(MRS ANANDHEE SASITHARAN)
ARMY CONTROLS THEIR LIVES IN THE NORTHThe violation of the human rights of the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka continues on a daily basis without any respite for the victims.
One of the people with a first hand experience of this oppression and suppresion is Mrs Anandhee Sasitharan, 45, of Jaffna.
Mrs Sasitharan's husband, Mr Ezhilanaru Sasitharan, is still missing after surrendering to the Sri Lankan army in 2009. One of her younger brothers, aged 19, also went missing in 2003 and a sister, who was politically active, was killed.
She was one of the delegates who attended the two-day conference on peace and justice for Sri Lankan Tamils in Durban on November 6 and 7. The conference was organised by the South African-based Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice(SGPJ) with the full blessing of the South African Government.
More than 30 stakeholders, representing a number of organisations in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora, attended the conference.
I interviewed Mrs Sasitharan after she gave an emotional speech at the conference about her situation and thousands of others whose husbands and other family members had gone missing after surrendering to the Sri Lankan army at the end of the war in 2009.
(Mrs Sasitharan with Dr Paul Newman who helped with the translation from Tamil to English)
Mrs Sasitharan, who is the mother of three young daughters aged 12, 14 and 16, spoke to me in the Tamil language. Another delegate and passionate supporter of the Tamil cause, Dr Paul Newman, from the University of Bangalore in India, helped me with the translation.
During the course of the interview she appeared to be strong and confident despite the emotions of not knowing the whereabouts or fate of her husband over the past six years.
(Mrs Anandhee Sasitharan meeting former UN Human Rights Commissioner, Ms Navi Pillay, at the conference in Durban)
She was dressed as a traditional Tamil married women in a sari, with a red dot on her forehead and a Thali around her neck.
She told me she has been struggling to secure the release of her husband ever since he surrendered to the Sri Lankan army on May 18 2009 after the war ended with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE).
"After the Sri Lankan army made an announcement that the war had ended and all those who had a connection to the LTTE must surrender on the promise that all of them would be given general amnesty, my husband, my three daughters and I went to the army base and surrendered," she said.
She added: "After a few days, my children and I were released but my husband was taken to an unknown destination along with thousands of others.
"What is sad is that he was unarmed when he surrendered. He was not a fighter during the last stages of the war. He was a political organiser.
"For a very long time their whereabouts were not known. Later the Mahinda Rajapakse Government announced that their whereabouts would be made known to the families and the outside world.
"But so far the struggle has been to get information about their whereabouts. It's now six years since the war has been over."
HUSBAND WAS A LTTE POLITICAL OFFICIAL WHEN THEY MARRIED
Mrs Sasitharan said she fell in love and married her husband with the full knowledge that he was involved with the LTTE as a political officials.
"It was a love marriage," she said. "He was already in the LTTE and I knew that as a fighter anything could happen to him. But despite this, I got married and I have three young daughters.
"I have been fighting to know where he was detained because he was an innocent man who did not harm others." FORMED A GROUP TO CAMPAIGN FOR THE RELEASE OF THEIR HUSBANDS AND OTHERS
Mrs Sasitharan and other affected families had formed an organised group to make representations to all sectors of government and the outside world in order to highlight the violation of their human rights.
"We have been making representations right from the village authorities, to the district authorities, to the Minister of Justice, Minister of Prisons and even the President about the whereabouts of my husband and the other detained people.
"I even took up the issue with the United Nations and other international organisations. After I did this, the Rajapakse Government said that they had unknown detention centres and they would announce soon as to how many people are being held in the detention centres.
"This was under the previous regime, but after the elections, this new regime of Ranil Wickramsinge has gone back on what Mahinda Rajapakse himself had promised. This government says there are no unknown detention centres and there are no one held in detention centres. This government says there are no one held as political prisoners.
HOPE THAT ONE DAY HE WILL RETURN HOME
"In that context I have spoken very strongly and openly at the UNHRC in 2014 and in 2015. But there has been no way of locating my husband and other people.
"If the Sri Lankan Government continues with this stance, then the only way out is to continue to knock the conscience of the international community and keep knocking at the doors of the UN.
"The struggle continues and I will continue to fight with the hope that one day or other he will return."
SRI LANKAN GOVERNMENT HAS NOT ACKNOWLEDGED THAT IT HAS COMMITTED GENOCIDE AGAINST THE TAMILS
The Tamils in the North and East, according to Mrs Sasitharan, are being subjugated and oppressed because the Sri Lankan Government had not yet acknowledged that it had been responsible for the genocide of Tamils.
