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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

This is a country that does not honour the constitution – its supreme law

Speech by M. A. Sumanthiran on Adjournement motion in Parliament (11th May, 2012)
”I’m talking about the language used. You say ‘Tamil Tiger terrorist’. Tamil equals Tiger equals terrorist. That mindset will never advance any kind of reconciliation in this country. If you’re serious about reconciliation you need to change that – radically.”

Thank you Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity given to me to speak on this Adjournment Motion moved by the Hon. Member for Kandy District. Before I get on to what I wish to state, I’d like to deal with some very interesting matters that the Hon. Acting Minister for Media just stated to this House. He said that this Motion and the Motion to implement the recommendations of the LLRC are nothing but the agenda of the Tamil Diaspora.

I wonder how kindly His Excellency will take this comment having appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission?

Is the Hon. Minister suggesting that His Excellency the President was acting according to the agenda of the Tamil Diaspora in appointing the LLRC?

He further stated that media freedom in this country is like that horse that was tethered and walked round and round, and even after its release keeps walking round and round. That is concession by the Minister himself that there is self imposed censorship out of fear; that they are being kept within the bounds; and even if one can’t see the rope, the horse knows that it dare not move outside that circle.

Even the private media today knows only too well what is good for their health. That message has been clearly delivered by the Government and today by the Hon. Minister himself in this House.

The Motion identifies two matters. There is recommendation that rules and regulations must be formulated for the Freedom of Information, and secondly, that investigations must be initiated on serious violations
 of international laws and Human Rights. But the substantive part of the Motion is with regard to the appointment of independent commissions. Whilst I fully endorse that Motion to appoint independent commissions, I recognize that the Proposer and the Seconder have dealt with that adequately, and I wish to move on to the other matters that are mentioned in this Motion and some matters that are not mentioned in this Motion.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission made some interim
 recommendations, and in their final report they themselves lament that their interim recommendations have not been implemented. They have not included in their final report those interim recommendations. There is an Article by Prof. Savithri Goonesekere and Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, a respected retired civil servant who was in foreign service, on behalf of ‘Friday Forum’, that a few matters must be done as a matter of urgency. This is not out of any improper motive but for the sake of the country. One of those is releasing the report of the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry into killings, including that of the 5 students in Trincomalee and the 17 aid workers of Muttur.

If I heard the Minister a little while ago, he was suggesting that we should not rake up matters that have been forgotten. He was suggesting that the killings of the 5 students in Trincomalee and the 17 aid workers in Muttur is a matter that the Government has successfully swept under the carpet, and he is urging the opposition: ‘Don’t remind the international community of this now. Don’t bring this to the fore. Let forgotten matters be forgotten.’

I wish to tell this Government most categorically, that none of those matters will ever be forgotten. Matters of justice, quests for justice, can never be quenched by sweeping these things under the carpet. These two respected individuals further say that names must be made available of detainees and missing persons with regard to whom there is documented information of death.

Thirdly, taking measures to prevent abductions, investigation into such allegations as a matter of urgency, and prosecuting offenders. Even whilst the Geneva sessions were on in the month of March there were white van abductions liberally taking place in this country – telling the international community: ‘We care two hoots for your concern about violations of Human Rights in this country’. Not one person has been apprehended and brought to book. That is what we want to display to the world. We don’t care. We will carry on, regardless of whatever your expression of concern.

As rightly pointed out by the mover of this Motion, this is disaster for this country, and as responsible Members of this House, as responsible Members of the Opposition, it is our duty to again and again remind the Government that they cannot take the country down this slope. I also, like the other speakers from the Opposition, want to record the fact that no responsible Minister was present in this House, until now. Now I can see a senior Minister asleep in the front row. He is still asleep. That shows the seriousness of this Government with regard to these matters. If we proceed in this way, if we go in this direction the writing is on the wall as to what will happen.

With all these things happening, I’m sure the Hon. Member who is trying to disturb me will agree with me that there is very serious concern expressed in the LLRC report itself about religious freedom.

While all these things were happening we saw what happened in Dambulla. Even the perpetrators who are very well identified are still at large. There is provision in the Penal Code of this country to prosecute persons who damage places of religious worship. The one who led the attack – the whole country knows his identity – and the government does not have the will to move a muscle to apprehend that offender.

I wonder what the Hon. Member has to say about that? He dare not say anything. Do you want to say anything? You dare not say anything about that. He has nothing to say to the challenge that I pose to
 him. All he can do is sling mud.

The Motion says that investigations must be initiated into serious violations of international laws and Human Rights. The Tamil National Alliance has openly stated our position with regard to this. The violation of international laws is not a simple issue. That’s a matter on which the international community can legitimately ask questions and that is not considered interference. That is international law today.

We have said accountability remains an urgent and important need to help victim communities overcome trauma and rebuild their lives.

