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rajapakse and sumanthiranMr. M.A. Sumanthiran, MP has given an interview to Meera Srinivasan of The Hindu (published September 19, 2020) on the prospects of a political solution to the Tamil National question. He says:

“The political solution, which is a historic demand of the Tamil people did not materialize by way of a new constitution that was promised… though we made great progress.”

Mr. Sumanthiran does not spell out what the great progress they made was. It has by now been proved beyond all doubt that the whole exercise of constitution-making undertaken by the so-called Good Governance regime (the Sirisena-Wickramasinge National Government) was a great farce. The “great progress” Mr. Sumanthiran speaks of was of course made only in hoodwinking the Tamil people and the international community.

From the Tamil people’s point of view nothing worthwhile was achieved. Mr. Sumanthiran and the opposition leader Sampanthar Ayya gave themselves readily to be taken for a ride by the Sinhala supremacists, and were going to town with the unfounded promise of a federal solution very soon, very very soon, despite the fact that the Maithri-Ranil duo were always categorical that they would never accept a federal solution. Sumanthiran, the lawyer, should have known only too well that the Sri Lankan Constitution with its inbuilt safeguards for a unitary Sinhala state would never give itself to any federal metamorphosis. The only motive behind this farcical drama of going for a new constitution was to hold at bay the international push for accountability and justice for the international offences of crimes against humanity and war crimes which could well be taken forward to bring home the crime of genocide.

Mr. Sumanthiran should honestly own up the grave mistake of the TNA in pursuing the mirage of a federal constitution and offer self-criticism for leaving the search for justice in the lurch. 

The successive UN Human Rights Council Resolutions in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and the three UN Reports, namely the UN General Secretary’s Three-member Expert Panel’s Report of 2011, the UN internal Audit Report of  2012 by Charles Petri, and, the most important of all, the OISL Report of  2015 brought forth a situation where Sri Lanka had to co-sponsor Resolution 30/1 at the UNHRC, which required Sri Lanka to constitute a Special Tribunal with international participation including from the Commonwealth in the form of judges, prosecutors, investigators and lawyers, and take other such measures towards accountability, justice and reconciliation.

This progress at the international arena was due to the struggle for justice waged by the Tamil people of the Homeland despite all threats, by the Tamil Diaspora and by the people of Tamilnadu. Also due to the political and diplomatic moves ingeniously made by the TGTE and other Diaspora organizations. Sumanthiran and his leader can claim little credit for these struggles and moves. When the time came for Sri Lanka to give an account of what it had done for honoring its commitments as per 30/1, it was Sampanthar Ayya who on his own accord demanded that two years extension be given to Sri Lanka. In short Sumanthiran and his leader did practically nothing to bring internal or international pressure to bear upon Sri Lanka to meet the ends of justice.

Even now Sumanthiran is not willing to build pressure on Sri Lanka for justice. He extols Sri Lankan democracy not being aware that it is ethnocracy in the name of democracy, a lion in sheep’s skin. 

“… I think people must realize that in a democratic space like what we have now, with a preponderant majority of the country being Sinhalese and Buddhists, for a solution to emerge, we must win over at least a sizeable section of the majority community. The other is, even as a political party, we need to get involved in providing better economic lives for our people.”

So, Mr. Sumanthiran has made it amply clear why he and his boss keep a stoic silence on matters of justice, why they are reluctant to speak about genocide and war crimes and crimes against humanity, why they are not enthusiastic about the persistent struggles of the Tamil people for justice for the forcibly disappeared, for the release of the Prisoners of War, for withdrawal of the occupation army from the Tamil Homeland, and against the several forms of structural genocide. He spells out two reasons: First, we must wait for winning over at least a sizable section of the Sinhala masses. Next, we need to get involved in providing better economic lives for our people. The implication is this: if we seek justice for Tamil genocide and war crimes we will not be able to win over a sizeable section of the Sinhala majority community for a political solution. Secondly, if we insist on justice we may not be able to achieve better economic lives for our people.

