Speaking in parliament yesterday, Leader of the Tamil National People's Front (TNPF), Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, gave a powerful speech in which he insisted that Tamil rights and the Tamil nation must be recognised; as well as arguing that “sovereignty can never be a defence in the face of serious accusations of war crimes”.
This remark came during parliamentary debates on the government’s policy statement presented by Sri Lankan President and accused war criminal Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Sovereignty can never be an excuse
Addressing Gotabaya Rajapaksa Ponnambalam stated:
“What [the President] must also realise is that when it comes to international relations, sovereignty comes with a certain baggage, one of the most cornerstone principles on which sovereignty will be compromised is if within the country the state does not protect its own citizens, or even worse if within the country the state attacks its own citizens”.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka’s defence secretary during the final phase of the armed conflict where Sri Lankan troops systematically shelled hospitals, no-fire zones and committed widespread sexual violence. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has also been accused of directing these white vans to abduct dissent voices alongside a further litany of further human rights violations.
“Sovereignty can never be a defence. This country has gone through a war and the whole world says that heinous crimes have been committed and the state is the number one accused party […] Under no circumstances can any president or any country for that matter try to hide behind the concept of sovereignty, to prevent accountability for heinous crimes. The victims of these heinous crimes stand as Tamils, the major victims stand as Tamils and they have consistently said, that genocide has been committed and that they want international accountability”, Ponnambalam stated.
His statement follows a joint letter by families of the disappeared sent to the UN High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, calling for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to recommend that Sri Lanka is investigated for their lack of fulfilment in providing answers for their missing loved ones. This has been a consistent call of families of the disappeared who have protested for over 1,250th consecutive days.
A unanimous mandate to acknowledge the Tamil nation
Ponnambalam further remarked on the need to accept the mandate of the North-East and to recognise the Tamil Nation and ensure that Tamils’ right to self-determination is protected.
“The mandate that was given, was unanimous, [it] was for Tamil rights to be recognised. Tamils rights mean that our identity has to be recognised. That Sri Lanka is a plurinational country, that there are two nations that exist in this country. That our rights have to be equal, that our status has to be equal. And that along with that status, constitutional amendments have to be made recognising the right to self-determination, was unanimously expressed in the last election” Ponnambalam maintained.
He further stated:
“That mandate cannot be violated. That is a mandate that has been consistently given by the Tamil, right through the 72-year history of this country”.
Commenting on the last election, and the success of Douglas Devananda of the EPDP, a pro-government Tamil paramilitary organisation accused of committing human rights abuses throughout and after the war, Ponnambalam notes that;
“In his campaign, his spoke of, [the need] for the Tamil nation to rise, the fact that we are a nation was unanimous”.
Development of the North-East
Ponnambalam also spoke on the issue of development in the North and East, an issue Gotabaya had campaigned on. Ponnambalam notes the persistent issue of landless people who have not received the deeds to their lands.
The Sri Lankan army, in August, prevented local farmers and residents in Mullaitivu from accessing their land. Land grabs by the military have been a consistent problem in the North and East.
Commenting on the issue of development, Ponnambalam stated:
“The North East has been a war zone for over 30 years, the people of the North and East’s economy is 30 years lagging behind, you cannot treat people in the North-East equally, you have to protect them. You have to allow their economy to grow”.