You talk so much about reconciliation. If you’re serious about reconciliation, your concern will be that of the victims. If victims are to recover from their trauma, justice and accountability are a necessary part of that. That is so, because to bring closure to a collective and personal grief; to ensure genuine reconciliation, to break the cycle of impunity in Sri Lanka, and to ensure against a return to violence, we need to put in place a credible and independent mechanism for accountability.

International standards with respect to accountability require that this process advances truth, justice and victim reparation. That can happen only by the appointment of an independent international investigation. Nobody will argue – any investigation must be independent.

Everyone who knows this country, knows that no internal arrangement will ever be independent, and that is why we have consistently requested that it must be international to ensure that it is independent.

There is another matter about reparation to victims. Three years have passed since the conclusion of the war, and as I said, if one is serious about reconciliation, the whole language of the Government ought to reflect that. I have with me today, an invitation to an event that is to happen on Monday the 14th. It says somebody has written a book, and it says ‘Gota’s war’. Gota’s war. Whose war? Gota’s war.

Sir, the subtitle says – ‘The crushing of Tamil Tiger terrorism in Sri Lanka’. It says ‘Tamil Tiger terrorism in Sri Lanka.’ Tamil equals Tiger equals terrorist.

The author is C. A. Chandraprema. We all know who he is. You can write a book about the war. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the language used. You say ‘Tamil Tiger terrorist’. Tamil equals Tiger equals terrorist. That mindset will never advance any kind of reconciliation in this country. If you’re serious about reconciliation you need to change that – radically.

Removing Tamil officers from Tamil areas and appointing persons who have no proficiency in Tamil will not advance reconciliation, as has happened just yesterday to the GA Vavuniya. This follows, (from) some time ago, the appointment of the GA of Mannar. We protested. We have consistently protested about the fact that the Government Agent of Trincomalee is also a person who has no proficiency in Tamil and worse, he is a retired military man. Only two provinces in this country have as their governors retired military personnel – that’s the North and the East. Why is that?

Three years after the end of the war, paying mere lip service to reconciliation, you still want to keep that tight control over those people. You want to occupy their lands. Only two days ago we had an Adjournment Motion on that, and I must place on record, the most responsible replies that we had on that day were from the Minister for Resettlement, and the Deputy Minister for Resettlement. Both conceded that enough has not been done. There were other ministers who talked through their hats, but the ministers concerned accepted that this has not been done properly.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Hon. Member for Kandy moving the Resolution referred to various assurances that the Government has given, without serious thought of consequence, just to get over their difficulty on that day. All of those are matters of record. The Resolution that was passed in May 2009 in the United Nations Human Rights Council very specifically says that it welcomes the assurance by His Excellency the President. This is what it says:

‘Welcoming also the recent assurance given by the President of Sri Lanka , that he does not regard a military solution as a final solution, as well as his commitment to a political solution, with implementation of the 13th Amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.’

Three years ago. Now, it is a strange thing in this country, that the Head of the country gives assurance that he will implement the Constitution. That speaks volumes about the Rule of Law in this country. Hon. Lakshman Kiriella referred to previous resolutions in 2006 where assurances were given that the 17th Amendment will be implemented.

Whoever gives assurance that a part of the Constitution will be implemented, conceding thereby that they are violating the Constitution at that point in time? And here we are three years later – nothing has been done about implementing part of the Constitution.

The 13th Amendment remains in the Constitution, and repeatedly the Government says ‘we will implement it’. These assurances themselves have given a clear picture to the international community that this is a country that does not honour its Constitution – its Supreme Law.

That is consistently confirmed by its Ministers and even the Head of the country. We don’t honour the Constitution. We merely pay lip service. We take oaths under the Constitution to uphold the Constitution and then we go around the world saying ‘We will implement it, we will implement it. Someday we will implement it.’

This is the attitude that has to change. This assurance given world over that a political solution will be found has not been done. No effort has been taken. Merely appointing committees and ensuring that nothing comes out of those committees is no way of demonstrating to the world that you’re serious about finding a political solution.

This is the same with regard to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission as well.

Why should the LLRC recommend that there must be Rule of Law? That the Constitution must be implemented? Don’t we all know that? Why should an inter agency advisory committee be appointed – yet another committee – when interim recommendations are made by the LLRC? If the LLRC makes interim recommendations, implement those. It is for that that you appointed that Commission in the first place.

Now it has given its final report, you have gone and appointed yet another committee to advise you on what of that can be implemented, and when that report comes a further committee will be appointed, and when that comes another committee will be appointed, and this pattern keeps going on and on and on. Hon. Minister was heard urging members of the United National Party to convince the Tamil National Alliance to come into the Parliamentary Select Committee.

Now, we have made clear to the whole country our position with regard to the Parliamentary Select Committee. You can’t appoint a committee for bi-lateral talks, go on with that for one year, and then start appointing another committee. There must be an end to appointment of committees. There must be a serious political will that is demonstrated in action.

Even (with regard to) this Action Plan that has been mentioned in this Motion, I conclude now supporting the proposition that this Action Plan must be first laid bare to the country, before something that we don’t know is taken around the world, to deceive the world.


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