And their existence in Sri Lanka
by Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [Lond.] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Tamils have been inhabiting Sri Lanka for more than 2500 years with ‘Saivaism’ [Hinduism] also existing ‘Centuries before the arrival of Vijaya in BC 547” as stated by Paul Peiris in his book [Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna 1917-1919]
The Sinhalese race and language which evolved in full form during the 6th century assumed the majority position in the Southern parts of Ceylon [Sri Lanka]. The Tamils with ‘Saivaism’ inhabited the North, North West and Eastern parts of the island.
The British rule which commenced in AD 1796 ended the Tamils’ Kingdoms and self-rule when all provinces were brought under one central rule in and from Colombo. This administrative step heralded the beginning of the deprivation of equal rights to Tamils, while the independence to Ceylon in 1948 heralded the process of Sinhalisation and Buddhisisation to discriminate, marginalize and subjugate the Tamils to ultimately result in extinction through the process of GENOCIDE including structural GENOCIDE, which was set in motion from 1948 by the then Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake who initiated this process of Sinhalisation and Buddhisisation.
Structural GENOCIDE involves the destroying of a community’s language, religion and sites, culture, traditions, distortion of history, erasing historical and cultural sites, landmarks, involuntary settlement of Sinhalese in Tamils’ habitual lands, erection of Buddah Statutes and building of Buddhist Viharas in Tamil areas where few or no Buddhists live, discrimination in state employment, employment of Sinhalese employees and Officers in Government Offices in North and East of Sri Lanka [Tamils traditional and historical homeland] creating communication gap in communication with ordinary Tamil citizens, deliberate neglect of economy and infrastructure in the North and East when budgeting the allocations for development projects.
Coupled with this form of STRUCTURAL GENOCIDE, GENOCIDE in the form of killings of Tamil civilians was also set in motion from 1956. The security forces comprising 98% Sinhalese carried out the GENOCIDE with no fear of prosecution and punishment as confirmed by the UNHRC, Human Rights Groups and other International bodies. The culture of impunity is embedded and ingrained in the law enforcement organs including judicial system. One has to search for the number of security force members convicted for the crimes committed against the Tamils for the pogroms in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1981, 1983 and from 2006-2009 and the 164 massacres committed during the last 70 years , the Kumudini Boat Massacre of Tamil passengers in Delft in 1975 is just one example. The other instances are massacre of five Tamils high school students, the burning of Jaffna library [Best library in South East Asia at that time with oldest collection of rare ola writing] in 1961 in the presence of the Government Ministers – [The Government later accepted and apologised], Killings of 17 Tamil Employees of the French NGO Action Against Hunger [ACF] who were shot dead at close range in the city of Muttur near Trincomalee, and many other massacres still not fully investigated and none punished.
To accelerate the process of decimation of Tamils, the South political parties, politicians and Buddhist Clergy have embraced their electoral fortunes with one out beating the other targeting the votes of Sinhalese at the expense of Tamils. The five destructive weapons employed by them are communalism, chauvinism, racism, regionalism and nationalism implying supremacism. These destructive weapons were efficiently and effectively employed by the Sinhala leaders who also reaped successful political careers by becoming Prime Ministers and Presidents of Sri Lanka, namely S.W.R.D. Bandaranayaka, J.R. Jayawardene, D. B Wijeyatunga. Mahinda Rajapakshe assisted by other hard core communal minded politicians like K.M.P Rajaratne, Cyril Mathew, H. Mettananda and now Gnanasara Thero . SWRD Bandaranayaka came to power with the slogan of making Sinhalese Language as the only official language within 24 Hours and his party won the election in 1956.
J.R. Jayawardene while the pogrom against the Tamils in July 1983 was ongoing said in an interview with Ian Ward of Daily Telegraph on July 26, 1983.
“I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people ..now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion…the more you put pressure in the North, the happier the Sinhalese people will be here…really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhalese people will be happier”.
The Maha Sanga not to be outdone, spearheaded the supremacy of Buddhism to establish a Buddhist Sinhalese Sri Lankan State. Now it has assumed the king making political force effectively issuing warnings and political instructions to rulers and opposition leaders. It is no secret that political decisions concerning Tamils have to be placed before them for their approval. Even recently the Mahanayakas have expressed their objections to the proposed new constitution by stating ”It is not necessary and the present constitution can continue.”
Currently a violent campaign of hostility and violent campaign is underway led by Monk Gnanasara Thero who has also formed his own political party BODU BALA SENA all in violation of the teachings of Lord Buddha who preached non-violence, peace and compassion.
