MoU neglects Muslim concerns says Kadirgamar
[October 22, 2003 - 10.30 GMT]

Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, in parliament yesterday said Muslim representation at peace talks was essential for a successful ‘homegrown’ solution to Sri Lanka’s decades old ethnic conflict. He was speaking during an adjournment motion debate on a separate Muslim delegation at peace talks.

Kadirgamar said that at the signing of the MoU between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, Muslim concerns had not been looked into. He warned, “…to have one community in a permanent state of insecurity is highly dangerous for the maintenance of laws and order at the national level. It destabilizes the entire Sri Lankan community”.

[Full Speech]

Mr. Speaker,

This is an important debate.

I am speaking today on behalf of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. We wish to place before the House eleven considerations, which we believe, are relevant to the issue before us. 

  1. The first consideration is that a durable peace can come only if the just aspirations of all communities in the country are met.    Unless the Muslim interests are taken into account and accommodated there is no prospect whatsoever of a durable peace.  We agree fully with the observation recently made in Colombo by the Indian Minister of External Affairs that the final solution to the ethnic problem must be “home-grown”.  Indeed, it cannot truly be homegrown unless all the communities are involved in promoting the solution – and the Muslim community is most certainly one of them. 

  1. The second consideration is that at the signing of the MOU Muslim concerns were not looked into.  The Muslim community in the East is very seriously affected by the consequences of the CFA particularly by the lawless behaviour that is going on, much of it directed against the Muslim community under cover of the ceasefire. 

  1. Thirdly, one of the many fundamental flaws in the CFA, and there are many, was that at the outset the Government of the day either did not consult the SLMC which is a part of the Government or the SLMC did not press their case for consultation at that time.  In fact it was stated by an SLMC leader that the best thing that happened to the Muslim community was the CFA.  Now it is clear that the picture is very different because events are showing that the CFA is not providing any kind of protective shield for the Muslim community in the Eastern Province.  In fact the CFA has placed the Muslim community at a disadvantage – a position that they did not suffer before the CFA.  In other words the CFA has been used not to protect the Muslim community but in fact to expose them further to the marauding ambitions of the LTTE.   

  1. The fourth consideration is that it is inadequate to approach this matter from the point of view of the so-called rights of the ethnic Tamil community alone.  The Muslim dimension is something else, it is different, because there is a religious bond that holds the Muslim community cohesively together. The Muslims are not a linguistic community. Their aspirations are different from those of the ethnic Tamil community.  By catering to the linguistic aspirations of the ethnic Tamil community, we are not dealing with the concerns of the Muslim community. There is a misperception that this conflict merely involves two ethnic communities – the Tamil people and the Sinhala people.  While it may be possible to look at the CFA in that light because the CFA involves a cessation of hostilities between an armed Tamil group and the Government of Sri Lanka, the CFA does nothing to solve the problems of the Muslim people. These problems can only be resolved by adopting a political approach that goes beyond the CFA and in that process it is very necessary, indeed indispensable, that the voice of the Muslim people be heard. 

  1. The fifth consideration is that there are a number of events, which are occurring in the East, which directly affect the Muslim people.  Muslim villages are being threatened, the Muslims have a very clear sense of insecurity and this is leading to unrest among the Muslim youth in those areas who simply cannot understand, and rightly cannot understand, why the Government is not taking their concerns seriously.  They have the feeling that they are being left to the grace and favour or the mercy of the LTTE, which as we all know is a heavily armed organization with a record of atrocities against the Muslim community.

  1. The sixth consideration is that If this state of affairs is allowed to continue unchecked we will have another looming problem of immense magnitude  - that is, the possibility of Muslim youth taking to arms.  I ask everybody to reflect for a moment seriously about the enormous and far-reaching ramifications of such a situation, both domestically and internationally.  On the domestic side to have one community in a permanent state of insecurity is highly dangerous for the maintenance of law and order at the national level.  It destabilizes the entire Sri Lankan community.  The possibility of disaffection here attracting the attention, as it undoubtedly will some day, if this state of affairs is allowed to continue, of predominantly Muslim countries elsewhere who will surely not allow their brothers and sisters here to be left disregarded and even undefended, is extremely alarming.  We will then have to face a situation where another dimension of our political problem will become internationalized. There is presently serious doubt as to the wisdom of the degree of internationalization that we are already seeing in the negotiations themselves.  But the emergence of this new dimension would create a series of consequences that could make the Eastern Province a powder keg.   

  1. The seventh consideration is that It is common knowledge that when the Muslims who lived in the Northern Province for more than a century were summarily evicted from their traditional habitation by the LTTE, and were rendered displaced overnight, they lost their homes and their livelihoods.  Up to date, 13 years later, those unfortunate people remain displaced with a very grim future ahead of them.  This is another reason why it is imperative that the voice of the Muslim community should be heard on behalf of their displaced people at the negotiating table itself, so that meaningful arrangements could be made, backed by political will on the part of the Government and the LTTE, to redress their grievances without delay.  The emphasis that is being placed on the plight of the Tamil displaced persons, serious as their plight is, unfairly places the problems of the displaced Muslims in an inferior position.  This kind of discrimination is grossly unfair.  It should not  be tolerated either at home or by the international community.

  1. The eighth consideration is that on the 13th of April 2002 after a meeting between the SLMC leader and the LTTE leader there appears to have been an understanding that the SLMC would lead a Muslim delegation to the talks.  As of today nothing has come of that understanding and this is perhaps due to the ambivalence of the situation of the SLMC as to whether it can viably be a part of the Government delegation and at the same time represent Muslim interests.  As far as the Muslim community is concerned it appears that the community is not satisfied with the SLMC leader seeking to represent Muslim interests in any other capacity. They wish to be represented clearly and solely on the basis of their own interests whether or not those interests converge with the interests of the Government and the LTTE, and that is what they are asking for.  They are asking for an independent place at the negotiations. That request is eminently reasonable and justified.  At the moment the negotiations are scheduled between the Government and the LTTE.  This itself is a flawed situation because the process is exclusive; it is not an expansive process that takes into account the aspirations of all the communities of the country.  It is a highly restricted process. Therefore, the Muslim community as one of the communities directly affected in the North and East by a final political outcome seeks to be represented independently as a third party to the negotiations which are supposed to lead to an overall political solution.  There cannot be a viable final and durable political solution to the problem unless the Muslim community is heard and accommodated in its own right and not by proxy. 

  1. The ninth consideration is that the Muslim community who are most directly affected by the ongoing situation must be able to choose the composition of their delegation and the line of representations that they wish to advance. That is a matter for the Muslim community to decide among themselves. There should not be dictation or manipulation by other parties with regard to the composition of the delegation and the position that they might wish to take.

10.The tenth consideration is this.  It seems that the leader of the SLMC has found that it has not been possible for him to make his case within the Government delegation.  He has not been able to carry the Government with him in presenting the case of the Muslim community and therefore it appears that he now seeks a wider mandate from the most appropriate forum of all - that is Parliament.  The North East Muslim Parliamentarian Forum has discussed this matter and they have motivated this motion and they stand united on this question.  Therefore, this debate is to be welcomed because that is the way national issues of this kind should be dealt with, not secretly as a result of an arrangement between two parties.  This is the way major national issues should be taken up in the highest public forum of the land where the representatives of the people could speak freely and openly.  Therefore this debate is to be welcomed and it was wise of the North East Muslim Parliamentarians to ask for this debate.

11.Finally, I wish to refer to the position taken by the international community on the question of Muslim representation at the talks.  In the Tokyo Declaration of 10th June 2003 it was stated that “the conference emphasizes the importance of taking full account of the delicate ethnic and geographical balance in the North and East”.  It was further stated that the international community remains committed to human rights protection.  The conference also urged the parties to move “expeditiously to a lasting and equitable political settlement based upon respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law”.  It also looked forward to an early agreement being reached on the human rights declaration.  It paragraph 18 it was emphasized that assistance by the donor community must be closely linked to substantial and parallel progress in the peace process subject to compliance with certain clearly stated guidelines.  Those included full compliance with the ceasefire agreement by both parties, participation of a Muslim delegation as agreed in the declaration of the fourth session of peace talks in Thailand, parallel progress towards a final political settlement, solutions for those displaced due to the armed conflict, effective promotion and protection of the human rights of all people, the cessation of underage recruitment and agreement by the parties on a phased, balanced and verifiable de-escalation, demilitarization and normalization process at an appropriate time in the context of arriving at a political settlement.  Thus, it is very clear that the 51 States and 22 international organizations represented at Tokyo firmly endorsed the participation of a Muslim delegation at the talks in the context of preserving the delicate and ethnic geographical balance, in the name of promoting and protecting human rights for all the people and the concerns of all persons displaced due to the armed conflict.  Thus, the intrinsic merits, at a political level, of the Muslim case for participation in the talks have been considerably reinforced by a large segment of global opinion.  The Government must now clearly indicate without any hesitation whatsoever that it is prepared to stand by the Tokyo Declaration, and it must indicate without any ambivalence that it has the political will to support that Declaration.  The Sri Lanka Freedom Party has no hesitation whatsoever in endorsing what we consider to be the just claim of the Muslims to be separately represented at the ongoing talks in order to place their case fully with a view to achieving a final political solution, which is to their satisfaction.  This is their right.  They cannot be denied that right.  Before I close I wish to pay a special tribute, on behalf of the SLFP, to the late Mr. Ashraff – a farsighted leader of his own community who was also a leader of great national stature.  His loss is deeply felt by all of us who had the privilege of working with him.

 

 

 

 

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Last Updated Date: October 22, 2003  -10.30 GMT.

 


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