SPECIAL REPORT : Part 127June 21, 2016, 7:20 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
One-time head of the Law Faculty, University of Colombo, Dr Nirmala Chandrahasan last Thursday (June 16) called for tangible action on the part of the Sri Lankan government to bring in Sri Lankan refugees, living in India, particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Dr Chandrahasan estimated the number of Lankan refugees in India at the peak of the conflict at 200,000.
The appeal was made over seven years after the successful conclusion of the war with the annihilation of the LTTE leadership.
The distinguished law academic insisted that special arrangements should be made to facilitate the return of refugees. Dr Chandrahasan was addressing a forum on India-Sri Lanka relations in the 21st century, organised by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BSIS).
The BCIS as well as the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (LKI) should at least now initiate a comprehensive study on the conflict and the circumstances under which it was brought to an end. Such a study is required, especially against the backdrop of the proposed war crimes probe, in accordance with a Geneva resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, last October.
Indian High Commissioner, Y.K. Sinha addressed the gathering at the onset of the forum. Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was among the audience.
Dr Chandrahasan, the author of "Maritime Boundaries in the Indian Ocean" Sri Lanka and the Law of the Sea., explained a range of facilities provided by the Tamil Nadu administration to the Sri Lankans while underscoring the pivotal importance of bringing them back to post-war Sri Lanka. The internationally recognized academic stressed that those who had sought refuge in India didn’t have the means to seek sanctuary elsewhere. In addition to the refugee issue, Dr Chandrahasan discussed issues pertaining to Indo-Lanka maritime issues. She left out the simmering poaching, issue caused by Tamil Nadu fishing fleet.
Dr Chandrahasan addressed the gathering after Sri Lanka’s former High Commissioner in New Delhi, Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne, delivered a brief lecture on some aspects of Indo-Lanka relations. However, Chandrahasan and Seneviratne, a former Professor of Archaeology and former Director General of Central Cultural Fund refrained from at least referring to India’s intervention here. Perhaps, they felt that it wasn’t the place to take up the issue. (The text of Prof. Seneviratne’s speech is on page 2 of Midweek)
The Question and Answer session, too, essentially showed Sri Lanka in bad light in respect of Sri Lanka foreign policy, or lack of it.
J.N. Dixit, who had been Indian High Commissioner in Colombo, during eelam war I, in his memoirs blamed the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for military intervention here. (Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha launched on January 1, 2004)
In fact, Dixit, who also functioned as Foreign Secretary, held Gandhi responsible for two major foreign policy blunders – namely the military intervention, in Sri Lanka, in the early 80s, and New Delhi’s ambiguous response to the then Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in Dec. 1979.
Strangely, Sri Lanka, or any major political party here has ever commented on Dixit’s assertions, though he launched his memoirs over a decade ago. There should be a full disclosure of Indian intervention here to facilitate post-war reconciliation process. New Delhi can never absolve itself of its culpability for death and destruction here as well as the assassination of one time Premier Rajiv Gandhi on the night of May 21, 1991.
Indo-Sri Lanka relations, in the 21st century, cannot be dealt with leaving out unprecedented Indian intervention in Sri Lanka during the previous century. A bloody war caused by Indian interference was brought to an end in early this century. Sri Lanka sustained a massive combined security forces campaign until troops, on the Vanni east front shot dead LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.
While academics discuss Indo-Lanka relations, the latter is facing a UN war crimes probe under the supervision of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). IT WOULD BE IMPORTANT TO STRESS THAT THE ALLEGATION ON THE BASIS OF WHICH UNHRC ADOPTED RESOLUTION HAD NEVER BEEN VERIFIED IN ANY COURT OF LAW AND STILL REMAIN UNSUBSTANTIATED.
Interestingly, India, responsible for causing war here today represents the UNHRC comprising 47 countries. While high profile push for war crimes probe gathers momentum, Sri Lanka is depicted as a country hell-bent on driving Tamils out, over seven years after the end of the conflict. Unfortunately, the government seems not to be interested in countering propaganda efforts meant to deceive the world. Those loyal to former war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa have pathetically failed to promote Sri Lanka’s interests though they routinely referred to the Geneva issue at various media briefings.