It is to be noted that during the period of general elections, the two major political parties [UNP & SLFP] were clinging on to coined slogans like J.R. Jayawardene’s “Dharmista” rule, Chandrika Bandaranayake’s “One Nation One People”
The said slogans only produced pogroms and untold sufferings and miseries to Tamils while the present ‘YAHALPANAYA’ or GOOD GOVERNANCE slogan of Maithiripala Srisena and Ranil Wickremasinghe has become farcical and meaningless for most and more particularly for the Tamils as a whole.
The current situation of Tamils in the North and East can be summarized as follows:-
- Demographic changes in the North and East are continuing in an accelerated tempo. For instance Vavuniya North is experiencing Sinhalese settlers from Matara and Hambantota. Mahaeli Development Board is also actively assisting settlers from South by destroying forests under a scheme called “Sampath Nuwara”
- Implementation of Tamil language by the Government in the North and East, as an Official Language is ignored/or discarded.
3. Sinhala Officers and Employees are still sent to fill vacancies in the North and East Government Offices with 90%, of Sinhalese Police Officers manning the Police Stations in the North [It is to be noted that hundreds of Tamil Graduates were on hunger strike in the North & East demanding employment.]
- Employment of Tamils in the Government Sector is below par due to discrimination being the guiding factor.
- Release of lands belonging to civilians is at snail’s pace and half-heartedly implemented due to the continuing protests on streets by the people at irregular intervals with no firm commitment of withdrawal by the Government. United Nations and International Community have urged Sri Lanka to expedite the release of lands, but Sri Lanka is adamant against it.
- Permanent presence of Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces among civilians is almost guaranteed enabling them to continue their commercial and farming activities like running restaurants, hotels, guest houses and doing large scale farming from the lands grabbed and marketing the products which have completely destroyed the farmers only livelihood thus creating unemployment and frustration among the unemployed youths. Perhaps Sri Lankan government could be holding unique notoriety by allowing the Security forces to engage on business activities in the land seized from the civilians who are now customers among the others.
- Development schemes in the North and East and relief to Tamils are unequal and discriminatory when compared with plans and assistance to those in the south.
- Free reign for security forces in pursuance of the culture of impunity.
In this respect, The call of Justice C. V.Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of Northern Province Sri Lanka:- urging United Nations Members involvement to ensure accountability through Universal Jurisdiction and other avenues is timely and more than justified.
Finally it should be noted that he openly blamed the Sri Lankan Government as follows:-
“Those in the highest echelons of power have been heard to say that they will not allow even a single Sinhalese soldier to go to jail. Does that mean criminality depends on one’s race and community?”
He further stated;
“We have no paucity for Sinhala politicians who consider any offence committed against the Tamils by a Soldier is no offence at all,” he pointed out
Currently Mahinda Rajapakshe former President, Maithirapala Srisena current President and Ranil Wickremasinghe current Prime Minister are competing with each other as to who will score the highest marks in protecting the Security Forces from any internal or external investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by them as exposed, evidenced and confirmed by UNHRC and other International Human Rights Groups and Organizations.
With General and Provincial elections due in the beginning of 2020, the south parties and leaders are concentrating on the election strategies which undoubtedly will focus on Buddhism and nationalism, but also interspersed with hollow promises to Tamil voters on occasions when they conduct election meetings in the North and East, like the fate of promises relating release of lands and Tamil political prisoners made by the Prime Minister and President which were meant for instant consumption suiting the occasions.
It need not be recounted and retold as to the bitter experiences of Tamils in the hands of successive Sri Lankan Governments and the stage has come to say that ‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’. There is an urgent need and necessity for UNITED NATIONS AND INTERTNATIONAL COMMUNITY’S intervention to dispense justice and enforce accountability, along with a permanent, just political settlement to stop the crumbling existence of Tamils and to ensure their permanent existence.
Some of the following recent statements made by the leaders in the south fully reinforce the deserving request of Tamils for UNITED NATIONS AND INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY’S active role and intervention.
[a] United National Party Minister Navin Dissanayake in an interview in April 2018 stated “UNP is finding to obtain Sinhala Buddhist votes. It is therefore essential to workout action plans to get these votes by aligning with Sinhala Buddhist Organizations and Sinhala Buddhists.”
[b] United National Party MP, Ruwan Wijewardene, On May 02, 2018, during a committee meeting of UNP “recommended the strengthening of Sinhala-Buddhist base of the UNP and towards the end a strong leadership with a Sinhala –Buddhist base should be created.”
[c] President Maithiripala Sirisena in his message on May 18, 2018 expressed deep gratitude to all Sri Lankan war heroes on the National War Heroes Commemoration Day.
