‘Tamils must be recognised as a nation within Sri Lanka’

Kokilavany is contesting in the Sri Lankan parliamentary election in 2015 on behalf of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress Party, which is part of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF). She spoke to Lalitha Chelliah on Community Radio 3CR's Tamil Manifest program on August 1.

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My native and living place is Killinochi district. I studied at Killinochi St Teresa’s Girls’ College. I studied up to grade 10 only because of the military advances and the atrocities of the Sri Lankan forces. I was unable to continue with my studies, so my life was changed by the war.

Those were the reasons I enrolled in the [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)]. I was in the movement for 14 years. During that time I was taught English and information technology.

In the later part of 2005 I left the LTTE — with the consent of the movement — due to personal reasons. Thereafter, I got employment with a consortium of international non-government organisations that came to Sri Lanka in early 2005 for tsunami reconstruction. In the latter part of 2008 all the international organisations were forcefully removed from Vanni soil by the Sri Lankan government in order to launch a military operation on a massive scale.

People from Mannar started the first displacement and we all together ended up in Mullivaikkal. All the other people were trapped in the so called “no fire zone” in the coastal areas. The rest the whole world knows.

At the end of the war people were moved towards the government controlled areas and ex-cadres were arrested and detained. I was detained for 1½ years and released.

When I came out from detention there were many issues I encountered including security and unemployment. Due to my LTTE background job opportunities were rare. Then I found a job in one of the big mining organisations and after some time I moved to the office of one of the members of parliament.

Since then I started to observe how our Tamil political representatives [worked] and really became so fed up because our representatives are not concerned about our rights or aspirations. They were [accommodating to] the aspirations of the foreign powers.

For the past five years nothing happened to advance political solutions or the wellbeing of Tamil people. In this juncture I found that the Tamil National People’s Front is the only hope for the Tamils and therefore I joined the TNPF hoping that we can create a change in the current political trend.

If I am elected, my main focus will be women and children. I have been working with affected women in the past so I believe that I have some sort of experience in handling the women’s issue in a systematic way.

Due to the war there are more than 90,000 affected women in a very bad situation. We can categorise them as war widows, women belonging to the missing people, abandoned women, women with disabilities and female ex-cadres.

It seems that every one of them has lost at least one member in their family due to the ethnic conflict. Most of them have lost the male members in their family and most of them were the bread winners. The outer world takes advantage of that and due to that reason they encounter many problems — economically, culturally, security-related and psychologically.

It’s most important to free them from all these issues. Particularly, the women need to be economically independent — only then will addressing the other issues be possible.

When we talk about freedom for Tamils, the fundamental issue is resolving the problem of the Tamil national question. We have been working towards resolve the issue for more than 50 years; so we all know that the fundamental solution is recognising Tamils as a nation within Sri Lanka.

Without resolving the fundamental issue of the Tamil national question all other solutions will merely give a temporary result. That’s what I believe. Therefore the TNPF’s policy and strategy mainly focus on the demand of recognising Tamils as a nation within Sri Lanka. Since the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948, the Tamils have been fighting for this cause through many nonviolent ways.

We had no meaningful resolution for many years. And sometimes the Tamils were forced to defend themselves and that eventually became the armed struggle that went on for more than 20 years.

Through the last 30 years of struggle, the Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka and also the Tamil diaspora stood together in advancing the struggle towards achieving the solution — that is recognising the Tamils as a nation within Sri Lanka.

Then in 2009 the world knows what happened in the so-called final phase of the war. At the end of the war in Mullivaikkal, a mass killing occurred. It is genocide and once that genocide took place in Mullivaikkal, the issue of the Tamils reached the international level. Earlier all our issues were limited within the boundaries of the Indian region and now it has gone beyond that level.

So our strategies now carefully consider the geopolitical situation and developments involving the United Nations and [international] grassroots organisations and human rights organisation. Once we understand clearly we have to work with the international community and all types of other organisations including the United Nations to bring a solution for our people. The solution is the Tamils must be recognised as a nation within Sri Lanka.

We are expecting the statements will be released in September from the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the investigations of war crimes committed during the final phase of war in the Vanni region. Through some media we have learnt that a document of the investigation mechanism has been leaked. According to the leaked report, the investigations will be carried out internally by the Sri Lankan government and only technical assistance will be given by the UN experts.

If that leaked report is a true one it will be really disappointing. I am asking the international community, on behalf of our people, how is it that the world allows the perpetrator to do the investigations? How will these investigations be genuine? Our party has taken a stand that this cannot be allowed. The internal investigation will never be the solution for the casualties. Our party strongly opposes the system set up already.

Personally I can say that I was in the Vanni region during the final phase of war. I know well what happened there. As I am a direct witness I can say how the lives of people have been taken by heavy artillery, cluster bombs, heavy aerial bombardment and direct rifle shots.

Minister and cabinet spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne has given an interview for the BBC Sinhala service. He said that what happened cannot be taken as war crimes. How simply and bravely he issues his statement without considering the pain of the lives that were ruthlessly taken.

We, the Tamils, have a lot of hope in the international community and the United Nations, believing that with their intervention we will be provided the right solutions for the war crimes. Therefore we urge them to give their support and cooperation to us, to have an international investigation on the human rights violations carried out.

International human rights organisations and grassroots organisations are well aware of our issues and the price that we have given for that. We have to be taken as a nation within the country. To be honest, the rights of Tamils cannot be given — they must be taken. We have been fighting for our rights for decades and decades. Now we are fighting for our rights democratically. So if you are raising your voice for oppressed people around the world, you have to give your voice for our issues too. This is my request.

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