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A whitewash

Illustration by Keera Ratnam / wavesofcolour

News of a recent initiative between members of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), an organisation that has seen increasingly dwindling membership across the Tamil diaspora, and a group of Sinhala Buddhist monks, raised eyebrows and left many feeling belittled this week. The ‘Himalaya Declaration’, a supposed path forward for the island that had the blessings of the Sri Lankan state, contained little substance. Instead, it sought to give a regime that is facing increasing global pressure a cheap veneer of progress, obfuscating more than 15 years of calls for international accountability and whitewashing decades of struggle for self-determination. Those who champion justice for the Tamil genocide will be rightly outraged.

Several similar initiatives have come and gone throughout the years, all supposedly aimed at ‘reconciliation’. Instead of fostering Sinhala solidarity and tackling majoritarianism, every single process has instead sought to dilute Tamil demands under a superficial ‘Sri Lankan’ identity. None have recognised the Tamil nation’s right to self-determination or even dared to label the crimes committed against them a genocide. That is precisely why, despite many having international backing, every single one has failed.

The latest GTF venture falls into the same trappings. The brief positions in the ‘Himalaya Declaration’ are so tepid and vague that the most ardent Sinhala racists would find them agreeable. Even the Rajapaksas brought about a ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ and pledged domestic accountability. Almost every Sinhala nationalist has pledged to protect ‘an undivided country’. Far from challenging those problematic stances, the latest document echoes that very same language, pandering to extremists instead of confronting them.

The fact that this new initiative comes just weeks after Sri Lanka’s president Ranil Wickremesinghe forcefully denied any prospect of international accountability, in a fiery interview with DW, makes any such announcement beyond hollow. One need look no further than last month when memorial services were raided by police, Tamils were detained under draconian antiterrorism legislation, and yet another youth was tortured to death by the police, to see the trajectory of the island. Almost 15 years on from the massacre of tens of thousands, the bombing of hospitals, widespread sexual violence and executions recorded on video, Sri Lanka has not taken a single meaningful step forward. Its leaders are unable and unwilling to do so.

As international pressure on Colombo to comply with demands for international accountability grows, driven in part by a principled and determined diaspora, the GTF document gives this regime a distraction. It is no coincidence that yet another commission was announced the very next day - this time on ‘truth, unity and reconciliation’. The international community cannot afford to give it any credence. Decades of meaningless commissions have plagued the island for far too long. Action must be focussed towards meaningful initiatives such as sanctioning and prosecuting war criminals instead. 

For their part, the GTF and its backers on their whistle-stop tour know that its views do not represent the vast majority of the Tamil people. The organisation’s shrinking membership and condemnation from across the North-East reflects that. The Tamil people have been unmistakably clear on what accountability means and what meaningful recognition of their collective rights looks like. An independent international mechanism that provides justice for the mass atrocities at Mullivaikkal and the decades of genocide; complete demiltiarisation of the North-East; and self-determination for the Tamil nation, from Pottuvil to Polikandy.

The most courageous and authentic of those voices can be found on the roadsides of the Tamil homeland, where families of the disappeared to this day continue their protest. Voices like theirs must not be whitewashed.

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