Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Fate of MOUs and Pacts

Daily Mirror editorial, January 20, 2007

Since there is no legal binding for the parties to stick to the terms of these agreements, the parties are free to abandon their moral obligations with impunity. It is important, therefore, to incorporate sound legal provisions in the documents they sign. The courts will then be able to ensure the implementation of these agreements.

Whatever the things this country is lacking in, it is becoming increasingly rich in MoU s. The newest additions in the making are, the ones to be signed between the rebel UNP group and the SLMC with the government. Those signed between the government andthe LTTE, between the PA and the JVP and between the SLFP and the UNP, are either completely kaput or being consigned to the limbo of forgotten things. New agreements are proceeded with despite the deplorable fate befallen the MoUs signed earlier.

Attempts at mutual understanding among groups holding different points of view on various issues that these exercises denote, are indeed welcome in the present context of acute misunderstanding contributing to the present confusion that prevents the country from marching forward. “Misunderstanding is the deepest source of all calamity in history, for where we do not understand we can never be just,” Rabindranath Tagore has said.

Statue of SJV Chelvanayagam in Vavuniya [photo courtesy TamilNet, March 31, 2006]

Statue of SJV Chelvanayagam in Vavuniya [photo courtesy TamilNet, March 31, 2006]

Unfortunately, memoranda of understanding signed in this country have, more often than not, led to greater misunderstanding among parties and final parting of ways. Before MoUs came into vogue in this country, it was ‘pacts’ signed between parties that characterized their political relations. Among these agreements were the two famous ones, Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact and the Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact. Both these pacts came under heavy fire from the opposition parties and finally were rendered inoperative.

The abrogation of the B-C Pact was effected under tragic and exciting circumstances. One unforgettable event during this period was the veteran politician S.D.Bandaranaayake’s act of lying on the road at Imbulgoda thus blocking the UNP march led by J.R.Jayewardene to Dalada Maligawa in protest against the pact. The unilateral abrogation of the Pact by Bandaranaike symbolized by tearing the document into pieces before the protesting Sangha finally led to ugly and tragic communal riots of 1958.

The Dudley-Chelvanayagam Pact was also characterized by tragic events. When Dudley Senanayake as Prime Minister of the seven-party government of 1965, presented in parliament the regulations to give effect to provisions of the Reasonable Use of Tamil Act, then Opposition led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike opposed it. In a protest demonstration they went before the statue of Vihara Maha Devi and vowed to prevent the betrayal of the majority community rights by giving a place to the Tamil language. The march to parliament on that day was interrupted by the police at Kollupitiya where a shooting took place killing Dambarawe Rathanasara Thera.

Such is the record of MoUs and pacts in this country. Why do these agreements entered into with great enthusiasm and fanfare end up in this fashion? Among the main reasons, obviously, is lack of honesty and courage on the part of the signatories. More often than not, these MoUs are signed to achieve narrow and selfish ends. After entering into such agreements and having realized the immediate objectives, the parties show lack of courage and determination to honour in full the terms of agreements particularly when confronted with opposition from hostile parties. They apparently feel no compunction about going back on the agreements they had entered into.

Since there is no legal binding for the parties to stick to the terms of these agreements, the parties are free to abandon their moral obligations with impunity. It is important, therefore, to incorporate sound legal provisions in the documents they sign. The courts will then be able to ensure the implementation of these agreements.

Much fear is now being expressed about the Ceasefire Agreement signed by the government and the LTTE in February 2002. These sections probably fear that this agreement would become irrevocable after the completion of five years since it came into operation. These fears, however, seem unfounded, particularly in view of the degradation, handicaps and numerous violations this CFA suffered from the inception. The CFA, in any event, is now under challenge in the Court of Appeal. After submissions on preliminary objections, the court has now reserved order for 6th of March.