Sathivel: “Only a Constitution will unite people.”
Sathivel, Secretary for the National Organisation for the Release of Political Prisoners says that reconciliation has not happened yet.
Rev. Fr. Marimthu Sathivel, Secretary for the National Organisation for the Release of Political Prisoners argues that in order for reconciliation to work, conflicts amongst ethnic groups have to be eliminated. This, he says, can only happen by making changes to the Constitution. In an interview with The Catamaran, Sathivel broke down his plan for a functional reconciliation. Sathivel has been criticised for being aligned with the former Tigers and he says this criticism is a sign of the discord that still exists amongst ethnic groups.
Marimthu Sathivel, how do you define reconciliation?
Reconciliation should be political, economical and cultural. Reconciliation is a guarantee for future protection in these areas. It should reach all the people.
What should be the basis for reconciliation? How should it begin?
I have already mentioned that reconciliation should be politically inclined. But as far as Sri Lankan politics is concerned, it is racialist and fundamentalist. Even the economy is built on religious and racial lines. As a result, the majority race benefits and the minorities suffer. It is evident that a trend to ostracise the Tamils and the Tamil speaking people has been prevalent for a long time. To bring about a change in this ostracising, it should come from the government. It should be in the Constitution. Therefore, the underlying quality of reconciliation lies on the political constitution.
What do you mean by political change?
In the Constitution passed in 1972, Articles included in a way to subjugate the Tamils, especially by making Buddhism the state religion. Other than this, the 13th Amendment is not for the Tamils only it is for the entire nation. So, only a constitutional change will unite people.
Many say reconciliation must evolve from the people?
In reality, the dominance of Buddhism is high in the country, in the North Buddhist Vihares are constructed at unnecessary places; Sinhalese colonization in Tamil areas. The people will assimilate the changes, when the government understands that the North and East belong to the Tamils, the hill country is a region when the Upcountry Tamils live and the majority ethnic group lives in the rest of the country. At first dominance should be resolved by the government. So it is the foundation on which reconciliation could be built.
Yet the government has accelerated various actions to create reconciliation. Especially in the North and East, including with resettlement, the government is implementing many progressive schemes. Even then criticism against the government continues?
Reconciliation? Where? The North and East are under military control. The army is engaged in civil administration. So, it is a military rule. The government has to make its decisions only after consulting the army. Without withdrawing the army from there and establishing the civil administration, it is useless talking about reconciliation.
The constitution itself is an impairment. There prevails a democratic culture that raises it hands accepting black as white when asked to do so. We will not agree with the way the Courts of Law, the Judges and the Attorney General’s Department are functioning. The partiality in the judiciary results in the burial of reconciliation, not only between the Tamils ad Sinhalese, but with the other ethnicities, too. Partiality is show in court proceedings. The system of Executive Presidency is a hindrance to reconciliation.
A Permanent Office, to search for Missing Persons has been set up and matters related to this are in progress. What is your view about this situation?
There is a problem in the name of the office itself. Our request is for an office “for those who had gone missing arbitrarily.” But this office is looking for those “who have gone missing.” How could justice be done to those persons who have gone missing arbitrarily in this situation? The President says he is not ready to bring any army personnel before the law. However, the international community says the army is involved in the arbitrary missing of persons. My stance is also the same. Hence, a question arises regarding the purpose for which this office was established. This is just an eye wash. How can you expect justice for those who have gone missing arbitrarily for political reasons?
Religious and racial violence has not ceased in the country. Do you think there will be an end for this?
As Sri Lanka is concerned, the ruling parties always need an opposition. Since 2009, the South thinks that it has devastated the Tamils politically and economically. So, the next move is to let loose violence against the Muslims. The violence against the Tamils is political and the violence against the Muslims is economical and it is continuing. Sometimes it may worsen. In the meantime, the two organisations Siva Sena and Bodu Bala Sena have met for discussions. It may not be surprising if these two fundamentalist groups instigate violence against the Christians. The Bodu Bala Sena has already mentioned that Christians are the cause of the problems in the country. The Siva Sena Movement promulgates that this country belongs to the Buddhists and Hindus. The Law as well as the government do not pay any attention to this. Under the circumstances, how can you eliminate this?
What do mean by saying economic violence against the Muslims?
Including the capital city and in many areas the Muslims are flourishing in business activities. So, it is the intention of the Bodu Bala Sena and other organisations to ruin them. Some famous garment shops were attacked in the past. There are so many examples.
At the same time, under the leadership of former President Chandrika, an action group for reconciliation was formed and their work is in progress. What is your opinion or evaluation about this?
This is not going to last long. This is only an action programme. Behind this programme there are big investments. Money from other nations, including America is helping them. So far no foundation has been laid for real reconciliation. The former President has no powers. She is given only an assignment. That is all. Reconciliation cannot be made by this.
Is the criticism directed at you for being in the frontline for the release of the prisoners involve you with the Liberation Tigers?
It is an expression of how they look at those who favour the Sinhalese as patriots and those who favour the Tamils as traitors in Sri Lanka. The issue regarding political prisoners is something related to politics and rights of Tamils. My plea is for the release of political prisoners. There are also Sinhalese and Up-country Tamils amongst them. But it is only that most of them are from the North and East. Therefore, if the real situation is understood there is no room for criticism.