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A historic opportunity – 5 key demands from Tamil Civil Society

Responding to the ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka, Tamil civil society groups have issued a group statement urging all actors to seize this historic opportunity for “real change for an island plagued by decades of ethnic conflict”.

“There have been many moments in Sri Lanka’s history when governments have had the opportunity to change course and address the root causes of the island’s conflict, but each time they have fallen short. We […] put forward this statement in good faith, in the hope that this time could be different”.

Instead of simply demanding a change of figureheads, the statement stresses the need to meet the demands of the Tamil Nation encapsulated in five key demands:

1. Draft a new constitution that genuinely restructures the state in a way that respects the secular and pluri-national nature of the island and the right to self-determination, and meaningfully devolves political, economic, land and security powers;

2. Ratify the Rome Statute with retroactive effect, and support international prosecutions of atrocity crimes committed during and after the war;

3. Demilitarize the North-East to support restructuring the economy by cutting the inflated defence budget, and reallocating spending for economic development;

4. Address demands of long-standing protests by families of the disappeared and political prisoners from across the North-East including as a starting point by repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA);

5. Immediately cease land acquisitions by national authorities and security forces in the North-East.

Commenting on the political crisis in Sri Lanka, the statement notes that for Tamils, “the Rajapaksas are much more than economically incapable and corrupt – Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the war criminal who oversaw the Sri Lankan military’s atrocity crimes, including genocide, at the end of the war”.

The statement goes on to detail how “Rajapaksa’s continuation of policies oppressing Tamil and Muslim communities [were] ignored or condoned by the majority electorate, and he was valorised as a protector of the Sinhala-Buddhist nation”.

A further concern raised is the “whitewashing of the security forces’ crimes has also been an alarming feature of Southern protests and political dialogue over the last few months and has included a failure to acknowledge ongoing persecution of Tamil and Muslim communities by the security forces”.

“Even as the Presidential Secretariat was taken by protestors, the persistence of the island’s Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism and militarisation was laid bare by protestors platforming other known war criminals from the security forces, including Sarath Fonseka, the army’s notorious commander in 2009” the statement adds.

“This historic moment must be used to confront Sinhala Buddhist nationalism and address legitimate Tamil grievances at long last”.

The statement was signed by:

- Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research;

- Tamil Civil Society Forum;

- People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL);

- Tamil Heritage Forum;

- Puzhuthi (Organisation for Social Rights);

- Center for Justice and Change;

- Priests and Religious for Justice and Peace, North-East

Read the full statement in English here and in Tamil here.

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