Interview with Suren Surendiran-
Q:Is the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the voice of the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka?
A: Even legitimate, democratically-elected representatives cannot espouse at free will our people’s aspirations. The Constitution, military intimidation, white van abductions, etc, limit freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the GTF as a Diaspora organization does bridge that gap in certain circumstances. We also work very closely with the elected Tamil representatives. By doing that, we also bring to bear some of the specialist capacity and capability towards attending to overall needs.
Q:The present regime described Maithripala Sirisena’s crossing over to contest the presidential polls as part of an international conspiracy. Whom are they pointing at?
A: Shouldn’t this question be directed at the present regime that has made this allegation? However, the wider opinion is that President Rajapaksa and his regime may have won the war but not the peace. He may have united the land but divided the people.
He can accuse common candidate Sirisena of betrayal and allege it as an international conspiracy. However, it was not an international conspiracy but Mahinda Rajapaksa who introduced the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which removed most of the fundamental features of democracy that Sri Lanka used to have. It allowed President Rajapaksa to act almost as a dictator by Constitution without the Parliamentary checks and balances that existed before.
It was not any international conspiracy but Mahinda Rajapaksa who sacked the Chief Justice who stood against tyranny and corruption and installed a Rajapaksa stooge as the Chief Justice and politicized the independence of the Judiciary.
It is not an international conspiracy, but Mahinda Rajapaksa who allows corruption and abuse of power.
It is not an international conspiracy but the government’s mismanagement of the economy that has driven the foreign currency reserves to be dangerously low, borrowing to be at the highest levels since Independence, public expenditure having to be cut, inflation to be on the wrong trajectory, cost of living to impossible levels that normal families in urban and rural areas needing hand-outs to survive.
It is not any international conspiracy but Mahinda Rajapaksa and his flawed foreign policies which have brought the close relationship with our closest neighbour to the lowest point ever in the history with so much mistrust. Sri Lanka’s friends in the international arena are/were only the ‘rogue states’ like North Korea, Belarus, Libya under late Colonel Gaddafi, Iran under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, etc. As Sri Lankans, be it Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, we have all become outcasts in the eyes of the international community.
It is not any international conspiracy but Mahinda Rajapaksa who has allowed extreme organizations and views to dominate, that has divided and polarized our communities to an extent where law and order has collapsed. A few of the relatively recent repercussions were Katunayake shooting, Weliweriya shooting, Aluthgama riots, white van abductions, Sri Lanka being ranked as the fourth most dangerous country for journalists, everyday incidents in the heavily militarized Northern Province, etc.
I believe that it must have become unbearable for honourable persons to serve under such a regime, that one by one they are deserting Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Q:There is an allegation that the UPFA has links with the LTTE, which is being used as a campaign tool by the Opposition. Is there any truth to this claim?
A: This question should be directed at the UPFA, LTTE and the Opposition, I am afraid. However, it has been widely acknowledged and alleged that Mahinda Rajapaksa funded the LTTE to get them to call for a boycott of the elections in the Tamil areas in 2005 that enabled him to win. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s current government also includes former LTTE senior members.
Q:Is the GTF involved in Sri Lankan politics?
A: The GTF was established in 2009 by a number of grassroots Tamil groups, following the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka.
We are committed to a non-violent agenda and seek a lasting peace in Sri Lanka based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.
The GTF regularly engages with government ministers, senior civil servants, international institutions, human rights groups and conflict prevention bodies, major political parties in key countries, high profile individuals and major media organizations around the globe, to keep them informed and raise awareness of the on-going plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The GTF has developed a strong collaborative working relationship with the democratically-elected Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka and actively engages with them to help strengthen their voice in the international arena. We also continue to establish working relationships with various political and non-political organizations in the south of Sri Lanka. If the above description means that the GTF is involved in Sri Lankan politics, then yes.
Q:You have lately said that if President Rajapaksa is beaten at the presidential polls, he will be charged for war crimes and you will see to it that he ends up at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Can you explain how you expect to do this?
A: United Nations is a universal system that was adopted at the end of the World War II to which all countries including Sri Lanka singed up to. In addition to that, just as there are local laws and governance structures, internationally, there are international laws and covenants and conventions that countries including Sri Lanka have signed up to. In that context, just as if any single person or a group of people break the law in Sri Lanka, if the system worked without corruption and independently, then those people who break the law will be charged in a court of law. Similarly, if a leader and/or a government of any country breaks international law, then they will be charged under the law through the accepted systems and mechanisms.
Q.According to a politician, who is not supporting the UPFA, even if Rajapaksa is defeated, people of this country will not want anyone to take him to the ICJ and that your statement would only hamper the ongoing presidential campaign. What makes so certain that Rajapaksa will be taken to the ICJ?
A: Just as I said in my answer to your second question, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his regime is not just accused of breaking the international law, he is also the sitting President who has become one of the most dictatorial Presidents ever through constitutional amendments and corruption at the expense of not just a single community but the entire Sri Lankan Nation. Sri Lanka is run by a dynasty and only a few are benefiting. Be it Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims, all are struggling to make ends meet.
Q:Isn’t there a way you could fight for the rights of the Tamils, without being hell bent on sending the President to the ICJ?
A: Please read my answer to question 3. The GTF seeks justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement. Sending the President to the ICJ is not the objective of the GTF. However, it is President Rajapaksa who publicly, jointly committed with UN Secretary General that he will ensure allegations of breaches of international law by the military will be independently investigated and President Rajapaksa who commissioned the LLRC to investigate and advise him on possible wrongs and breaches of local and international law. It is President Rajapaksa who hasn’t implemented his own commission’s recommendations. So it is President Rajapaksa who must take responsibility for any international consequences.
