Tamil national parties demand UN to inquire into crime of genocide and set up IIIM

[TamilNet, Saturday, 16 January 2021, 11:03 GMT]
All the three alliances of the Eezham Tamil national political parties in the island have come together demanding the UN Human Rights system and the Member States of the UNHRC to inquire into the crime of genocide and raise unaddressed accountability issues to higher forums. A referral to the International Criminal Court and an evidence-gathering mechanism similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) established by the UN for Syria in 2016, were among the four main demands. The joint letter by the Tamil political parties and the Tamil civil society organisations on the ground including the families of the people subjected to enforced disappearances, also demands the President of the UNHRC to refer the matters on accountability back to the UN Secretary-General for action. They also want the OHCHR to monitor current human rights violations on the ground.

The move is a significant step as it becomes the direction-setter for the Tamil diaspora groups that have been waylaid by the “Core Group on Sri Lanka” establishment to focus on accountability for “atrocity crimes” without specific reference to genocide.

For the first time, the leading Tamil National Alliance (TNA) with ten parliamentarians led by R. Sampanthan and controlled by M.A. Sumanthiran, has joined Justice C.V. Wigneswaran-led Tamil Makkal Koottani (TMK), the next biggest alliance of Tamil national political parties with one parliamentary seat, and the Tamil National Peoples’ Front (TNPF) led by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam with two seats in demanding justice for genocide.

The letter also points out the urgency of addressing the deteriorating situation on the ground. It makes references to some of the ongoing acts of structural genocide, also noting “the denial of burial rights during COVID19 to our Muslim brethren and the denial of the right to memory.” The latter was very recently evidenced when Tamil genocide monument called Mu'l'livaaykkaal Monument in Jaffna University was demolished by SL state.

Sumanthiran, who has been reluctant to specifically demand investigations on genocide gave up his stance as majority of the parties involved in the process insisted on that.

At the same time, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, who was opposed to the idea of IIIM, needed edification on that point. As the Terms of Reference of the IIIM on Syria has a specific mandate to look into the crime of genocide, it sets a precedent for Eezham Tamils’ case in a judicial sense.

Similarly, Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, who had formulated demands including a referendum, agreed to compromise on that issue. It is a demand that could be dealt with in a different document.

However, the most serious lacunae in the document’s formulation seems to be treating genocide as part of the 2009 war rather than the said war being part of a protracted genocide.

The problem is caused by the drafters who were only focused on accommodating the changes into the original draft that was more orientated towards addressing the accountability issues on already identified crimes in the UN system.

One has to compare the 1985 Thimphu Principles and the agreed text in the letter to the UN to grasp the lack of terms and political clarity.

Despite the criticisms, the joint move by the parties is a direction-setter for global mobilization to address the crime genocide and other demands without delay.

Full text of the letter as provided to TamilNet by Subramanium Sivaharan, the convener of the meetings that led to the joint declaration, follow:

15 January 2021

Heads of Missions

Missions of the 47 Member States represented in the UN Human Rights Council

Your Excellencies,

Call for decisive action at the 46th Session of the UNHRC

We, the elected representatives of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, leaders of Tamil national political parties, members of the Tamil victim communities and Tamil civil society organizations write this letter in the lead up to the 46th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) when the situation in Sri Lanka is to be evaluated.

We note that within a week of the end of the armed ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, a joint communiqué by the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations was issued at the conclusion of UN Secretary-General’s visit to Sri Lanka on 23 May 2009 with the following:

“Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances”

Upon Sri Lanka failing to take meaningful steps to address the above commitments, the UN Secretary General appointed on 22 June 2010, a three-member panel to look into human rights and accountability issues during the final stages of the armed ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. This report of the Panel of Experts (POE) was handed over to the Secretary General in March 2011. Subsequently, the Secretary General referred the POE to the President of the UNHRC and the High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2011.

Thereafter, the UNHRC adopted Resolution 19/2 “Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka” in March 2012 and since then has been seized of the matter with several resolutions in March 2013 and March 2014. Subsequently, the Government of Sri Lanka co-sponsored Resolutions 30/1 (October 2015), 34/1 (March 2017) and 40/1 (March 2019).

Leaders across the political spectrum in Sri Lanka including from both the major political parties have categorically and without exception stated that they will protect the Sri Lankan armed forces from prosecutions. It is now time for Member States to acknowledge that there is no scope for a domestic process that can genuinely deal with accountability in Sri Lanka.

The continuing and intensifying oppression against the Tamils including militarisation, indefinite detention of political prisoners, land grab in the name of archaeological explorations, the denial of traditional, collective land rights like cattle grazing rights, intensifying surveillance of political and civil society activists, the denial of burial rights during COVID19 to our Muslim brethren and the denial of the right to memory underscore the urgency of addressing the deteriorating situation.

As the UNHRC meets in February and March 2021 to evaluate the Sri Lankan Government’s commitments under Resolution 40/1 and plan further action, we urge that member states categorically come to this conclusion by way of a final Resolution. The Resolution must declare that Sri Lanka has failed in its obligations to investigate allegations of violations committed during the armed ethnic conflict and atrocity crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In such a context the Resolution must acknowledge that there is no prospect for accountability in Sri Lanka by way of its own domestic mechanisms or through hybrid mechanisms.

We request the following:

  1. Member States urge in the new resolution that other organs of the United Nations including the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly take up the matter and take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms to inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  2. The President of the UNHRC refers matters on accountability in Sri Lanka back to the UN Secretary General for action as stated above.
  3. Member States to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for ongoing violations and have an OHCHR field presence in country.
  4. Without detracting from that which has been stated in point 1 above, take steps to establish an evidence gathering mechanism similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) in relation to Syria established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly with a strict time frame of twelve months duration.

We reiterate the need for concrete action with accountability and for the above the matter to be escalated to higher forums.

Thus, we urge Member States to take decisive and timely action to grant redress to the people who have been denied justice thus far.


  1. Hon. R. Sampanthan
    Member of Parliament
    Leader - Tamil National Alliance

  2. Hon. G. G. Ponnambalam
    Member of Parliament
    Leader - Tamil National People’s Front

  3. Hon. Justice C.V. Wigneswaran
    Member of Parliament
    Leader - Tamil Makkal Tesiya Kootani

  4. Rev.Fr. Leo Amstrong
    Tamil Heritage Forum, Mullaitivu

  5. Mr. Sabharathinam Sivayohanathan
    Eastern Province Civil Society Forum

  6. Mr. Rasalingham Vikneswaran
    President - Amparai Civil Society forum

  7. Mr. Amarasingham Gajenthiran
    General secretary - Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF)

  8. Ms. Yogarasa Kanagaranjini
    President - Association for Relatives of the Enforced Disappearances, North and East.

  9. Mr. Subramanium Sivaharan
    President - Tamil Thesiya Vaalvurimai Iyakkam (TTVI)

  10. Velan Swamikal
    Sivaguru Aatheenam

  11. Rt. Rev. Dr. C. Noel Emmanuel
    Bishop of Trincomalee

External Links:
IIIM on Syria: IIIM Syria: Terms of Reference



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