Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council (NPC) on Tuesday passed a strongly worded resolution accusing successive governments in the island nation of committing ‘genocide’ against Tamils.
The resolution moved by Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran sought to give “an overview of the evidence demonstrating successive Sri Lankan governments’ genocide against Tamils” and appealed to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to probe the claim and recommend appropriate prosecution.
The resolution does not seem to have gone down well among the Colombo leadership, given that it has been engaging extensively with different countries, hoping to mobilise international support ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.
Terming the resolution an “extremist position,” Health Minister and Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said President Maithripala Sirisena had promised to initiate an internationally approved, domestic inquiry process. “This is a period of reconciliation, and both sides should engage constructively, rejecting extremism,” he told The Hindu.
The 11-page document details different episodes of violence and oppression in Sri Lankan history — from the time of the country’s controversial Sinhala Only Act of 1956 — terming them “genocidal” acts targeting Tamils over the years, culminating in the brutal final phase of the war that, according to U.N. estimates, claimed 40,000 civilian lives.
While the NPC may be justified in raising concern over alleged war crimes, “they cannot call it genocide,” Mr. Senaratne said. “Choosing confrontational ways will hamper forward movement on the issue.”
When contacted, the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe declined comment. The NPC resolution comes a month after Mr. Sirisena assumed office, following his victory in the January 8 elections.
‘A challenge to moral integrity of Sinhalese majority’ Mr. Wigneswaran said that it should not be considered an epistle only to the international community, but a challenge to the moral integrity and humaneness of the Sinhalese majority, whom he called his “brothers and sisters.”
In January 2014, when the NPC passed a resolution calling for an international probe into Sri Lanka’s rights record, it was Mr. Wigneswaran who insisted that the word “genocide” be dropped, observing it had a very specific meaning legally and hence had to be used with caution.
Northern Province Council member M.K. Shivajilingam of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), who had earlier proposed the resolution, said the Chief Minister had decided to move it after carefully studying various incidents over the years.
The TNA, while pledging its support to Mr. Sirisena’s candidacy in the elections, said former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had not kept his promises on reconciliation. The northern Tamils voted in large numbers, a majority of them for Mr. Sirisena.
The TNA welcomed some of the early initiatives the new government, when it appointed a seasoned diplomat as governor to the north and also replaced a controversial chief secretary who had been on a collision course with Mr. Wigneswaran. However, a month later, the NPC grew sceptical, particularly after the “reluctance on the part of the new leaders,” including Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to de-militarise the north, said Mr. Shivajilingam.
“The TNA has urged the U.S. to take a strong position on Sri Lanka at the upcoming Human Rights Council session in Geneva,” he told The Hindu . TNA leaders briefed U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Biswal, who was recently in Colombo.
The development also points to apparent differences within the main political party representing the island’s northern Tamils. Some members of the TNA took serious objection to their Leader R. Sampanthan and parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran attending the country’s Independence Day ceremony in Colombo on February 4 and called for disciplinary action. At that time, Chief Minister Mr. Wigneswaran said he would attend Independence Day celebrations only after the country’s Tamils got freedom.