‘We expect the international community to take decisions based on truth and justice’ - Rev. Dr. S.J. Emmanuel

‘I was a direct victim and witness to the atrocities perpetrated by the bombing of churches and schools. These have impelled me to narrate my personal experience as well as convictions about the Tamil struggle to the international community…Our deep conviction within us, is for the ultimate triumph of Truth and justice… All four Religions in Sri Lanka have failed miserably vis a vis the ethnic conflict and war… We expect the international community to go beyond “self-interest” and “bloc-politics” and take decisions based on truth and justice,’ said Rev. Dr. S. J. Emmanuel, at the Human Rights Conference –Canada 2012, on the topic, International Protection of Human Rights in the 21 st Century – A case study on Sri Lanka, held on February 18, 2012 organised by Centre for War Victims and Human Rights (CWVHR). He is the President of the Global Tamil Forum,(GTF) an umbrella organisation for Sri Lankan Tamils in 14 countries. We share his full speech with the readers.

1. Self-introduction

I like to preface my talk here with an unusual self-introduction, narrating my own story in the Tamil struggle, as one example of the many thousands of witnesses and victims now living within and outside Sri Lanka, who are deeply convinced and committed to this struggle. No power on earth can separate us from the goal of a free Tamil people living peacefully with other communities on that island. A second reason for this unusual self-introduction is to give a public and personal response to the recent efforts of the Sri Lankan Government to tarnish my image as a priest for the last 45 years and to silence me from giving my voice for truth and justice. The Sri Lankan Government, in their helplessness or bankruptcy to undo or contradict the image I have built in Sri Lanka and Asia for more than 30 years as a priest and a professor of theology, have tried to question my priesthood (sic) and project me as a “terrorist”, in all the 3 videos they have so far put out for their international lobbying. They accuse me as a war –criminal, who supported the LTTE then, and now operating in the Diaspora . Such a video graphic while giving VIP treatment to KP and Karuna- is laughable. Anyhow, let them have my response.

As a born Tamil and a Christian Priest from Sri Lanka, I am forced to self-exile and now a citizen of Germany, I stand before you as a long time witness, at least for the last 25 years, a victim and a human right activist, struggling along with my people. Already my personal struggle as a young man in my own family against caste-discrimination, as an undergraduate in the 50s protesting against the Paddy Lands Bill of minister Philip Gunawardene in 1955, or against the Sinhala Only Bill of 1956, the anti-Sri campaign of 1958 and so on. Later as a priest, I fought against people within my own church against caste discriminations. For the last 25 years as a human right activist I have participated often in the UN Human Rights Sessions in Geneva, as well as representing the Tamil Cause before many Governments and International organizations.

In none of my speeches or in my books, I have spoken against the Sinhala people or the Buddhist religion. Though the Government in its malicious propaganda is portraying me as a supporter of terrorism, I have my own credentials, which they are unable to destroy – namely, my service to the Sinhalese and Buddhists. As a professor in Ampitiya, I helped more than 300 Sinhalese priests in their formation. Some of them are bishops today. As prefect of Studies, I had invited a Buddhist monk to teach Buddhism to our students.

Today, I am working as a catholic priest in the diocese of Münster in Germany. My convictions are as a man of God, fighting for the human rights of an oppressed people and a genuine peace for all the peoples of Sri Lanka. Even today, I wish the Sinhalese people to grow and prosper on that island as a proud nation, Buddhism as a true and vibrant religion guiding believers to nirbana, - but not at the cost of destroying the lives and properties of other peoples on that island.

From 1986 till 1996, as Rector of the major seminary in Jaffna and as Vicar General of the diocese, I was a direct victim and witness to the atrocities perpetrated by the bombing of churches and schools.These have impelled me to narrate my personal experience as well as convictions about the Tamil struggle to the international community.

