Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Response to Chilcott's Speech

by Usha S Sri Skanda Rajah, December 14

I am surprised that His Excellency still thinks there are legitimate means available to the Tamils seeking independence of any sort. You should know all legitimate means were removed with the advent of the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which prohibits any discussion on independence for Tamil Eelam.

Chilcott's Speech

Excellency Dominic Chilcott
High Commissioner for Britain in Sri Lanka

Your Excellency,

I refer to the news story in the December 14, 2007 Ceylon Daily News article in which, when confronted, Your Excellency explains to the Sri Lankan government what you meant by the words “I am not saying that the political aspiration for Eelam is illegitimate.” You say what you meant was that political aspirations could be expressed through legitimate methods, just as much as the aspirations of independence for Yorkshire.

For one thing I think equating independence for Yorkshire in the UK to the independence of Eelam in Sri Lanka is not only down right insulting to Tamil political aspirations, but makes the Tamil freedom struggle seem trivial.

More importantly, I am surprised that His Excellency still thinks there are legitimate means available to the Tamils seeking independence of any sort. You should know all legitimate means were removed with the advent of the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which prohibits any discussion on independence for Tamil Eelam.

The Tamil demand for autonomy for the NorthEast is one subject that cannot be raised in the Sri Lanka parliament under the 6th Amendment to the 1978 constitution. "...The key to its effect is paragraph (1) which runs as follows:- 'No person shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka'. "Anyone who contravenes that provision becomes liable to the imposition of civic disability for upto 7 years, the forfeiture of his movable and immovable property... the loss of his passport... the right to engage in any trade or profession. In addition if he is a Member of Parliament, he loses his seat."

It must also not be forgotten that, at the outset, all non-violent means to seek independence were crushed and have been tried and exhausted. 

In this regard I would like Your Excellency to read my article on UK style devolution for Sri Lanka titled “President Mahinda Rajapakse is Wrong – An Opinion” (written March 2006) here attached.

Yours truly,

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Chilcott Warms to Dudley's Ghost

Eelam Nation editorial, December 16, 2007

“I don’t want to live in a world where fragile states or oppressive governments abuse human rights and get away with it”: Dominic Chilcott

R2P report’s words as quoted by Chilcott: "The starting point is that any state has primary responsibility to protect individuals within it. But that is not the finishing point: where the state fails in that responsibility, through either incapacity or ill will, a secondary responsibility to protect falls on the wider international community."

The outgoing British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Dominic Chilcott, unlike his American counterpart, has often had the problems of the occupational hazard of speaking out the truth. He has often been in strife with the powers that be, for doing so.

In his well-crafted Dudley Senanayake memorial lecture on 10 December 2007 which we commend for your reading, (see the feature Section for the full text) he evinces his erudition, scholarship and urbanity and uses his diplomatic skills to drive home the blatant truth about the deplorable condition of the veritable jungle of corruption, nepotism, dire human rights violations, conflicts of interest and hypocrisy that Sri Lanka is. Even after the delivery of the lecture, Chilcott was hauled up by the foreign ministry as if to give greater credence to his point that “those who argue for the inviolability of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country are swimming against the tide of history.”  

In the major part of his lecture, Chilcott uses the strategy of looking at the current scene in Sri Lanka through the eyes of apparently the ghost of the late Dudley Senanayake revisiting Sri Lanka from his grave, to give a series of disguised warnings to the Sri Lankan establishment for their misdemeanors. On the LTTE though, he is more scathing and understandably so.

The speech, while giving an insight into the current thinking of the British establishment on the Sri Lankan national question, refers to other matters like the lack of  good governance,  transparency, law and order, and the  presence of institutional racism, racist stereotyping, demonising of the UN agencies, discrimination, sense of impunity etc.

In regard to genocide and related crimes he says: “…that a great injustice committed against a people in one part of the world is somehow an injustice committed against all humanity itself can be seen at work in the British courts.” He draws the analogy of the decision of the House of Lords denying immunity to a past head of state in Pinochet of Chile and the British court conviction of an Afghani warlord Faryadi Zardad, an Afghan national for the commission of human rights crimes within Afghanistan.

