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Sri Lanka’s C.V. Wigneswaran on the Easter Bombings and More

C.V. Wigneswaran is the Secretary-General of the newly created Tamizh Makkal Kootani (Tamil People’s Alliance), a political party. He was the Chief Minister of the Northern Province from 2013 to 2018. Before that, Wigneswaran was a Judge on Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court.

Our conversation, conducted by email and edited slightly, is below:

What are your thoughts on the Easter attacks?

I was in Batticaloa at the time. I went and saw the injured. Pathetic and shocking. I would say the incident brings many matters to the forefront. Rethinking is essential on the part of all.

When there is discrimination among communities and religions in this country, naturally foreign forces and international opportunists would want to make use of our contradictions to their benefit. To avoid it, it is very necessary that our constitution and our laws are changed to give equal status to all communities and religions. They must all be entitled to protection equally by the government.

Hitherto under a false and concocted idea that the majority of the armed forces must be kept in the North for the safety of the island, successive governments kept most of the forces in the North and East from 2009. In fact, the real reason was to keep the Tamils under bondage and subjugation. It is high time the government now realizes whom to trust and whom not to and quickly redistribute the armed forces to ensure the safety of all persons on this island. I had long ago told President Maithripala Sirisena they must divide the armed forces into nine and have them equally distributed throughout the island in each of the provinces.

India too should learn a lesson. India must realize those foreign forces not well disposed towards India could make Sri Lanka a launching pad for their anti-Indian activities. India must realize India’s safety lies in keeping Sri Lanka trouble-free and peaceful. Therefore, it must ensure a Sri Lanka which is secular and federal in structure with the North and East merged. Of course, I have already suggested giving self-government to all provinces with maximum power devolution allowing any two or more provinces to merge.

The government must now realize what it was when war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed on the Tamil people. It is necessary that the culprits then and now are brought to book at the earliest and dealt with. My sincere thanks go to all those who are attending on the injured under heavy odds.

During the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, another co-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka was passed. How significant is this development?

Having already granted nearly four years by Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, the granting of a further two years’ time through Resolution 40/1 by the UN Human Rights Council on March 21 has saddened the Tamils the world over.

This new resolution would facilitate the war criminals and those who indulged in offenses against humanity to escape from liability. The resolution will also pave the way for the continuance of human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

Over three years have passed since the passing of Resolution 30/1. Not only has the Sri Lankan government not endeavored to implement its commitments as per the resolution, but has gone further to reject its obligation to implement while at the same time co-sponsoring Resolution 40/1, which obligated the appointment of a hybrid court as per Resolution 30/1. The Sri Lankan government recently officially rejected at the UN Human Rights Council the appointment of a hybrid court. This shows the duplicity of the Sri Lankan government.

Their credibility is no doubt at stake. If the Sri Lankan government could go back on their written promises to the UN so quickly, the international community should gauge the number of times it would have transgressed agreements in relation to the ethnic problem in the past so many decades and to what extent it would have practiced deception on the Tamils frustrating their legitimate expectations.

When genocide was committed in Sri Lanka the UN and the international community failed to stop it. After the war, the UN and the international community had an obligation to ensure accountability and justice. But the UN and the international community have allowed Sri Lanka to take lightly its obligations towards ensuring accountability and justice in Sri Lanka. This would no doubt enable the Sri Lankan government to continue with its human rights violations in the future too. This would be a bad example to the rest of the world in general. If the war crimes at the end of the war in Sri Lanka were investigated properly in accordance with international law, its norms, and principles and the perpetrators punished, the international community would have stopped war crimes being committed elsewhere in the world.

Three years ago, it was stressed in Resolution 30/1 that the military must leave the lands of civilians. But until today the military does continue to occupy civilian lands. In fact, some military official is credited to have said that even if the government asks them to leave they would not! Maybe they expect an ex-military man to take over the reins of government soon!

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has not been withdrawn yet, as promised. The government wants to replace the draconian PTA with a more stringent and repressive act called the Counter Terrorism Act (CTA), ten years after the war.

There are Sinhala settlements being established in Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Trincomalee Districts even at this very moment contrary to international norms which expects local people to be given priority in settlements.

