Monday, February 26, 2024

Emerald Plight

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A delegation of Sri Lankan Tamils, now visiting India, trying to drum up support, say they are being persecuted in their country, and that their religion is being held against them by the government. Here are some legal excerpts from an interview with APN channel

By Sujit Bhar

As per Global Conflict Tracker, a part of The Center for Preventive Action (CPA), a US think-tank and research institute, the following are the current and ongoing conflicts around the world:

In the Americas, tracks criminal violence in Mexico; instability in Haiti and instability in Venezuela. In Asia, it tracks instability in Afghanistan; territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the North Korea crisis; instability in Pakistan; the conflict between India and Pakistan; the confrontation over Taiwan and the civil war in Myanmar. In Europe and Eurasia, it tracks the war in Ukraine and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In the Middle East and North Africa it tracks the conflict in Syria; the instability in Iraq; the instability in Lebanon; the conflict between Turkey and armed Kurdish groups; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the civil conflict in Libya; the war in Yemen; the civil war in Sudan; the violent extremism in the Sahel and the confrontation with Iran. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it tracks the conflict in the Central African Republic; the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the instability in South Sudan; the conflict with Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the conflict in Ethiopia.

Nowhere is it mentioned that it tracks any conflict in Sri Lanka. For the world, except for the recent economic crisis, there has been or there isn’t any conflict ongoing in the Emerald Isles, since the civil war ended in 2009.

The tracking system may be skewed, or plain wrong.

Seven eminent Sri Lankans and former Lankan citizens are currently touring India, to drum up support for what they say are persecuted Tamils in the north and north-eastern parts of the island nation. This is a conflict that nobody in the world seems to be aware of, despite several depositions—as they claim—by these people before the Indian government, before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), before members of the US Congress, before Amnesty International and other international forums.

These depositions have been over and above all the pleas and depositions they have placed before the Sri Lankan government which—as they told this correspondent during an exclusive interview with the popular news channel APN in New Delhi recently—have also failed to bear fruit.

Here are some critical legal angles that have emanated from the long interview. We present them in their own voice. (Please see box for details about the delegate members).

Sundar Kuppuswamy

“The principal threat to Tamils in Sri Lanka comes not just from the military, but also from Buddhist monks. They are occupying Tamil lands, in the guise of spreading Buddhism.

“I have to mention that the judiciary is not left alone. Recently a judge of a Magistrate’s court gave a verdict in support of an existing Hindu temple which is being replaced by a Buddhist temple. The judge gave a good and correct verdict—the basis of his verdict was that the temple had stood for generations and for hundreds of years—and the military and insurgents threatened him with his life and the judge had to flee the country and seek political asylum in another country.”

Dr Thamotharampillai Sivaraj

“Before I go further, I want to thank Supreme Court Senior Advocate, the Honourable Shri Pradeep Rai, who has been wonderful in helping us get our message across. He understood our problem in detail and has been sympathetic to us. On behalf of the Tamil people, I want to thank him.

“After the Indo-Sri Lanka accord, there was a period of peace, but war started again. The war ended in 2009 with the death of many people. It has been estimated that 1,45,000 people had been killed in a few weeks in the north-eastern region of the country—the Tamil majority regions—and since then we have lost our security. We have nobody to protect us.

“Under the India-Sri Lanka accord, there were two major provisions. One was about disarming the militants and the other was devolution of power, which includes rights of land as well as police force to protect (the lands and the people). That has not been implemented ever since it was signed in 1987. Subsequent governments have made promises to the Indian governments, but nothing has come of them.

“The origin of Hindus in Lanka precedes the origin of Singhala people. Hindus living in Lanka had five major lingas established in Lanka, long before the lingas in India were established.

“Of the five lingas, one is in the north, one in the deep south, two in the west and one in the east. The one in the south was completely destroyed. We believe the linga is in the museum.

“When the first (Adi) Shankaracharya revived Hinduism in India, he established four lingas (founding four mathas or monasteries), that is in the seventh century. Lankan lingas existed from long before that.”

[NOTE: The first or Adi Shankaracharya’s effort at Hindu revivalism was actually in the eighth century, as per available records. But the dates are all controversial and many variations remain. Some records put 509-477 BCE as the date, based on records of the heads of the Shankara’s cardinal institutions or Mathas. The exact dates of birth of Adi Shankaracharya believed by four monasteries are as follows: By Dwarka at 491 BCE, by Jyotirmath at 485 BCE, by Jagannatha Puri at 484 BCE and by Sringeri at 483 BCE. According to the Kanchi Peetham, Adi Shankara was born in Kali 2593 (translating to 509 BCE).]

“Recently, in a place called Kurunthurmalai, a trishul was placed in a temple and was worshipped by the local people. One day the archaeological department came there and claimed that this place was actually a Buddhist vihara or shrine. They claimed that there would be Buddhist remains below the trishul, if excavation was done. Excavation started and instead of the vihara a linga was found, from very old times.

“We went to court, demanding that the court give a verdict that the place belonged to the Hindus. The court has given multiple verdicts that the Buddhist temple cannot be built. They ignored the court and went ahead and built a huge Buddhist shrine.

