Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

13th Amendment

India repeating the same historical mistake

by V. Thangavelu, March 6, 2008

[T]he 13th Amendment is a ploy by President Mahinda Rajapakse to hoodwink the international community that pressed for political proposals to solve the conflict...

Twenty years ago the TULF stated in writing to the then Indian Prime Minister that "These proposals do not meet the aspirations of the Thamil people nor are in any way commensurate with the loss of life, sufferings and privations suffered by the Thamil people. Since 1983, the TULF has always negotiated with the GoSL directly, utilising the good offices of the Government of India, and through the GoI in the hope of evolving a comprehensive scheme of devolution which the TULF could commend to the Thamil people. The TULF regrets it cannot recommend the contents of these Bills to the Thamil people as being satisfactory, just and durable."

March 06, 2008

Hon. Shri Pranab Mukherjee
Minister of External Affairs of India
New Delhi
India.

13th Amendment - India Repeating The Same Historical Mistake

Dear Hon. Minister,

Recently the Hon.Minister told parliament, inter alia, "The interests of ethnic Thamils in Sri Lanka as well as in Malaysia mattered to Delhi. The way forward lies in a peacefully negotiated settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka acceptable to all communities, including the Thamils. India was concerned about the recent violence in that nation and was "closely monitoring" the developments. India has welcomed the "declared intention" of Sri Lanka to fully implement the 13th Amendment, a move that could give a degree of autonomy to Thamil-dominated regions in that country."

While we appreciate your sentiments, the fact remains the 13th Amendment is a ploy by President Mahinda Rajapakse to hoodwink the international community that pressed for political proposals to solve the conflict. Faced with a deadline (January 23rd, 2008) Mahinda Rajapakse forced the Chairman of the APRC to immediately submit the 13th Amendment as demanded by him. A humiliated Chairman then said "I as chairman, together with the rest of the APRC, had little option but to accede to his request."

The Chairman, APRC further confessed "I could have acted differently. But under the circumstances I hope the people of Sri Lanka as well as those abroad who are interested in the future of our country will understand the circumstances which have led me to follow the course that the APRC has now taken."
So, APRC proposals were an "imposition" by the President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Chairman, APRC simply caved in. Understandably, he could not stand up to a powerful executive President.

Twenty years ago the TULF stated in writing to the then Indian Prime Minister that "These proposals do not meet the aspirations of the Thamil people nor are in anyway, commensurate with the loss of life, sufferings and privations suffered by the Thamil people. Since 1983, the TULF has always negotiated with the GoSL directly, utilising the good offices of the Government of India, and through the GoI in the hope of evolving a comprehensive scheme of devolution which the TULF could commend to the Thamil people. The TULF regrets it cannot recommend the contents of these Bills to the Thamil people as being satisfactory, just and durable." Because the 13th Amendment is not workable and will never be a success, the TULF did not contest the provincial council elections .

Twenty years later the TNA leader R. Sampanthan, MP speaking in parliament declared, "They will not touch the 13th Amendment even with the wrong end of a barge pole."

He asked the government to "stop this game of playing dirty tricks, come clean, be candid, be honest, be genuine, be straightforward - come up with a solution that would really be a solution to this conflict which has caused much human suffering to all people in this country."

Therefore, the decision of your government welcoming the 13th Amendment as a first step "that could give a degree of autonomy to Thamil-dominated regions in that country" is unwise and misplaced. India is repeating the same historical mistake. This has only helped President Mahinda Rajapakse to gain plenty of breathing space to prosecute total war against the Thamil people under the cloak of eliminating terrorism. With India on Rajapaksa's side, there will not be much International pressure, even on human rights violations, beyond pious statements. In effect India has thrown a life-line to Mahinda Rajapakse who is under attack for gross human rights abuses, corruption, subversion of the rule of law and democratic norms. No wonder India kept aloof even at the time when abductions, disappearances and extortions in Colombo were at a peak with Thamil businessmen of Indian origin falling victim.

The GoSL has reversed the Northeast merger, a key element in the Indo – Ceylon pact, taking cover under the Supreme Court verdict that the executive fiat is null and void. When Opposition UNP made an offer to support an amendment to the constitution to re-merge the two provinces the government spurned it.
The 13th Amendment enacted in 1987 has been truncated subsequently by withdrawal of police powers and powers over land alienation from the Provincial Councils.

The Thamil people since 1956 have historically given mandates at every election where they have stood for genuine autonomy, genuine self rule in the areas of their historical habitation.

Mr. Richard Boucher, the Under-Secretary of the United States for South Asia has called for radical changes in the structure of Government, genuine autonomy, which would give the Thamils and the Muslims the right of self rule. Self rule is not possible under the present highly centralized unitary constitution.

