Guruparan addresses de-Tamilization, dichotomization in Geneva narrative
“Unless we take a critical stance in terms of what is happening in Geneva and unless we move away from the approach that all roads lead to Geneva in terms of how Tamil problems are going to be looked at, we are not going to identify the alternatives,” Tamil civil society activist and Jaffna University law academic Kumaravadivel Guruparan said while discussing whether the resolution to be tabled in Geneva is part of solution or problem. On the question, if not for this resolution what is the alternative, he said: “If we approach the resolution critically and people are made to understand what the resolution is about, at least the space of identifying the alternative will come about. It is that creation of that space for looking for alternatives that I am arguing for. That will come about only by taking stock a realistic, pragmatic and honest take over this resolution.”
Guruparan was addressing the Geneva discourse from a Tamil perspective, looking at both the resolution-process and the OHCHR-process.
Explaining what he termed as “de-Tamilisation” of the Sri Lankan narrative, he argued that the narration is deeply problematic.
“Even if people are to argue that this resolution, in some way, makes a shift on the accountability question, in that there needs to be some international oversight or international involvement towards accountability process, after making the so-called dichotomization between accountability and reconciliation, both the resolution and the High Commissioner’s reports, still say that the domestic process can be trusted towards to the end.
The Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF), of which Mr Guruparan is a founder member, had sent a complete model resolution to the drafting nations almost a month ago. That document serves as a blueprint for comparison in judging where the resolutions being tabled in Geneva stand, a section of Tamil activists in Geneva said.
Transcribed text of Kumaravadivel Guruparan’s address follows:
Thank you very much. My name is Kumaravadivel Guruparan. I am a lecturer in law at the University of Jaffna, Sri Lanka, currently started doing my PhD in law in the University of London. I am also a founder member of the Tamil Civil Society Forum in Sri Lanka, which is a network of 100+ civil society activists from the North East of Sri Lanka.
I want to make some preliminary remarks before I talk about the resolution itself.
Mr. Ponnambalam has already given you a sort of synopsis of in terms of why the Tamils might feel that this resolution does not reflect their interest.
Before I get into the substantive questions as to why the Tamils feel so; or why members at least on this podium feel so; let me say a few things about what our criticism is about; and what it is not about.
There are those who would like us to think, and I think this is part of a systematic smear campaign, who suggest that to be critical about this resolution, is to be pro government of Sri Lanka. I think that is the most cynical and convoluted thing that can be said of people, who are very responsible in terms of their commitment to the Tamil people’s cause, who have stood up, criticize not only this government, but successive governments in the way in which they have conducted what we consider to be the genocide of Tamil people and an ongoing genocide.
And to suggest, that to be critical of the resolution to be pro government, is deeply offending and something that the Tamils do not take easily.
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The second thing, which falls out from that first statement that I may want to make it clear is that just because of the government of Sri Lanka is also against this resolution is not the reason why the Tamils should be for this resolution. That is not an easy equation you can translate Tamil support for anything to be about.
This is something that is also made out about the 13th amendment of the provincial government system, a completely useless system of “devolution of power” that you find within the constitution of Sri Lanka.
They say that the current government of Sri Lanka does not intend to provide all powers under the 13th amendment, and hence the Tamils should be asking for those powers to be implemented, and should subscribe to the 13th amendment as a basis resolution.
We believe that Tamils position as with regard to what their substantive political position should evolve from a consideration of what the Tamil issues are, what Tamil people are facing, and based on an analysis, is the way in which we prescribe what solutions would address those problems.
If the problem is one of ongoing genocide, of ongoing oppression, of ongoing systematic oppression of the Tamil people which we call genocide, then we believe that we need to be prescribing solutions that match the diagnosis and we should not be looking at, Tamils shouldn’t be forced to take up positions, just binary to the government of Sri Lanka.
One should allow for space where Tamils take up these positions based on probably, this the least that we can do to recognize the self-determination of Tamils that the Tamils should be allowed to state.
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I will be very open. We have just had an experience this morning. Just because we – I am talking of ‘we’ meaning Mr Ponnambalam and myself – we were to address a group of States as to our thoughts on t the present resolution. Just because we were critical of the resolution, there were people, who were supportive of this resolution, who kicked us out of the meeting saying that we can’t address those states.
I mean, that is the kind of space that we are talking about that exists for Tamils within the UN human rights council. And this is a problem. And I think People need to read, people need to give Tamils a space to articulate for themselves as to what they feel the solutions what would address their problem.
This is not to say that we are being unilateral about how we proceed with these things. We want to have a dialogue with the international community. We want to have a dialogue with the States. We want to have a dialogue with all concerned. We are neither pro of a particular State nor against a particular State.
