Norwegian MP of Sri Lankan origin takes a courageous stand-By Shamindra Ferdinando
Newly elected Norwegian lawmaker of Sri Lankan origin Khamshajiny (Kamzy) Gunaratnam, in one sentence, denied any knowledge of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) intervention in Sri Lanka. Having declared her strong faith in ‘outside actors’ inquiring into war crimes accusations, Gunaratnam declared: “I haven’t followed that, so I cannot answer that. I’m sorry. Gunaratnam said so, in response to my former colleague Paneetha Ameresekere’s quite simple query as to what her position vis-a-vis UNHCR Resolution 46/1 was?
On behalf of Ameresekere, now with The Ceylon Today, that question was posed by Balasingam Yogarajah, who handled Gunaratnam’s Zoom media briefing on Sept 26. Yogarajah repeated the question twice so there cannot be any confusion.
Of several questions that had been emailed by Amarasekera to the MP as advised by the Norwegian embassy, Yogarajah asked two. In addition to the query on 46/1, Yogarajah repeated Ameresekere’s second question what lessons in respect of multiculturalism that Sri Lanka can learn from Norway? Gunaratnam briefly explained how people from about 10 different backgrounds, including her, had been elected to Parliament at the recently concluded general election. She made reference to a Somali being among the newly elected to the 169 member Norwegian Parliament. Kamzy Gunaratnam’s shocking declaration that she hadn’t been aware of the much touted Geneva process should be an eye opener to all those interested in genuine post-war reconciliation process.
The MP’s claim should be examined against the backdrop of 46/1 being the culmination of a process initiated on Oct 1, 2015. Norway backed that US-led initiative meant to haul up Sri Lanka before the hybrid judicial court.
Now, the UK is spearheading that project which received a further boost with 22 countries of the 47-member UNHRC voting for the resolution and 11 against in March this year. Fourteen countries, including India and Japan (both Quad members) skipped the vote on Sri Lanka. How can Gunaratnam be unaware of such a long high profile process if she is pushing for war crimes probe here with foreign intervention? Therefore, Gunaratnam’s claim is questionable to say the least.
The Zoom meet called by Gunaratnam drew altogether 36 journalists and other interested persons from various parts of the world. Harim Peiris, one-time spokesperson of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had been among those participants though he didn’t pose any questions.
The media should be grateful to the Norwegian embassy for informing Colombo based journalists of the interview, especially giving an opportunity to those genuinely interested in the issues at hand to submit their questions to the Norwegian Member of Parliament several days before the zoom event. Whatever the circumstances, Gunaratnam, by denying knowledge of 46/1 resolution clearly indicated that it hadn’t been discussed therein, at least in her Labour Party.
Amarasekera must have been quite surprised by Gunaratnam’s reaction to his first question. The writer was simply flabbergasted by Gunaratnam’s genuine or feigned ignorance.
How can she be unaware of 46/1, it so strongly underscored the accountability process.
Having declared at the onset of her statement that she followed the war in Sri Lanka and the subsequent escalation finally leading to the conclusion of the armed conflict in 2009, Gunaratnam emphasised that there wouldn’t be any room for reconciliation unless Sri Lanka let someone independent from the international community to investigate war crimes.
“War must be investigated before you talk about reconciliation. It is about closure. Everyone wants closure. And it is about openness. And yes, it is about openness and transparency and those two key words are most important …So, when it comes to reconciliation, I think that the Sri Lankan government have to let in independent actors to investigate war crimes.
Gunaratnam’s comment on the critical importance of external intervention is quite contrary to her claimed ignorance of the 46/1 adopted by the UNHRC at its March 2021 session. Gunaratnam’s unawareness of the Geneva process certainly reflected very badly on her political party, the Labour as well as the entire Norwegian political setup. Having invested so much on disastrous Sri Lanka peace mission, her not knowing accountability resolutions pertaining to the country of her birth cannot be believed under any circumstances.
In the midst of a massacre
Gunaratnam had been a 23-year-old member of the Labour party’s youth wing when she joined a summer camp on Utoya Island in late July 2011. Having arrived in Norway at the age of three with her parents, Gunaratnam had been quite an active member of the youth branch. However, she may not have received the opportunity to move up the political ladder quickly if she hadn’t joined the summer camp. That is the undeniable truth. Right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who infiltrated the Labour party youth camp on Utoya Island, opened fire, killing 69. It was the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in modern history. Breivik killed eight others in a car bomb that targeted a government building complex in central Oslo close to the Norwegian Parliament.
As Breivik attacked what the Norwegian media called workers’ youth league camp, Gunaratnam had swum across 500 metres of the Tyrifjorden Lake to escape the carnage.
