| by Rajasingham Jayadevan
( December 13, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) London experienced an unprecedented meeting of a cross section of the Sri Lankan community attending in large numbers as part of a consensus building exercise (Sri Lanka Guardian: Consensus building forum in London).
The meeting was hosted by the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) and was held on 11 November 2011 at the Shiraz Mirza Community Hall in Norbiton, South London.
The theme of the meeting was ‘Peace, Security and Development through Good Governance’ and was aimed to engage the young Sri Lankan politicians from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), United National Party (UNP), All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) and young civil society actors from north and south of Sri Lanka including a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Representative’.
The invitation for the meeting stated: ‘ The meeting is intended to stimulate a constructive dialogue with guests on multiple challenges and opportunities that the diaspora and civil society are facing in finding a lasting peace in the island of Sri Lanka . The proposed dialogue will be a conversation aimed at informing and learning rather than passing judgements or to persuade anyone’.
The meeting was also attended by the cross section of the leading Tamil organisations and was Chaired by the Executive Secretary of the TIC Mr Varathakumar.
Silence was observed, remembering all those who died in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
Then the parliamentarians went on to give their views on the current situation in Sri Lanka. They said though they represented the political parties, their visit was independent and an initiative of the NGO’s One Text Initiative (OSI) and the International Crisis Group (ICG).
The parliamentarians representing the government expressed hope that the LLRC report to be released on 21 December 2011 will be an opening for changes to happen in Sri Lanka. They said they are the younger generation of parliamentarians under the ages of forty and have come to listen to the views of the Diaspora community and reflect them back home appropriately. Some delegates said, conduct of the Diaspora has developed anti-Tamil Diaspora sentiment amongst majority community in Sri Lanka.
They said that the 95% Sinhalese do not hate the Tamils and that the end of the war has changed the political climate in Sri Lanka. There was general consensus that defeating the LTTE was seen as a major achievement to bring about the much wanted peace in Sri Lanka. This sentiment was expressed in the manner reflecting the party political divide of the delegates.
One parliamentarian requested the diaspora to forget the past and look for the future of peaceful existence. This request was responded with the innermost feelings by the gathering. They said many of them suffered as a result of the war and that they cannot forgot but prepared to forgive if honest political accommodation was found for the minorities.
The forum was opened for discussion and wide raging issues from good governance, war crimes, genocide against the Tamils, failures of the judiciary, military occupation of the north and east, the Grease Yakka (Devil) issue, the right of self determination etc., were considered. On the question of right of self-determination, one delegate asked whether it means separate state for the Tamils. The questioning audience said, it is a right even to secede and further contribution led to explaining how Sri Lanka got independence from Britain under this international principle.
The audience reflected their suspicion on the grease devil saga and how it ended with intervention of the President. One parliamentary delegate narrated an incident in Chillaw and confirmed the evidence available of a devil going into the military base. The audience too expressed deep concerns that grease devil is none other than the work of the military.
The well informed Sinhala leaders present in the audience articulated the current situation in Sri Lanka and the need for substantial changes to recognise and respect the minorities with honour and dignity. Under tumultuous applause, they went on to claim that Sri Lanka must become accountable and follow good governance practices. The parliamentary delegates agreed that the situation is not hunky dory in Sri Lanka but emphasised lots of progress had been made to achieve good governance.
One young Sinhala leader who is a office bearer of the regional Conservative Party in a Shire county said, he had an opportunity to speak for fifteen minutes at a Tory party meeting in the morning attended by Prime Minister David Cameron before he could come to this meeting and without fear he raised very serious issues publicly for the Prime Minister Cameron to respond. He questioned whether such transparent mechanism is available in Sri Lanka and expressed concerns of his fate if he had done this with the President of Sri Lanka.
Another Sinhala member present challenged the limitation of the agenda of the meeting to only consider good governance issues and went on to assert further on the rights of self determination of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
The representative of the Global Tamil Forum touched on the failures of Sri Lanka in addressing the critical issues whilst the member of the Trans-national government went on to reflect the issue of right of self determination of the Tamil people.
There was demand from one leading speaker, for the External Affairs Minister Prof G L Peiris to meet the Diaspora Tamils in public forums like this meeting with the six parliamentarians. The Minister was criticised for scandalising the Diaspora Tamils without any engagement with them. The Minster was requested to listen to the Tamil views than to use of any future opportunities to lecture his views to the Diaspora.
One Tamil leader said that he was born in e South of Sri Lanka and would not speak Tamil when he was young, but his move to the north made him to engage in political campaign. As a pioneering activist, he now sees the guns have ceased to fire but the armoured cars are parked all over the Tamil areas and questioned as to how long it can continue and there will be a time soon such situation without political resolution will lead to further Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka.
Responding to this assertion, one delegate parliamentarian said he hoped such situation would not develop and asked the Diaspora to exercise patience.
Sri Lanka High Commission in London came under sharp criticism over its conduct of dilly dally dancing with the extremist Sinhalese in the UK. One member expressed his sheer frustration that the mission does not play its due role responsibly, instead has become a place for a few to ferment discontent.
The cross party parliamentary delegation members came under criticism for not campaigning on behalf the innocent Tamil victims of the war in the Sri Lanka parliament. They were criticised for being passive supporters of the hardcore elements running the governance in Sri Lanka. The delegation members were told that the judiciary is in a pathetic state as it lacks the much needed independence and is being heavily politicised.
Killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga and failure of the state to provide justice over his death was raised at the meeting.
One parliamentarian said corruption is a common phenomenon of South and South East Asia and Sri Lanka is not an exception. When he tried to promote Sri Lanka is a comparatively better country in the region on corruption, there was heavy booing and laughter from the audience and the parliamentarian too acknowledged it with a broad smile.
The delegation members assured that they will reflect the feelings of the Diaspora in the right manner when they return to Sri Lanka.