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We Are Not Terrorists “ Anandi Saseetharan

2014 Feb 24

By Easwaran Rutnam

Northern Provincial Council member Anandi Saseetharan, wife of former LTTE Trincomalee District political head S. Elilan, has been very active on the human rights issue ahead of the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva. Saseetharan visited Geneva recently to draw attention to, what she says are the concerns of Tamils in the North.

Saseetharan has, meanwhile, come under criticism by the Government for her actions, with some even saying she, together with a few others in the Northern Provincial Council, do not fall short of being anything other than LTTE members. Saseetharan speaks to The Sunday Leader on her human rights campaign.

Q:  You were in Geneva recently after the Northern Provincial Council passed a resolution deciding to send you ahead of the March session of the UN Human Rights Council. Who did you meet and what message did you convey?
 A: I met several diplomats, human rights activists and representatives from member countries of the UN Human Rights Council. I would not like to mention the names of those I met for security reasons. I spoke to them about the final stages of the war. I briefed them on the issues faced by the Tamils in the North, particularly women.

I myself am a victim of the war. I don’t know where my husband is and I continue to look for him. I told them about this. I even told them how many people surrendered to the military during the final stages of the war and have not been heard of.

There is no list on those missing either so most missing people are not listed as missing.

Q:  What kind of response did you get from the people you met in Geneva? What was their view? Do they firmly believe there needs to be an international investigation in Sri Lanka?
A: Yes most diplomats and human rights activists I spoke to felt there is no alternative but to have an international human rights investigation in Sri Lanka. They felt the Government has said a lot but done very little. They know that the Government is not going to address the issues at hand. They understand what is going on and what needs to be done.

Q: In a speech made at the Northern Provincial Council this week you had alleged that women are still facing issues in Jaffna. Can you elaborate on your allegations?
A: Just before we won the Northern elections our main focus was on issues directly related to the war. We were looking at how those issues can be resolved.

But now there are other issues which can be resolved by the authorities. These are issues facing society. They are not directly connected to the war. For example I have received complaints by women who have been sexually abused in order to receive a promotion or a transfer. Some women go willingly and there is nothing we can do about that.

But there are others who are forced to do things they don’t want to do in order to get what they want. Even in the University we hear of students being abused by lecturers. They are facing a dire situation with nowhere to go. In Kilinochchi there was an incident where a pregnant lady asked for a transfer and her head had told her to get physical with him for her to get the transfer. She was in shock and had even carried out an abortion out of fear she may lose her job. This incident has been recorded officially.

Q: So did you raise this issue as well when you went to Geneva?
A: No I didn’t. This is a social issue. When we are talking of war crimes we cannot discuss this as well. But I have discussed this with international women’s rights groups.

Q: On the disappearance issue, the Presidential Commission on disappearances has conducted hearings in the North and has now even received a six month extension to their mandate. Do you not feel there is some progress taking place on this issue?
A: Not at all. We see this as a mere drama. We don’t expect anything concrete from this process. I had given evidence before the Commission as well and I saw how the people handling the Commission behaved. They did not show any respect to the public. So the people were scared.

Some people were asked if they are relatives or members of the LTTE. That is not the way to handle a sensitive issue. The people had meanwhile clearly said the army took their relatives who are now missing. Some people had even mentioned names of the soldiers. This is a complex issue and you cannot give 10 minutes for a person to make a statement to the Commission.

Q: All this publicity you are getting through your activism seems to be working against you. You have been effectively branded an LTTE member. How do you expect to be heard as a credible voice?
A: I am not an LTTE member and nor are members in the Northern Provincial Council. We have legitimate concerns which we are trying to raise and we hope even the Sinhalese people will hear us.

The Sinhalese are not our enemies. There are those who understand what we are going through. It is a shame however that some people brand us as LTTE just because we are raising concerns over issues which directly affect us and the Tamil community.

 

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