2. Brief look at the genesis and journey of the struggle until now

    a) Of course the first and foremost culprit is the British colonial master, who in spite of reasonable Tamil minority fears, left a unitary system to be ruled by a majoritarian democracy.

    b) This was taken advantage of by all successive governments to promote an exclusive Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism, based on a Mahavamsa mentality. While the Sinhala majoritarian democracy of the parliament legislated, or rather bulldozed unjust and discriminatory laws, State forces which were largely Sinhala forces, were used to crush any peaceful protest and enforce execution. This had gone on and on, because of the hegemonic mindset of the majority, increasingly more violent and sometimes inhuman, bordering on genocide up to this day and set to escalate with Mahinda Chinthanya and Rajapaksas dictatorship.

    c) But our journey of the cross and the crucifixion of the Tamils have gone on for decades, with the connivance, if not cooperation of others outside – be it the super-powers for their strategy, or be it other smaller countries for their own interests such as trade and tourism.

    d) But today we are focusing on the role played by the international institutions, consciously and specifically instituted for the protection and security of human lives in all aspects of life and its needs wherever they may be, and peaceful coexistence of peoples as multi-ethnic, multi-religious communities – whether within a state or outside of it.

To comment on these international organizations or on any specifics of their human or humanitarian laws and activities, I am not competent. The competent experts who are here are doing it. I will limit myself to share with you my reflections, in layman’s language, as a perspective from below, from one of the many thousands of Tamils who have looked up to the world outside from the burning fires of Sri Lanka, with hope to save us from this slow and prolonged genocide.

3. The nature and progress of the struggle

3.1 From non-violent to violent

Since Independence in 1948, the Tamils resorted to non-violent democratic, parliamentary ways and demonstrations, through satyagraha, non-cooperation and protests. All forms of protests were met with mob-violence, the tyranny of the state or state-terrorism. Only as a last resort, the Tamil youth who were pushed to the wall with linguistic, educational and employment discriminations took up to “rebellion against tyranny and oppression” spoken of in the UN charter, namely, “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,” Thus State-violence and Counter-state violence spiraled into a prolonged war up to May 2009, in which thousands of combatants and civilians have perished.

3.2 From the hearts of people collectively hurt

It is a struggle, born in the hearts of a whole people, from the very roots of the collective consciousness as a distinct people, endowed with distinct gifts like any other people. It has grown through collective hurt, dissatisfaction, suffering . It has been gradually strengthened by a world-wide diaspora solidarity and togetherness to suffer and still struggle on for truth and justice.

3.3 Struggle marked with a sacred character

Tamils, be they Hindus, Moslems or Christians, there is an element of sacredness in their struggle. Unlike the Sinhalese who are largely motivated by political Buddhism, based on the Mahavamsa chronicle, Tamils bring in self-sacrifice, dedication, fasting, satyagraha, in service of their aspirations or goals based on truth and justice, which they consider noble and sacred. Tamils believe it a sacred duty to preserve and protect their God-given ethnic and cultural identity. This is not meant to hurt or steal what belongs to other peoples.

3.4Struggle continues against Oppressions and discriminations

Through these different phases, parliamentary struggle, militant struggle, peoples struggle, war, and mass massacre of Tamils, we have come to a stage when we sincerely feel that

    1. the oppressor and perpetrator of violence against us is only in a victorious mood to continue oppressions and discriminations, bordering on genocide. They have still not come down to their “common sense” to rectify and rehabilitate the victims, but on the contrary are escalating on the ground militarization, sinhalisation and buddhistisation of the North, while heaping lies before the international community about their efforts at rehabilitation and reconciliation.

    2. The Government under the cover of sovereignty of a state, refuses to face credible accusations of war crimes and does not want to be questioned about freedom and democratic values within the country.

    3. On the other hand, even those who helped the Sri Lankan Government “for its war against terrorism” with finance and weapons to crush the militants and thousands of civilians, are in no mood to accept due responsibility, but are now having double standards, self-interests, economic or military profits and other criteria to exert pressure on the Sri Lankan Government towards a just and peaceful solution Hence on the basis of truth and justice as a religious basis and outlook, we face the continuing struggle on the ground in Sri Lanka as well as on the international stage. Our deep conviction within us, is for the ultimate triumph of Truth and justice.