Therefore, the 13th Amendment is no where close to what the international community has contemplated. Mr. Rajmohan Gandhi, a very distinguished. journalist and author when asked in the course of a recent interview "What lessons do you think Sri Lanka can learn from the asymmetrical devolution model now in place in India?" he replied "If autonomy is genuine it will work. But if an offer of autonomy is mainly a facade it will not work, but if the majority groups and now I'm speaking globally of all countries, if governments are willing to give genuine autonomy to distinct groups that can go a long way, but it has to be a genuine offer, and it has to be an offer supported by the people of the majority group as well, not just the political parties." (The Sunday Leader – February 03, 2008)

Your colleague Hon. P. Chidambaram, Minister of Finance for India has expressed similar views. He told BBC "India has emphasised that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, arising out of a sense of discrimination and a sense of negation of cultural, linguistic and human rights should be resolved through a negotiated political settlement that includes a credible devolution of powers".(BBC Sinhala Service – Nov 17, 2007)

India should understand the nature of the Sri Lankan state which is theocratic, despotic, un –democratic and unitary while India is secular and quasi-federal with 28 linguistic - based States and 7 Union Territories.

Unfortunately, India has remained a silent spectator to the horrendous human rights violations committed in the Northeast of Ceylon.

Aerial bombardment of heavily built residential areas, enforced disappearances, abductions for ransom and execution style killings by the military have become everyday routine. The rule of law continues to be undermined and the culture of impunity persists at all levels of government. GoSL has consistently failed to conduct credible investigations to bring violators to justice. On the contrary, the GoSL had deliberately obstructed course of justice and shown not so much the lack of capacity but the requisite will to safeguard the rights of all its citizens. It is justifying extra-judicial killings and disappearances as part of a brutal and counterproductive counter-insurgency campaign.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has dubbed the Sri Lanka's government as one of the world's worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances. In its report HRW has accused the security forces and pro-government militias of abducting and "disappearing" hundreds of people - mostly Thamils - since 2006. HRW said the majority of cases "indicate the involvement of government security forces - army, navy or police". (BBC - March 06, 2008)

According to Red Cross (ICRC) the number of civilians killed and injured in Sri Lanka has reached "appalling levels". A total of 180 civilians died in the first six weeks of 2008 and nearly 270 more were injured. More than 1,000 people have been killed since the government withdrew from the ceasefire according to the military. (BBC - March 06, 2008)

The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) invited by Mahinda Rajapakse to monitor a government commission investigating human rights abuses has resigned on Thursday (March 06, 2008) in frustration over the government's lack of support. Among the 16 cases under investigation were the execution-style slaying of 17 aid workers in 2006 in Mutur, an air strike that killed 61 school girls between the ages of 16 and 18 .and the shooting of 5 students by Sri Lanka Special Forces in Trincomalee on January 02, 2006. Incidentally the IIGEP was chaired by Mr. Justice P N Bhagwati, Retired Chief Justice of India. (AP - March 06, 2008)

Opposition leader Wickremasinghe told a media briefing on Wednesday (March 05) " that armed Thamil groups Pilliayan group, EPDP, and a Muslim group mobilised by the government are in operation in the East". Last month alone 48 Thamils have been killed, 29 abducted and 253 arrested by the armed forces.

As we write news reports say that Jaffna District TNA parliamentarian, K. Sivanesan was killed today in a claymore attack carried out by the Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Unit on A-9 road, 30 minutes after he crossed into Vanni through Omanthai / Puliyangkulam entry point.

Sri Lanka is being perennially ruled under Emergency Regulations that vests sweeping powers to the armed forces to detain without charge anyone suspected of terror activity. These Regulations have been used almost exclusively against Thamils.

GoSL is refusing to investigate, prosecute and punish human rights violators. The many ad hoc commissions of inquiry of the past two years have accomplished nothing, while disappearances and political killings continue, especially in the Jaffna peninsula. The military offensives launched by the government first in the East and now in the North have caused heavy loss of lives, social oppression, political subjugation and economic deprivation. (AP - March 06, 2008)

Despite the damning evidence and charges of human rights abuses against the Sri Lankan government, India unashamedly continues to defend Sri Lanka at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights sessions held in Geneva.
President Mahinda Rajapakse has buried the CFA and made the APRC dysfunctional. The mindless withdrawal from the CFA, at the behest of the JVP, has opened the floodgates of civilian killings both in the North and the South.

All this is proof that predators are masquerading as liberators. Mahinda Rajapakse has no stomach "for a peacefully negotiated settlement." He opposed the 13th Amendment tooth and nail while in the opposition.

We appeal to the government of India to re-think, re-view, re-orientate and re-shape its foreign policy options vis-à-vis Sri Lanka at the earliest opportunity.

Yours truly,

Veluppillai Thangavelu
President
Toronto, Canada

cc Hon. Prime Minister of India, Chief Minister of Thamil Nadu and Leaders of Political Parties