Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) leader M Karunanidhi seems to have quietly acquiesced to New Delhi’s pressure to shift the focus of his widely publicised “Eelam Tamils’ Rights Protection Conference” on August 12 from ‘Tamil Eelam’ to ‘Eelam Tamil.’ The exercise was more than semantics; except for two – Thol Thirumavalavan of the Viduthalai Chiruthai Katchi (VCK) and Veeramani of the Dravida Kazagham (DK) – other mainline speakers hardly made a reference to an independent Tamil Eelam. Even Thiruma’s speech was mostly devoted to redeem Karunanidhi’s reputation damaged during the Eelam War-4.
Apart from representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, delegates from a number of European countries, Australia and Mozambique, Sweden, Nigeria were also present. Some of the overseas speakers (i.e. representatives from Sweden and Malaysia) devoted most of the speech to praise the ‘Kalaignar’ (artiste) Karunanidhi. However, Dr Wickramabahu Karunaratne, the firebrand leftist leader from Sri Lanka, did not disappoint the participants; he came out hammer and tongs at the callous attitude of Sri Lanka in handling Tamils in the postwar period. Abdul Razak Momoh, member of Nigerian parliament, raised the question “If UN sanctions can be imposed on Iran for taking a nuclear route, why can’t they be imposed on Sri Lanka for indulging in human rights violations?”
India – Sri Lanka Relations
At a preliminary meeting organised at a city hotel before the conference, Karunanidhi said the long-term solution to ensure the rights of Tamils was a political one, which had been discussed and debated for long. The medium term solution involved reconstruction of infrastructural and civic facilities in Tamil-majority areas in north and east to ensure a decent living for the people including the right to property, education, employment and other democratic rights. An immediate solution was to be found for resettlement, relief and rehabilitation for the war affected Tamils.
Though the 14 resolutions passed at the conference (given in annexure) cover the long, medium and short term issues, they lack logical coherence and continuity. No effort appears to have been made to structure or prioritise them to monitor action on them in a time bound manner. Broadly the resolutions seek action from either the UN or India on the following aspects:
4 Those relating to protecting the concept of Tamil nation, identity, language and culture; restoration of democratic rights denied to Tamils; removal of Sinhala settlements in Tamil areas leading to deprivation of opportunities for Tamils; Sinhala exploitation of natural resources in Tamil areas; and on improvement of quality of life of Tamils.
4 Those relating to war crimes and violation of human rights by Sri Lanka and seeking the withdrawal of Sri Lanka army from Tamil areas.
4 Other issues relating to India – status of Sri Lanka Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, fishermen issue, restoration of Katchaitivu to India and Indian assistance to rebuild Tamil lives shattered by war. The resolution added as a tailpiece condemning the All India Anna DMK (AIADMK) for its ‘hostility to Sri Lanka Tamils and their problems’ is totally out of place. It confirmed that AIADMK-bashing was a subsidiary agenda of the conference.
It is evident that Diaspora Tamil interest groups have played an important role in shaping the resolutions. For instance, the Global Tamil Forum has been demanding the appointment of an international committee on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council to go into the war crimes allegations and punish those found guilty. Sri Lanka Tamil leaders and civil society have also raised many of the issues contained in the resolutions on the floor of Sri Lanka parliament as well as in public forums.
The objective of the DMK in rallying India’s solidarity to the Diaspora Tamil campaign against Rajapaksa and taking Sri Lanka to task for the plight of Tamils in post-war period was only partly served as major political parties from India and Sri Lanka had avoided it. The political polemics over the theme of the conference was probably the reason for this.
Thus the conference missed a good opportunity to provide in-depth analyses of problems and come up with original ideas on resolving them. It also did not recommend best options for producing the long, medium and immediate results that would impact Sri Lanka Tamils. As a result, the conference has provided only limited value addition.
The resolutions asked ‘the international community’, Government of India or the UN, ignoring the responsibility of primary stakeholders – Sri Lanka government, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim population and political parties – to find solutions to their problems. This marginalises the efforts of Tamil leaders locked in eye-ball to eye-ball political confrontation in the island.
So it is not surprising the resolutions provide no out of the box ideas to break the political impasse in the reconciliation process. Thus they are likely to appeal to the converted, which was apparently the limited purpose of the conference. No wonder the conference evoked only lukewarm response the conference both in the media (which had Olympic Games as priority No 1 on August 12) and among Tamils everywhere.