Sri Lanka Brief
FeaturesNews“Tamils are a distinct people entitled to certain rights like Self-Determination in International law”

“Tamils are a distinct people entitled to certain rights like Self-Determination in International law”

by
MA.Sumanthiran MP Interviewed by Namini Wijedasa
The Tamil National Alliance can bring even radical Tamil diaspora groups like the Global Tamil Forum and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam on board provided the government offers a ‘proper solution’ to the ethnic conflict, said M. Sumanthiran, TNA parliamentarian, in an interview last week. Excerpts:

Namini Wijedasa:
 Will the Tamil National Alliance join the Parliamentary Select Committee to find a solution to the ethnic problem?

MA Sumanthiran:
 TNA has said we will join after we reach a measure of consensus at bilateral talks.

NW:
 Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said at a press conference recently that President Rajapaksa has agreed to implement the 13thAmendment in full. Did you discuss this during bilateral talks with the government?

MAS:
 We never mentioned or made the 13thAmendment the reference point in bilateral talks. We merely told them our ideas as to how devolution should take place. They did not respond for a long time and they never responded formally to all the points. So we told them on August 4 that we won’t fix another date. Mr. Sampanthan then met President Mahinda Rajapaksa who agreed to bring to the table previous proposals that were identified. The Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee proposals; three proposals produced during President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s time in 1995, 1997 and 2000; President Rajapaksa’s speech at the inaugural session of the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) and Committee of Experts in July 2006; and the majority report of the Committee of Experts to the APRC. Those documents would provide the parameters within which we would talk. Our position is that there is an agreement between the president and Mr. Sampanthan and between the parties at bilateral talks. That must be honoured.

NW:
 So you never discussed implementing the 13th amendment, in full or otherwise?

MAS:
 We never made it reference point for this. But when we discussed the land devolution we looked at the present constitution. Our thing is that we don’t look at 13th Amendment separately. Our constitution has 18 amendments. We look at all. Of course, devolution is in the thirteenth. So we looked at that and how it can be made more meaningful. Since there is a concurrent list in the present constitution, we wanted to discuss that.

NW:
 Would you be satisfied with a full implementation of the 13thAmendment?

MA:
 We want proper scheme of devolution.

NW:
 Isn’t it a proper scheme of devolution?
 

MAS:
 The 13th is not a proper scheme. We have rejected it, to quote Prof. G.L. Peiris’s own words, as “fundamentally flawed”. He has given several lectures on the subject during President Kumaratunga’s time.

There is also a book. We agree with him, but the 13th is law today. So from a rule of law perspective our position is that you can’t be discussing whether or not you should implement the provisions of the constitution! That kind of discussion happens only in this country.

We had the 17thAmendment and a discussion about whether we should implement it or not! You must change it. But until you change it, you must enforce the constitution. Twenty-five years on, several provisions of the flawed 13thAmendment have not been implemented. President Rajapaksa has for the last six years been regularly threatening to implement the 13thAmendment in full. But he hasn’t done it yet.

NW:
 Will you consider devolution without powers of land, police and finances?

MAS:
 No, that is not devolution. There is no country in the world without land, police and financial devolution.

NW:
 Perhaps that is the Sri Lankan model?

MAS:
 It won’t be devolution. The 13th Amendment was passed in 1987. If it was sufficient, we would not have had all this bloodletting. All the proposals made since 1987, including those in the five documents we identified, look at going beyond the 13thAmendment and making devolution meaningful. All of those considered enhancing the devolution of land, police and everything else more than in the 13th Amendment. And all of them were government proposals.

NW:
 Do you think the Sinhala people will agree to devolving land, police and financial powers?

MAS:
 They will agree. If you do a survey…people want proper devolution.

NW:
 Do you envision nine separate police forces in addition to a central government police force?

MAS:
 There will be provincial police forces. But that doesn’t mean you increase the number of police personnel. It might actually come down. The policing function must be in the hands of the provincial government. Land, too. The province must have control over state land in that province.

NW:
 Are you using international community to pressurize the government?
 

MAS:
 Not in a direct way. The government seems to want to convince the international community of various things. So they go to India.

NW:
 You go to India more often than the government does.
 

MAS:
 No, if you take this parliament, the president went and met Indian leaders first. Then we were asked to come there and we went. It was the president who first went and spoke to them about the political statement. He issues joint statements with the prime minister of India about a political solution. They call us and talk about what’s acceptable to us. So we talk. Similarly with the United Nations Human Rights Council, they go and tell stories there.