The Government had different policies for different sections of the people.
"It has a separate policy for the people of North, a separate policy for the people of the East, separate policy for the people of the South, and also for the people of the West. So they don't have a uniform policy for everybody."
TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE (TNA)
While continuing with her struggles to find out the whereabouts of her husband and other missing people, Mrs Sasitharan said in 2013 she joined the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and contested the elections.
She has been a member of the North Provincial Council since 2013 and has used her new position to highlight the fate of her husband and the others who had surrendered to the army in 2009.
But, despite her new position, she has been regularly informed that the army has no record of her husband and the others.
LIVING IN ENSLAVEMENT
When asked what were the conditions now at the ground-level in the North, she said they were all in an environment of enslavement because more than 150 000 soldiers were stationed in the North. This translated to one soldier for every five Tamils living in the Northern region.
"In this context", she said, "the problems we face are enormous".
(MRS SASITHARAN WITH DELEGATES AT THE END OF THE CONFERENCE IN DURBAN)
YOUNG WIDOWS TARGETED AS AS SEXUAL SLAVES BY THE ARMY
"It cannot be explained in simple words. One example is the case of young widows, who have now become heads of families. Such women are particularly targeted by the soldiers seeking sexual favours. The harrassment of such women is unbearable.
"Under such circumstances we are unable to do any normal work, we are unable to live normally. Around the world, the army is there to protect the people, where as here instead of protecting the people they are further looting the people and further harrassing the people, which is unbearable.
"Even when the United Nations has sent in its investigators and other human rights organisations arrived to investigate the aftermath of the 2009 war, the people are unable to come out and speak openly because of the army. The armed forces are part of the day to day lives, whatever we do we have to report to the armed forces. Without their consent we cannot do anything. It's a life of enslavement that we are leading."
FAMILY'S JEWELLERY STOLEN BY SRI LANKAN WOMEN SOLDIERS
Mrs Sasitharan said their struggles to survive reflected the lives of the Tamil people in general. She and her family were displaced in 1990 when the army confiscated 67 000 acres of their land in the village of Kankesathu. They were forced to move to Jaffna and live in a rented home.
"I come from a family where we had lots of money, lots of jewellery and land," she said.
"We had deposited this jewellery and money in the Eelam Bank but at the end of war, we lost everything. Nobody knows where the money is.
"Our jewellery was stolen by the women soldiers, they took everything, including the gold jewellery. They even took away the gold jewellery that my daughters wore.
"So since then I had to start from scratch. I had a job and I was able to sustain the family but still we are unable to lead a good, decent life.
"But after I contested the elections and won, I now get a salary paid by the NPC, which is not enough to lead a decent life. So it is a day to day struggle but I still believe that one day or the other I will be able to sustain myself and my family with better economic opportunity. But as of now it is an hand-to-mouth existence that I have to live."
SOCIAL SERVICES "ONLY EXIST" - ARMY RUNS EVERYTHING
Asked about the social services, such as schools and hospitals for the people, she said these services were available "but I would say they only exist".
"They are not fully functional and the level of quality that was there during the time of the LTTE is not be seen. When we were in the LTTE-controlled areas everything was excellent. The quality of education, the way the banks operated, industries were there, and level of medical services were of a high standard.
"But now everything happens under the surveillance of the army. The army runs their own farms, cattle sheds, they manage their own agriculture and they interfere in our day-to-day lives.
"Apart from that, there is no normal life, especially for youngsters. After 6pm every body have to shut down and be inside their homes. It's a life of existence, not a full and normal one that people aspire for.
"It's an abnormality which we are forced to live."
WOMEN'S RIGHTS AND DEVELOPMENTWhen I asked Mrs Sasitharan how she was coping with all the human rights violations taking place around her, she said she was brought up in a family that promoted womens' rights, development and independence.
"Even after I got married I continued to fight for the rights of women and the liberation of women. I am now trying to bring up my daughters in the same way. I've been teaching them about women's liberation and how important it is for women to speak up for their rights.
"I always encourage them to be different from others. I don't want them to become only doctors and engineers but I want them to pursue careers that will be beneficial to society in general. The eldest daughter is interested in journalism and I believe that this will be good for her and the people. The second one is more interested in law so that she could fight for the rights of others. The third one is more interested in music and dance. So I have given them the liberty to choose their own professions.
"I think they will really do good when they grow up."
TAMIL NADU IS DOING A LOT
Mrs Sasitharan is of the view that India could do much more to alleviate their plight because they consider Tamil Nadu as their "motherland".