While questioning the methods used by the LTTE and the Scottish National Party, he says he has no problem with the legitimacy or the legality of their political aspirations for independence,” I see nothing illegitimate in some crackpot demanding that Yorkshire or some other English county should become an independent state. What is crucial, however, is what methods are used by the SNP or the LTTE to achieve their goals.” 

Although not meant to amuse the audience, the lecture tends to exude a subtle humour as if so designed. For instance, referring to Karuna, now under detention, having been given diplomatic status to travel to England on a false passport, Chilcott says: “...any person claiming to be an ambassador in ancient Athens, without having been given the proper credentials by the Assembly first, was liable to be put to death. Fortunately for one Sri Lankan national, currently in detention in the UK that practice does not apply in modern Britain….”  Regarding human rights abuses he says: “Sri Lanka is not, by any means, the worst country in the world for governance and corruption. It sits in about the middle of the country rankings.” The threshold is not far off.

The most stable and peaceful of all post-independent governments of Sri Lanka was Dudley Senanayake’s national government of 1965 to 1970.  Mr Senanayake sought to share power, though in a minimal way, with the Tamils while genuinely contemplating the feasibility of devolution through an agreement with the Federal Party, which was later to become the chief component of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in a watered down version of the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam Pact. The government also focused its attention on Food production and agricultural development. Paradoxically, the relative peace, the national unity and economic development were its undoing. The Federal Party, in the interests of unity and peace, was prepared to accept even this diluted form of devolution, although it did come anywhere near their aspirations.

Chilcott says: “But he did not have the political skills or muscle to convince his fellow Sinhalese” and later on: … “Dudley Senanayake found, those Sinhalese forces opposed to devolution and power-sharing with the minorities are powerful.” These are mere understatements. Actually Sinhala chauvinism has been so overwhelming that at the subsequent elections in 1970 it ensured that Mrs. Sirmavo Bandaranaike was given an overwhelming majority, negating the need for any power sharing and to enable her to transform Sri Lanka into a Buddhist Sinhala state with even the few safeguards for the Tamils completely stripped. 

Chilcott in his references to Tamil moderates does not define them.

The TULF (now moribund) which was then demonised as a rabid racist party, is now in retrospect, thought to have been a moderate Tamil party, only after the advent of the LTTE.

In 1975 SJV Chelvanayagam the then leader of the “moderate” TULF declared:

“...We have for the last 25 years made every effort to secure our political rights on the basis of equality with the Sinhalese in a united Ceylon.  It is a regrettable fact that successive Sinhalese governments have used the power that flows from independence to deny us our fundamental rights and reduce us to the position of subject people…I wish to announce to my people and to the country that I consider the verdict at this election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise the sovereignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free...”

With Chelvanayagam no more in 1977, the TULF election manifesto reinforced the Eelam notion “to establish an independent, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam.” 

If after failing to get even minimal devolution for the Tamil speaking people, let alone a federal state, would Mr Chilcott, under the circumstances imagine that the Tamil “moderates” in 1977 envisaged achieving an independent, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam through peaceful negotiations?  It is for this reason, that in Chilcott’s own words: “Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, dismissed the idea of negotiations with the government in his 2006 Heroes’ Day speech when he said the LTTE was "not prepared to place (its) trust in the impossible and walk along the same old futile path." Pirapaharan merely echoed the “moderates” of the 1970s. The later Sinhalese leaders not only lack the political skills or muscle to convince their fellow Sinhalese, they are also wanting in  the political will and the inclination to do so..

If “moderates” are those discredited mercenary scoundrels who cannot poll more than one or two figure votes at a general election masquerading as moderate leaders, then the Tamils would  not want to know  them.

With due respect to Chilcott,  we must say that we have always held that a little learning on the part of the international community on  the Sri Lankan Tamil question is dangerous and unjust to  the due aspirations  of the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka and could unjustly smother a fledgling nation  forever.

We held a small survey among some of our readers as to what the ghost of Dudley Senanayake would have said to High Commissioner Dominic Chilcott and one response was: “Dominic, don’t waste your words on a bunch of incorrigible clowns!”