The National Flag A Muddled Tamil voice

Northern Province Education Minister Arumugam Kandiah Sarveswaran’s refusal to hoist the national flag at a school function in Vavuniya, in which he was the chief guest, sent shock waves not only to South, but also among the moderate Tamil community throughout the country.

It was reported that Sarveswaran, brother of Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) leader Suresh Premachandran, refused to raise the Sri Lankan flag and the principal of the school had to make other arrangements to honour the national flag.

While this unsavoury incident was taking place in Vavuniya, President Maithripala Sirisena was holding discussions with the family members of the missing persons at the Presidential Secretariat in Colombo to examine ways and means of solving the Tamil issues and strengthening the reconciliation process.

On the same day, in Geneva, a Sri Lankan delegation reaffirmed the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) about the country’s total commitment to the reconciliation process.

The leader of the delegation, Minister of State, Dr Harsha de Silva listed out the steps taken by the Government during the last two and half years. They include strengthening the National Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) with the appointment of independent commissioners by the Constitutional Council. The HRCSL has the authority to entertain complaints and conduct investigations regarding infringements or imminent infringements of fundamental rights, and to provide for resolutions by conciliation and mediation. It also monitors the welfare of persons in detention.

The Government has progressively increased resources allocated to the Commission as one of the key human rights institutions and will continue to support and safeguard its independence.

He also explained the activities of the Consultation Task Force, comprising an 11-member all-civil society group. As one of the key measures aimed at addressing the suffering of the families of the missing persons, the Government enacted legislation for establishing the independent and permanent Office on Missing Persons (OMP).

Dr de Silva said that at the end of the conflict, the security forces were using approximately 88,571 acres of State lands and 30, 337 acres of private lands. Of this, as at 31 October, the armed forces had vacated 57,278 acres of State lands and 24,675 acres of private lands in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

President Sirisena, in his meeting with the families of missing persons, said that it is mandated to take all necessary measures to provide for a mechanism to address the issues and concerns related to missing persons.

In recent time the world’s eyes on Sri Lanka seems to have opened to learn the truthful position. While there were baseless allegations that more than 40,000 civilians were killed during the last phase of the fight against terrorism, authentic figures have come out in the open in the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ the British Parliament itself.

When the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sri Lanka met in the British Parliament, Michael Morris, Baron Naseby PC expressed the hope that, as a result of the debate, the UK will recognize the truth that no one in the Sri Lankan Government ever wanted to kill Tamil civilians. “Furthermore, the UK must now get the UN and the UNHCR in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000. On top of that, the UK must recognize that this was a war against terrorism, so the rules of engagement are based on international humanitarian law, not the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.

The debate focused on what assessment the UK Government has made of the progress made by Sri Lanka in meeting the requirements on reconciliation established by the UNHRC.

President Sirisena expressed his deep appreciation to Lord Naseby for his continued efforts to further Sri Lanka’s cause both within the British Parliament and at international forums. “I have followed with keen interest the debate on Sri Lanka at the House of Lords held on 12th October, which you had secured with much effort. It was noted that an overwhelming majority of speakers spoke well of the efforts taken by my Government towards promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights and good governance. Your intervention, in particular, would assist Sri Lanka in its efforts towards truth-seeking and countering some of the propaganda levelled against the country,” the President said in his letter to Lord Naseby.

While the reconciliation process is progressing on all fronts, it is surprising to see the growth of hostilities in the North.

The refusal of Sarveswaran to hoist the national flag came in the backdrop of attempts to hold the infamous Mahavir Day, an annual celebration initiated by the slain terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, on his birthday, November 26.

Already Minister of State for Education, V Radhakrishnan has criticized Sarveswaran for his ill-advised move and demanded the resignation of the Northern Provincial Council Minister.

Recent hard-line acts of Sarveswaran, Adaikalanathan, Sivajilingam and others could well be due to internal rifts within the Tamil National Alliance. Sarveswaran’s brother has already announced that he would form a new front to fight elections as a separate entity. Northern Chief Minister C V Wigneswaran also slammed the Government in his recent statements.

An agreement with Tamil political parties, regarding the powers to be devolved, is essential to continue a meaningful dialogue and there are no such signs of a consensus among the Tamil parties, and it will be an uphill task to find a consensus with the other two communities – Muslims and Sinhalese.

– Sugeeswara Senadheera