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US Congress members welcome historic resolution calling for Tamil Eelam independence referendum

Members of the US Congress reiterated their support for a landmark resolution this week, calling for an independence referendum for Eelam Tamils and recognising the genocide committed against them by the Sri Lankan state.

Shortly after introducing the resolution and speeches on the Congress floor, members addressed an event at the Library of Congress. Over 100 Tamils from across the United States and around the world were in attendance to mark the occasion.

Read more: US Congress resolution calls for Tamil Eelam independence referendum

The resolution was brought as Tamils around the world prepared to mark 15 years since the Mullivaikkal genocide. Addressing the crowd, US House Representative Wiley Nickel said the resolution commemorates that loss, but also aims to protect the Tamil people from “future violence and discrimination”.

“My resolution recognises the genocide in Sri Lanka and affirms the right of Tamils to self-determination through a democratic process,” continued Nickel. “The resolution emphasises the need for a peaceful and democratic solution to ongoing tensions in Sri Lanka. It advocates for an independence referendum.”

Such an approach had been used successfully to solve similar conflicts in other parts of the world, added Nickel.

“As we remember the end of a dark chapter in Sri Lanka’s history, we should also look to the future,” he continued. “A future in which the rights and dignity of all people are upheld and respected. We can do this. Let's stand together and advocate for a peaceful democratic solution that respects the Tamil people's right to decide their own future.

The Congress member went on to detail how “we're seeing recognition and support grow slowly but surely for this issue”. “Members of Congress are now beginning to take note,” he added, noting how there was bipartisan support for the Eelam Tamil cause.

“I urge all my colleagues in the US House of Representatives to support this important legislation. It's an opportunity for us to lead by example, to champion the values of democracy and human rights and to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the Tamil people.”

“The story of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is one of struggle,” said Congress member Don Davis. “I'm reminded today that the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’,” he added to applause from the audience.

“Injustice to the Tamil community is a threat to justice here and is a threat to justice around the world. The tragic events that unfolded, which led to the 2009 Tamil genocide, serve as a stark reminder of the horrors of discrimination.”

“In spite of the efforts of the United Nations Human Rights Council to seek justice, Sri Lanka, with the backing of powerful allies, continues to evade accountability. There must be accountability… We will not turn a blind eye to genocide. We will not turn a blind eye to discrimination. We will not turn a blind eye to injustice.”

“As a member of Congress, I have come to urge my colleagues, and all around the world, to do all we can to recognise and address the plight of the Tamil people. There must be a lasting peace. There must be a resolution and there must be self-determination.”

Davis went on to reaffirm his lasting support for the Tamil cause.

“As we come together today, I want everyone to know that our hopes and dreams are interconnected. We are in this together. We're standing united today, we must continue to stand united, and we will not back down.”

“Here we are in the nation’s capital in the Library of Congress,” said Congressman Jeff Jackson from North Carolina. “We have real bipartisan support for this cause your work is paying off in an enormous way.”

Jackson went on to outline how supporting this resolution is “the easiest thing in the world to do”.

“This is not what we call a close,” he said. “This is not a hard decision whether or not to support this resolution and to support this cause. This is obviously the right thing to do. And sometimes especially in Congress, even when the right thing is obvious, it can take too long. This has taken too long. But we can see now that it's moving the right direction. And we can see that it's picking up speed. We should feel confident about our ability to get this across the finish line.

Dr Madura Rasaratnam, the Executive Director for (People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), spoke of how “15 years ago today, I was protesting the then ongoing genocide in Sri Lanka and asking the world to listen to us and ask for a ceasefire”.

“I feel hope today. I sense a resilience. Whilst we remember and commemorate, look at what we achieved. 15 years ago we were sitting outside, now we are inside. And we are advancing our issues.”

Lorenzo Fiorito outlined the history of Tamil sovereignty on the island and said, “It was national leader Velupillai Prabhakaran who stated that the world does not revolve around the wheel of human justice”.

“Between 1983 and 2009 Tamils defended themselves their state and their sovereign territory from Sri Lankan aggression and occupation,” he said. “There is a right to self-determination in international law, which no national law or policy can legally override.”

Dr Murugiah Muraleetharan, the vice-president of the Tamil Americans United Political Action Committee, said the right to self-determination is international law, and it must be applicable to the Tamils”.

“In accordance with international law, the Eelam Tamils are eligible for self-determination and independence,” he added.

“The Tamils’ issue is finally put on the right track. The British handed over the sovereignty of the Tamils to the Sinhalese in 1948 without the Tamils’ mandate. It was an improper and incomplete decolonization. The Independence Referendum is the most appropriate democratic, peaceful tool to exercise the self-determination of the Eelam Tamils.”

Heralding the resolution as a milestone, the President of the Tamil Americans United Political Action Committee, Meena Ilancheyan, said “it is historic in that it is addressing the origin of the conflict”.

“After 405 years since the Tamils lost their sovereignty to the European invasion, a new beginning towards correcting past injustice has begun. The Tamils are very hopeful now and thank the US Congress Members led by Congressman Nickel for this initiative to bring a permanent solution democratically, peacefully, and rightfully.”

“Many similar conflicts around the world have been resolved via an independence referendum,” she added. “It’s the most appropriate way to resolve this long conflict that killed hundreds of thousands of people.”

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