C.V. Wigneswaran

Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, PC is a Sri Lankan Tamil lawyer, judge, politician and Member of Parliament.

We must learn lessons from history

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I represent the Jaffna Electorate not the Colombo Electorate. The problems of the North and East are different from those of the South. This Country consists of two Nations. – the Tamil Nation and the Sinhala Nation. The Tamils are the original inhabitants of this Island. They have lived continuously for over 3000 years in this Island according to latest excavations, inscriptions and findings. They are the majority in the North and East even now. The Sinhalese are the majority in the other seven Provinces. By adding the majority in the North East to the majority in the Southern seven Provinces they have made us minorities in the Country. But we are not minorities. We are the majority in our areas. That fact should have been realized by the British when they gave independence. Only later did Lord Soulbury realize their folly and stated so in a foreword to a book by B.H.Farmer in the early 1960s. 

We have been asking for a settlement of our political problem for the past 70 years or more. In fact our youth took up to arms due to the discriminatory policies of successive Sinhala majority Governments. Our youths were freedom fighters not terrorists. Now our Sinhala brethren are getting a taste of the PTA.

So any attempt on our part to join any government and sail with them would depend upon the resolution of our Political Problems as well as Social and Economic Problems we face today. We have identified some of our immediate problems such as;

  • Release of all Tamil Political Prisoners some of whom have been in incarceration for over 25 years.
  • Withdrawal of the PTA whose provisions go against the grain of our normal Criminal Law.
  • Order an International inquiry into the status of the Disappeared.
  • Calling off the functioning of the Commission on Archaeological Research and returning the lands in the North and East expropriated by the Commission.
  • Withdraw the Mahaweli Authority from the North and East and stop all colonization taking place in the Tamil areas bringing in Sinhalese from outside the Provinces and settling them. Hand back the lands appropriated by the Mahaweli Authority back to the people from whom they were taken. Hand over other Lands to the D.Ss of the respective areas.
  • Withdraw the Military from the North and East. They have no right to occupy the North and East even after the war was over. Such Occupational Forces must be withdrawn and placed in other Provinces since the Government in recent times have identified the need to have the Military in other Provinces as well. The North and East could be run by an efficient Police Force inclusive of Tamil speaking Police persons from the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
  • Stop illegal fishing being done on our shores by persons from outside our two Provinces with the help of the Armed Forces, to the prejudice of the local fishermen.
  • Stop the taking over of our good Schools in the North and East to the Central Government under the pretext of making them National Schools. The Central Government under the Thirteenth Amendment cannot interfere with the powers granted to the Provinces.
  • Open up the Palaly Airport. Allow owners of lands around the Airport to get their lands back evicting the Military occupying them.
  • Start the Ferry Services to from South Indian ports.
  • Allow diaspora investment in the North and East without interference from the Centre nor its officials.

Only if there is a change of heart in the powers that be, after the aragalaye, could we lend support. Even the Leader of the Opposition wants to help the Rajapakses and the war criminals at Geneva. Polarisation in Sri Lanka is not between what is right and what is wrong. It is between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

Joining a Cabinet full of Sinhala speaking majority by a member of the Tamil speaking Community could be an embarrassment. They would jabber, jabber and jabber in Sinhala and most of the time we would be outside the purview of their discussion. Of course I do know a little Sinhala but not to the extent of understanding the jabbering that takes place in Parliament.

Secondly once we enter the whilpool of Sri Lankan Politics we would lose sight of the purpose for which we are there – to obtain relief for the Members of our Community.

Thirdly Cabinet responsibility would control us. We would not be able to differ from or contradict the decision taken by the majority Sinhalese Members of the Cabinet. If I am a non Tamil speaking Tamil like certain earlier Ministers I would not have any problem deciding to the detriment of the Northern and Eastern Tamil speaking people. We must learn lessons from history. In the past, many Tamil politicians held and are holding ministerial positions on the pretext that they are working with the government to work towards the interests of the Tamil people. But in reality, through these ministerial positions, they have done more to blunt the struggle for Tamil rights than to do any good to the Tamil people. They are forced to go to Geneva and argue that what happened in Mullivaikal was not genocide. I wouldn’t dream of doing that.

I am not interested in becoming a Minister for the glamour it gives whether such glamour shines or not. I am interested in finding solutions to the long standing political, social and economic problems of my people. I hail from the North and East. I was a Judge in the North and East and I lectured in Law inter alia to Students from the North and East. Hence I owe a responsibility to my brethren who hail from the North and East. 

The Tamils are definitely interested in working for peace, reconciliation and economic progress. But they must be pulled up from the bottom of the well to terra firma to stand up as equals with the Sinhalese to work for peace, reconciliation and economic progress. There cannot be peace and reconciliation between unequals. How could we be considered equal when the Military are stationed in large numbers in the North and East since even after the war?

