Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sovereignty, Nationality and Citizenship

by Shan Srivastava

The Sinhala concept of Sri Lankan nationality is identical with Sinhala ethnicity.  Sri Lanka is verily Sinhalanka.  When the Sinhala leaders talk about national sovereignty, they mean the Sinhala nation's sovereignty... The Sri Lankan government similarly has to dance to the tune of the IMF.  Mr Rajapakse had to write a pathetic letter to Mr Bush to plead with him about the threat of the Millennium Challenge Account Funding being withheld.  A man's home may be his castle, but he cannot violently abuse the family and expect the community to let him get away with it. 

In historical times sovereignty, for better or for worse, belonged solely to the sovereign - the king or queen.  In a free country, in modern times, sovereignty is firmly vested in its citizens, collectively.  There are perhaps very few other countries in the world which make as much noise about national sovereignty as Sri Lanka does.  Its Sinhala rulers are as sensitive about it as a balding man is about his hair.  They are whistling in the dark.  

As can be expected, Sri Lanka lacks most of the characteristics that one attributes to a sovereign country.  Its laws do not reach into nearly one third of the country and, even where its writ is presumed to run, the laws are scarcely respected inside the country.  Since the leaders are corrupt and incompetent, the people would want to claim back the sovereignty that was inveigled from them. 

In particular, the Tamils of the island have repudiated any presumption by the Sinhala leaders that the Tamils' collective sovereignty had been given away to the Sinhala leaders; the vast majority of them did not even take part in the sham ritual called "elections" in the island of Sri Lanka.

Since it is recognized that the citizens hold the sovereignty attributed to the nation and it is they who are deemed to exercise it, the strong implication is that persons entrusted with authority, directly or indirectly, need to be citizens, too.  This is especially so when it concerns individuals holding high offices of extensive authority; it is a sine qua non when these involve national security or when the officer represents the nation's affairs vis a vis other countries.  It is not just a question of desirability or undesirability of non-citizens holding positions of great authority but also, it reflects badly on the governance, the citizenry and the political leadership of the country. It is undesirable chiefly because a non-citizen need not have any loyalty to the country where he is holding a high office; in fact it may even be prohibited according to the laws of the country of which he is currently a national.  He is there for the money and/or power. 

The cases in point are Gotabaya Rajapakse, who is the Defence Secretary, and Kohona, the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  They are citizens of the US and Australia, respectively.  Morally and legally their loyalties belong to the countries of which they are citizens.  In fact, they have taken an oath of loyalty to the respective nations, which loyalty transcends any other, both legally and morally.  Even recognizing there is precious little morality about these two officers, they are still legally bound by the laws of their respective countries.

The implicit reasoning of the Sinhala south is that since both these officers are Sinhalese, their loyalties will be to the Sinhalese vis a vis the Tamils and, as long as this condition is met, their nationalities do not matter.  Moreover, Gotabaya and Basil Rajapakse (who is a permanent resident of the US and is thus subject to the laws of the US) are members of the president's family (like at least 37 other holders of high office) and, therefore, their loyalties are unquestionably to the president, vis a vis the nation.  These loyalties are building a firewall against any checks and balances preventing the concentration of power within a family.  Serious abuses of power are thus facilitated, protected and guaranteed.

The need to employ non-citizens in highly sensitive and very powerful positions reflects badly on the citizenry, as it is an apparent repudiation of the skill and ability of the citizenry.  When a country has to rely on non-citizens to perform duties highly relevant to security and international relations, not only are the citizens devalued, but also their legitimate and necessary roles are denied and deprived.  It makes a mockery of the ideals embedded in the concept of nationality and trashes the pride felt in citizenship.  It seems to validate the idea that a political leader can run the affairs of the people who elected him/her almost entirely with foreign nationals at the highest levels. The political leadership of the "Sinhalanka," particularly those enjoying the spoils of power, has almost totally acquiesced in this illegitimate precedent-setting flouting of international norms, and this time this flouting of norms is not just the killing of Tamils and/or seriously violating their human rights; this is to do with the concept of Sri Lankan nationality and the rights, duties and privileges of its citizens. 

I cannot recall even the opposition parties seriously questioning the constitutionality or the propriety of these appointments or even thinking aloud about the problematic nature of these precedents for Sri Lanka's future if and when another leader makes appointments of foreign nationals or, hypothetically, runs the entire administration with foreigners. Even the jingoistic JVP (Jingoistic Vituperative Party?) has not thought it fit to challenge these appointments on the question of nationality.

The explanation for all these is simple. The Sinhala concept of Sri Lankan nationality is identical with Sinhala ethnicity.  Sri Lanka is verily Sinhalanka.  When the Sinhala leaders talk about national sovereignty, they mean the Sinhala nation's sovereignty; to them it means only Sinhala power, the power to do whatever they want to do with the people of the island in their own ethnic interest.  Thus, a Sinhala non-national has more rights, has more power, than - it goes without saying - any non-Sinhala citizen of the island.

Sovereignty does not mean just power, albeit internally, and never meant absolute abusive power over the citizens.  Sovereignty entails great responsibility and responsible behavior.  When a country is recognized as sovereign by the international community, non-interference in its internal affairs has been accepted as a fundamental right, though this is not an absolute, god-given imperative.  Depending on the nature of the governance and the quality of leadership, this right has been often violated.  Some world powers, such as the United States, look upon the sovereignty of smaller nations as a privilege and violate it if it is in their own national interests.  Aside from these deliberate violations, the concept of sovereignty and the international laws regarding it are also evolving, particularly through the mediation of the United Nations and through interactions within the international community and its institutions.

Sri Lanka is heavily dependent on the international community not only for the hand-outs it relies upon, but also for the conduct of its war against the Tamil people.  The U.S., China, Pakistan, India, Israel, Ukraine and some others supply arms and ammunition, training and intelligence, planning tactics and strategies of conducting war against the Tamil people and some of them provide mercenary bomber pilots to devastate the Tamil population.  This is not what one would expect of a nation with genuine sovereignty, which implies self-sufficiency, not only economically but also in its ability to enforce its laws. 

Responsible behavior is not only in its relationship with other members of the international community but also the manner in which its citizens are treated.  With its appalling treatment of the Tamil people the Sinhala leaders have given a bad reputation to sovereignty.  In fact, these leaders are using the excuse of sovereignty to commit crimes against humanity and to shield themselves from international scrutiny.

An individual may like to keep his financial circumstances private but when he needs a mortgage he has to part with a whole slew of personal financial information.  The Sri Lankan government similarly has to dance to the tune of the IMF.  Mr Rajapakse had to write a pathetic letter to Mr Bush to plead with him about the threat of the Millennium Challenge Account Funding being withheld.  A man's home may be his castle, but he cannot violently abuse the family and expect the community to let him get away with it. 

Sinhalese leaders have, for nearly fifty years, committed serious abuses of the Tamil people and duped the international community with a series of lies and cover-ups, using the sovereignty brick-wall.  But this wall is beginning to crumble and the Sri Lankan leaders have to come to terms with the fact that they have caused the diminishment of their country's sovereignty, which might turn out to be totally illusory.