India needs to be told that it couldn’t forgive herself for plunging Sri Lanka into a crisis by various investments such as recent restoration of Alfred Duraiappa stadium.
It would be pertinent to examine the recent incident, in Indonesian waters, involving a group of persons claiming to be Sri Lankan Tamil refugees against the backdrop of Dr Chandrahasan calling for a stepped up government efforts to bring back refugees from India. Contrary to Dr Chandrahasan’s assertions, at least a section of the Sri Lankans, domiciled in India, are seeking to reach Australia by boat. The recent incident in the Indonesian waters is a case in point.
Indonesia late last week dropped a plan to escort the trawler carrying 44 Australia-bound asylum seekers back to international waters after repairing the vessel.
The group had been stranded for about a week at the waters off Lhoknga coast in Aceh Besar, Aceh, following engine failure. Indonesia declared that it would be up to the asylum seekers to decide where they wanted to go.
The Sri Lankan asylum seekers travelled for nearly three weeks in the trawler bearing an Indian flag.
An influential section of the media reported the group of asylum seekers leaving Sri Lankan shores though the trawler actually left Tamil Nadu. Those who had been in it were certainly not Sri Lankan refugees of recent origin. Sri Lanka Navy headquarters confirmed the voyage certainly did not begin in Sri Lanka.
The London headquartered Amnesty International issued a statement urging Indonesia to accommodate the refugees. Indonesia ignored the plea. Indonesia went to the extent of firing warning shots to force some persons who had disembarked to return to the trawler before it was escorted back to international waters.
Those who had been forced back to international waters could be among Sri Lankans categorized as missing during the conflict. As they had been in India before undertaking the recent hazardous journey to Australia, New Delhi would be able to shed light on their identities. It would be of pivotal importance to establish their date of arrival in India, particularly whether they moved across the Palk Strait after the conclusion of the conflict, in May, 2009.
Amnesty International, in a statement, suggested that the latest batch of asylum seekers might have fled Sri Lanka in the wake of a spate of arrests carried out last April under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The human rights watchdog made no reference to the arrests made close on the heels of recovery of explosives including a suicide jacket in Chavakachcheri, Jaffna, during the last week of March.
The writer has earned the wrath of the government for his reportage of the Chavakachcheri explosives haul leading to a spate of arrests in both northern and eastern provinces and the possibility of former members of the LTTE planning to cause mayhem. Both Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) recorded statements from the writer close on the heels of the government closing down the Police Media Spokesman’s Office. The unit remains closed.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people in the run up to Eelam War IV (August 2006 to May 2009) and remained committed to the LTTE macabre cause, until the very end, reiterated the call for a hybrid war crimes court in accordance with the Geneva resolution, adopted last October. The four-party TNA comprises the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi and three former terrorist groups, sponsored by India, namely the TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF.
Jaffna District MP and attorney at law, M.A. Sumanthiran, made representations on behalf of the TNA at the Congressional caucus briefing on June 14. Obviously, Sumanthiran’s opinion tallied with that of UK based Suren Surendiran, spokesperson for the influential Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The Island received Sumanthiran’s statement on the night of June 16, hours after the forum on India-Sri Lanka relations in the 21st century ended. MP Sumanthiran dealt separately with several critical issues. Let me reproduce MP Sumanthiran verbatim to highlight Sri Lanka’s predicament as the UNHRC prepares to receive an oral statement on the situation in Sri Lanka next week.
