The Diaspora Factor
- Exclusive Interview With ‘Prime Minister’ Of Tamil Diaspora’s ‘Transnational Government’
By Maryam Azwer
Almost two years since the end of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, the government claims that much is being done to establish peace and development in the country, particularly in the North and the East. Among the efforts, the state says, is to build a mutually beneficial relationship with the international Tamil community.
Despite the government having expressed optimism with regard to the success of this initiative, recent diaspora actions have implied otherwise – including lawsuits filed against both President Rajapaksa, and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Palitha Kohona.
In an email interview with The Sunday Leader, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, ‘Prime Minister’ of the ‘Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’ (TGTE), that was formed in May last year, shares his views on this issue, as well as other diaspora-related concerns that have arisen in recent months.
Q: What is the present role of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam?
A: The exclusionary policies of the Sinhala leaders and the pervasive and entrenched racism in the country resulted in denial of effective participation by the Tamil Nation in the political process of the island of Sri Lanka. The continued marginalisation of Tamils coupled with brutal repression clearly established that only in an independent state can Tamils live as free people and with dignity. Tamils expressed this wish clearly in the 1977 general elections. This expression of Tamils’ determination was demonstrated through a democratic exercise conducted by the Government of Sri Lanka. It should be noted that this peaceful expression to call for an independent state came long before the armed struggle actively started. The genocide in Mulliavaikkal has served to strengthen the rationale for the establishment of an independent sovereign state as a measure for self preservation.
Since there was no political space for Tamils to articulate their political aspirations, their nonviolent struggle had overtime transformed itself into an armed struggle in the absence of national and international mechanisms to resolve national conflicts. The de facto state of Tamil Eelam emerging through this phase provided the political space for Tamils. With the destruction of the de facto state and the resultant political space, the situation has reverted to status quo ante. Given the above, the pragmatic necessity and the moral imperative was to create a political space outside the island of Sri Lanka.
The idea of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) was conceived under the above circumstances. The concept was given a political formulation by the Advisory Committee of the TGTE comprising of Tamil and non -Tamil intellectuals. Country working groups were formed; elections were held in 12 countries; a Constituent Assembly was formed; a Constitution was drafted, debated and ratified and the government was formed.
The TGTE’s role is to carry on the Tamil struggle through democratic and diplomatic means in the post-Mullivaikkal era.
Q: The European Union has re-listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. What is the TGTE’s response to this?
A: After the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils in Mulliavaikkal, the Tamils perceive the European Union’s re-listing of the LTTE as an act of injustice towards them. It also raises a question as to whether the international community has understood the real situation, the roots of the conflict. Tamil people have also approached us to take measures rectifying this.
I was involved as a litigator in the designation challenge and the constitutional challenge. The courts have stated that in these matters they simply defer to the political branches. When law is used for political purpose it not only undermines the integrity of the rule of law but also has a corrosive effect on the constitutional freedom enjoyed by the citizens of these countries.
We cannot resist asking the EU to re-evaluate the purpose of this political exercise. What the European countries need to do now is to ask themselves the question, “Did our actions in the past stop the killing of 60,000 Tamils? Did our actions in the past bring a fair and just settlement to the Tamil National question? If not, why not? If something went wrong, what is it, where did it and how?” It would be a pity if those who preach the virtue of everyone moving forwards and forgetting the past should now have to wallow in the past themselves.
I also would like to mention that the re-listing of the LTTE has no effect whatsoever on the TGTE’s activities.
Q: What do you have to say about the various media reports that have referred to you as Prabhakaran’s ‘successor’?
A: The Tamil National leader Mr. Pirapaharan has a unique and larger than life role in the Tamil liberation struggle.
I have been elected by the people to serve in the TGTE Assembly and then elected to serve as Prime Minister. I am a servant of the people and as such will do all that I can to achieve an independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam through the means entrusted to me.
Q: There have been reports of a certain faction of the TGTE, allegedly led by Norway based MP Perinpanayagam Sivaparan, having challenged your position as the self-appointed Prime Minister of the TGTE. What do you have to say about this?