Our position is that we will engage with anyone based on Tamil national interest. And for any Tamil party, any Tamil group to assume that to go along with what is being suggested by the powers that be, is the best way that Tamils are going to be liberated is a complete mistake, we feel so.
I think these points need to be kept in mind, in terms of how you read the criticism that I am going to put forward with regards to the resolution.
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The first thing that I want to acknowledge is that we do understand. I mean, Tamils are sometimes demonized – not demonized they are degraded – there is a bit of a condescending approach that people like us who criticize the resolution, don’t understand UN mechanisms. We have no experience with how these things work. And that we need to be told as to how these UN mechanisms work.
I am always willing to listen. We are always willing to listen to people who would have things to say in terms of concrete action. But the point that I want to make is that we are very well aware of the limitations of the UNHRC as a mechanism.
We are aware that the UN Human Rights Council, for example, cannot set up a judicial process towards international criminal prosecutions. The only body at the moment within the UN system that can have a judicial process in terms of how you run an international criminal investigation is the International Criminal Court.
We are very well aware that a judicial process with regards to the international criminal investigation, meaning the ICC starting a prosecution, will only happen if the UN Security Council refers Sri Lanka to the ICC, that is the only option available, because, Sri Lanka’s former PM and current opposition leader Ranil Wickramsinghe keeps saying – boasts about – during his time when he was asked to sign up to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, they refused to sign up to it.
Mind you, that Sri Lanka was asked to sign up to the Rome Statute during the so-called peace process time.
If you were involved in a peace process, if you were serious about a peace process and genuine about a peace process, why is this so-called democratic star of the Sri Lankan Establishment now, I mean people are talking about Ranil Wikramasinge would do things differently, why did he not sign up to the ICC statute in 2003?
Coming back to the point. We are very clear. We are not [un]aware of the fact that the maximum contribution that the UN human rights council can make is to call for an investigation either through a directly appointed Commission of Inquiry or through the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights to set up a stand-alone investigation, or the Office of High Commissioner herself to appoint relevant experts in the field to come with an investigative report.
What is going to be produced? Whether it is CoI, whether it is a stand-alone investigation of the High Commissioner’s Office or whether it is an investigation that is led by the High Commissioner’s office itself, is a report.
It is a report that is going to say, as if we don’t have enough reports [already] to say.
Probably, there is more that the report can say.
But, let us not forget that the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts have come up with conclusions about what has happened in Sri Lanka.
We have had the US State Department that actually produced a report in terms of what they think had happened during the last phases of the war.
We have UN Secretary General having appointed Charles Petrie to look into the UN’s own conduct during the last phase of war, which has revealed a lot
And we have the Permanent Peoples Tribunal – I know a lot of people’s eyebrows will go up regarding the credibility of the PPT. But, we believe that people’s organizations are also important in terms of how these things are unraveled. This is a Permanent People’s Tribunal, where serious experts of International Law have gone into the question of what has happened in Sri Lanka and they have even concluded genocide recently. So, there are number of reports that are there already.
The argument is made that these are not legitimate, that these are not produced by legitimate actors, and that somehow that the High Commissioner’s report would be considered to be legitimate by the international community per se, and hence you can increase the momentum towards an international investigation.
I am not saying that might not happen. But the question that we have, as that Mr Ponnambalam stressed in the beginning, is that the point of departure of our analysis of what this resolution would contribute towards, is not just about what happens to past violations.
It’s about how we are contributing towards change at least at a very minimum level to the systemic oppression that our people are undergoing, at the moment.
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How is the resolution, I ask, going to respond to problems of people like Jeyakumari?
Jeyakumari and Vibooshika, mother and daughter are campaigners for their disappeared son. Jeyakumari’s husband was killed in the war. Her sons lost their lives in the liberation struggle. Now, she has a son, who has disappeared during the last stages of the war. She has been campaigning actively for his release.
Now the government of Sri Lanka is portraying a picture of Jeyakumari as a part of a big process of [LTTE] regrouping.
The question that we ask is – I can get into the details if there are question of Jeyakumari’s case – but the question we have is that Jeyakumari is just one example among many number of Tamils who are lingering in prison.
For us, the people who face the trauma of the people who interact with people who go through this oppression on a daily basis, the question that we ask is – what is the solution that is being presented – at least an indicative solution that is being presented – by the present resolution in terms of their lives being any different?
In the next year to come as the High Commissioner deliberates over what investigation needs to be done, calls upon witnesses, I am sure that the Sri Lankan government won’t allow the High Commissioner to come inside the State. The High Commissioner will try to conduct an investigation outside. What is going to change in terms of what is happening [on the ground].