On the role of the Government of India: "This particular Indian Government has also reiterated to us their role in exercising those good offices that brought them to sign the (Indo-Lanka) Accord continues. India in a sense signed the Accord on behalf of the Tamil people. It was not necessary for a neighbouring country to sign an accord with Sri Lanka providing for power sharing and one unit of devolution and so on. It’s in the context of serious violence that was being perpetrated against the Tamils in Sri Lanka and that also had a long history culminating in the very serious one that happened in 1983 and the fleeing of refugees to India. Even today there are 168,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who are living in South India. So it’s a legitimate concern of India – that India under-wrote this agreement on behalf of the Tamil people. But international politics - what it is today - may not show India directly dictating as what it were, what should happen in Sri Lanka. That is not how things are done. But India’s legitimate concern continues to remain in enforcing all of the provisions of the Indo-Lanka Accord."
On the role of the US: "I think the US has played a very significant role already in the resolutions that it mooted in the UN Human Rights Council encouraging changes, and therefore must continue to play that role. It is true that there has been a significant change, a monumental change as described by the Ambassador, but the foot must not be taken off the pedal too early. For the simple reason that we have seen change, as a result of some pressure, some encouragement, some nudging and those must continue... Our plea to the US Government would be don’t express satisfaction too early as there is still a lot to do during that phase."
On international involvement in the accountability process: "If you ask me about international involvement in the accountability process, as far as I know the Government has not said ‘no’ to international involvement. All the multiple voices that you talk about say ‘international involvement - yes, but not judges’. Now I take great exception to that, because as I said at the beginning, the text of the 2015 Resolution is a negotiated text. We asked for (an) international inquiry, and we settled for a hybrid model. So that was negotiated with the Government of Sri Lanka. And having compromised and settled to a model which in the Resolution doesn’t merely say hybrid but explains in detail judges, prosecutors, defence attorneys and investigators, it obviously means judge qua judges, prosecutors qua prosecutors, so on and so forth. So it does not mean (for) judges to be advisors or judges to be involved in some other capacity. And that was well understood. I was personally involved in the negotiations, with the United States of America also participating in that particular process. There were some doubts created, as to whether the Constitution of Sri Lanka would allow for foreign nationals to function as judges and we went into that question, clarified it, and said yes they can and that is how that phraseology was agreed upon. And so, to us having negotiated and compromised and agreed that there would be a hybrid tribunal to try these mass atrocities, it is not open for the Government now to shift its stance and say ‘well, international involvement yes, but it’s in a different form, now...’. That is not acceptable to us at all. And we have said this. Quite openly I have spoken in Parliament at least two or three times and the Government has not contested me on that. We have said it to the President when he called for an all party conference on the implementation on the UN resolution, and he has not contested us on that. But as you say, in the public there are different voices that we hear. So we are concerned as much as people are, with regard to this particular issue, wondering if the Government is shifting its stance. However, such a mechanism has not been brought about as yet. So we will wait until we reach that particular point of setting up a court of the Special Counsel’s office and so on and so forth and insist that every word, and spirit, in that resolution will be complied with."
Of course, MP Sumanthiran conveniently forgot that India had caused a hellish situation on the ground here in the 80s to pave the way for the Indo-Lanka Accord, in July, 1987. New Delhi transformed several Tamil armed outfits to deadly fighting machines in the 80s before one of them (the LTTE) eradicated the rest to emerge as the single most powerful organization here. India forced the Indo-Lanka Accord on Sri Lanka to thwart the then JRJ government eradicating the group. Having deployed the Indian Army (July 1987-March 1990) here, India established an illegal Tamil National Army (TNA) to protect EPRLF-led puppet North-Eastern provincial administration before quitting North-East Sri Lanka. The rest is history.
Had the LTTE survived the war on the Vanni east front and somehow reached an understanding with the government of Sri Lanka, it wouldn’t have been subject of discussion at Geneva. The TNA wouldn’t have had an opportunity to participate in the Congressional caucus briefing on June 14. In fact, the TNA would have remained under the LTTE’s firm control and the GTF not formed at all. The GTF came into being in February, 2010, in the wake of the LTTE annihilation. Prabhakaran wouldn’t have seen a requirement for such a groping if he wielded military power and the TNA-GTF combination would never have become a reality.