This struggle, essentially of a whole people- is deeply rooted in their collective consciousness as a people with distinct tradition and history, with an ancient and rich culture. Hence their struggle is for a sacred and noble cause, demanding the collective will, determination, dedication and resources of the whole people. We drink from our own wells of life and resources. After having lived though a past ridden with only injustices, death, destruction and having strengthened our collective conviction, will and dedication to struggle on with undying hope against new forms of oppressive forces, we do all that we can to engage with SL as well as with the international community in their present political game of chess.

We do not rule out storms and tsunamis and earthquakes in the world-order by which people will come to their common sense, realize the collective responsibility to renew and reform the man-made structures to serve truth and justice.

4. Human Rights are God-given rights and not rights to be codified by man-made laws.

Not only as understood by the Semitic religions Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but also by most of other religions traditions, man as man has inborn rights, fitting to his nature and status in creation. According to the sacred Bible, man is made as an image of God, and there is inborn sacred dignity and equality embedded in his/her nature and no power on earth can deny or take away or manipulate or barter these inborn rights for other benefits. Unfortunately in the history of humanity, this basic nature has been trampled and flouted through various forms of slaveries, caste and class distinctions, through colonialism and dictatorships in the name of good governance, even by religions. Consequently millions have perished through unjust claims for power and inhuman wars.

When states settled themselves to self-governance and some order, they wrote their constitutions and laws for order. But it was only after the horrific experience of the two world wars state-leaders realized the importance of a wider agreement for the security and peaceful living together of nations and states. Hence they pooled together what was available from the constitutions of some European countries and of the US, to write the Declaration of Human Rights which was acclaimed in 1948 as of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With increasing membership in the United Nations during the last six decades, these laws, agreements and conventions have guided the peaceful co-existence and progress of nation-states.

Academics like Micheline Ishay and Sumner B.Twiss today may explore the origins and growth of human rights, in plural cultures and globalization etc or raising questions like “Are human rights universal or culturally bound? Must human rights be sacrificed to the demands of national security? Or who are the major abusers and guarantors of human rights today, Is globalization eroding or advancing human rights? There is universal agreement about a perennial need to go back often to the inaugural texts of the founding fathers of the UN - Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world (preamble to UDHR)

Although the initial concern and focus of attention of the founding fathers of the UN or the UDHR, was man- his image, dignity, rights of language, culture, food, clothing and, shelter, and not his larger home - the planet earth and its resources energy, climate...during the last few decades, the interest and concern of the internatonal community and bigger powers and states have gone more for the robbing of the resources of this earth, threats and competitions and cared less for the lives of humanity or of the planet earth. In 1958, 50 years after the Universal Declaration, the then Secretary General, called for a radical and meaningful reform of the larger UN of 192 states, in the light of increased membership and of the new world with pluralism of religions and cultures. And I had remarked publicly in Geneva, my own disappointment – from the UN appearing to me as “a Universal Appeal Court for Justice” becoming “a club of nations for self-interests”.

5. Did that all happen under the very eyes or supervision or indirect cooperation or connivance of the UN?

    1. After the first phase 1948-1983, there was the pogrom or holocaust of 1983 when island wide Tamils were attacked killed by thousands and property burnt.
    2. There was a humanitarian response from the int.communiy and from the UNSG. When the 1995 exodus of half a million people were chased out of the Jaffna peninsula in one night by the Sri Lankan army,
    3. In 2009, when the state forces cleared all int.NGOs including the UNHCR, ICRC out of Wanni in preparation for their criminal assault, the UN and its agencies bowed out, without any objection.
    4. And finally at the height of the massacre in Mullivaikal in the first half of 2009, what did Ban Ki Moon or his Emissary Nambiar do to stop the massacre? It was a scandalous silence from the highest authorities, meant not to disturb or upset the SLG genocidal operations.

    Hence we demand a reform and renewal of the UN and its structures – based on the original intentions, without undue voice or misuse of the UN by greedy nations and super powers for their own interests

6. Now we are in a new Turning Point in our history.

6.1 The major political parties among the Sinhalese come nowhere near a rational consensus. The only consensus they have shown towards us is to subjugate us within a unitary and Sinhala dominated government, with hired support from some Tamil quislings. They have no consensus on any single point of the 4 Tamil aspirations as unanimously articulated by all Tamil parties at Thimpu Talks, nor by the present Tamil National Alliance. As such, they do not have the minimum consensus towards finding a solution.

