Sampanthan has forgotten his people’s grievance
BY Mirudhula Thambiah
Northern Provincial Councillor Ananthi Sasitharan says that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R. Sampanthan has continued to remain silent while his people are facing various burning issues.
“During the time of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Leader Sampanthan had a discussion with him regarding missing persons and the then President agreed to release details of missing persons. At a certain stage of the discussion, he even said that he has some information, but until today there has not been any development in this regard. I think Sampanthan forgot the grievances of our people,” she added.
Excerpts of the interview:
? You recently said that the Geneva visit was meaningless. What did you mean by that?
A: The 30/1 resolution was adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2015 and was co-sponsored by the United States and Sri Lanka. It has been one and half years since the resolution was adopted, but the Sri Lankan Government did not take any solid action to find the missing persons and the suggestions provided in the resolution were not implemented properly.
There is no development in finding a solution for the affected parties. Despite us opposing the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), the government firmly passed the Bill. However, they have not even kept their promises of implementing the OMP until date.
Private lands are yet to be released, same applies to the issue of Tamil Political Prisoners, the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution was not abolished and many issues remain the same without any sort of solution. It is agreeable to demand for time extension, if the government had fulfilled the demands of the affected parties.
Yet, they have not made any satisfying move within the period of one and half years. There was no constructive solution found to the issue of 18,000 missing persons.
When the UNHRC Commissioner was insisting in Geneva that the recommendations should be implemented properly within the two-year extension, back in Sri Lanka, the President and most southern politicians have clearly said that even a hybrid Court cannot be implemented. They strictly insist there will be no foreign involvement.
I think even the international community was aware that a two-year extension will not solve the issues faced by the affected parties. At the end of the UNHRC Commissioner’s speech all countries began to accept the two-year extension, which disappointed those who were directly affected by war. We are the affected party, we went to Geneva expecting that justice will be meted out. But, the situation was totally different and it made me realize that it was meaningless to participate in the Geneva sessions. Why are they concerned about Syria not and Sri Lanka? Even thousands of our children were found dead near the sea, but why is attention given only when a Syrian child is found dead? Of course, even we felt sad. But remember we also faced attacks and our loved ones also died in the war. Why are they discriminating our people?
? You recently said that your Leader Sampanthan is maintaining silence when there are so many issues of his people to be solved. Why did you say so? Are you having any contradictions?
A: He has not even managed to gather a meeting to talk to people like us, who are provincial level representatives. There is not even one single representative like me struggling to survive, my husband is missing and I have lost most of my relatives in the war. I am facing various challenges to survive. I surely understand the pain of the other affected people.
During the time of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Leader Sampanthan had a discussion with him regarding missing persons and the then President agreed to release details of missing persons. At a certain stage of the discussion, he even said that he has some information, but until today there has been no development in this regard. I think Sampanthan has forgotten his people’s grievances.
He continues to say that we (TNA) should not ruin the steps taken forward by the Government of ‘Good Governance’. Howeve, we cannot remain silent when our problems continue to be the same and there is no solution.
There seems to be no solution for the affected women in our society. Nobody is worried. Look at me; I’m facing many struggles to survive. We did not enter politics with money; it is only the votes of the people that brought me to the scene. But there seems to be no future in the struggle we face.
? How do you view the struggle taken up by the relatives of missing persons in Kilinochchi for almost 50 days?
A: There are more than 18,000 enforced disappearance cases are on the records in the North and East. This number is apart from the time of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF).
Recently, a mother came to me explaining that her son went missing during the period of IPKF. Therefore, the numbers of disappearance cases may rise further.
Therefore, when there are many people affected, only a few are protesting. It will not help. We should all unite to strengthen our struggle. If not, the government, as usual, will make sarcastic comments at us that only a small number is protesting and the rest is not concerned. We must not create such a situation, we must stand strong.
Also, there is a group of Tamil representatives who are making use of the grievances of families of missing persons.
Recently when Minister Rajitha Senaratne visited the North, he had asked Northern Health Minister P. Sathiyalingam to provide information about the numbers of missing persons. There had been already 18,000 complaints registered with the Paranagama Commission and they still wanted to know the numbers. Around 180 cases were collected in Vavuniya and handed over to Minister Senaratna by Minister Sathiyalingam. Whom are they trying to fool? The number is only 180 complaints in Vavuniya?
What happened to the rest of those who went missing in the entire North?
So far, even the Northern Provincial Council does not have a proper procedure to even inquire into missing persons. The Northern Provincial Council only has the records collected by the Mannar Citizens Committee, marking more than 4,000 cases.
We have enough volunteers to carry out a proper survey but we do not have financial support to launch proper investigations.
? Recently Northern Chief Minister Wigneswaran said that issues of missing persons cannot be solved immediately and the government should take necessary steps to expedite the proceedings. How do you view this?
A: The Chief Minister was not aware of the feelings of the relatives of missing persons. He did not know the pain until we explained to him. All proceedings initiated to inquire into missing persons, starting from the Paranagama Commission to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, were not able to travel beyond a limit.
I think the Chief Minister may feel that the government has not done its part properly and that he thinks the procedure is still dragging.
? The war affected people voted for the current government expecting a solution to their grievances but the situation remains to be same in major issues. What have you got to say?
A: This is why I denied supporting Mahinda and Maithri at the Presidential Elections. None of them will understand or solve our issues. Our people are not farsighted but shortsighted. They only take decisions for a short-term and then struggle. They must get prepared to take long-term decisions which will benefit future generations.
The aim of the Presidential Election was only to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa, but the people failed to understand the long-term reality. I always felt that the TNA should have taken steps to support Maithripala Sirisena based on certain conditions.
They should have always negotiated before extending support. Therefore, it is unfair to only blame the TNA for the current situation. The people too should share the blame.
Therefore, Ananthy alone cannot bring a massive change amidst our people. However, it is unacceptable that the two-year extension was given without properly assessing the situation.
? Are you trying to say that the international community is no longer concerned about the war affected?
A: Definitely! If the government had achieved any progress within the one and half year period, then it is agreeable to give it a further two-year term to implement the recommendations. But, the government had failed to stick to the promises.
When the government is not ready to implement the hybrid Court, a two-year extension is unnecessary. I was trying my best to file a petition, at the International Court of Justice, but I was advised that Sri Lanka did not sign the Rome Treaty and it is impossible make such a move, but only appeal to the United Nations Arbitral Tribunal.
Therefore, a change should take place in the mentalities of member countries in realizing the reality in Sri Lanka.