Q:People have not forgotten that Mahinda Rajapaksa won the war against terrorism and many countries stand by him for his achievements, especially India. Why do you think, no matter how many Tamils overseas voice against the UPFA regime, many are backing him?
A: Many may have agreed and stood by Mahinda Rajapaksa during the war, but I don’t believe they stand by him now due to the same reasons explained in my answer to question 2.
Q:Do you think the present government will be defeated at the upcoming presidential election?
A: I do not want to pre-judge the verdict of the people of Sri Lanka. At least in the name of good governance and genuine democracy to return to Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa has to be defeated. Obviously, many in the government will try all the dirty tricks, intimidation and even violence to suppress dissent. That is why independent international monitoring is vital and I am sure the Sri Lankan people have faith in their Election Commissioner and his integrity. I hope the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, who has claimed in the past of helping in strengthening independent institutions and governance structures in Sri Lanka will do the right thing this time and encourage President Rajapaksa to invite Commonwealth monitors too to oversee the election.
Q:What are the aspirations of the Tamils at the moment? Have the Tamils overseas and the GTF called off the struggle for a separate Eelam?
A: The GTF is committed to non-violence. The GTF seeks lasting peace in Sri Lanka, based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.
Q:What is your view on the Tamil attitude towards integration rather than separation?
A: Calls for separation came about only when all democratic efforts for integration failed. History tells us that there is no shortage of goodwill and efforts by Tamil leaders of the past and present to integrate and co-exist with fellow countrymen. However, every successive government and Sinhala Leader since Independence has failed to accommodate the aspirations of the Tamils, including the Upcountry Tamils and Tamil speaking Muslims.
Like I said before, Mahinda Rajapaksa may have won the war but failed to win peace. May have united the land but divided the people!
Mahinda Rajapaksa as a leader believes that militarization and colonization of the predominantly Tamil areas can suppress the just aspirations of our people wanting to be equal.
Hence, this election is fundamentally important that all communities in the island vote for a leader who can provide leadership and govern all communities in the island in an equitable and just way.
Q: Many say that President Rajapaksa was tolerant enough that he embraced KP and many other hardcore LTTE members and brought them into his fold. Isn’t that a part of a reconciliation programme?
A: President Rajapaksa embraces persons whom most Tamils will consider as traitors. He alienates and accuses as traitors persons whom most Sinhalese will consider as war heroes. For Mahinda Rajapaksa, his family is supreme than his party or its long serving senior members. So, from these examples one must be able to deduce the motives of Mahinda Rajapaksa and why he embraces or to put it in the same language, why he brings such people into his fold. Reconciliation has nothing to do with it.
Q:Foreign countries still say there is rape and intimidation. They also claim there is violence against women in the North. Do you have proofs of these allegations?
A: Yes, I have and even the local police have.
Q:The European Union Court annulled the ban imposed on the LTTE. Won’t this attempt make more people collect funds and get into nefarious activities to revive terrorism?
A: Even the President of Sri Lanka has publicly claimed that the LTTE is a non-existent entity. I can only speak on behalf of the GTF. As I said before, the GTF proactively promotes non-violence and seeks a lasting peace in Sri Lanka based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.
Q:The Government of Sri Lanka says they are quite alert and will not allow any kind of terrorism to resurge in the country. Isn’t that a good move any country would follow after going through a war like the one we experienced?
A: Yes. However, who will keep the vigil and protect the people, be it Sinhala, Tamil or Muslims from State terrorism? Katunayake shooting – State terrorism in a predominantly Sinhala area, Weliweriya killing – State terrorism in a predominantly Sinhala area, Aluthgama riots – State terrorism in a predominantly Muslim area, Northern Province daily incidents – State terrorism in a predominantly Tamil area.
Q:Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to resist international moves to investigate the island’s war record, but promised a domestic probe if he was elected following January’s polls. Sirisena said he will not allow President Rajapaksa, his family or any member of our armed forces to be taken before any international war crimes tribunal. What is your take on this?
A: As explained to you in my answer to your question four, international law and enforcement is independent of any politics. If we want a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka, we should focus on the real issues and not about individuals. We owe it to all the people of our country. We have to take some tough and bold decisions considering the future. Therefore, I am sure that right decisions will be made at the right time by future leaders.
Q: Do you support the idea of a National Government that the common candidate has proposed?
A: A National Government is a great concept and can be a good thing if it is inclusive and promotes the wellbeing of all, on enlightened principles. A National Government will go a long way, if it would consider restructuring the current Constitution to:
Abolish the Executive Presidency and form a Parliamentary Government.
Be based on basic constitutional principles and values including sovereignty of the people, participatory democracy and supremacy of the Constitution, which should form an unalterable basic structure.
Power sharing to be on the basis of self-rule and shared-rule within an undivided Sri Lanka.
The pluralist character of Sri Lankan society, as well as identities and aspirations of the constituent peoples of Sri Lanka should be constitutionally recognized.
A strong and enforceable Bill of Rights consistent with universally accepted norms and standards.
Be separation of powers and an independence of judiciary, which includes a Constitutional Court.
Important institutions to be independent and accountable. Appointments to these and high posts should be through a transparent mechanism that provides for a national consensus, example Constitutional Council.
Institutions of the State to reflect the pluralist character of the Sri Lankan society.
The State to be a secular State.
[Original Caption: GTF will take President Rajapaksa to ICJ – Suren Surendiran]
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Courtesy Ceylon Today