Suren Surendiran

Interview: We are ready to facilitate negotiations

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This is the time for the government and the President to agree to allow a body of technocrats to run the country for a couple of years to revive it from an impending humanitarian disaster, Suren Surendiran, spokesperson for Global Tamil Forum, said in an interview with Sri Lanka Guardian. Global Tamil Forum (GTF) identified itself as a Tamil Diaspora organisation committed to a non-violent agenda and seeks a lasting peace in Sri Lanka based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.

“If need be, GTF can play a major role in the negotiations and can be a source of investors, can also be a source of human resources that can bring to bear expertise, capacity and capability in various fields,” he responded to the Sri Lankan government, which has expressed interest in engaging with the Tamil Diaspora.

Excerpts of the interview;

Question: Suren, you are allowed to come to Sri Lanka as your name is now delisted. Is that something that you expected?

Answer: At a drop of a hat, the Government of Sri Lanka will list and then de-list, these arbitrary and irrational actions of Sri Lanka have minimal or zero effect on me or the organisation that I represent, the Global Tamil Forum (GTF). I am very sorry to disappoint you, as there wasn’t anything to expect or not expect.

Q: Have you ever been to Sri Lanka or are you planning to visit soon?

A. I was born and bred in Sri Lanka. Like many other Tamils who fled the country looking for safety for themselves and their loved ones after the many State sponsored riots in 1958, and 1977, we left Sri Lanka after the 1983 riots when yet again the State-sponsored pogrom during when many thousands of Tamils were massacred by Sinhala mobs and destroyed many millions of dollars worth of Tamil assets all over the country. I will fail in my duty if I didn’t mention the many kind Sinhala neighbours and friends who also protected many thousands of Tamils from these State sponsored mobs, risking their own lives.

The last time I was in Sri Lanka was in 2005 before Mahinda Rajapaksa became President. That year, I was there twice. I also paid a short visit in 2013.

Q: How do you see the prevailing political deadlock in Sri Lanka?

A: It is very unhealthy for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans. Without reshuffling the same deck of cards (Government MPs and Ministers) who were fundamentally the root cause of this economic catastrophe, I sincerely hope that the government and the President will agree to allow a body of technocrats (specialists in the fields) to run the country for a couple of years to revive it from an impending humanitarian disaster.

Q: What is your take on a recent decision by the Sri Lanka Government to delist a few individuals and organizations?

A: Sri Lanka under Mahinda Rajapaksa listed a few Tamil diaspora persons and organisations in 2014 claiming that we fund and support terrorism. They quoted that this action of listing individuals and organisations was based on UN Regulation 1373. What they failed to follow was the clearly articulated process and procedures of this particular regulation. Sri Lanka didn’t produce any evidence of any sort to allege that these persons or organisations were involved in/or supported terrorism. In addition, these evidence/supporting materials should have been given to the accused and given a stipulated amount of time for them to defend their positions. None of these procedures was followed before prescribing to these organisations or individuals. This action was arbitrary, irrational, and outright abuse of the United Nations Regulation. This is perhaps why the international community, governments and international institutions including the United Nations itself completely ignored this proscription, whilst some issued public statements rejecting this action as arbitrary and many others at senior government representatives’ level continued to engage with us in public.

Then the Yahapalanaya government de-proscribed most from that list in 2015. Yet again the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government proscribed the same and a few more new ones in 2021. This again was done without following due process or procedure as described in the UN Regulation. Realising that this action doesn’t board well with anyone including the media of Sri Lanka, the Gotabaya government initiated a process of reversing this action in June 2022, which then physically materialised after Ranil Wickremasinghe took over as President.

Q: Recent reports suggested that President Wickremesinghe is planning to establish a “Diaspora Office” to strengthen the relationship between local communities and Sri Lankans aboard. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Unfortunately these actions and ideas are suspected to be to appease the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights just before her report on Sri Lanka which will be presented to the Council on 12 September. These steps and actions follow a pattern of steps Sri Lanka pretends to be taking as fake measures of reconciliation between communities just before each UNHRC session where Sri Lanka has been on the agenda in the recent past (since 2010).

I bet there will be further announcements of “progressive steps” leading up to the beginning of the 51st session where a substantial resolution is expected. Sri Lanka has a track record of making announcements of various “progressive steps” but never implementing any of them in a satisfactory manner.

Q: A recent statement issued by a group based in one of the western countries noted that “if Sri Lanka agrees to amicable separation, the Tamil Diaspora is ready to sign a treaty to pay Sri Lanka’s foreign debt.” Please give us some insights to understand the reliability and capability of this “Tamil Diaspora”

A: Well, I guess you should pose this question to the said diaspora organisation. However, if I were you I wouldn’t underestimate the capacity and capability of the diaspora community spread over the world.
Imagine the possibilities of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora business community jointly with the Tamil Nadu business community start to invest in business ventures in Sri Lanka, the prospects could become unlimited.

Q: Do you think the “Tamil Diaspora” as an exclusive entity is ready to work with the Sri Lankan government, and if so, with whom should the government initiate communication?

A: There have been several reports of widespread shortages and poverty due to price hikes in the South of Sri Lanka whilst the people of North have relatively being less affected by these shortages or price hikes. Amongst many reasons, one key reason has been the constant supply of foreign exchange from friends and relatives, abroad. This demonstrates the potential of the Tamil diaspora as a steady source of foreign exchange for the entire country if conditions are conducive.

Government should take steps to constitutionally devolve substantial powers to provinces including provinces where Sinhala and Muslim communities are in majority allowing these devolved provinces to encourage direct diaspora investments. The government must take strict measures to curb rampant corruption within various government structures including the cabinet of ministers. Also must reduce red-tapes to make investment prospects conducive.

Government should initiate conversations with the elected representatives of Tamils in Sri Lanka and with established diaspora organisations with the objective of resolving the seventy-four years old Tamil National Question.

Q: What role the GTF is going to play?

A: If need be, GTF can play a major role in the negotiations which we have done in the past and can be a source of investors, can also be a source of human resources that can bring to bear expertise, capacity and capability in various fields, which again we have demonstrated in the recent past.