A: TGTE is a democratic body. Members were elected through internationally accepted standards that guaranteed transparent, free and fair elections. Election Commissioners were of high calibre, known for impartiality and fairness. For example, the former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark served as the head of the Election Commission in the United States for the TGTE elections. The election campaign was vibrant and on election day tens of thousands lined up for hours to vote. Numerous international election monitors observed the elections and certified its fairness. Several media outlets around the world also covered this election.
The members of the TGTE Parliament adopted a constitution and designated the post of prime minister, among others. I was elected as the Prime Minister.
Those who were elected through this democratic exercise have no policy differences among us. Everyone is sincerely and actively committed to secure an independent Tamil Eelam through peaceful, transparent, nonviolent and diplomatic means. The elected members represent the wishes of the Tamils around the world and are aware of the enormous responsibility placed on them, especially after the massacre of 60,000 Tamils in the final months of the war.
The events surrounding the TGTE are pertaining to procedures which are normal and inherent in a democratic process. However we are confident that none of these will in anyway hamper or dilute the TGTE’s course of actions towards the establishment of an independent state.
Q: At the recent United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, Sri Lankan Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe claimed that the LTTE’s international network is active and involved in ‘criminal activities.’ What is your response to this?
A: In the face of an undulating onslaught by Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and all their allies who have submitted withering briefs about the abysmal failures of the Sri Lankan government, its criminal past and the sham called LLRC, the GOSL is back to its old tactic of trying to divert attention by resorting to ad hominem attacks. However, since compelling evidence is coming to light, the GOSL will not succeed in this game.
There are several activities happening at the UN. The report on Sri Lanka’s war crimes compiled by the panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon will be handed over this month. We will urge the report to be made public and be sent to UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council. Recent actions by these two UN institutions on Libya point to what is in store for Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan government will not escape for the killing of over 60,000 Tamil civilians in Wanni.
Q: The Government of Sri Lanka says it welcomes Tamil diaspora support to establish normalcy in and develop the North and the East. Government Spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella also told this newspaper recently that the GOSL was confident of receiving such support. The TNA, however, says that there is too little freedom for diaspora organisations to carry out their work here. What is your opinion on this – are leaders of the diaspora willing to visit Sri Lanka to lend this kind of support?
A: Presently there is no normalcy in the North and East. People are living in fear under military occupation. Murder, torture, rape, forced disappearances, forced prostitution are prevalent. The military occupation is entrenching even while the GOSL claims that it has won the war. Like in Myanmar, Pakistan and the Middle East, the Sri Lankan army is now actively engaging in entrepreneurial activities. These attempts to be self sufficient demonstrate the GOSL’s intention of permanent military occupation of the North and East. We do not believe development can take place under military occupation.
Moreover, under the guise of development, the GOSL is engaging in colonization.
Also it should be pointed out that while the government is speaking about development, their actions tell a different story. The government has tight control of all organisations and aid flowing into the North and East.
This is problematic because it curtails the freedom of aid organisations to spend money on projects it prioritises and forces aid to be spent on government’s priorities. Also problematic is the high level of corruption in the government. Transparency International scored Sri Lanka a 3.2 (it scores countries on a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupt) indicating that much of the aid money sent to Sri Lanka may not reach its intended recipients.
Above all, we would like to point out that without political freedom, without the decision making authority, development cannot take place. As Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen observed, “Freedom is both the primary end and the principal means of development.”
Thus for any kind of meaningful development, the military has to be withdrawn, and stakeholders should have the decision making authority.
Q: How much does the Sri Lankan Tamil community stand to benefit from Tamil diaspora efforts?
A: As stated earlier, the diaspora is an integrated part of the Tamil Nation. The Tamils living in the island and outside are one entity. As long as the Tamils living in the island do not have the political space to fully articulate their political aspirations, the diaspora living around the world in liberal democratic countries have to undertake that task. The people in the homeland and their political leaders have to struggle on an everyday basis simply to ensure the physical survival of the Tamil Nation, the inherent right to their homeland, the betterment of the people’s social and economic welfare and their basic right to a secure life.
These struggles are essential for the very existence and survival of our nation in the island of Sri Lanka and have to be undertaken in every little space available for expressing them. We believe our campaign in the international arena will also result in the expansion of the political space inside the island. We believe that the days are not far when both the campaign of the Tamils inside and outside of the island of Sri Lanka will be in synch towards the establishment of a free and independent state of our own.