“Not only that, they appropriated about 300 acres of land, which was being cultivated by local poor Tamilians.”

Gnanamuthu Srineshan 

“Many Tamil people are kidnapped and they disappear. People ask the government, and there is never any answer available. People protest, go to international societies, to India and local governments, yet there is no solution and no answer. Requests to the government for answers and for justice have yielded nothing.

“Therefore we have approached India so that they can enforce the accord and if possible get a referendum done in the northern province. So far, we have received no answer, so we have come here to present our ideas and requests to the Indian government.”

Thavaththiru Velan Swamigal

“In 2021, we organised a rally from the eastern province to the northern province for five days, known as P2P, starting from Pottuvil. This rally had a purpose. On January 15, 2021, civil society leaders and the Tamil national political leaders had organised a gathering and all of us signed a document. After 2009, this was the very first document where all civil society leaders, political leaders and religious leaders signed together. The document says that we need international justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and the Tamil genocide. This document is to be taken to the International Criminal Court.

“In the document, we have asked for some sort of security for us from the international community. This was the essence of this document. It is also a request to the UNHRC, etc. Also, in this document, are protests against land grabbing and forceful disappearances (kidnappings).

“The idea is to get not just humanitarian justice, but international legal justice as well.

“We don’t have trust in the local justice system (in Sri Lanka). This is a crisis of faith in the justice system of a country. It is not as if the courts are biased. They have given many orders which are good, but neither the politicians nor the police follow those orders.”

[NOTE: Hence, the orders of judges do not seem to be sacrosanct as they are in India.]

“For example, when they were constructing the controversial Buddhist temple as explained before, the court did give orders to stop the construction. But at night, the military got involved and even the media was not allowed.

[Question: “What about the Sri Lankan courts? Are they neutral, do they also seem biased? There have been two good decisions given by Sri Lankan judges as mentioned during the course of this interview before.”]

“In my opinion, the law department (the justice system) is okay. They are making good decisions. In cases of land grabbing, etc., in the northern district, etc., some Tamil judges gave good judgments. But their orders are unfortunately not followed. Instead, the judges are threatened.

“Recently, one judge, judge Saravana Raja [as mentioned before] from Mullaithivi district of the northern province, was threatened and he ran away from the country.

He resigned and in the resignation letter he has mentioned that ‘I have faced life threat and also distress. I am resigning because of that.’”

“He was a judge at a magistrate court.”

MK Shivajilingam

“The Sri Lankan government is trying to establish a Singhala Buddhist regime. The entire judicial system in Sri Lanka is biased. We are treated as second class or even last class citizens. We cannot depend on anyone in Sri Lanka, so we have come to India and to Delhi, asking the Indian government to protect us and also for the full implementation of the Indo-Lanka accord.

“In five years, if nothing is done, Ilam Tamils in Sri  Lanka will not be able to survive anymore.”

Thuraisamy Thavasilingam  

“As per the accord signed between India and Sri Lanka, there was the 13th amendment to the constitution.

[NOTE: As per that amendment, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka (13A) passed in 1987, Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka were created. This amendment also made Sinhala and Tamil the official languages of the country and declared English the “link language”.]

“If the thirteenth amendment is fully implemented, then the minority Tamils in the north and northeast will have relief as per land issues, as per police protection and other issues.

“If India is helping Lanka financially, India should put some conditions. In the northeast, more than two thirds of Lanka’s military forces are stationed. Lankan forces total more than 3 lakh, while even in Britain, it is around 1 lakh (NOTE: Actually, just over 76,000 as of July 2023). Why do you have to have so many forces? Spend more of the budget and development instead.

“There is nothing wrong with the spread of Buddhism, another religion that spread to Lanka from India. But one cannot accept that Hindu lands, especially Tamil lands in the northeast be taken over forcibly converted to Buddhist temples. That is wrong.

“About international forums, we have gone to the Congressmen in the US and have explained this problem. They listen to it sympathetically and then they ask what is India thinking about it? They push the ball back to India, which is understandable, because we have only mother India.

“The issue here is that India in this region is the biggest and the most influential country, and it seems that the US does not want to antagonise India in this issue.

“We understand this, because if a church is attacked, they go to the Vatican, if a mosque is attacked, they can go to countries in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia. Where do Hindus go? This is the only motherland we have.

“Tamils have been going to the UNHRC and there have been many resolutions passed by UNHRC with the support of the international community, but Sri Lanka has not accepted any. In fact, one of the resolutions was designed with the acceptance of Sri Lanka. And Sri Lanka agreed to implement that, but they have not done that.

Two years back, they said they would not accept the resolution and pulled out of the UNHRC resolution.

“Amnesty International highlights the repression and torture of the Tamils, as do UN bodies who take up the torture issue, but the situation on the ground does not change. Some Tamils want to approach the ICC for justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But those efforts have not borne fruit yet.

“Also, Sri Lanka has always supported China over India. China is the preferred partner. That has been evident ever since the India-China war. And in every multilateral forum, China aggressively supports Sri Lanka against India.”

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