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Sri Lanka: Costs of Sinhala Hegemony

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The Government should have reduced expenditure at a time of severe economic crisis that we undergo presently rather than raising it further while the public suffers from high inflation rates. If benefits were to be given to the penurious needy some other expenditure should have been cut down. Because inflation would not come down as the Central Bank was continuing to print money to meet expenses. A fortnight ago it printed Rs.30 billion according to reports. Unless the Government cuts down expenditure, including Capital expenditure, we would not be able to reduce the inflation rates and stabilize the economy. Of course reasons have been given for the increase in expenditure. But increase in expenditure would further increase the inflation rates.

In addition to public administration, a notable increase can be observed in the expenditure assigned for the President, for Defense, education and health.

The defense allocation has been increased and a sum of Rs. 212,808 million has been allocated to the Ministry of Public Security. A sum of only Rs.138,560 million has been allocated for agriculture in contrast. Such are the priorities.

It appears we are not going to tarnish our reputation as the 14th largest Army in the World. Why does our small Country need such a large Army? Generally a Country would focus on the process of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) after a War. These are essential to restore sustainable peace in a post-war scenario. We should have reduced our Army personnel as soon as the war was over or at least a few years later. We have today 331,000 Army personnel officially as opposed to Britain’s 90000. This number is to be further reduced by Britain soon. The DDR is one of the significant aspects of the process of post-war peace-building. Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) is a process that contributes to security and stability in a post-war recovery context by removing weapons from the hands of combatants, taking the combatants out of military structures and helping them to integrate socially and economically into society by finding civilian livelihoods for them. But those who fought the war are still in our Armed Forces. Some of them are still working in the combat areas. It is high time they are taken out of the North and East and reintegrated into the civil society.

After thirteen years since the end of the war why is the Military being allowed to occupy our Peoples’ lands and buildings, our forests and shores?

In most of the cases world over, this process has been implemented with the assistance of foreign governments and international or regional institutions. However, the circumstances under which the Government of Sri Lanka happened to take over the sole responsibility for implementing the DDR process have raised serious concerns both at the local and international level. The findings of a recent study show that the DDR process was not fully implemented in a broad manner in the Sri Lankan context, but only served as a continuation of the military victory over the LTTE. In particular, not much attention was paid to disarming and demobilizing the armed groups, and the so-called DDR process took place in Sri Lanka without international assistance and supervision. One would think that the Sri Lankan powers that be had a purpose in keeping out international assistance and supervision. I would surmise it is to keep the North and East under the Military boot.

This coupled together with the expenditure for the armed forces in the Amendment Bill show that there has not been any changes in the psyche of the powers that be in Sri Lanka even after the aragalaya. Thoughts of Sinhala hegemony still reigns heavily in their minds.

All the talk about an All Party Government becomes a mockery in the light of such continuous military spending. Therefore the clarion call to unity is an empty shell. The Government under the present President wants to continue to spend large amounts of money to maintain our 14th largest Army. It has no intention of forging any form of reconciliation with the minorities.

And whom is the Government expecting a war with? Against India? Against China? Against America? Or even against Maldive Islands? No ! They expect an attack from us poor Tamils of the North and East! Because the government believes that the Tamil people will not continue to endure against the Sri Lankan state’s continued oppression and genocide. That is why the Sri Lankan Government preferred to conduct the so-called DDR process without international assistance and supervision. They want the presence of the Military permanently in the North and East.

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis is due to many factors. One major factor was the war and the money that Sri Lanka borrowed to buy destructive weapons. Another is the massive corruption among Government and Defense department officials.

A further major reason for the crisis was the ethnic cleansing that forced most of the Tamils to quit small businesses, high tech-related jobs, manufacturing trades, exportation and training, impeding Sri Lanka’s economic development, managerial efficiency, and productivity. The State by its shortsighted racial policies sabotaged itself.

Earlier racial discrimination against the Tamils forced many of them to leave Sri Lanka. They are the Tamils who are now offering to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for Sri Lanka if the political problems of the Sri Lankan Tamils are solved.

All of the erstwhile racist activities led Sri Lanka to this economic crisis. It did not happen overnight. It started with the ethnic riots of 1958.

Israeli Professor Oren Yiftachel has said ethnocratic countries often experience ethnic tensions which cause instability. Therefore, as long as Sri Lanka remains an ethnocratic country, there will continue to be instability. This will never lead to sustainable peace and economic prosperity as expected by His Excellency. The fact that you have increased defense spending to keep the army in the North-East and to establish massive military infrastructures and settlements to continue oppressing the Tamil people shows the instability that will continue in the future.

After thirteen years since the end of the war why is the Military being allowed to occupy our Peoples’ lands and buildings, our forests and shores?

