The Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) had its third birthday during the middle of this year. When ATC was formed as the first national and democratically elected Tamil organisation in 2009, there were doubts whether the concept would succeed, perhaps because of the perception that our community is not renowned for its unity on a sustained basis. Added to this, the question was the need for yet another organisation when so many Tamil organisations existed already. While there were many organisations functioning effectively in different states the need for a ‘nationwide’ and democratically elected organisation to represent Tamils was paramount. Such an organisation is critical if we are to succeed in building a large support base within the Australian Parliament, among eminent persons, media personnel and most important of them all, you, our members who continue to support our efforts through all adversities.
The goal of the Tamil community abroad is to bring peace and justice to our people we left behind in our homeland. They do not have the freedom or security to express their grievances to anyone who would listen and take appropriate actions to enable them to live the life any human being deserves. This puts the onus on the Diaspora to take a proactive role to fend for our kith and kin to achieve their right to coexist with other communities with dignity and total equality. This is not only our responsibility but it is our duty.
We are an ancient people with a very proud heritage and speak a language that is second to none. It is our right to demand for the right of self-determination and get it. Our efforts to reach this goal are being challenged by the frequent changing of our path because of the clever manipulation of the International Community (IC) by the Sri Lankan government. We need to work harder than before if justice is to prevail.
Even with the many obstacles put before us, we have made some advances, especially at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in March 2012 and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) meeting in Australia late last year. Media reporting on what really happened in 2009 has also been on the increase. When ATC was formed, we had access to a handful of politicians who were sympathetic to our cause. This was achieved through individual interactions and was state specific. Over the three years since our inception, we have built this number many fold. This is no mean achievement. On top of this, we have met many Ministers on numerous occasions; we now have ready access to various Government Departments; been instrumental in the submission of few motions in the Parliament; had many speeches made by Members of Parliament and Senators in the Parliament and are recognised by the media as trusted representatives of the Tamils in Australia.
Last year when the CHOGM meeting was held in Australia, through extensive planning and strong support through many sympathetic individuals and organisations, we canvassed strongly against the decision to hold the 2013 CHOGM in a state such as Sri Lanka, that continued to act against the spirit and letter of the fundamental principles of the Commonwealth and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as this would be a travesty of justice to thousands of victims in our homeland.
To support our call, we organised an international conference - “Human Rights and the Commonwealth of Nations” in Sydney and co-hosted it with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The conference was held at the ‘Sheraton on the Park’ hotel and was attended by several eminent delegates from Australia, Sri Lanka (representing Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim communities) and other countries including India, South Africa and Malaysia. Around 150 invited guests attended the day proceedings and more than 400 people participated in the public forum held in the evening. Excellent media coverage on crimes against humanity committed and continuing to be committed in Sri Lanka by its rulers attests to the great success achieved by this conference.
The members of ATC can take great pride in having been part of such a great international event. While we did not achieve the desired outcome of stopping Sri Lanka from holding CHOGM 2013, we did make great strides in advancing our cause. The silver lining from the conference was when the Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper walked out of the summit as President Rajapaksa was invited to speak. He followed this with a vow that he would not attend CHOGM 2013 if Sri Lanka did not improve its human rights record. Few days ago, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, has urged Canada to drop its threat to boycott the group’s summit in Sri Lanka next year. We must now work hard to get other countries, especially Australia, to adopt a position similar to that of Canada regarding next year’s CHOGM.
The Commonwealth of Nations in its charter claims to oppose all forms of colonial domination and racial oppression, and further states that it is committed to the principles of human dignity and equality. The declaration then stresses the use of all its efforts to foster human equality and dignity everywhere, and to further the principles of self-determination and nonracialism. The Secretary’s call simply highlights the hypocritical behaviour of majority of its members and demands the Diaspora to work even harder to bring justice and equality to Tamils living in the island of Sri Lanka.
On a positive note, amendments to a resolution (H. RES. 177) under consideration in the US House of Representatives, are urging for the establishment of an independent international accountability mechanism for the purpose of ensuring accountability for both sides of the conflict and to allow for genuine reconciliation.