She said: "I have always considered Tamil Nadu as our motherland and I believe that the people of Tamil Nadu want to see us free and they are doing a lot for us. They have been fighting for our cause. Ultimately one day or the other, the pressures by Tamil Nadu on the Central Government in New Delhi will bring about a change - if not today but tomorrow it will certainly happen.
"We believe that something can be done through India. In Sri Lanka itself there is hope that we will one day or the other get what is due to us. Till that time I will continue to fight for the cause. I always believe in hope."
The plight of Mrs Sasitharan and her family reflects in a major way the life of tens of thousands of people who have suffered gross human rights violations in the North and East at the hands of the Sri Lankan army and the government in Colombo.
The question that boggles the mind is how long can more can the international community, especially India, turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Tamil masses? ends - Subry Govender/Nov 8 2015
(FORMER UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, MS NAVI PILLAY, ADDRESSING DELEGATES AT THE CONFERENCE)
(SOUTH AFRICA'S HIGH COMMISSIONER TO SRI LANKA, MR GEOFF DOIDGE, ADDRESSING THE DELEGATES. SEATED NEXT TO HIM IS MR ANIL SOOKLALL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR GENERAL IN THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS. THE CHAIRMAN OF THE CONFERENCE WAS MR KRISH GOVENDER, A FORMER POLITICAL ACTIVIST.)
TAMILS HAVE CLEAR MESSAGE:
WITHDRAW SOLDIERS AND STOP THE COLONISATION OF THE TAMIL HOMELANDS IN THE NORTH AND EAST OF SRI LANKA IN ORDER TO CREATE A CONDUCIVE CLIMATE FOR 'TALKS AND ABOUT TALKS"
By Subry Govender
The oppressed and subjugated Tamil people of Sri Lanka have called on the international community, including the South African Government, to engage the Sri Lankan Government in creating a conducive environment for initial "talks about talks" and ultimately for freedom, self-determination, liberation and peace in their traditional homelands in the North and East of the island country.
This is one of the main features adopted in a declaration by stakeholders from inside the Tamil homelands and the Diasppora at the end of a two-day conference in the South African city of Durban held on November 6 and 7.
SOLIDARITY GROUP FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE
The conference was organised by the Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice in Sri Lanka (SGPJ) with the full support of the South African Government.
The delegates included members of political parties represented in the North Provincial Council; Tamil Civil Society Forum; Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE); British Tamil Forum(BTF);
International Council of Eelam Tamils (15 Countries) (ICET); Thamizhaga Vazhvurimai Katchi (TVK); World Thamil Organization (WTO); and the United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC).
The conference also received the support of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Naam Thamizhar Katchi in Tamil Nadu; and the
International Movement for Tamil Culture (Africa – South Africa).
The South African High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Mr Geoff Doidge, and senior officials of the South African Department of International Relations also attended the conference.
(SOME OF THE DELEGATES, INCLUDING MR VEL MURGAN FROM TAMIL NADU, WITH MRS NAVI PILLAY) MS NAVI PILLAY
The former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, also attended, addressed and inter-acted with the delegates.
The delegates, in the "Durban Declaration", noted that they were inspired by the struggles of the ruling ANC in South Africa for freedom and the ANC's solid support for the Tamil people's struggles for freedom and liberation.
The delegates emphasised that a number of initial steps must be taken for permanent peace and justice to be realised. These include:
* The withdrawal of soldiers from the North and East. Currently the delegates said there were about 150 000 soldiers deployed in the North - one soldier for every five people, and
* The immediate suspension of the colonisation and Sinhalisation of the Tamil land in the North and East. The delegates called for the return of the land to the people.
The main points reflected in the "Durban Declaration" are:
(DELEGATES AT THE CONFERENCE IN DURBAN)
VICTIM CONSULATATION PROCESS
"The Government of Sri Lanka, which co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution UN HRC/30/L/29 dated the 01 October 2015 on accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, has been sending out conflicting messages about their obligations under the resolution. Key members of government are downplaying the need for international participation in the accountability process and more particularly the setting up of a criminal justice mechanism as part of the transitional justice process.
"The Sri Lankan Government should clearly outline the aims and objectives of the transitional justice process prior to the commencement of a credible victim consultation process.
SYSTEM CRIMES AGAINST TAMILS
"Successive Governments of Sri Lanka (including the incumbent) have been in denial of the systemic and structural nature of the crimes committed against the Tamils. The war and the systemic crimes perpetrated against the Tamil Nation were aimed at defeating its political demand for self-determination.