As the resolution itself is being debated, we see a situation where the Tamil people are being targeted and other civil society activists also, who worry about Tamil issues, are also being targeted.
I am quite sure of this that particularly when even Sinhalese civil society activists, who belong to the South, take up matters with regard to Tamil issues, they are branded as people who ‘contribute to communal disharmony’.
This was what suggested when Ruki Fernando was arrested along with Fr. Praveen quite recently that their campaign for the Tamil peoples human rights issues, oppression of Tamil people, is contributing to ‘communal disharmony’. This is how the State has done it.
It is the same thing that happened with the case of journalist Tissainayagam, where he wrote a piece saying that Tamil people are being deprived of necessary supplies and that is how the war was being staged in the East in 2006. He was charged with ‘contributing to communal disharmony’ and sentenced for 20 years and then released on ‘presidential pardon,’ after some late intervention on the part of the international community.
The question that we ask is, how are things going to change?
I am not saying that the resolution needs to do wonders. We are not naïve people who would expect the resolution to do wonders.
The question is whether it is at least taking stock of what is happening?
And that is where we have problem in terms of the narrative.
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Why do we have problem with the narrative?
This has already been mentioned. I call this the “de-Tamilisation” of the Sri Lankan narrative.
I must say that the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai has done some very good progressive work with regards to certain aspects on the Sri Lankan question.
For example, in conclusion of her report, recently submitted on 17th Feb to the UN Human Rights Council, that the problem with regard to Sri Lanka, with regard to the accountability, is not one of technical capacity of the Sri Lankan government to launch an accountability process, but it is an issue of political will, is very important.
But, even the high commissioner makes a dichotomization of accountability and reconciliation being two different things.
She thinks that with regards to accountability there needs to be an international inquiry process. But, with regards to reconciliation, her suggestion – after acknowledging that there hasn’t been much done with regards to the implementation of the recommendation of the so-called wonderful Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report – is to further suggest, like the present resolution does, that ‘please implement the recommendations of the LLRC’.
It is still relying on the Sri Lankan government to say ‘implement the LLRC’, ‘implement the LLRC’ and ‘implement the LLRC’.
So, even if people are to argue that this resolution in some way makes a shift on the accountability question, that there needs to be some international oversight or international involvement towards accountability process, after making the so-called dichotomization between accountability and reconciliation – I say dichotomization because I think reconciliation if ever possible is deeply linked with the accountability – both the resolutions and the High Commissioner’s reports, still say that the domestic process can be trusted towards to the end. That narration is deeply problematic.
Again, a problem with both the resolution and the High Commissioner, after her visit to Sri Lanka, identified the problems in Sri Lanka as one of authoritarianism, as one of lack of rule of law or lack of good governance.
I don’t have the doubt that these are true. But, the problem is that narrative misses out the fact that when it comes to the Tamil people in particular, in specific, the problem is that it is about structural issues, it is about the Sri Lankan State, it is a 60-year and 30-year question.
We heard enough from Professor Sri Ranjan in terms of the historical material that supports this argument.
There is a complete denial of the fact that the issues that are faced by the Tamil people are much more structural in nature.
It is not about this recent authoritarian term that was taken. It is not about this recent rule of law or its collapse by this particular regime. It is not the question of just a simple collapse of good governance, but more a fundamental question with regards to the character of the Sri Lankan State. All the three resolutions so far have failed to acknowledge this.
You have a trajectory in the international human rights process as mediated by the UN Human Rights Council that doesn’t want to take cognizance of this process.
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Let me now turn to the final point I want to make. This resolution talks about a political solution that needs to take shape in Sri Lanka. The operative paragraph 6 – I will skin through this.
If you look at preambular paragraphs 13 and 14 of the current resolution, preambular paragraph 13 gives you a list of the problems.
It is nowhere mentioned that Tamils have a particular problem.
Yesterday, we heard from Yasmin Sooka, as to how this is a systematic targeting of the Tamil people. Yasmin Sooka was on the Panel of Experts report.
The resolution doesn’t want to acknowledge it.
We heard Yasmin Sooka from a side event of the UN Human Rights Council.
Paragraph 14 however, talks about recent attacks on religious minorities. And, we heard from a western country, in an informal discussion on the draft resolution, actually say that the Muslims are the main target now, the Christians are second and third are Hindus.
The Tamils are completely lost of the narrative and maybe are fitted into the whole dimension of Tamils being Hindus, which is a complete convoluted take of what is the problem in Sri Lanka. This is a major issue.
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Now, I want to come back to what I started on, which is the political solution.
If you look at the operative paragraph 6 of the resolution, it is calling upon the government of Sri Lanka to help the Northern Provincial Council to function effectively inline with the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. The Tamils have taken a consistent stance, including the Tamil National Alliance, I must say.