The Norwegian media quoted Gunaratnam as having said: Eventually, I decided I would rather drown than be shot. The Oslo massacre obviously gave a mega boost to Gunaratnam’s political career. She received the prestigious post of Deputy Mayor, Oslo, in the third week of Oct, 2105, at the age of 27. That is certainly a significant achievement. Having secured a second term in late Oct 2019, Gunaratnam quickly advanced to the next phase of her continuing high profile rise, a parliamentary role. As expected Gunaratnam entered parliament as a member of the ruling coalition at the Sept 13, 2021 general election. Jonas Gahr Støre’s Labour Party brought an end to the centre-right government’s eight-year rule under Prime Minister Erna Solberg to an end.
Breivik made references to the LTTE’s eviction of Muslims from the North in the 1990 in his so-called ‘manifesto.’ There had been two references (i) Pro-Sri Lanka (supports the deportation of all Muslims from Sri Lanka) on page 1235 (ii) Fourth Generation War is normally characterised by a “stateless” entity fighting a state or regime. Fighting can be physically such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to use a modern example (Page 1479)
Several Labour Youth League members, who survived the July 2011 Oslo massacre entered Parliament at subsequent elections. The writer submitted several questions to Gunaratnam though facilitator Balasingam Yogarajah raised only one.
The writer submitted the following questions to Gunaratnam as advised by the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo:
(A) Before your entry into Norwegian Parliament this year, how many of those who had escaped Anders Breivik’s rampage in June 2011 entered Parliament in 2013 and four years later? (1) In addition to you, did any other survivors enter Parliament this year?
Gunaratnam responded that one entered Parliament in 2013, two in 2017 and six this year. (However, a section of the international media, including Reuters reported that four young Norwegian Labour Party members who survived Breivik’s rampage were elected to Parliament at the 2013 election. They were among 33 Labour Party candidates in the parliamentary election who had escaped Breivik’s bullets. The Reuters story was based on information provided by Anne Odden, spokeswoman for the party’s Parliamentary group. Perhaps, Gunaratnam should re-check numbers elected from her party.
(B) When did you reach Norway, what was your age? Please name family members who accompanied you? When did Norway grant your family political asylum and Norwegian citizenship? What was your hometown in the Jaffna peninsula?
According to reports your parents as soon as they arrived in Norway had worked as fishers in a northern town, but later settled down in Oslo. So how did they get so much help and how did they manage without knowing much English?
You have graduated from Norwegian local politics to the country’s national stage. What made you choose politics as a vocation?
(C) Why did the family leave Sri Lanka? Did Sri Lanka Army (SLA) kill family members? Did SLA harass the family? Did any family member die fighting for the LTTE or any other group trained by India? Did any members of your family or relatives perish during IPKF operations?)
(D) Did your family leave Sri Lanka by boat to India and then fly to Norway? Or left the country on fraudulent travel documents or did the Norwegian Embassy issue necessary travel documents required by your family to reach the final destination?
(E) During your political career did you study the role played by Norway in Sri Lanka? Do you still believe Norway can assist Sri Lanka in addressing post-war reconciliation issues?
(F) Will you be interested in visiting Sri Lanka to see the ground situation? And finally
(G) How many Norwegian passport holders of Sri Lankan origin are there as at 2021?
During the 90-minute meet, the writer, through Balasingam Yogarajah asked Gunaratnam when did she reach Norway. She said 1991. The MP didn’t respond to emails requesting her to reveal the month of their arrival in Norway. She had been born on March 27, 1988 during the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka’s northern and eastern provinces. The Gunaratnams fled the country after the Indian withdrawal in March 1990.
A Norwegian suicide bomber of Somali origin
MP Gunaratnam, during Sunday, September, 26 zoom meet, made reference to the election of a Norwegian of Somali origin along with nine others. It would be pertinent to examine the danger in granting citizenship to unknown foreigners without proper vetting.
Let me remind the readers of the case of a Norwegian of Somali origin carrying out a suicide mission in early 2014. Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab in March 2014 identified the suicide car bomber, Abdullahi Ahmed Abdulle, who carried out an attack on a hotel at Buulo Burde, in Southern Somalia, as a Norwegian of Somali origin.
The AFP, in a Mogadishu datelined story, quoted Al Shabaab military spokesman, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Abu Musab, as having said: The attacker of Buulo Burde was a 60-year-old man who came from Norway to fight the enemies of Allah. He paid the sacrifice in order to be close to Allah by killing his enemies. The violent incident is showing us that there is no age limit for Jihadists.
Al Shabaab mounted a car bomb attack in response to a large scale military operation launched by the African Union forces.
The Norwegian of Somali origin was perhaps the oldest person to carry out a suicide mission. Did Norway examine how the Shabaab terrorist entered Norway, secured citizenship and subsequently returned to Somalia to launch a suicide mission on March 18, 2014? Did the Norwegian Foreign Service help the Al Shabaab terrorist leave Somalia clandestinely? Sri Lanka should study such cases. Did Norway provide Al Shabaab killer political asylum? Had he been involved in terrorism or engaged in such related activities in Somalia at the time he entered Norway?