6.2 The much talked of Devolution had undergone radical changes many times It is now held out to the world as propaganda for their democracy and good will. But it has neither the support of the Sinhala opposition nor even of the Tamil parties presently supporting the government.

6.3 The voices for truth, justice and peace, emanating from the South are suppressed by media threats, disappearances. We salute the still courageous among the majority Sinhalese, have unfortunately been drowned and weakened in recent years by the extremist-cries for war against the Tamils and for the establishment of a Sinhala Buddhist State.

7. In the new phase of the struggle we Tamils are still victims

a) We are victims of the Sri Lakan Government – Even the LLRC report by a Government appointed commission, lacks implementation, the one-year 18 rounds of Talks with the TNA was an empty deception, deceiving India and the international community. Still there is no proper rehabilitation of the victims, continuing disappearances, the refusal to reveal the names of those surrendered 3 years cast doubts of further murders in custody.

b) We are victims of self-seeking powers India? US,China, Pakistan…

c) We are victims indirectly of the UN and its structures. Was the UN and its structures always faithful to their mission? Where were they? Where were all the UN structures all these 64 years? They seem to be fast losing their moral authority because of their behavior.

In short, for a people on this earth, who have been created and lived on that island for over 2000 years, have been inhumanly annihilated, discriminated, killed and destroyed and displaced…by the actions of the state, its government and the structures there, helped and connived by the international community, helped by the int. structures only to keep under the lid for their own established world-order, but no effective measures taken neither by the govt. of the country nor by the international organization.

We are doing our best, hoping against hope that they will help, We are not a state with income and resources, but out of our own hard earnings, we struggle on, but our struggle will not end in these engagements, which are consuming all that we have. As long as the injustice persists, our cries go beyond the UN buildings and the states and their governments. Our cries will be directed to the conscience of the int. community.

8. Our Appeal to the international community:

The Right to live as Human Beings with Dignity on our own Land as we ourselves determine (Self-determination) Because our rights have been denied, our dignity trampled upon, our land occupied and we are forced into subjugation, we want Freedom! This reasonable quest for freedom should not provoke anger and opposition from our neighbours, not in the least mob-terror and state-terrorism against us.

Surely we expect the international community not to use the military might of the major powers, not to give in to their instinct for power and domination, not to take revenge on any government or people, however oppressive they may have been. We appeal to the conscience of all human leaders of governments, international institutions, religious and humanitarian organizations to take a serious view of the tragedies faced by the Tamils on that island – a slow genocide or ethnic cleansing under the cover of a sovereign state with democratic institutions and enjoying the respectable membership of the int. community. We expect the international community to go beyond “self-interest” and “bloc-politics” and take decisions based on truth and justice. We appeal to the International Community to question, rethink and change the ethical basis of their co-operation with Sri Lanka

In the name of the Gods we all believe and in the name of the humanity you leaders represent and claim to serve, we make an agonising cry - that you listen to your conscience, hold on to Truth and Justice as the decisive values in your judgements and in your choice of friends, contribute more for peace-building than for escalating war, make no dirty politics over the freedom-struggle of a nation.

9. Appeal to the Conscience of Religions –

Religions have a primary role in safeguarding human life with all its rights. Religions are for man not man for religions. But unfortunately, religions too have given into becoming liturgy-centred or devotion-centred but not man-centred. Religions have either isolated or distanced themselves from their duty to actively save the values of human dignity and rights. Hence there is a need for all religions to reform themselves liberating from a self-centred vision to a man-centred vision. Sabbath for man not man for Sabbath. Religions in Sri Lanka all four have failed miserably vis a vis the ethnic conflict and war

Although not structured as the int. Comm. With UN etc, religions have an int.dimension and stand for moral values of life. If not who will stand UP as the first defendant of moral and ethical values of life? Religions which are proclaimed to sow the seeds of noble values and cultivate conscience can degenerate and become slaves to institutionalism, power and fanaticism.

