Ilankai Tamil Sangam

28th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

The Sri Lankan Situation

An analysis

by Oor Kuruvi, July 21, 2008

It was only in1976, twenty years after the first 1956 pogrom, and 28 years after independence, that all Tamil parties jointly passed a resolution requesting their representatives to work for a separate state in the Tamil homelands.

With that mandate, at the general elections of 1977, the newly formed Tamil United Liberation Front won almost every seat to parliament from the Tamil areas.

A. Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

Almost all the countries of the world have said that there should/could be no military solution to the national question in Sri Lanka, and that there should be only a political one, although the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country must be preserved. They also state that the solution should be acceptable to all communities. After nearly six decades of anti-Tamil propaganda, the 74% Sinhalese majority which has been brainwashed and enjoy the benefits of majority hegemony, are not going to accept any solution that is just and treats Tamils with equality and dignity. They are used to treating Tamils as second class citizens. There can be no solution acceptable to all communities.

From Wikipedia entry 'Jaffna Kingdom,' accessed July 21, 2008

What sovereignty and territorial integrity is being discussed? Before the colonial powers arrived in the island, then called Ceylon, there were three kingdoms in the island. This is mentioned in the Cleghorn (a British Colonial Secretary) minutes of 1799, and the map of the island drawn by Knox which shows the existence of a Tamil and two Sinhalese kingdoms. Sinhalese historian Paul Peiris has said that before the arrival

of the Sinhalese in the island,Tamils had lived there, as evidenced by the existence of five Hindu temples for worship of Lord Shiva. This is supported by evidence of inscriptions on stones. It is also accepted that Buddha visited the island to settle a dispute between two Naga kings in the North. It is surprising that even India, who should know better, speaks of maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka! Were the sovereignty and territorial integrity of British India preserved? India has been divided into several linguistic states. Did not India fight for the birth of Bangladesh and broke up Pakistan into two?

Portuguese, a colonial power first captured the maritime Sinhalese Kingdom. It was 105 years later, that they captured the Tamil Kingdom which had its own Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity. We have the names of all the Kings of the Tamil Kingdom starting from Kanagasooriyan in 1461, continuously to Sangili Kmaran who was dethroned by the Portuguese in 1619.The Dutch took over from the Portuguese and the British from the Dutch.

From, accessed July 21, 2008

The hill country Sinhalese Kingdom was captured by the British only in 1815. The kingdoms were administered separately by all the colonial powers till 1833, when the British joined them for administrative convenience.

Independence from colonial rule.

 At the time of independence the British handed the island to the ethnic majority, the Sinhalese, who comprised 74% of the population, with some safeguards in the constitution for minorities. Those safeguards were later eliminated in the second constitution passed by the Sinhalese majority government. The country was made a republic; the name of the island was changed to Sri Lanka; a Sinhala lion flag and national anthem were adopted; the second chamber, the Senate was abolished; an all powerful executive presidential system was introduced; the basis for elections to Parliament was changed: and prominence was given to Buddhism. After objecting to the changes, Tamils did not participate in the drafting or passing of either of the island's two new Constitutions.

One of the first acts of the Parliament after independence was to disenfranchise Tamils of recent Indian origin, brought by the British starting in the early eighteenth century to work in the plantations. They had lived in the island for many decades, and had voted in the first post-independence parliamentary elections. As a result of this disenfranchisement, Tamil representation in Parliament dropped by 40%.

B. Democracy, Hegemony and Changing of Demography.

World governments also speak about preserving democracy. We all know what democracy is.  In a heterogeneous island, where different people (nations) who have different languages, religions and customs live, and elections are held on the basis of one person one vote, the majority community would obviously have more representatives in Parliament.  The Sinhalese exercised hegemony over the 26% minority Tamil-speaking people (which includes Muslims). Tamils have been discriminated against in every sphere of life, and in development of their homelands.

In addition, the demography of the Tamil homelands (the Northern and Eastern provinces) has been changed by state-aided colonization of those areas by Sinhalese protected by the armed forces. The Sinhalese population of the Eastern Province increased from 9.2% in 1947, a year before independence, to about 32 % now. Many place and street names have been changed to Sinhalese names, and statues of the Buddha and Buddhist temples built to lay claim to the area. Protests by parliamentary methods and Satyagraha (non-violent, Gandhian demonstrations) have not had any effect. Now the government calls the Eastern Province a multi-ethnic one, with an almost equal distribution of Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese.

