The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in its manifesto has again promised to spend the next parliamentary term demanding a federal political solution for the Tamil people and a re-merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces. Touching on key Tamil issues such as militarisation, land return, political prisoners and accountability, the TNA also warned that international pressure was needed now more than ever.
“Power sharing arrangements must continue to be established as they existed earlier in a unit of a merged Northern and Eastern Provinces based on a Federal structure, in a manner that does not inflict any disadvantage on any People,” the manifesto said with a labyrinthine description of the Tamil homeland as “the contiguous preponderantly Tamil Speaking Northern and Eastern provinces are the historical habitation areas of the Tamil People and the Tamil Speaking Peoples.”
While the TNA has based its election campaigns around calls for federalism in every post-war election, the party’s albeit doomed landmark project at the height of its proximity to the government in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe era – the drafting of a new constitution for Sri Lanka – was criticised for failing to secure meaningful power-sharing for the Tamil nation. The TNA leader himself, R Sampanthan urged Tamils in 2017 to drop their obsession with federalism, saying “we must not be hanging on to words like federalism.”
Militarisation of the North-East
The TNA states its condemnation of the militarisation of the North-East and the continued interference of the Sri Lankan military in civilian life in the Tamil homeland. The party has been criticised for supporting and voting for every defence budget of the previous government, under which militarisation continued unabated.
“The TNA condemns the involvement of the military in civil administration, economic activities and law enforcement, or the military being used to exercise extra-legal powers to curb civic rights. In this context, we view with concern the present actions of the government in appointing Task Forces for various purposes comprising of retired military officials.”
“The TNA will continue to challenge the rapid re-militarization of democratic space and institutions and call for de-militarization by using multiple means, including through parliamentary processes, international advocacy and supporting those whose civic rights are being curbed or violated due to militarization.”
Dealing with the past
“Justice for the human rights and humanitarian law violations suffered by the Tamil people throughout the history of the conflict is non-negotiable, and constitutes an integral element in re-building their lives,” the manifesto states as well as mentioning truth, reparations and the right to memorialisation.
Stating that in the past the TNA had “functioned in good faith to seek justice within Sri Lanka,” the party admits that its “its efforts have not borne success”.
“In this context, the TNA will continue to advocate for an independent international mechanism, while also holding mechanisms in Sri Lanka to account when they do not deliver justice, such as in on-going habeas corpus cases, and demand that they fulfill their mandate.”
In a 2018 editorial, the Tamil Guardian said: “TNA leaders who granted their unconditional support to this government must recognise that they too, and by extension the international partners that support them, have squandered the opportunity of 2015. Focusing their efforts on a new constitution at the expense of accountability has cost the TNA its leveraging power as an opposition.”
Read more: Veering backwards
On the international community, the manifesto states:
“At present, there are efforts to undo even the minimum progress achieved through international involvement. The TNA is firmly of the view that the international community continues to have a role to play, if at all more than ever, to ensure that the Tamil speaking people achieve permanent peace through genuine reconciliation thereby enabling all Peoples living in Sri Lanka to live as equal citizens.”
On enforced disappearances:
“Enforced disappearances still remains unresolved. Although an Office of Missing Persons and an Office of Reparations were created by statute, the relatives of the disappeared have not received any answers yet. The question as to what happened to scores of people who surrendered to the army and have gone missing still remains. The TNA insists that the truth with regard to these matters must be ascertained and justice done and reparations made.”
“Meeting the demands of those who have suffered human rights violations, such as the families of the disappeared to know the truth, is intrinsically linked, and is integral to the success of any justice mechanism. These demands must be met.”
The manifesto however was slammed on its release by some Tamil families of the disappeared who have been carrying out roadside protests for over three years and who have complained of neglect by the TNA leadership.
On political prisoners the manifesto says:
“Even more than a decade since the end of the war, there are nearly ninety persons still in prison under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The TNA has been pressing for their release and for the repeal of the PTA and will continue to strenuously pursue this objective.”
The TNA manifesto states that the party will encourage investment from the Tamil diaspora:
“While demanding that the government fulfill the economic needs of the people in the North and the East the TNA will work towards increasing investment by both the diaspora and the international community in the economic development of the North and East.”
Land and Sinhalisation
Taking credit for land release that took place under the previous government, the TNA manifesto acknowledges that thousands of acres remain occupied by the state and military. The party also states that it would challenge the ongoing Sinhalisation of the Tamil homeland:
“The TNA strongly believes the land rights of the people of the North and East have to be protected, particularly in light of efforts to colonize and Sinhalize the region, in the continuation of such historical attempts. Laws relating to Mahaweli, Forests, Wildlife and Archeology have been surreptitiously used in this endeavour. The appointment of the Task Force on Archeological sites in the Eastern Province is a naked attempt in this direction.”
“The TNA will challenge attempts to Sinhalize the region in the guise of protection of archeological sites, as well as the destruction of places of religious worship of communities of the region. The TNA will be vigilant of initiatives that use development as a pretext to acquire state or in particular private land to further majoritarian policies, as well as the potential adverse ecological impact of such initiatives.”