As Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the island from Tuesday to Thursday, NPC Councillor Ms Ananthy Sasitharan, urged him to grasp the underlying factor of the conflict in the island, i.e. genocide and sought his help in getting answers from the government in Colombo and the international players, including the UN, the Co-chairs and India. “I hope Your Holiness is aware that there is an ideology behind the genocidal process,” she wrote in a letter addressed to the Pope on Saturday. She was citing a key case of Fr Francis Joseph towards the end of the war in perceiving the dimensions and said: “The Catholic Church, having witnesses among the people, has a moral duty to safeguard the people from the protracted crime of genocide.”
“During your visit, the Sri Lankan political leaders, including the newly sworn-in President Maithiripala Sirisena, who was the deputy defence minister during the genocidal onslaught when Fr Francis Joseph was taken away by his military, will be fighting for the opportunity to kiss your hand and get your blessings. Just as his predecessor Mahinda Rajapksa, who invited you to the island amidst his election plan, the political leaders and their military commanders of the Colombo government are seeking to protect themselves and their system from its crime of genocide,” Ms Ananthy said in her letter.
“Tamils are not a minority in our own traditional homeland, which is subjected to systematic Sinhala Buddhist colonisation with a genocidal motive,” Ananthy further said in her letter adding that “transforming Tamils into their [Sinhala State’s] ‘minorities’ was their first step in the genocide.”
Meanwhile, following the presidential victory of Mr Maithiripala Sirisena, officially supported by the TNA, the NPC Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran in a statement on Friday, harping on the usage ‘minorities’ and without any mention to the genocide or war-crimes investigation, was pinning hopes on the new government in Colombo.
Full text of Ananthy’s letter to Pope follows:
His Holiness Pope Francis
Vatican City State, 00120
We are grateful to God to witness the hope you would be bringing to the conflict-stricken people in Northern Province during your visit to Madu shrine in the island of Sri Lanka.
I am Mrs. Ananthy Sasitharan, an elected member of Northern Provincial Council in the island. I am working for the people who lost their family members in the last phase of the genocidal war waged on Tamil people in the North-East. We have been tracing the whereabouts of many of the cases that are being regarded in the records as ‘missing persons’.
I have sought justice through approaching the Sri Lankan government appointed LLRC commission, Presidential Commission, both of which only ended up as eyewash measures to save the Colombo government from international scrutiny.
At the LLRC sittings in Mannar, the Bishop of Mannar, Rev Dr Rajappu Joseph, boldly established the fact that a total of 146,679 people had gone unaccounted for in the final stage of the war in 2008 and 2009.
I also approached all possible international avenues that were created when the UN committees analysing the UN failure and the latest OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka created through the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) process in Geneva. With a special mandate from the Northern Provincial Council in March 2014, I raised the awareness of UN Human Rights Council by addressing the 25th session in March 2014 four times.
However, we are yet to receive any proper response from the Sri Lankan government authorities. Five years have elapsed since we last saw our family members and relatives, who were handed over to the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in front of our eyes, with the facilitation offered by Rev Fr Francis Joseph, our beloved priest who came to help the people at a critical juncture.
We placed our hope in Fr Francis Joseph as he was a witness attached to the Church.
During the last days of the genocidal war, on 17 May, 2009, we passed into Vadduvakal in Mullaithivu and reached a place called Selvapuram, an area that had been already seized by the SLA.
On the following day, the SLA announced through megaphones that they will provide amnesty if those who were attached to the LTTE earlier surrendered themselves. Hence, former Principal of St. Patrick’s school, and principal of Kilinochchi English school, Rev. Francis Joseph, took our family members to surrender to the SLA as requested by the family members. There were many women, pregnant mothers, and children who were part of this organized surrender. There were not only former combatants, but humanitarian workers, rights activists and officials involved in the civil services of the de-facto administration run by the LTTE. Their family members were also among those surrendered. Still, we are not told the whereabouts of our kith and kin, who were taken in military buses to undisclosed locations on that fateful day. As you are aware Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph also went with them and never returned.
As a member of the Northern Provincial Council and as one of the affected victims, I urge Your Holiness to reach out for us in demanding a clear answer from the Sri Lankan Government and its military on what had happened to Rev Fr Francis Joseph, the hundreds of our family members and relatives who were taken into SLA custody on 18 May, 2009.