Our immediate focus must be on the UNHRC session in Feb.-March 2013. During the March 2012 session, a resolution on Sri Lanka put forward by the US urged the Sri Lankan government to fulfil its legal obligations toward justice and accountability, and to expeditiously provide a comprehensive action plan to implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and also to address alleged violations of international law.
ATC welcomes the resolution, which offers a glimpse of hope for those badly affected by the conflict and gives a sense of believe that the International Community is finally taking some concrete steps to achieve long lasting peace in Sri Lanka. This has been a long wait for tens of thousands of people affected by the civil war. While many viewed the resolution as a watered down version of the initial submission, we must cast a positive outlook because at least a resolution was passed in our favour albeit a weakened one but brought usually non-committed India to support it. We thank the Australian government for supporting this resolution.
It is now our responsibility to make every effort with our global partners to influence an outcome from this resolution at the UNHRC session in March 2013, as Sri Lanka has not made any efforts to at least put some of the wrongs right. In fact, they have gone the other way and continuing with their well planned effort to severely weaken the cultural, political and social identity of the Tamils living in that country.
Not everything is doom and gloom. There are some positive signs surfacing from the International Community recently and we must embrace these opportunities. As the Diaspora, it is our solemn duty and responsibility to take our struggle to the next level. We must work with diversified global organisations that value human rights, abhors crimes against humanity and war crimes and believes in the equality of all people big and small.
We must also harness the support of other ethnic minority communities who are striving to achieve the same rights and fight alongside them to bring peace, justice and equality on this planet and the right of self-determination for all.
Once again I sincerely thank our members for their continued support to ATC through these difficult times and wish ATC continued success and conclude my message with a quote from Dr Martin Luther King Jr “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Dr. R. T. Rajeswaran,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for believing in our cause and supporting our efforts to achieve a free and fair environment for our kith and kin to live in peace and harmony in a place our ancestors have called home for thousands of years. I also want to thank you for having faith in the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) to work towards setting up a road map to achieve our goal. Without your continued support as a member none of what we have achieved would have been possible.
ATC was formed two years ago to follow a new approach to realise our inborn desire for equality, justice and the right for self-determination through a process of diplomatic and astute political maneuvers to influence the international community to help us to bring peace once again to the land we call home. It is unbelievable how little the makers and shakers of this world know of our ancient and proud culture and the land we lived in for thousands of years.
We started with a process of engaging with the politicians, policy makers and media in Australia, our adopted country, who possess the power to influence the world leaders. This was achieved through hosting forums in the Australian parliament, debates by sympathetic politicians in the parliament, tabling of motions, discussions at meetings of world organisations and the general public through the might of the pen and television. All this work has resulted in ATC being recognised as the voice of Tamils in Australia. We are credited with the distinction as a professional organisation by the politicians, eminent persons and the media alike and to this end our close involvement with the Global Tamil Forum has helped us immensely by not reinventing the wheel but to follow the paths that have been successful from a global perspective. What we have achieved so far is something we all should be very proud of but what we need to achieve going forward is a monumental task and will only materialise if all of us are truly committed to our cause and are willing to make some sacrifices for the good of others.
ATC, through the undying support of our members and a handful of dedicated and self-sacrificing people of all ages, has achieved a lot in the two years since its inception and I am truly proud to be entrusted with the responsibility at the helm considering the fact that most of you outside Western Australia knew nothing of me. I truly believe that most of us who reside in this country have been successful in what we set out to accomplish and in a position of strength and can provide a reason for hope of a brighter future to our compatriots we left behind. It is our duty to be generous and proactive and help our brethren who neither had the means nor the opportunities to achieve what all of us have been able to. They are in a very precarious situation of neither being able to provide for nor protect themselves without outside help and we, as the Diaspora, must play our part and must grasp with both hands as our solemn duty. We must help our own and not expect others to do it for us.
Reports from our strategic planning and public relations groups and other appointed officers of ATC provide details of the work we have been able to carry out in the areas of political awareness, issues relating to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The coming year is an important year for all of us. The recent screening of the Channel 4 documentary in the United Kingdom followed by the screening on ABC in Australia, and by Indian media, the motion passed in the Tamil Nadu state assembly have helped to change the tide in favour of our cause. This is an opportunity we cannot miss out on and must work even harder to steer our journey towards the right for self-determination for our people in the land of our ancestry. We as the Tamil Diaspora must embrace this window of opportunity and help those who cannot help themselves.
