Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister CV Wigneswaran speaking at the International Association of Tamil Journalists annual lecture in the London, UK.
I am meeting you today in the context of exactly thirty years this week since the Thimbu talks and thirty two years since the Black July riots next week.
Although all of you fall within the term “diaspora”, many of you did not come here rejecting your birth place. You came here wounded in body and in mind. In spite of this you foster and safeguard a connection between yourselves and your homeland.
Some still have land there. Many have strong family links and relatives there. I have spoken to many who, despite the many years gone by, still yearn to visit the places you spent your early years growing up in. I have observed that they continue wanting to maintain and strengthen those familial links.
What views your descendants hold however I do not know.
I learn that many of them who were born here live in England, across the region. Indeed many are here today, I observe. I have come to learn that many of them live upholding the identity of the homeland of their parents and elders. It is my wish that this activity will be strengthened more and more within the younger Tamil generation. The connection between the younger generation living in our homeland and those living outside the homeland must flourish even more. I hope that it will form an even deeper foundation. I say here very vehemently that I hope the connections between the future Tamil generations here and in the homeland will be tightened and built upon. When the professor (Dr Sutha Nadarajah of the University of SOAS) spoke, many of things he said kindled my thoughts. He very beautifully illustrated how the future will be. Therefore, I say here today that the younger Tamil generation here and there must together, unitedly work for the future of the Tamil people.
For this, we must prepare of younger generations. Wherever they are born and wherever they live, the birth soil of their parents and elders is one of their founding identities. That this identity is special and has power must be recommended to the upcoming generations.
It is my desire that in the beautiful island of Ceylon, the ethnic groups living there will leave in peace, harmony, prosperity and understanding. For this I have been working with dedication. I hope that I will work towards this more and more in the future. At the same time, I am resolved that the Tamil people must be able to live in peace in their lands with freedom and dignity.
For a long time we have struggled in different forms against the atrocities and oppression of our people. In spite of this, in our lifetime, successive governments in the south have demonstrated that our people will not get justice within the state.
In order to increase the international support for our cause, the younger generations living across the world must come forward. To lay the foundation for this, their parents must come forward. I believe that the younger generation who live here, can democratically and within the laws of where they live, struggle for the rights and justice of their loved ones in Ceylon. The professor mentioned this earlier. We need to tell the world what we need. We need to take this forward. Therefore to do this - all youth, unite.
On the one hand our rights are being denied. On the other hand I also see that the genocide against the Tamil nation has not halted.
I learnt after coming here, that this year, even after January 8, white van abductions have taken place. Nine incidents have been recorded. Full details of who was abducted by who and what torture was inflicted upon them has been given.
Some have stated that I have taken an extremist position for passing a resolution that brings to light the genocide committed against our people. I believe that bringing up the genocide against the Tamil people, in the long run, will foster a good understanding between the two ethnic groups.
I also said this clearly in my speech when putting forward the resolution in the Northern Provincial Council. I did not do it with a mindset of taking revenge. We worked on the basis of achieving justice for our kith and kin who were massacred.
We trust that those who think our people and care about humanity will only assist, not hinder our efforts. Our people must question those who are reluctant or obstruct the bringing to light of the genocide against the Tamil nation, and question their politics.
Recently a news report came that the US ambassador, Nisha [Biswal] spoke disparagingly of me. The news report said that she had [told me] to curtail the talk of genocide. That news is wholly false. In fact, she said that we will not ignore the Tamil people’s expectations and aspirations and we will continue to work for a better life for them.
In that news it said that I had met a minister here and had a meal at his place. I only came to England now, yet that news reporter has made me come here and have dinner two weeks before. I ask that false news reports such as these are avoided.
The use of the term genocide was not brought by me. Mr Chelvanayagam used it first. He submitted a notice of complaint to dignitaries taking part in a Commonwealth Conference in September 1974. In that he clearly outlined the Sinhala nation’s genocide against the Tamil nation.