Figure 2. Sinhalese Colonization of Tamil Provinces. Source: Lee, Lionel, Census of Ceylon, 1881, Table IV, Colombo 1882, Dept. of Census and Statistics, Census of Ceylon, 1953, Colombo and Census of Population and Housing, Sri Lanka Preliminary Report No.1, Colombo 1981

Sri Lanka: Sinhalese Colonization Threatens
the Territorial Integrity of Tamil Homeland

Sinhala Colonization of Tamil Districts 1881-1982

Figure by Dr. C. Manoharan, June 1997, courtesy Tamilnation


C. Pogroms against Tamils

'Communal riots' against Tamils started in 1956 and continued periodically till the 1983 pogrom, when over 3,000 civilian Tamils were killed (many of them burnt alive) and millions of dollars worth of businesses and property destroyed. 53 Tamil political prisoners were killed in prison by the Sinhalese prisoners and prison guards.

These pogroms were part of a program of genocide of the Tamil people - the deliberate destruction of a people.

The war of liberation started following the 1983 pogrom and has continued now for nearly 25 years, with a gap of six years when the 2002 Cease-Fire Agreement was in force. It should be noted that since the liberation war started, there have been no more large-scale pogroms against Tamils.

Now ex- President Mrs Chandra Kumaratunga, in one of her election speeches, said that Tamils had suffered so much that 800,000 of them left the country as external refugees, and nearly a million became internal refugees, most displaced times. The population of indigenous Tamils is only about two and a half million, so one third are refugees and one third are IDPs.

D. Imposition of Sinhalese as the Only Official Language

Sinhalese was imposed as the only language of the island in 1956. This put Tamils at a tremendous disadvantage. Government officials, including those already in service, had to study Sinhalese and pass an examination in that language to be hired and promoted. Students were also badly affected. In 1970 standardisation of marks was introduced, whereby Tamil students had to get better grades than Sinhalese to enter university.

Although Tamil was also accepted as a national language in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, this acceptance is observed only in its breach.

Employment of Tamils in the public service has been drastically reduced. It is estimated that only 8.3% of the government jobs are now held by Tamil-speaking people, who make up 26% of the population. The armed forces are 99% Sinhalese and the police 95%. At one time in recent years, out of the total police employees of 36,031, only 231 were Tamils and 246 were Muslims. The proportions have not changed since. Sinhalese officers are posted to Tamil areas, making communications with the local people very difficult. E.g. in Wellawatte, a suburb of Colombo, which has a population of 135,000, most of whom are Tamil speakers, there are 156 police officials of which only 6 are Tamil speaking. This makes it difficult for the police as well as the Tamils to communicate with each other. There are numerous other such instances all over the Tamil homelands.

The senior positions in public service are invariably given to Sinhalese. Of the nine governors appointed by the President only one is a Tamil.

E. Talks between Sinhalese and Tamil Leaders.

Tamil leaders held talks and signed pacts with both major Sinhalese party leaders, one in 1958, and the other in 1965 with the other leader, in an effort to acheive some autonomy for the Tamil-speaking regions. Both pacts were unilaterally abrogated by the Sinhalese leaders.

F. Religious Intolerance

There have been numerous attacks against Christian churches in recent years. About 30 have been attacked since the war began. Christian priests have also been abducted and killed. The worst of these attacks was when 13 bombs were dropped on July 14th 1995 on St. Peter’s Church in Navaly, Jaffna where people had gathered for sanctuary during a military offensive. 147 people, including women, children, and the elderly, were killed. The last attack on a church was on July 7, 2008 when the Thalahana Calvery Church close to Colombo was attacked by a Sinhalese Buddhist crowd led by Buddhist monks. Furniture was destroyed, windows smashed, the roof came down, and the congregation beaten up along with the pastor, his father and brother. The pastor and many members of the congregation were hospitalised. The monk who led the attack made disparaging remarks about the church and the priest.

Jaffna church 2005
Jaffna church 2005

Nearly two hundred Hindu Temples have also been destroyed. Some were shelled after the people were asked to find safety in them during military offensives. One Hindu priest was burnt alive inside the temple after petrol was poured on him. Hindu temples have had statues of their deities removed and replaced with Buddha statues.

G. Relationship between Tamils and Sinhalese

At the time of independence Sinhala leaders asked Tamil leaders, many of who were in the forefront of the struggle for independence, “Do you want to be ruled from Westminster (Britain), or do you want to join us in getting independence.” (They meant ruled from Colombo!). “We guarantee we will be fair.” The unsuspecting Tamils agreed.