The officers of the United Nations were involved in suggesting the surrender providing assurances that the security of those surrendered would be looked after by the UN agencies. Likewise, the Co-Chair Countries of Tokyo Donor Conference on the peace process, which were the USA, the European Union, Norway and Japan, were also advising the Tamils to go into the SL military controlled territory. Indian government was also telling the same. Your Holiness, all these countries are also responsible to give us an answer.
I am personally imploring Your Holiness to help my three daughters and myself to establish the whereabouts of my husband, a former political leader, who accompanied Fr Francis Joseph on that fateful day.
In addition, there are thousands of ‘missing persons’ cases still pending without any response from the Sri Lankan authorities. I also urge Your Holiness to take up the matter as a collective issue and demand a proper response from the Sri Lankan government.
Your Holiness, we believe there is no one else in this planet to place the straightforward question on the whereabouts of Fr Francis Joseph. Please be kind to convey the answer you get from the Sri Lankan government to the people in the North when you visit the Madhu shrine.
I hope that Your Holiness is aware of the fact that the underlying conflict in the island is a 60-year-long genocide against Tamils. It has claimed the lives of most of the talented people from our traditional homeland in the North-East. A significant number of our resource people are forced into exile. The remaining Tamils are forced to live as second-class citizens, facing various forms of oppressions, colonisation, Sinhalicisation and finally Buddhicisation of the traditional Tamil homeland through Sinhala militarisation.
During your visit, the Sri Lankan political leaders, including the newly sworn-in President Maithiripala Sirisena, who was the deputy defence minister during the genocidal onslaught when Fr Francis Joseph was taken away by his military, will be fighting for the opportunity to kiss your hand and get your blessings. Just as his predecessor Mahinda Rajapksa, who invited you to the island amidst his election plan, the political leaders and their military commanders of the Colombo government are seeking to protect themselves and their system from its crime of genocide.
Your Holiness, please do not be fooled by their false promises on protecting ‘minorities’. In fact, transforming Tamils into their ‘minorities’ was their first step in the genocide.
Tamils are not a minority in our own traditional homeland, which is subjected to systematic Sinhala Buddhist colonisation with a genocidal motive.
I hope Your Holiness is aware that there is an ideology behind the genocidal process. This ideology stems from the myths interpreted from the chronicle of Mahavansa.
We look at Vatican, as a moral guardian of humanity. The Catholic Church, having witnesses among the people, has a moral duty to safeguard the people from the protracted crime of genocide.
I hope you will be able to listen to the victims and at least gain a direct sense of the real nature of the crime during your short stay in the Northern Province.
Most Holy Father, I hope that your visit will be a step in bringing justice to hundreds and thousands of people, among them a large number of Tamil Catholics, who need the voice of Vatican at this critical juncture.
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Statement by the Chief Minister of the Northern Province on the results of the Presidential Election:
My beloved Tamil Speaking brothers and sisters have made the appropriate decision at the Presidential Elections. Today we have voted decisively and elected a new President. Hon. Maithripala Sirisena has been selected by the majority and minority communities jointly as the leader of this country. I have complete confidence that democracy will be established under him. Moreover, I believe that the foundation for a just solution to the problems of the Tamil Speaking Peoples, which have remained unresolved for more than sixty years, will be laid under his regime. I wish to state that we remain committed to providing him with our co-operation and assistance in this regard.
We believe that as a son of the soil he will not neglect or ignore the needs and welfare of minorities. Several heavy responsibilities have been assumed by him. The obligations are manifold and include the obligation to provide relief to the inhabitants of the Northern, Eastern and the Upcountry regions who have suffered due to natural calamities in the recent past; the obligation to protect and reassure the Muslims who have been subjected to attacks by religious fanatics; and the obligation to restore and transform the livelihoods and lives of the inhabitants of the Northern and Eastern provinces, who are suffering from the presence and interference of a disproportionately large military despite the end of the war. I have no doubt in my mind that he would give those issues the necessary consideration.
Patience, trust and empathy are all vital to sustain democracy. We have sowed the seeds for a democratic revolution today by committing ourselves to those attributes. We have done our duty. We have done so in the midst of varied intimidations, travails and dangers. We believe that the new leadership would enable our lives to flourish. May the future usher in a new era! May those who rule the country understand our needs and empathise with our aspirations!
Justice C. V. Wigneswaran Chief Minister,