He said that Sinhala leaders had a goal to make the island of Ceylon which holds two races, two languages and many religions to make it into a land which holds only one race - the Sinhala race, one language - the Sinhala language, and one religion - the Buddhist religion. He said then, that for this they are carrying out a genocide. Before the labelling of extremism and terrorism began, the leaders back then had already started talking about the genocide we faced.
Therefore we cannot back track from the position that what happened to our people was a genocide, despite the name calling and complaints.
I have lived on this earth for 76 years. I have lived there since our land was a colony of Britain. In my youth, Tamil people lived across the land. In the 1950s I saw in Tissamaharama half the paddy fields were owned, lived in and ploughed by Tamils holding deeds. All of them were threatened. Despite holding deeds, other people now have ownership. From the provinces in the south Tamil people were beaten and chased out. They were chased out of the north central regions. They were also chased out of the central regions. The places were Tamils lived were erased of their identity. There are all things I have seen in my lifetime. I have seen these things with my own eyes. I am someone who knows how through language, employment and resettlement, the Tamil people were threatened and chased out. Thus it is rather difficult to accept the notion of some these days that the term genocide must only be used if it is accepted by the law. However, we brought the genocide resolution with the firm belief that the law would see it to be right.
For people like me, the Ceylon I lived in during my youth, and the Ceylon now are different. What is true is that many governments and thugs fuelled by those governments have taken many measures to send many of us away abroad or away from this earth. Our genocide resolution brought this to light. We should not give room for genocide even now.
The professor eloquently said - as this has come to the attention of the international community, the world continues to watch us. I hope that whilst we are under that gaze we should not need to give room for more genocide.
One of the symbols to safeguard us against genocide - firstly our language , but moreover, our culture and that we are one nation, must be safeguarded. The other day I clearly stated my position that there are two nations on the island of Ceylon. I said this clearly when the Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena came to Jaffna whilst he was sat on stage at an event I was addressing. Similarly, I recalled this whilst addressing a remembrance event for Bernard De Soysa last year.
I wish to say something to those who want to call us a minority. The main roots of the Ceylon Tamils were founded even before Buddhism came to Ceylon.
In 1921, Sinhala leaders, Sir James Peiris and E. Samarawickrama accepted that in the Northern and Eastern provinces Tamils were the majority race, and it was only in the other provinces that the Sinhala people were the majority.
I say this because we are not a minority that came from some other place. In other words, we are not a minority that settled here because we were chased out of somewhere else. We are the Ceylon country’s original inhabitants. We cannot be compared to minorities living in other countries. It was only because the majority of two provinces were joined together with the majority of seven provinces that they became the minority across the provinces however, there uniqueness and independence is not understood by many people. Even if there are any of us who deny their [Tamil people’s] national status and right to self-determination, by calling them a minority, they must avoid it. They must come forward with dedication to help give Tamil people gain their rights and justice. If we ourselves ask what can we do because we are minority, what becomes of our heritage? We will have to relinquish all of that. If any of you are having such views, change your views. In the country of Ceylon, the Tamil people have for generations, for a long time, lived in certain areas.
Some say that those living in the East were under the rule of the Kandy kingdom. In other words, whilst stating that Tamil people lived in the North and East, some say they were under the rule of the Kandy kingdom. So what of it? It does not contradict the fact that they lived for generations as Tamil speaking people. The East is also one of our traditional lands.
For the last 67 years the struggle, through peaceful and armed means, has continued in order to gain the due recognition for our traditional lands, to regain the rights of our people denied to them and to gain justice against the genocide of the Tamil nation. However, none of the majority government that have till now come to power have given a responsible response to the Tamil struggle. Instead they have been ignoring our demands. Whenever they are at a tight juncture, in order to resolve it, they have called upon Tamil leaders for support. In the end we have been deceived. Until the river is crossed it is like elder brother and younger brother, after it crossed you are someone and I am someone else. This situation has been the relationship between Tamil political leaders and Sinhala political leaders. This is also apt for the regime change that took place in January.