(DELEGATES AT THE CONFERENCE IN DURBAN)
THERE MUST BE PUBLIC ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
"The public acknowledgement of systemic crimes committed with impunity against Tamils will be an important first step towards meaningful justice and lasting peace. The Sri Lankan Government should acknowledge resolutions passed by the Northern Provincial Council, the Legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu and other democratic institutions and governments that reflect the shared experiences of the Tamil people over the years.
DE-MILITARISATION IS A PRE-CONDITION FOR ESTABLISHING A SAFE AND CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENT
"We are disappointed that the new Government continues to be in denial about the ongoing problem of militarisation of the North-East of Sri Lanka, including the occupation by armed forces of the Tamil homeland.
"Militarisation impedes the return to normalcy, including the return of and safe access to land, restoration of livelihood for the Tamil people and is one of the primary reasons for ongoing sexual violence, harassment and exploitation of Tamil women and girls.
"Hence, de-militarisation of the North-East is an important pre-condition for establishing a safe and conducive environment for,
the victims and witnesses to take part in a victim consultation process.
an informed, participatory and inclusive dialogue for a constitutional settlement to the National Question.
(DELEGATES AT THE CONFERENCE IN DURBAN)
DE-PROSCRIPTION OF ALL INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANISATIONS
"The continued proscription of the Tamil Diaspora by the Government of Sri Lanka is a serious obstacle towards the participation of members of the Diaspora community in engaging with their brethren in the homeland to collectively work towards justice, peace, reconstruction and socio-economic development. The Tamil Diaspora is a constituent element of the Tamil Nation. The de-legitimisation of a section of the Tamil community will obstruct an open and transparent process towards peace, justice and resolution of the National Question. The Sri Lankan Government must de-proscribe all Diaspora groups and individuals. Real political will and commitment has to be demonstrated to permit Diaspora engagement in the affairs of the North-East.
REPEAL TERRORISM ACT
"To create the necessary environment for exploring peace and justice in Sri Lanka the Government of Sri Lanka should also forthwith repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the 6th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution, release a comprehensive list of detainees, release all political prisoners, disclose and close all secret camps and abandon the rehabilitation programme for ex-LTTE cadres.
TORTURE, 'WHITE VAN' ABDUCTIONS, AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE MUST END
(MRS SALLY PADAYCHIE, WIFE OF THE LATE SOUTH AFRICAN CABINET MINISTER ROY PADAYCHIE, WITH MRS NAVI PILLAY AND SOME DELEGATES)
"The Government should publicly acknowledge and act upon incidents of torture, intimidation, harassment, sexual violence and ‘white van’ abductions that continues to take place under the present Government, as documented in the OISL report and reported by international human rights groups, NGOs and Tamil civil society organisations in the North-East. The Government should also allow open and unimpeded access for international NGOs and human rights organisations to the North-East to continuously operate and monitor the state of human rights and human security. "
OPPRESSION AND SUBJUGATION MUST END IMMEDIATELY
The Tamils in the North and East of the island have come under severe and sustained oppression after the end of the civil war in 2009 when the Sri Lankan regime and its soldiers are reported to have massacred between 40 000 and 140 000 people.
The Tamils believe that until the perpetrators of the genocide are brought to justice by an international tribunal or the International Court of Justice there could be no permanent peace.
Currently, the international community through the UN has given the Sri Lankan Government a chance to undertake an investigation through the involvement of international judges and other role players.
The Tamils also believe that they should be given an opportunity through a referendum with international involvement to decide what kind of final political solution they would like to see in their traditional homelands.
(THE CHAIRMAN OF THE CONFERENCE, MR KRISH GOVENDER, LISTENING TO DELEGATES. MR GOVENDER IS A FORMER ANTI-APARTHEID ACTIVIST WHO STRUGGLED FOR FREEDOM ALONG WITH OTHER COMRADES) INDIA, US, UK AND OTHER COUNTRIES
But whether the Singhala majority Sri Lankan Government is prepared to allow the Tamils to have their say is another question altogether.
It's, therefore, vital that countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, India, South Africa, European Union, China, Japan, and Russia, not only fully support the just struggles of the Tamils for freedom, but also persuade the Sri Lankan Government to create the conducive environment for permanent peace and justice for the Tamils.
They have suffered genocides, subjugation and denial of human rights, fredom and self-determination for far too long since the British granted independence to the island of Ceylon more than 60 years ago.
The Tamils of Sri Lanka need to enjoy peace, freedom, and self-determination like all other nations in the world. - ends / Subry Govender