It is in this perspective, we view the role of religions for peace-building in Sri Lanka. Even though the island has all the four world-religions, it is unfortunate that political chauvinism and religious fundamentalism have often overtaken religious values such as respect for human life and human rights. In the context of the political forces failing to safeguard human lives, it is increasingly the responsibility of religions and their organisations to be actively engaged in fostering understanding and respect for truth and justice. We have seen how ethnic emotions and false nationalism have overtaken the noble religious values of Buddhism, or the prophetic courage of Christians to stand up for truth and justice. These do not augur well for the future of the religions in Sri Lanka.

The world Parliament of Religions in its Assembly in Chicago from the 28th.August to 4th.Sept. 1993, was unanimous in saying that there cannot be a better world-order without a basic consensus among religions on ethical values. Religions are meant to serve the values of Truth, Justice and Peace among humanity. But for religions to feed and foster those values of Truth and justice, they themselves must be liberated from their weaknesses of self-centredness and institutionalism.

In the name of the Enlightened One, may I appeal to my Buddhist brethren to liberate themselves from their Mahavamsa mind-set and its inherent desire for possession of the whole country, or claiming only one community to be Bhumi Putras while others less patriotic or less human. I call them to genuinely support a united and peaceful country of two nations, with two peoples living side by side as neighbours and friends. Let us respond courageously to the demands of Justice to all and assure each other a peaceful and co-operative coexistence as good neighbours within one country, without any fear of domination or hatred for one another. Let us wish one another nothing more than what we wish for ourselves.

Finally, we pose the challenging question to the international community: You have witnessed the events in our country at least for the last few years. You have helped in some way the victims of war, but more the aggressors by your connivance and cooperation.You have not heard nor believed the cries of the oppressed and the dying. You have stood by the mighty, fuelled finance and weapons to escalate the war and done very little to acknowledge the truth of our claims to rectify injustices. Come to our aid, before it is too late! and justify your existence .

10. Our struggle goes beyond!

Major powers of this world may play hide and seek and leave the cries of the Tamil people into forgotten archives. Countries like India, the US and Europe which had their own interest may strengthen their ties over the tombs of a genocide. The UN and its substructures may suffer a little with a guilty conscience and allow the Tamil cry for justice to slip by. The Sinhala Buddhists and their governments may do their utmost in eradicating the roots of Tamil existence in the Northeast of Sri Lanka and find some joy in Sinhalisation and Buddhistisation of the country under militarisation.

But genuine peace cannot usher into Sri Lanka as long as the living and dead of the Tamil community cry out from all directions and the images of the victims haunt the corridors of the Sri Lankan Government. Because the cries of the fallen and the surviving will struggle on beyond their Parliament and Mullivaikall and even beyond the UN and its agencies and remain an open wound in the conscience of the international community in general and of Sri Lanka in particular.

Beyond the disappointments and dissatisfactions we have with various sectors of the international community namely the powerful nations, the UN and its structures we Tamils, will continue our struggle beyond Mullivaikal, rearranging ourselves, our strategies and approaches from what we have learnt in the past.

We Tamil diaspora over a million have to stand up and take our responsibility

    1. Let us avoid self-pity and expect others to struggle for us or help.
    2. If our struggle is for our people at home and for our homeland, we have to give importance to humanitarian help we organize among ourselves
    3. We have to struggle along with the political leaders elected by the Tamils surviving in Sri Lanka.
    4. Our struggle cannot be isolated as merely for ourselves. We have to struggle in solidarity with various others and other groups in solidarity across the globe.
    5. We have to organize ourselves with a unity of purpose, but a diversity of approaches – without various groups trying to do things in competition or undermining one another, without discriminations and oppressions among ourselves. We cannot fight external oppression while internally oppressing one another.
    6. Our leaders have to come from both sexes and from the younger generation of talented people, who can speak and write in various languages.

It is only by mobilizing our resources from the diaspora, we can make ourselves the international instruments for the protection of our human rights for all in Sri Lanka.

Rev. Dr. S.J.Emmanuel

Please Click here to login / register to post your comments.