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Profound experience of attending Tamil Genocide Remembrance in Vanni: Bremen Tribunal Judge

[TamilNet, Saturday, 25 May 2019, 18:06 GMT]
Colombian theologist Rev Fr Javier Giraldo Moreno was visiting the island this month taking part in the tenth Tamil Genocide Remembrance event, which was held at Mu'l'livaaykkaal in Vanni on 18 May. Fr Javier Giraldo was one of the eleven judges of the Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT) which found the unitary state of Sri Lanka guilty of the crime of genocide in the hearings held in Bremen, Germany in January 2014. Before leaving the island, Fr Giraldo addressed journalists at a press conference held at Jaffna Press Club on 20 May, and he was responding to four specific questions. Re-examining Norway-facilitated 2002 peace process was necessary to advance the struggle for the rights of the Tamils, he said. Furthermore, the leaders of all religions should get together to counter the divide-and-rule tactics of the SL government, especially after the Easter attacks, the Catholic priest said.

Fr Javier Giraldo said he had a profound experience by taking part in the commemoration event at Mu'l'livaaykkaal.

He also said the religious communities should form councils of religious leaders to safeguard the people from falling prey to divide and conquer tactics, especially after the Easter attacks. It is a second chance for all the communities to realise that Easter attacks were a consequence of the oppressive paradigm, which was sustained through waging genocide on Tamils.

It is the first time a PPT judge from Bremen panel visiting the island after the Dublin (2010) and Bremen (2014) tribunals.

In addition to the ruling on genocide, the Bremen Tribunal had also found that the acts of genocide against the Eezham Tamils were ongoing in the island even after 2009.

The judgement by the PPT also upheld the Eezham Tamil identity.

The panel of the PPT judges also made a set of recommendations. One of such proposals was about universalising the marking of the Mu'l'livaaykkaal Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.

In its verdict, the Breman Tribunal invited “worldwide civil society and governments to commemorate the victims of the genocide that took place in Sri Lanka and acknowledge the anguish and trauma of the victims and their families by marking 18 May as Mullivaikkal Commemoration Day.” The call has gained momentum as witnessed in the global markings from Latin America to East Asia in recent years.

The first question posed to the PPT judge was on the failure of the UN, which avoided to look at the allegations of the crime of genocide and limited its scope to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has not used the term genocide in its analyses of the war against the Tamils, he said attributing the failure to the workings of the alliance-politics of the member states influencing the Council.

The UNHRC failed to analyse the situation as genocide. The move ended up as supporting the politics of the Sri Lankan government in practice, Javier Giraldo said.

It was also unfortunate that certain left-oriented countries in Latin America also fell prey to the alliance-politics, the Colombian theologist observed.

However, the PPT Tribunal found a clear case of genocide in the island according to the UN adopted definition originating from Raphael Lemkin from Poland in analysing the war against the Tamils, he said.

The vice-president of the PPT was making particular reference to the negation of the identity of a people and the act of oppressor imposing their identity on to the victim community in the case of Eezham Tamils as confirming to the inseparable characteristics in the definition of the genocide. The PPT found evidence to this effect, he reiterated.

There was also evidence amounting to the same effect among the evidence material in possession of the United Nations, and it will be a lengthy process to mount international investigations on genocide, he observed.

How could Tamils, as a nation without a state in the contemporary world order, expect justice from the UN without a state to back them and what should Tamils be doing to garner such support, was the next question from TamilNet.

It is true that the Tamil people don't have a state and one could see that most of the decisions taken after independence did not even comply with the rights guaranteed to the minorities in the UN framework, he observed.

The fight for the rights of the Tamil people is, therefore, a prolonged and difficult one. However, it is a legitimate one, and many international solidarity organisations support it, he said.

In this context, one could also re-examine the peace process between the Tamils and the Government of Sri Lanka, which started in 2002 with the support of Norway and other countries, Fr Giraldo observed. There were also accepted propositions of autonomy, and Spanish model was considered during the talks. By revisiting that process, one should be able to find ways to advance the fight for the rights of the Tamil people, he said.

The third question was about his comments on communities in the island being set against each other in a religious context and what the people on the ground should be doing to avoid getting dragged into the trap.

During the conflict, the SL Government was using the tactic of dividing the communities. The same trend is also witnessed very well after the Easter Sunday attacks, he observed. In particular, a tendency aimed at creating divisions between the Muslims and the Christians in particular as well as between the Muslims and all other religions on the island.

The religious communities should consider forming councils consisting of all religious leaders to analyze exercises aimed at causing divisions and counter the agenda, he proposed. This is the moment for the people to prove that they would not succumb to the designs of creating divisions.

One could also analyse the Easter attack as a consequence of the oppressive paradigm sustained through the negation of the rights of the Tamil people. It could be a second chance for the communities to review the policies of the past, he said.

The fourth question was seeking his comments on Colombo's suppression of Tamils honouring their war dead, particularly the Tamil fighters who sacrificed their lives. What could be done at the international arena to overcome this challenge, Fr Giraldo was asked.

It is a big and fundamental violation of the rights of the Tamil people to commemorate their war-dead. The negation also shows the power of the Sinhala people over the Tamil people, he said.

“We had a profound experience at the commemoration of the tenth year at Mu'l'ivaaykkaal this year. That was not the end date of the Tamil genocide.”

The tenth commemoration also showed that the Tamil people were firm in their continued journey in establishing their rights. It is also a form of resistance from the grassroots of the people against the conquest, he said.

Fr Javier Giraldo belongs to the Society of Jesus, which is a Roman Catholic order of priests. The Jesuit priest is mainly known for his work with poor, marginalised communities, including indigenous, black and poor farmers, as well as with social movements in Colombia and Latin America.

He was the secretary to the continent-wide Permanent Peoples Tribunal, which recorded testimonies from the victims of dictatorship across Latin America in the 1980s.

Fr Giraldo then set up the Nunca Mas (Never Again) project recording human rights abuses in Colombia in the 1990s, and has since assisted CINEP the Catholic Centre for Research and Popular Education in organising and training for a permanent database.

He served as secretary to the Permanent Peoples Tribunal on Multinational Corporations and Human Rights in Colombia in 2008, and in recent years he has accompanied peace communities seeking to live free of all forms of violence.

As a leading scholar in his field, Giraldo was invited as one of the historical experts to the peace talks between the government and the FARC in 2015.



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