We need to put a full stop to these acts of deception. We cannot henceforth be a nation that is deceived. Saying one thing to us and saying another to the Sinhala people, ends in the deception of both peoples. Politicians on both sides need to avoid such duplicitous talk. My expectation is that our people living in our land will in the upcoming election select people who will work with dedication for our people.
In line with what [the ancient Tamil scholar] Valluvar said, in terms of Tamil representatives, we need people who have honest politics, who are firm in their principles, have the mental ability to work for the people with dedication, have foresight, and have the mindset to never at any point or for any reason be a sell-out.
At this time, our people and our soil needs people that can endorse the Tamil people’s uniqueness, can endorse our people’s right to self-determination and gain our people’s rights and justice.
I will be there to assist them, who understand this and with to carry out their historic responsibility and moral duty. At the same time, the younger generation and women must increase their share in politics. To do this, Tamil politicians must support this and show the way.
Since becoming the chief minister of the Northern Province, I have everyday been able to meet our people who have lost their lives, lost their livelihoods, and borne grief, due to the army taking over their lands and the resettlement of Sinhalese. I perceive that within their every agonising incident there is a history. The recent regime change also showed that it doesn’t matter if [the ancient mythological king] Raaman or [the ancient mythological king] Raavanan rules, our people have no new dawn. The new government did not work with force to move the military camps that are destroying our people’s lives. Instead, the new government strived to postpone what was to be a stepping stone towards our people seeing justice – the UN Human Rights Council’s report. In this they saw success in their efforts. They also celebrated this as a victory. How much international oversight is needed for an internal inquiry following the release of the report in September at present being analysed. However, it is crucial that any investigative process must have the approval of those affected. It is crucial that it aims to benefit them. It is necessary to find out the requirements of those who are the victims. It is they who have to be consulted, not our political leaders or anybody else.
Within the majoritarian state it is not possible to find a solution to the ethnic problem – this is something we have learnt from many incidents throughout history. The professor spoke of this earlier.
Nonetheless, despite knowing that so long as the majoritarian state continues a lasting peace or reconciliation will take place, Sinhala political leaders are not prepared to change it. A few days ago a news report was published saying that two majority Sinhala parties had signed a memo reiterated that there would be no change to [Sinhala] majoritarianism. Until this mindset of theirs changes, we can expect any positive change in the substance of politics, or a solution to the ethnic conflict.
It was mindful of what has taken place till now, that the Northern Provincial Council, endorsed the genocide resolution unanimously. It is viewed as a historic milestone in the journey towards justice for the Tamil people. If progressive Sinhala people will join the struggle to find justice for the genocide committed against the Tamil people, it will pave the way to see a political solution to bring out a lasting peace. It is only if the truth is known that true reconciliation can be sought. You may recall that the South African commission for called the “truth” and “reconciliation” commission. The South African people understood that only if the truth is known that reconciliation can be created.
In these circumstances we must recognise the importance of the Thimbu principles. The Thimbu talks were the first set of internationally mediated talks to take place. At those talks, our leaders who had struggled peacefully and our fighters who were involved with armed struggle were representing the Tamils at one table. Under India’s mediation, the Tamil speaking nation and the Sinhala speaking nation were engaged in talks as equals. The Thimbu principles were formed out of these talks. I do not need to say for you to know, the importance of these principles, and that they must be considered in any efforts taken towards a political solution. Those engaged in finding a political solution must act holding the Thimbu principles in their mind. Steps towards a political solution must be taken on the basis that within international law the Tamil people have a right to self-determination.