The families of the forcibly disappeared are still visiting police stations and army camps hoping to get information about their loved ones. They are conducting demonstrations on the streets wanting information about their dear ones. But no information is forthcoming from the officials. This is why I have stressed that the UN Human Rights Council must appoint a Special Rapporteur for Sri Lanka whose office must be stationed in the North and East.

Such an appointment would ensure the stoppage of human rights violations still taking place in the North and East and it would be possible to also oversee the implementation of Resolution 30/1 as per Resolution 40/1.

You’ve recently created a new political party. Would you tell us a little bit about it? What’s the process been like?

The party is ready and has been launched. But registering the party is a long process I hear. We are looking into that.

Why create a new party now?

Because [the Tamil National Alliance] TNA simply ignored the promises they gave the people in 2013 when I was elected. I found it difficult to tolerate duplicity – say one to the people and do one surreptitiously for personal benefits.

What have been the Tamil National Alliance’s biggest shortcomings?

Its duplicity and self-oriented activities. Realizing the importance of taking the aspirations of the Tamil people to the international community through democratic elections and gaining ratifications, the Tamil National Alliance was created on the basis of Tamil national principles, forgetting all the bitterness and enmities and bringing together older Tamil political parties and the former armed groups. But the Tamil National Alliance has abandoned its Tamil national principles.

Thinking the Sinhalese will never grant a solution to the Tamils, the Tamil National Alliance has accepted the unitary state system. It has accepted that the whole of Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country which is questionable. It has discarded the federal idea. The Tamil National Alliance did not get a mandate of the Tamil people to so change their stance. Duplicity between the manifesto and their political conduct amounts to cheating our people.

While our people insist that the army should completely get out of both the Northern and Eastern Provinces after the war, the current Tamil National Alliance acts on the basis that it will be enough if they will get out of private lands. They are afraid to demand from the government or place before the international community the view that the army should completely be taken out of both the Northern and Eastern Provinces to bring back peace and reconciliation. They are acting as if they are beholden to those in authority.

Resettlement funds allocated for our people were allowed to be paid to the army to put up camps elsewhere in order to release the lands of our people back to them. The fact that there is compensation due to our people because of the army staying in their properties even after the war had been overlooked.

Our people were chased out from their lands and the army took to agriculture in the lands of our people. It went into businesses ruining the livelihood of the people. Places with economic importance were identified and the army encouraged Southern people to engage in commercial activities and fishing. The Tamil National Alliance thinks that they should not put the government into discomfort by speaking about them in Parliament and that they should also not jeopardize their positions and privileges.

Although the current Tamil National Alliance leaders know that, while small extents of lands in Valikamam North are released, a whole district of Mullaitivu is being swallowed by well-orchestrated colonization. They feign ignorance. The current Tamil National Alliance leaders are just watching helplessly as the hereditary Tamil homelands in the North and East are being occupied by the Archaeological Department, the Forest Department, and the Mahaweli Development Authority.

How would you describe daily life for civilians living in the Northern Province?

We are at present experiencing a severe drought. You could guess our plight. The Governor who is the nominee of the president is now bent on acting as the Chief Minister of the province sans the checks and balances the Provincial Council imposed on the Chief Minister.

Our people still live under a heavily militarized environment. Militarization severely affects the routine life of our people. The army is in possession of large extents of lands of the public. The army is engaged in running hotels, businesses, fishing and agriculture, et cetera. According to the data revealed through the studies in the past, the Northern Province is militarized at a level of one soldier per every six persons of the public. This ratio is likely to be the same today.

Life has become a struggle for most of our people. The families of the forcibly disappeared are still visiting police stations and army camps hoping to get information about their loved ones. They are conducting demonstrations on the streets wanting information about their dear ones. But no information is forthcoming from the officials.

What’s your take on the possibility of Gotabaya Rajapaksa running for president?

He is to be avoided. He carries with him the memory of what happened to his soldiers when he was in the army which prompted him to leave the army and thereafter Sri Lanka. He also remembers the attempt on his life in Colombo. He is known to be ruthless and vindictive. His election would pave the way for a military government in effect. Already someone in the armed forces have said the military would not leave North and East even if the present government asks them.

Editor’s note: Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared his candidacy shortly after this interview was conducted.