what would you like to achieve?
As I said before, we have been attending the UN human rights forums for the last almost 29 years. We meet the VIPs, Diplomats and others on monthly and quarterly basis and also we organise side events in the HRC updating the delegates on developments in Sri Lanka.
One can see that while we have been working here, the demography of the Tamil hereditary land has been changing. The government agenda is obvious. They buy time and space to achieve their four pillars. That is – Sinhalisation, Buddhisation, Militarisation and Colonisation of the Tamil hereditary land.
The Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner(s) for Human Rights and other UN mandate holders are working on it. All their reports are well documented on Sri Lanka.
Within the last few years Sri Lanka has been on the agenda of the Human Rights Council. The Sri Lanka lobby is very powerful and manages to get everything they want.
We are trying to find justice for the victims and to find a durable political solution to the conflict. Sri Lanka is good in giving promises but when it comes to implementation they drag. Time is running out. We strongly believe that with the support of the international community, especially with the support of the big powers – an international investigation and a UN referendum will eventually end this conflict.
DIVA International Diplomat