By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan.
President of the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) Raj Thavaratnasingham in an interview with Ceylon Today said he was pleased that the government has delisted CTC and a few other Tamil diaspora organizations.
As a result of the delisting of CTC, for the very first time we were able to raise funds to build houses for war widows in Sampur. We have built 18 houses and handed them over to deserving owners and another 23 houses are to be built in the second phase, for which funding has already been secured,” he added. Excerpts:
The Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) is considered to be one of the powerful politically backed institutions in Canada which lobbies against Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes, human rights violations and systematic ethnic cleansing in the North and East. What’s CTC’s position now?
A: Due to Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka since the 1950s, and in especially large numbers after July 1983, Canada now has the largest Tamil diaspora outside Sri Lanka. The Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) was founded in 2001 to advocate for the interests of the growing Tamil Canadian population, which is now estimated to be well over 300,000. Acting as the voice of Tamil Canadians, CTC is a non-partisan organization and works with all political parties at all three levels of government (federal, provincial and municipal) in Canada.
As a recent immigrant group in Canada, many Tamils have close family ties to Sri Lanka particularly in the North and East. Thus, the plight and suffering faced by the Tamil population in Sri Lanka has a serious impact on our everyday lives in Canada. CTC wants to ensure that justice is served and that there is permanent peace in Sri Lanka so that all communities, including Tamils, can live as equals.
The CTC and other Tamil groups such as the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT), the British Tamil Forum, Australian Tamil Congress and Global Tamil Forum are labelled as “bad mouthed”, disrupting Sri Lanka’s political affairs from the time the Vanni war and later which the government banned (16 of the organizations) saying these groups fund the LTTE. How do you justify the banning of the 16 organizations to begin with by the Rajapaksa regime?
A: CTC and many other Tamil diaspora organizations, including our international partners GTF, ATC, USTPAC, and BTF, played a significant role in persuading many countries to work towards a just solution in Sri Lanka—culminating in the UNHRC resolution in March 2014 in Geneva which called for a comprehensive investigation into serious human rights violations by both parties in Sri Lanka.
The Rajapaksa regime banned Tamil diaspora organizations as a retaliatory measure. We outright rejected the ban and we would have legally challenged it in Sri Lanka itself if the Sri Lankan judiciary had been independent under the previous regime. We take our reputation seriously and we took legal action in Canada against Dr. Rohan Gunaratne for calling CTC a terrorist front, and in January 2014 we won $53,000 in this case. We take pride in being a responsible and measured organization and stand by every word.
The present government delisted CTC along with eight other groups last year. Does that bring changes in your activities, thinking and motivation?
A: On more than one occasion CTC officially wrote to the previous President and Defence Minister to produce evidence to justify the ban on CTC, or if they could not, to remove it. When the new President was sworn in, we again wrote to the new Sri Lankan
Government. We were pleased that the new government has delisted CTC and a few other Tamil diaspora organizations. We immediately welcomed this move by the new Sri Lankan government as another step in the right direction.
While the ban had absolutely no impact on our activities here in Canada, it made it difficult for us to play our responsible role by contributing to the rebuilding efforts in the war affected regions of North East Sri Lanka.
As a result of the delisting of CTC by the new government, now for the first time we were able to raise funds to build houses for war widows in Sampur. We have built 18 houses and handed them over to deserving owners last month from the funds, and another 23 houses are to be built in the second phase, for which funding has already been secured.
Sri Lanka says LTTE is still active and funds are being collected in their name and some Toronto Tamils claim that certain groups still enjoy the savings of the LTTE and lobbying against Sri Lanka. What’s your position?
A: There is no LTTE in Sri Lanka for anyone from the diaspora to support or promote. This is simply propaganda by certain political parties and groups to create fear among the southern masses. We feel they are doing this for they believe their survival depends on continued instability and problems in Sri Lanka.
CTC is a legitimate organization run in accordance with Canadian and international laws. Our accounts are audited annually and filed with relevant authorities in Canada, and we are very open and transparent in everything we do. We want permanent peace in Sri Lanka and the Tamil national question resolved, and we will only contribute positively towards that end.
There are several Toronto Tamils opposing the CTC stance of supporting the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). What motivates them to work against the TNA?
A: In a democratic society there will always be differences of opinion, and this is very healthy as long as it does not cross any boundaries leading to intimidation and violence. We strongly believe that the vast majority of Tamils, whether in Canada or not, the rest of the Tamil Diaspora or even in Sri Lanka, hold the same positions as CTC and the TNA on many issues. However, the delays by the new government in addressing key issues for Tamils such as the release of large swaths of private lands in the North and East occupied by the Sri Lankan military, the reduction of military personnel in the North and East to similar levels as the rest of the island, and the release of Tamil political prisoners and full implementation of the UNHRC resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, is increasing the frustrations of many Tamils and opening the door for suspicion to creep in.