He also stated earlier that “Our security forces have been not accused of war crimes in the Resolutions of HNHRC as certain media and extremist parties falsely depict” .
It is to be noted that Maithiripala Sirisena earlier promised and agreed “To commemorate the day as a day of remembrance for all those killed in the war”.
With no prospect for an independent investigation and nil statistical information as to the missing, killed, abducted and/or detained, the Tamil victims are left in the lurch to seek alternate sources to obtain justice.
The Government has clearly set out its goals and has embarked on the agenda of concentrating to capture the Sinhala-Buddhist votes effectively excluding Sinhala Christians, Hindus and Muslims while sweeping their grievances under the carpet.
However, the International Community and foreign dignitaries have now come out with statements finding fault with Sri Lankan Government’s lethargic attitude and deliberate ploys to delay, deny and devalue the recommendations of UNHRC in its Resolution on 30-01-2015 [30/1]
Some of the following statements of foreign dignitaries are pointing fingers of accusations towards Sri Lanka.
Canadian Prime Minister Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
has called upon Sri Lanka “To formulate a time bound strategy to implement UNHRC’s Resolutions.”
Right Honourable Stephen Timms MP, UK Parliament stated on 18-05-2018 “Britain should be leading efforts to secure the International involvement in the reconciliation process and maintain unrelenting pressure until the commitments made are fulfilled.”
Sir Ed Davey, LDP MP on 18-5-2018 stated that “Sri Lanka committed genocide against Tamils which was committed in stages over a period of time”.
Honourable John Mann MP, UK 18-5-2018 stated that “It is shameful that UK is no longer leading the way in the fight for justice. International Community must deliver now.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: His Excellency Zeid Raad Al-Hussein lamented “An age when US and other world powers are retreating from their historical commitments to human rights.”
In his latest report to UNHRC in March 2018, he called on countries to explore other avenues to hold Sri Lanka accountable for its crimes including Universal Jurisdiction”.
Honourable Marsuky Darusman United Nations Special Rapporteur commented in his article published in April 2018 in New York Times saying that “International Community must not neglect or ignore the crimes committed against the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
United Kingdom’s shadow Chancellor and Exchequer John Macdonald on 18-5-2018 called for “The breaking of all diplomatic links as talking to Sri Lanka is not working. We should isolate them diplomatically and economically. If that means imposing economic sanctions then so be it.”
United Kingdom’s Labour Party Leader Honourable Jeremy Corby on May 2018 said that “If we cannot act to impose economic sanctions now on Sri Lanka, shame on us. He also promised to include the issues of Tamils in his party’s election manifesto during the next general election .He also “Emphasized the right of Tamils to decide their own future”.
Honourable Paul Scully – Labour Party MP On April 14, 2018 stated that “There has been no progress in bringing those who were responsible for mass atrocities towards the end of the war to justice. “
The US State Department 2017 Report on Democracy has commented the following “Attacks on minorities continue unabated, Buddhist shrines being built in the North and East by military and Buddhist Groups where few Sinhalese reside”. In its last year Report, it mentioned the perception of “Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialisms by Civil Society”. Now there is admission and confirmation by United Nations, International Community and political leaders abroad that Sri Lankan Governments have ignored, discarded and even defied the United Nations and UNHRC’S recommendations and pleas of affected victims. Instead Sri Lanka is overtly and covertly executing its own agenda of Buddhisiation and Sinhalisiation brushing aside international and internal concerns and protests.
International Community has finally woken up to the realities and also has realized Sri Lanka’s delaying, dodging and defying the commitments made to UNHRC, employing hollow tactics of empty promises and relying on passage of time to make those commitments dissipate to lose their compelling strength and binding effect including vigilance of United Nations and International Community.
International Community is at last seized with grim realities facing the Tamils in Sri Lanka and what is required now are positive ground actions through diplomatic, political, economic and military measures to ensure justice, accountability and above all halt the progressive and ultimate extinction of Tamils through assimilation and structural genocide.
What was said by Tamil National Alliance [TNA] Leader Honourable Sampanthan in 2009 IS THE NEED OF THE HOUR TO BE UNDERTAKEN BY UNITED NATIONS AND INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.
‘WE DO NOT WANT JUST STATEMENTS OF CONDEMNATION AND PLEDGES WITHOUT ANY ACTION’.
THE CRIES OF TAMILS FOR JUSTICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY DESERVED TO BE HEARD BY THE UNITED NATIONS AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY WHO ARE DUTY BOUND TO REACT AND RESPOND AS PART OF THEIR OBLIGATIONS UNDER INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAWS.