A meeting between the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and a group of Buddhist monks followed by the release of a document called the “Himalayan Declaration” aimed at what they call “advocates for a pluralistic Sri Lanka that actively promotes the well-being of all its communities” has been strongly denounced by the local Tamils and the Tamil diaspora from Australia to America.
The declaration was warmly received by President Ranil Wickremesinghe who met the GTF team and monks at the Presidential Secretariat.
Former president Mahinda Rajapaksa who led the war that ended with at least 40,000 civilian deaths and 20000 disappearances had also met the GTF-monk grouping.
Tamil party leaders have not minced any words in dismissing the said declaration as a sham that goes against the Tamil people’s aspirations and interests.
“Since independence, Buddhist clergies’ dominance in the political history, has been the predominant cause for repealing every pact signed between the Tamil and Sinhalese political leaders for reaching a solution to Tamil peoples’ fundamental issues” a strongly worded media release from six diaspora groups pointed out.
Released on behalf of the British Tamils Forum, Centre for Protection of Tamils based in France, Irish Tamils Forum, Solidarity Group for Peace and Justice-South Africa, Swiss Tamil Action Group and the Tamil Movement against Genocide in Mauritius the media statement dwells into the history of the conflict in Sri Lanka.
“The historical cycles of violence and genocide inflicted against Tamil people in the island have concrete evidence that the Sri Lankan state, regardless of who came to power to prove that the Sinhala state’s aim is to make the country a mono-ethnic, mono-lingual, and mono-religious Sinhala-Buddhist country”.
They have also alleged the meeting was politically motivated to deceive Tamil people and the international community and the whole process of this ‘declaration’ has been kept secretive without any consultation process.
“It is paramount that any declaration such as ‘Himalayan Declaration’ has been kept secret without any consultation process. It is paramount that any declaration such as the ‘Himalayan Declaration’ should have been consulted with the victims and brought to the public domain before the meeting. This did not occur” their statement further added.
Similar process by the GTF with the post-war governments earlier has failed miserably.
The latest venture has been the result of closed door meetings in Nagarkot hailed as the “top spot for enjoying Himalayan views”.
GTF Interacting with Buddhist monks in Nepal rather than the local Tamil people and their representatives has been severely decried by the Tamil political parties. Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) Leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam had declined a meeting sought by GTF spokesperson Suren Surendiran.
MP Ponnambalam’s response was shared in social media.
“Suren, There is nothing to talk about with you and the rest of your group. This government has been one of the most oppressive, if not the most oppressive, since the end of the war. Just two weeks ago during the great hero’s week it has unleashed the PTA on the people and are continuing arrests. You have chosen to whitewash it by engaging with it especially at a time when immense pressure should have been brought on it, and that too without consulting even one organization from the homeland. Your group has done enough over the years to undercut the Tamil people’s aspirations and interests. Your recent behavior has only shown nothing has changed”.
These six Tamil organizations have also said GTF’s meeting will provide President Ranil Wickremesinghe an opportunity to hoodwink the international community to sweep Tamil’s outcries under the carpet in the guise of success in talking with Tamil diaspora organizations and promote support for the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission model for the resolution internally.
While most of the diaspora organizations are spending their time, money, and efforts to establish accountability for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed on the Tamil people, the GTF is trying to jeopardize the Sri Lankan Accountability project being carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights they allege. “Historically Tamil people have lost hope in any of the internal processes to find a meaningful political solution.”
In a similar statement, yet another six diaspora Tamil organisations have said the GTF lacks credibility and significance. Signed by the Australian Tamil Congress, Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA), Ilankai Tamil Sangam USA, Tamil Americans United PAC, United States Tamil Action Group, and the World Thamil Organization USA in their media statement said GTF does not collectively represent their community.
“Since its formation in September 2009 in Paris, France, the majority of the original 14 countries/Tamil organizations, including 10 from Europe have dissociated from the GTF. Additionally, organizations such as the British Tamil Forum, Australian Tamil Congress, and United States Tamil Action Group (USTAG), have left the GTF. As a result, any outcomes from this engagement lack the support of the majority of the Tamil Diaspora and thus are of limited significance and credibility," the statement said.
The GTF was blacklisted in 2014 by the President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa. But after he lost power in the 2015 elections to his erstwhile colleague Maithripala Sirisena, it was removed from the blacklist by the new President.
However, it was banned again when ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected president only to be lifted by the current President Ranil Wickremesinghe in August 2022, stating it was found to be ‘no longer funding terrorist activities’.
On 08 December, President Ranil Wickremesinghe engaged in discussions with a diverse delegation representing the Global Tamil Forum and esteemed Buddhist monks.
“The handover of the joint Himalayan Declaration marks a significant step towards fostering dialogue and collaboration for a harmonious and inclusive Sri Lanka”, the President’s Media Division said.
Nevertheless, local media quote officials of the Ministry of Buddhasasana, Religious and Cultural Affairs saying no information has been received by them regarding the joint declaration by the GTF and the group of Buddhist monks.