Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Past Efforts and Present Needs

A suggestion to the international community

by N Malathy

It is with these facts, two concrete proposals by Tamils, none by Sinhalase, effectively none by anyone else, that form the main point of this article...

Given this, why has the international community not taken forward its peace efforts in Sri Lanka by learning some lessons from the Indian experience?...

It, therefore, does seem a worthwhile project for the international community to put forward a framework proposal for the resolution of the conflict for discussion by people in the island. It would be a purely intellectual exercise requiring very little expense and no loss of life.

Why has it not been done?

The efforts

It has often been commented that there is a dearth of analysis of the past failed peace processes on the island, of which there have been many. The implication is that lessons that could be learnt by such analysis, which would benefit future efforts, are being missed.

The reality is that the Sri Lankan theatre of ethnic conflict is full of such omissions in several dimensions. Analysis of the positions of one side by the other and clear documentation of the enormous human rights violations from the most micro to the most macro summary levels are two glaring omissions. In this article another omission, relating to the peace process, will be highlighted.

Liz Philipson of the London School of Economics, with a longstanding interest in the Sri Lankan peace processes, says, in “Negotiating Processes in Sri Lanka,” No. 12 of a 30-part MARGA series on Sri Lanka, published in 2002,

“Sri Lankan has a history of abrogated and broken agreements. The pacts agreed within the constitutional process prior to the 1983 were honored in their breach by successive Sri Lankan governments. Since 1983 there have been a series of initiatives within the constitutional processes – All Party Conferences and Parliamentary Committees – and negotiations which have included the armed Tamil militant groups operating outside the constitutional processes. Negotiations have been abandoned and agreements jettisoned by all sides during that time. These broken agreements cast a long shadow over the present. Government’s failure to implement agreements has left many Tamils cynical about the value of negotiations, whilst the government is skeptical about LTTE’s intention of honoring ceasefire agreements.”

The proposals

Scattered within this checkered history of abrogated agreements are some proposals for resolving the ethnic conflict. The very first such proposal after the start of the Tamil armed struggle is the articulation by the Tamil side at the talks in Thimbu in Bhutan in 1984. This articulation was endorsed by all the different Tamil armed groups, as well as by the Tamil political representatives, and is now popularly known as the Thimbu Principles. These principles for ending the ethnic conflict were flatly rejected by the Sri Lankan Government, thus ending that talks.

Thimpu Talks 1985 Lawrence Thilagar Thilakar leader of the LTTE delegationThe next serious proposal came in the form of the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987, which was really an agreement between India and Sri Lanka. Although the LTTE, by then the only meaningful Tamil representation, did not endorse the Accord wholeheartedly, it did lend its silence and thus did not openly oppose it. The implementation of the Indo-Lanka proposal failed and much has now been written about the causes for this failure. Yet, that Accord could have been a rare concrete proposal for resolving the conflict.

The next attempt at such a proposal was made by former GoSL President Kumaratunge in 1996. Her initiative was popularly known as the “Devolution Proposal”. However, this particular proposal remained draped in mystery for a long time and went through many incarnations to satisfy the various Sinhala pressure groups. In the end, no concrete proposal was put on the table for study.

It was now the LTTE’s turn to put a proposal on the table and it came out in 2004 as a proposal for an Interim Self Governing Authority, popularly known as the ISGA Proposal Unfortunately, the GoSL President, Kumaratunge dissolved Parliament and made the government fall just as the GoSL was getting ready to discuss this proposal at upcoming talks with the LTTE.

The last of such attempts was made by the GoSL in 2007 in the form of All Party Representatives Committee. This committee developed more than one splinter group. The proposal that was put forward by the group which had the most members came to be called the “APRC Majority Report”. This report has no GoSL backing and remains frozen, despite the high hopes of some countries.

Thimbu principals in 1984 by all the Tamil parties, Indo-Lanka proposal in 1987 by GoSL and India, Devolution Proposals in 1996 by GoSL, ISGA in 2004 by LTTE, APRC Majority Report in 2007 by a splinter group. If one reads the background of these given above a pattern emerges. Tamils have put forward concrete ideas in 1984 and again in 2004. Sinhalese have not been able to put forward anything concrete during this 50 year period. All they could achieve was to remove all the minority protections from the constitution and enshrine a new constitution that has trapped the people in a vortex of endless misery from which they are unable to escape.

The need

The one and only Indo-Lanka Accord was put forward with India holding a stick to the GoSL and twisting the arms of the LTTE. If India had put forward this Indo-Lanka proposal as a framework for discussion, without trying to implement it forcefully with stick and gun, would it not have advanced peace in Sri Lanka better? Why then did India not do that and, instead, approached the Accord the way it did? The answer to the last question is not as important as registering the fact that India did not give time for the proposal to be discussed by the people in this island.

It is with these facts, two concrete proposals by Tamils, none by Sinhalase, effectively none by anyone else, that form the main point of this article. Despite these facts, the common discourse among the international community has been that it is the LTTE that is unwilling to settle for peace and not the GoSL.  With this dominant discourse as cover the genocidal war on Tamils is silently condoned.

It is obvious that what the Tamils have put forward has not advanced peace. It is also obvious that Sinhala people are incapable of putting forward anything except to take the country backwards to darker times. Given this, why has the international community not taken forward its peace efforts in Sri Lanka by learning some lessons from the Indian experience? What is the most crucial lesson that could have been learnt?

The first lesson is that sending in an international armed force will not succeed. Second lesson is that the Sinhalas and Tamils simply cannot resolve the conflict at peace talks. Third lesson is that just talking about human rights will not change anything.

It, therefore, does seem a worthwhile project for the international community to put forward a framework proposal for the resolution of the conflict for discussion by people in the island. It would be a purely intellectual exercise requiring very little expense and no loss of life.

Why has it not been done?