Commonwealth member Kenya, too, had been threatened by foreign terrorists of Kenyan origin. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan government never realised the need to examine such threats faced by other countries.
Sri Lanka should be concerned about the Western world accommodating its citizens. New Zealand recently admitted that Ahamed Adil Mohamed Samsudeen, who was shot dead by police after stabbing seven people in an Auckland shopping mall, had been on a terror watch list and was under surveillance. Having entered New Zealand on a student visa in 2011, Samsudeen had received refugee status two years later. Subsequently, the youth from Kattankudy, the hometown of the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim, attracted the attention of New Zealand security authorities. However, the New Zealand judicial system prevented Samsudeen from being deported on the basis he faced threats in Sri Lanka.
The then Sri Lankan Ambassador in Myanmar Prof. Nalin de Silva questioned the rationale in New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern naming the ISIS inspired terrorist as a Sri Lankan instead of as a person accepted as a refugee in her country nearly a decade ago. Samsudeen migrated to New Zealand after having been a student in a Colombo school.
A subsequent incident revealed the New Zealand mindset. New Zealand had no qualms in providing political asylum to another Sri Lankan (a Sinhalese) wanted in connection with the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. On the basis of reportage of the issue at hand, New Zealand accepted the suspect, who had claimed he hadn’t been aware of the Easter Sunday perpetrators though he facilitated the transfer of funds to them from abroad. United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet who commented on the Easter Sunday carnage at her latest oral update on Sri Lanka last month should look into New Zealand’s response to terrorism.
Sri Lanka lacked the political will to take up these issues with powerful Western governments. How many Sri Lankans received foreign passports and new identities over the years? How many members of the proscribed LTTE received foreign citizenship? A significant number of Sri Lankans categorised as ‘missing’ or ‘disappeared’ sought by the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) can be among those carrying new foreign passports.
Take the case of Khamshajiny Gunaratnam aka Kamzy, now a Norwegian lawmaker. What is the status of Gunaratnam family in Sri Lanka? Had they been accommodated on some missing persons list? Categorised among the so called disappeared? However, Gunaratnam should earn the respect of all for her fearless and courageous stand on Sri Lanka. Having paid a glowing tribute to the Tamil community in Norway, Gunaratnam didn’t mince her words when she underscored her position. She declared: “….do not represent the Tamil Diaspora but Norwegian Parliament.” Gunaratnam’s stand should be appreciated.
Gunaratnam’s response to Deputy Editor of the Daily Mirror Kelum Bandara, too, underscored her readiness to take a principled stand on contentious issues. Asked whether she believed in a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka, Gunaratnam responded: “I do not understand why people asked us. I’m a Norwegian citizen. I have to run to another country with my father to start a new life. We should not have an opinion about how Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims live. It is their decision. They should make the decision.”
Gunaratnam however reiterated her commitment for a greater partnership and also investigations into alleged war crimes.
A substantial number of Sri Lankans, including members of the LTTE had received Norwegian citizenship, hence the freedom to travel in Europe, as well as the Scandinavian region, without any hassle. Had some of them given new identities or in special cases changed ethnicity? Although Sri Lanka summoned the then Norwegian ambassador, Hilde Haraldstad, over a secret project to help Sri Lankans leave the country, Sri Lanka never really pursued the case. The then Foreign Secretary, the late Karunathilake Amunugama, raised the issue on behalf of External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris (Helping 12 persons out of Sri Lanka: Government summons Norwegian envoy-The Island March 20, 2011).
Denying any wrongdoing on Norway’s part, Haraldstad insisted she was not at liberty to discuss individual cases. The External Affairs Ministry never pursued the clandestine Norwegian project thereafter, though Norway brazenly played politics with Sri Lanka.
A section of the Norwegian media exposed the clandestine Norwegian project. The revelation was made by the Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten, regarding the Norwegian diplomatic mission in Colombo buying air tickets for 12 would-be Sri Lankan asylum seekers deemed to be at risk in Sri Lanka. Aftenposten quoted one-time Norwegian peace envoy in Sri Lanka, Erik Solheim, as having endorsed the project undertaken by the Norwegian diplomatic staff in Colombo. Solheim also accused Sri Lanka of ex-judicial measures, including killings during the last phase of the conflict. Ambassador Haraldsrad said that she couldn’t confirm the figure given by Aftenposten with regard to the number of Sri Lankans given political asylum in Norway. Although the number of Norwegians of Sri Lankan origin is relatively smaller when compared with communities in Canada or the UK, the Norwegian grouping is one of the most influential among pro-separatist expatriate groups.