Sumanthiran, please believe, is waiting to win over a sizable section of the Sinhala community before going for a political solution for the Tamil people. Sumanthiran is waiting to win over a sizable section of the Sinhala people, and we must, in our turn, wait for Sumanthiran to achieve that magic size which would help him find a solution to their liking. Wish he had quantified that size, like 25 percent or 30 percent and also the time outlook for achieving the same. If he reckons one day that he has achieved 25 percent then he could say we must wait for a sizable section of the remaining 75 percent. And he can thus go on endlessly.

Sumanthiran as a politician has a solemn duty to improve the economic lives of the Tamil people and he has to appease the Sinhala rulers for that. He cannot be supposed to speak about their heinous crimes which would be rubbing them on the wrong side thereby endangering the economic improvement of the people. The same dichotomy of justice versus economic development as the Sinhala supremacists and their apologists pose before the Tamil people.

Sumanthiran goes on:

“The justice question is linked to the political solution. Questions of justice and accountability arose because of the ethnic conflict. Whenever we asked for our legitimate political rights we suffered violence and the struggle ended up in a full-scale war. Sometimes it is better to solve the root cause of the problems first and then look at the justice issues that had come up in the interim….”   

It is in fact the other way round: the political solution is linked to the justice question. If by justice Sumanthiran means transitional justice, the transition to reconciliation demands justice. There can be no reconciliation, no peace without justice. Mr. Sumanthiran seems to be a careful chooser of words. He says we suffered violence, a convenient way of avoiding any reference to genocide or war crimes. He speaks of a full-scale war, a convenient way of avoiding any reference to genocidal war, to mass atrocities or massacre. What is the root cause of the problem? National oppression against the Tamil people! How does Sumanthiran propose to solve this problem? Freedom, Assertion of the Right to Self-Determination, Referendum? Nothing of the sort! He has forgotten the triple tenets of Homeland, Nationhood and Self-determination.

Sumanthiran, please believe, is going to look at issues of justice only after solving the root cause of the problem. How he is going to solve it is a riddle wrapped in mystery.  Where did he learn this art of seeking to solve the political problem before looking at issues of justice?

“This is something we learnt in South Africa – to secure the future before looking at the past. I think that is the more sensible way of addressing these issues.”

No, Mr. Sumanthiran, you are misrepresenting South African history to justify your appeasement of the Sinhala chauvinist forces. Many justice measures were taken by the South African apartheid regime even before there was a meaningful dialogue for a political solution. Symbolic of these measures was Nelson Mandela’s release from a long incarceration of 27 years. And also the release of other political prisoners, the lifting of the ban on many democratic organizations, et cetra were also measures of justice which preceded the political talks. The efforts at a political solution succeeded only when the then South African President De Klerk accepted the one-man-one-vote demand of the ANC. After liberation the new democratic regime led by Mandela set up a Truth and Reconciliation mechanism to address the lingering justice issues.

How can Sumanthiran compare Sri Lanka with South Afirica in this respect? Sri Lanka has not agreed to release any prisoner of war even 11 long years after the conclusion of the war, of course in spite of Sumanthiran’s efforts. Sri Lanka has not agreed in principle to dismantle the Sinhala supremacist state structure, as the erstwhile white South African regime had done in the case of its apartheid state structure. There is no inkling of remorse on the part of the Sinhala rulers for crimes committed against the Tamil people. Speaking of the Truth and Justice mechanism of South Africa is a pet theme with the Sinhala criminal rulers who hope to have it as an escape route from facing justice. Sumanthiran is only assisting them along the same route.

By way of a political solution Sumanthiran does not have much to offer. He only reminds the Rajapakshes of their commitment to India to implement fully the 13th amendment. He needs to be reminded that Sampanthar Ayya was one of the three Tamil leaders who wrote to Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India pointing out the shortcomings of the 13th Amendment. To beg for the same 13th Amendment as a political solution after the lapse of 33 years and beseeching India for the same is a mockery of the great fighting people of Tamil Eelam.

The basic problem with Mr. Sumanthiran is his justification of the idea of reconciliation without justice. It is like putting the cart before the horse. This is flying in the face of the great lessons of history whose gist is: THERE CANNOT BE RECONCILLIATION WITHOUT JUSTICE. Sumanthiran and Co are bound to fail in this game of skirting justice by offering some dubious political solution. The cart never pulls the horse.

- Thiagu

(This article was published in Fortnightly Magazine 'Abel', September 29, 2020)

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