Can you elaborate how CTC supports the TNA in its political agendas with Ranil – Maithri government?
A: Since May 2009, TNA has won every single election in the North and East by a very large majority. TNA support has actually increased in every election during this time. This clearly shows that the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka have placed their trust in the TNA’s leadership and have given them a clear mandate to act on their behalf.
CTC will always support the democratic wishes of the Tamil people in the North and East, and currently the TNA is the clear choice of the Tamil people in the North and East. Until and unless Tamil people change their minds on the TNA by expressing their wishes in a democratically held election in the future, CTC will continue to stand in solidarity with their democratic wishes and support the TNA and its leadership.
TNA and CTC denounced genocide and separatism and seek a federal government as the political solution. Is the government happy with TNA for being a player in their reconciliation process?
A: I do not think it is CTC’s business to impose a particular solution on Sri Lanka. That has to be decided upon by the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and their political representatives – currently the TNA. However, we stand ready to assist in any way we can for them to achieve this. Sri Lanka has an opportunity to make strong strides towards reconciliation by addressing the accountability issues which are necessary for permanent peace in the island. Once again I would like to reiterate, we at CTC along with our international partners are ready to play our part and contribute positively towards ensuring this.
Towards rebuilding Sri Lanka, TNA, the GTF of which you are one of the board directors has faith on the new government. How is CTC supporting the new government through TNA?
A: We know and accept rebuilding Sri Lanka, particularly the worst affected North and East is also our responsibility. Even though President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January 2015, we could not contribute towards the rebuilding process at the time as CTC remained a banned entity until November 2015. Since the lifting of the ban, we acted immediately by committing to build 41 houses for war widows at Sampur in Trincomalee.
We have completed 18 houses and another 23 houses are currently being built. A lot more needs to be done by the government to increase and encourage the Tamil Diaspora’s role in the rebuilding process. It needs to address many day-to-day issues affecting Tamil people without any further delay and fulfil the commitments made in Geneva. GTF has played a major role in starting a dialogue with the new government and as their country organization we fully support and encourage GTF’s moves.
What are they and what solution do you have in mind on the national issue?
A: CTC’s position is that Tamil Diaspora should not be trying to impose any particular solution on Sri Lanka. The solution has to come from the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and they are quite capable of deciding on what they want. If the TNA requests our support in any area, we are ready to provide it.
What do you think of the banned organizations that still exist such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Tamil Rehabilitaion Organization (TRO), the Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), the World Tamil Movement, the Transitional Government of Tamil Eelam, Tamil Eelam Peoples’ Assembly and the Headquarters Group (HQ Group)?
A: CTC has called for the removal of the ban on all Tamil diaspora organizations as our position was that the previous Rajapakasa regime did not follow any procedure when banning Tamil diaspora organizations. Due process of the law must be followed. If you cannot justify the ban, remove them from the list.
Similar to CTC support to TNA, people locally and overseas support the Tamil People’s Forum (TPF) headed by the Chief Minister of NPC C.V. Wigneswaran. Will that create a conflict of interest between the CM and TNA?
A: CTC supports TNA purely on the basis that it is democratically elected by the Tamil people in the entire North and East. However, there will be differences of opinion in any democratic society. As a democratically elected body, I’m sure TNA will take into account everyone’s opinion.
The CTC/TNA/GTF are accusing the NP Chief Minister for being a spoiler in the political game. Can you explain why do you condemn the formation of the TPF?
A: CTC has never made any accusations, condemnations or even comments like that. I do not think GTF has made any such comments either. As far as we are concerned, the Chief Minister is part of the TNA and it is not proper for us to interfere or even comment in the internal affairs of the TNA. Sampanthan as leader of the TNA persuaded Chief Justice Wigneswaran to contest the NPC elections, projecting him as the TNA’s chief ministerial candidate. We have full confidence in Sampanthan as the senior leader to sort any issues that do arise within TNA.
What are the TNA/CTC/GTF/ (who have decided to give time and space for the government to implement the UNHRC resolution) doing regarding the backtracking of the government on the key issue of international oversight in accountability for war crimes and justice for the victims and their loved ones?
A: The new government co-signed the Geneva agreement. CTC does not own it, the government owns it. By owning it, Sri Lanka has the obligation to implement it in full. CTC also worked hard from 2009 in Geneva and in many other international capitals to pass the UNHRC resolution. We are hopeful that the new government will keep its international commitments. We will continue to press the international community to keep its focus on Sri Lanka and to ensure that the Sri Lankan Government follows through with all its promises. At the end of the day, we want to see all Sri Lankans live in peace and harmony.
– Ceylon Today