The mandate given by the Tamil people to the Northern Provincial Council, in the recently held elections of September 2013, was based on the manifesto of the TNA and on the speeches that were delivered from the electoral platforms where people gathered in mass numbers to listen to TNA members of parliament call for a vote for the Northern Provincial Council. They called for vote with a clear rejection of the 13th Amendment!
The resolution now calls for the 13th Amendment to be implemented to diagnose the Northern Provincial Council.
The NPC would become effective if the 13th Amendment is implemented and that the Constitution is implemented in line with the 13th Amendment is to suggest that the 13th Amendment in some way can provide for an effective political mechanism to solve the problems of the Tamil people. This is deeply objectionable.
Why is it objectional?
I think and I use these words in utmost responsibility because if we look at the larger conversation beyond the resolution on a political solution question and here I am talking about India and the US and the powers aligned with these two that they have made post May 2009, the 13th Amendment the center piece of the discourse of a political solution. This [UNHRC] resolution is reflecting that. We say no.
You can’t force on the Tamil people something they have rejected and something that have proven, repeatedly, as not addressing the problems of the Tamil people as a solution. I think that the operative paragraph 6 is deeply problematic in that sense.
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One final point: People keep talking about the LLRC. Restoration of normalcy in the North East is not going to happen unless the Prevention of Terrorism Act is repealed.
The recent arrests of Ruki Fernando, Fr. Praveen, Jeyakumari, the number of people languishing in jail, the lack of process in PTA towards a real sort of process through which you can demand your rights. As long as the PTA is there, the normalcy is not going to be returned. It suffocates space. Along with the sixth amendment, it suffocates space for the expression of Tamil political opinion in the North East.
The LLRC doesn’t even call for the repeal of the PTA. This resolution, despite, as the debate happens – we have raised it with the States who are bringing this resolution.
Despite the fact that arrests are happening in Sri Lanka under the PTA as this resolution is being passed, this resolution doesn’t even want to make mention of it.
Now, people might say that the UNHRC cannot tell a State what law to have and what law not to have. But, there are number of prescriptions that have been already made to Sri Lankan government. Can’t we say that the Prevention of Terrorism act is at least problematic towards achieving ‘reconciliation, accountability and return of normalcy’? Even that is not mentioned.
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In what way, then are the Tamil people to identify with this resolution, or for Tamil representatives to recommend this resolution as the basis for moving towards a solution to their problems?
And this is where the question arises. This does not mean that the Tamil people learnt a hard lesson in May 2009, if not before, as to what happens if you rely purely on international community processes the problems you are having.
We as Tamil representatives are aware that there needs to be much done on the ground to move towards resolving the problems of the Tamil people. But, if is being suggested that this is being done for the Tamil people, that this will be good for the Tamil people, our question is what is it going to do to us, explain it to us. We are saying in the form it is, that it doesn’t make a change on the ground. Immediately this question is being put to us: Are you rejecting the Resolution? That is what all people are interested in!
When we criticize a resolution, immediately the only question that people are interested in is, does it mean that your are rejecting a resolution that has taken so much of a pain despite the composition of the Council problem, China is there, Russia is there, Pakistan is there. They are not going to allow. The only question they are interested in asking us is whether we are rejecting the resolution. I am saying, let us not get into that “Yes” or “No” answer binary of how we state Tamil issues.
We say that this resolution does not contribute to changing things on the ground. That we can’t recommend to the Tamil people, saying that you can wait for Geneva to deliver on your problems. This is the other problem for us.
Waiting for the international community that ‘all roads lead to Geneva’. This is the other problem within the Tamil community. That our advocacy, look at all diaspora organizations, most of them. Look at the main Tamil political parties, the Tamil National Alliance: ‘Wait for Geneva’, ‘Geneva is going to do wonders.’ NO.
We have a responsibility. The Tamil Civil Society Forum has taken the difficult responsibility of trying to manage the expectations of our people that is both created by the international actors and by our own representatives and by the own diaspora organizations. It is my appeal to political parties, particularly the TNA and these mainstream diaspora organizations that unless we take a critical stance in terms of what is happening in Geneva and unless we move away from the approach that all roads lead to Geneva in terms of how Tamil problems are going to be looked at, we are not going to identify the alternatives.
Finally, on the question that people might raise. If not for this resolution what is the alternative? I say, if we approach the resolution critically and people are made to understand what the resolution is about, at least the space of identifying the alternative will come about.
It is that creation of that space for looking for alternatives that I am arguing for.
That will come about only by taking stock a realistic, pragmatic and honest take over this resolution.
Thank you very much.