We have never engaged in that process but last September when we found that Mahinda Samarasinghe made a statement there which was mostly lies about what was happening on the ground, we issued a statement saying all this was false. For whatever reason the government thinks it’s necessary that they must go around the world and tell some stories about us, about our people. And most times we find these are false representations. So we correct them.

NW:
 Isn’t it a fact that the TNA MPs are mostly abroad?

MAS:
 No, all of us are in Sri Lanka.

NW:
 Maybe at this moment! Are you getting funds from the Tamil diaspora?

MAS:
 We don’t have any funds. The Tamil diaspora doesn’t give us any funds. We contested the local government elections without any money. It was only recently that we even started a bank account for our party. We didn’t even have a bank account because there was nothing to put in it. We don’t spend for election campaigns because we don’t have money to spend. Our people know that and in our campaigns that’s what we tell them. The government is giving you all of these things. We don’t have anything to give you. So don’t refuse anything. Take everything and give us your vote. They have been faithfully doing that.

NW:
 How much of your policies are fashioned by the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora?

MAS:
 Tamil diaspora doesn’t fashion our policies one bit. In fact in the 2010 elections, the diaspora did not support us. They supported another formation because they did not agree with the solution we put forward. Yet the people here voted for us. And after that, a lot of the diaspora groups have shown interest in working with us because they realised that people on the ground here have the final say. I have travelled to Australia and made contact with the Australian Tamil Congress. They have also published a book called ‘Blueprint for a Political Solution in Sri Lanka’ in which they articulate the solution within a united country. So I thought we can work with them. They are part of a global network called Global Tamil Forum which has members in 14 countries. We have engaged with Global Tamil Forum. In South Africa, while we were attending the centennial celebrations of the African National Congress, we met them. They also were invited. And after our meeting with them they have issued a statement supporting the TNA’s quest for a political solution within a united country.

That’s a shift in the Global Tamil Forum’s position. And we have told the government in our negotiations that we will get them also on board. Even TGTE… we are prepared to talk to them and get them on board if only the government will deliver a dignified and proper solution. The reason why they are standing out is that they are not convinced any Sri Lankan government will come up with a proper solution. Prove them wrong and we will get them on board.

NW:
 There are two sides here. One side is numerically larger than the other. Why must a ‘proper solution’ necessarily have to be something that you, the Tamil parties, think is ‘proper’?

MAS:
 It has to be what we think is proper. Otherwise, the majority by sheer force of its numbers is not permitting the democratic wishes of a numerically smaller people to have a say. In other parts of the world, when such issues arise they have a referendum. Not in the whole country. They have a referendum amongst that community. In Quebec, you have a referendum in Quebec. You don’t have a referendum in the whole of Canada to decide whether Quebec should separate or not. That’s the misunderstanding here. People think you have to ask the whole of the country. No, you have to ask the Tamil people whether they want to stay in the country or be separate. Everywhere it’s like that. Otherwise it’s a tyranny of the majority.

NW:
 Are you still thinking in terms of separating?

MAS:
 No, I used that as an example to show we are a distinct people. A distinct people in international law have certain rights called self-determination. The right to self determination international law now says must be exercised internally in the first instance. But if that is consistently denied, then according to the Canadian Supreme Court judgement on Quebec, they might even become entitled to a unilateral secession.

So, if Sri Lanka should remain as one country, and we think it should remain as one country, then to preserve it as one country you must grant that right to self-determination and have it exercised in an arrangement within one country. That must be given, that must be recognised. It’s not at the wish of the majority that it’s given. That is as a matter of right in international law that our people are entitled to… to have a measure of autonomy.

NW:
 Where is your bargaining power?

MAS:
 Bargaining power is the democratic wish of our people, nothing else. Otherwise, it’s a very dangerous thing to talk about bargaining power. In proposals made between 1992 and 2006, the government was willing to go much further than this. In fact, the Oslo Communiqué of December 2002 specifically talked about a federal arrangement. That was between the government and LTTE. If they were willing to go that far when the LTTE were around and today they tell the Tamil people you have no bargaining power so don’t even think of anything close to that…that’s a very dangerous message they are giving the Tamil people. They are telling them you come with the gun and we’ll give you more.

NW:
 How long will you go on like this?

MAS:
 As long as it takes! We are not going to surrender our democratic rights which we think is our birthright just because the going is tough.
DBS

Back to Top