The existing problems that the Tamils face which were brought to the notice of the President are conveniently forgotten in the Speech. We feel though the President had positively responded to our queries regarding the day to day problems the Tamils face apart from the need to solve the political problems of the Tamils, he prefers to remain silent in Parliament regarding our problems lest he disturbs a hornet’s nest.

I am reminded of Robert Walpole who was Prime Minister of England in 1715 or thereabout whose policy was “Let sleeping dogs lie”. May be because our Tamil Youths in recent times have not resorted to Aragalayas in their areas he believes we are but sleeping canines, best left to be unsaid and unreferred to. But am sure this time Geneva would reiterate its stand quite positively.

I like to remind the contents of my request letter to which His Excellency responded to positively. His Excellency promised to release all Tamil political prisoners. Nothing has come out from that promise. It is said that there is a move to release some persons taken into custody on suspicion after 2019 just in time for the Geneva deliberations. None are going to be fooled by such gimmicks if they be true.

If the case of the Tamil Political Prisoners, some of them languishing in jails for over quarter of a century is not going to be considered in a humanitarian manner considering the long period of incarceration and the type of diseases that have been contracted by some of them, I am wondering if any Tamil Parliamentarian could be ethically and morally be called upon to join in an All Party Government. Many of these Prisoners had been found guilty solely on their confessions made to Police officers under the PTA. Such confessions to Police officers cannot be accepted as evidence under our regular criminal law. That was why I had asked for the release of the Tamil Political Prisoners and for the scrapping of the draconian PTA from our statute books. Instead, it is being now used against the Aragalaya leaders. These leaders would soon be called Terrorists.

Any attempt to bring in diverse political viewpoints together under one umbrella must be preceded by genuine acts of goodwill towards those holding such viewpoints. It is useless saying join us and I will give you a free hand to express your views. The moment a Tamil Parliamentarian joins the Government he would lose his freedom of speech. Majority in the governing Party will rule the roost! I hope the Tamils whose names have been included in a Ministerial list recently would wait till the Geneva deliberations are over before taking office.

I have no objections to attending a meeting of Party leaders friendly towards this Government to put forward the viewpoints of the Tamils.

Finally, my request to the donor countries and the IMF is that in this difficult situation for Sri Lanka, you should definitely help to save the people of Sri Lanka from starvation, but please see that you do your assistance in such a way that your assistance is not used to suppress the rights of the Tamil people and be used for defense expenditure.

Views are personal

Sri Lanka: Our Meeting with President and His Promises

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At the invitation of the President, I met his Excellency along with our Party senior member Mr. S. Selvendra at 4.30 PM on 10th August 2022 at the Presidential Secretariat. The Prime Minister was also present. The President explained to us at length his plan of governance which included a Parliamentary governance committee giving a greater role for the Provincial Governors. His idea was that all MPs from Provinces must govern the respective Provinces under the Chairmanship of the Governors in terms of a National Agenda. He referred to Austria as an example. (His example was inappropriate. Austria is a Federal Country).

Further discussing regarding grabbing of lands in Provinces by Central Government Ministries he agreed that there should be no forestry land that should be grabbed by Ministries and that we should focus on preserving the environment in each Province. He said, if need be a maximum of 2 acres could be taken over by the Government. I said no land should be appropriated by the Central Government in the Provinces except with the consent and concurrence of the respective Provincial Government. There was no response from His Excellency.

Regarding National Schools he said 50 National Schools were enough for the Country not 1000 National Schools. I pointed out that no Provincial Schools could be taken over by the State and that our Alliance has already filed action in this regard.

He appeared to be in a hurry to rope in Jaffna MPs to be part of the Government, I suppose to showcase to Geneva! I don’t blame him. The Government has so far ignored its obligations to the UN as per Resolution 46/1.

He wanted me to share a document which outlines the proposal on how money could be channeled into the Country from the Diaspora.

It became apparent to us while discussing with him that his plan was to strengthen the central administrative control of the entire Country totally ignoring the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

I pointed out to the President that the Tamil people in this country expect the government to take speedy action to attend to their requests submitted by all Tamil National party leaders which included the release of political prisoners; action to trace the missing persons; stop the activities of various government departments to grab Tamil lands and stop persons trying to build Buddhist temples in Tamil homeland with the help of the Military and so on.

It was also pointed out that in order to enable the Tamils to give political leadership and governance over their Provinces, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution should be implemented in full as a temporary measure until satisfactory constitutional reforms are made. We told the President that until this process is started in earnest satisfying the Tamil people, we will support the Government from the Opposition. There was no question of our becoming a part of the Government.

Although the President assured us that he will take action to implement our requests and invited us to join the Government, we felt the impending Geneva meeting was more important to him than solving the Tamils’ Problems. Nevertheless, we promised to forward the document he called for and took our leave to depart.