In conclusion, I am very pleased that we have made many strides towards laying a path to achieve the dreams of our people but I do wonder if we could have done more with a stronger participation and commitment from our people. To this end I sincerely request for more of our fellow Australians to become members and activists of ATC and give us the strength and the will to continue with our work to free our people and give them a life of freedom and opportunity that we all enjoy as a given right in this great country.
Dr. R. T. Rajeswaran,
I welcome all of you to our first Annual General Meeting and thank you all for joining the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) and giving your support in making it truly a national democratic organisation for Australian Tamils, a fete achieved for the first time in Australia.
We have only recently gone through a great trauma in our homeland losing so many lives of our brothers and sisters and leaving hundreds of thousands maimed, homeless and powerless. While our desire is to try to help them to relieve their pain and suffering urgently, it is our responsibility to bring immediate peace, freedom of movement, normalised living conditions, economic empowerment and self-determination achieved through short, mid and long term planning and actions. This needs to be achieved through creating support and understanding from the international community through political dialogue, diplomacy and most of all, unity among ourselves around the world. To reach our goals, we need a structured approach through organisations such as ATC in Australia, the British Tamil Forum (BTF) and the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), just to name a few. These are the aims and objectives of ATC and your continuous unwavering support is paramount in making this a successful journey.
The recent referendum on the Vaddukoddai Resolution (VKR) reminds us what the Diaspora’s aspirations are. ATC has been proactively involved in developing a structured approach through a blueprint to help achieve our goals through a systematic sequence of actions. To get there we need to be united and be aware that there is nothing on this earth that can be achieved without financial strength. Talk is cheap. I do realise that it is easier to get financial support from our community to carry out humanitarian projects to help our injured, elderly and most of all children and those who have lost the breadwinners in their families. Sending money to Sri Lanka will just keep propping up the government of Sri Lanka. What we must do is to keep up the pressure on the Government of Sri Lanka in order to make them listen to reason. Requests from the governments of United Kingdom, European Union, the United States of America and Canada are noteworthy and we welcome their efforts. To achieve something substantial, we must bring in India most definitely and China to a certain extent. We must also work with the Tamil and Muslim elected representatives in Sri Lanka and foster a strong relationship with our brethren in Tamil Nadu.
Our prime objective as members of ATC is to contribute to these international efforts through the lobbying of parliamentarians and raising the political awareness of the media and the public in general and simultaneously working with organisations such as the Global Tamil Forum (GTF). To this end we have achieved a lot during the past months following our official launch in August 2009. We have opened many doors we could not before. Many Australian parliamentarians know who we are and we have made tremendous inroads into the Australian media, as you would have seen quite a few good newspaper articles, radio and television programmes, supporting the Tamil cause and highlighting the injustices done to our brethren so openly with the tacit support of the international community.
These achievements did come at a cost. This was greatly achieved through the assistance of Public Relations professionals in Australia, a first for the Tamil community globally, and a lot of sweat and sacrifices from our members. This public relations venture cost us money but what this has brought us is immeasurable. I am so grateful to our community for being so generous by contributing more than half of the cost through a special fund and making this a reality. We set the scene and having seen our success, other organisations around the globe are taking a similar approach in a big way globally through the GTF.
Dear members, today you must all be so proud that you are taking part in this important occasion to hold our very first Annual General Meeting with nearly 1,500 proud members being part of our crusade and it is our dream that this number will increase to over 3,000 by the time we have our next AGM. The power to achieve anything politically and diplomatically lies with the number of members we can command and the financial support that brings with it. We have six chapters in Australia and we must endeavour to bring in Northern Territory and Tasmania.
Let us all drop our differences and work together to bring peace, dignity, freedom and the right to self-determination for our people in the island of Sri Lanka. They have suffered enough and should suffer no more and it is in our hands to deliver what they so desperately crave for.
Dr. R. T. Rajeswaran,