The first international accord to bear in mind the ethnic conflict was the Indo-Lanka Accord. Acknowledging the historic lands of the Tamil people, the North-East was merged into one. India, which in the beginning gave our people who had fled refuge, acted as a mediator in Thimbu. Then the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed. Beyond highlighting the important role of India, it demonstrates the historic duty India has to ensure the rights and justice of the Tamil people. When the Indian prime minister came to the Northern Province recently, I highlighted this duty to him.
On the 20th October 1987, the TULF’s Mr Sivasithambaram, Mr Amirthalingham and the current TNA leader, R Sampanthan sent a joint letter to the then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. In that letter they wrote in detail how the 13th Amendment which had been submitted to the Sri Lankan parliament as a solution to the ethnic conflict, did not address Tamil political demands, and betrayed them.
Today I am the chief minister of the Northern Province, I can in practice appreciate their conclusions then.
I have said previously and I will continue to reiterate that the 13th Amendment and provincial council system cannot be a starting point, intermediary solution or end solution to the ethnic conflict.
A bitter history lays before our eyes of many agreements made between the Sinhala people’s leaders and Tamil leaders being torn up after being unable to face the chauvinism. Us Tamil people deep down want to live in peace, as siblings, together. It was holding such thoughts that our societal structures were built. On that basis our struggles followed the way of ahisma. To us who began Satyagrahas in the Gandhian way, replies of violence were given. Moreover, laws were created to repress us. Importantly, standardisation led our youth who were continuing their education to take up arms. It was because rights were denied and injustice continued that our youngsters were forced to take up arms. We must not waste the sacrifice of such people. We must not belittle it. I see their kith and kin even today shedding tears before us. Therefore we must avoid exploiting them during election times just to garner votes and dishonour their acts during the rest of the time.
Our nation is struggling to rise from the genocide that took place in Mullivaikkal. Our people are left agonising what will happen tomorrow, having had societal structures destroyed by war and livelihoods denied. They are biding time within over 186,000 army soldiers.
You must come forward to offer them a helping hand, rebuild destroyed livelihoods and work for our land to once again flourish.
The Northern Provincial Council is working to establish a mechanism to facilitate how you can help. We need your great support to make this a success. Rebuilding our society and our lands by our own people will be paying respect to and offering to those who sacrificed their lives for us. At the same time it will be an answer to those who are destroying our nation.
It is true that many barriers are placed upon us. The other day, I learnt that the Northern Province’s governor had said to wait until the election was over to commence a northern provincial fund. What is the connection between the election and my chief minister fund? He has said let the election come and we can speak after the election is over. It is clear even though the president has agreed, the governor is reluctant. When I spoke to the president regarding this, he said, what of it, you can create a chief minister fund – we have no problem with it. However, when we asked the governor he said let’s wait until the election is over.
I also want to state another important point. Before the presidential election, well understanding the situation on the ground, on December 30th, we also submitted a 100 day plan to common candidate, Siresena, the former president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, and the then opposition leader, Ranil Wickremasinghe, that was in line with the common platform’s 100 day plan.
This included the basic needs of the war affected Tamil people in the North as well as time scale outlining the required actions. We asked that alongside their 100 day plan, these actions could also be taken. Since the new government came to power, whilst retiring the military governor, none of the important things we asked for were accomplished. Whether under the previous government or the new government, the medical needs of those youth, women, elderly people and former fighters affected by conflict have not been administered. We asked, but it was not given. The former government did not, besides being engaging in activities such as laying roads, help those affected by the conflict, allowing them to stand on their own feet by taking any actions towards their livelihoods. Under the Northern Province a home for the elderly, young and women has been established and is functioning. Thus even if the government ignored our 100 day plan, we are carrying out our duties.
Therefore, offering the humanitarian support to rebuild our land is a short term goal. For this your support is needed. Ensuring justice for the genocide that was committed is a medium term goal – for this too your support is needed. Finding a political solution based on the Thimbu principles is a long term goal – that too must take place with your support. I end my talk trusting that you will give your understanding and support for all of us to work together with dedication for this.