It was after about a million of the hill country Tamils were disenfranchised that the Federal Party (FP), asking for a federal type of government, was formed. It is worth mentioning that the first person to suggest federalism in 1926 after his return from Oxford, was the late Mr. S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike, the prime minister who later introduced the Sinhala Only bill.

At the first elections after its formation the FP won only a few seats, indicating that at that stage Tamils preferred a unitary government. At the general election of 1956 the FP won an overwhelming number of seats. Two senior Tamil politicians who contested on a separatist lobby were soundly beaten. Tamils rejected separatism.

It was only in1976, twenty years after the first 1956 pogrom, and 28 years after independence, that all Tamil parties jointly passed a resolution requesting their representatives to work for a separate state in the Tamil homelands.

With that mandate, at the general elections of 1977, the newly formed Tamil United Liberation Front won almost every seat to parliament from the Tamil areas.

The 1983 porgrom took place with the backing of state forces. During that pogrom, more than 3,000 people were killed and millions of dollars worth of Tamil businesses, houses and other property were burnt, while the security forces were watching. People were burnt alive. 53 Tamil political prisoners were killed in the prisons by Sinhalese prisoners and prison guards. Mobs were seen using government electoral lists to identify Tamil houses to attack. It is in reaction this state terror that liberation fighters started a war to fulfill the mandate of the Tamils for a separate state.

The Sinhalese majority government then passed the Sixth Amendment to the constitution, making it an offence to even speak about separation, and the Tamil parliamentarians went into  exile in India. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was also passed, which has been called by international jurist Paul Seighart as the worst legislation of its kind passed anywhere in the world, including South Africa. A second 'Emergency' law was passed that gave unlimited power to the armed forces and police to arrest anybody without a warrant and dispose of the body without reference to a magistrate. Since then, most of the time the country has been ruled under the emergency law.

H. The War

During the war, places of worship, hospitals, schools, residences, businesses and infrastructure have been bombed or shelled, the few cases of a government bombing its own citizens. Citizens have been arrested, tortured, raped, killed and disappeared with impunity. Carpet bombing and shelling from the seas have been resorted to, and the government has adopted a scorched earth policy in Tamil areas, bombing forests and paddy fields and destroying mangroves. The government has closed many highways leading to the areas controlled by the liberation fighters, causing shortages of food, medicine and other essentials, resulting in malnutrition and hunger amongst  the people. All these acts, by themselves, are war crimes.

Security forces declare curfews at will, engage in cordon and search operations in any area they select, and arrest those whom they suspect. In certain cases errant army men tear up national identity cards of civilians causing tremendous problems to the owners.

Large areas of land are declared High Security Zones and the owners are forced to vacate the farms and their houses in those areas. Fishing is restricted to certain areas and to certain times. Children suffer from malnutrition and their schooling is restricted.  Internally displaced persons remain for long years in refugee camps. Some stay with relatives, while others live in the open or flee to India.

According to a report in the British Medical Journal of June 2008, quoting from studies carried out by the University of Washington, Seattle and the Harvard Medical School, an estimated 338,000 Sri Lankans have been killed between 1983 and 2002, when the CFA was signed. It further said that this figure did not include cases where entire families have been killed. It states that a very conservative estimate would be 215,000. The number of liberation fighters killed till the CFA was signed in 2002 was approximately 20,000.

Assuming that an equal number of the state forces were also killed in the war, it means that, even using the very conservative figure, nearly 175,000 civilians have been killed. Of these, at least 90% or 157,500 are Tamil civilians. This does not include those killed since then, which could be another at least 10,000. After abrogation of the CFA, more than 106,000 have been displaced from the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts and 24,000 from Mannar district. Almost 200,000 have been displaced in the East after the CFA, the majority of them not yet settled in their own homes.

The Sri Lanka government has become the best recruiter of man power for the liberation fighters.

I. The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.

In the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, signed in 1987 between Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi and President of Sri Lanka J.R. Jayawardena, the Northern and Eastern Provinces were recognized as the historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people of Sri Lanka. Following this Accord, under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, Provincial Councils were formed and the Northern and Eastern provinces were merged. Sinhalese and Tamil were recognized as the official and national languages of the country. However, the 13th Amendment has still not been implemented in full.

J. Tamil Aspirations

Talks sponsored by India were held in Bhutan in 1986 between the Sinhalese government and the representatives of all Tamil political parties and the liberation fighters which were made up of five groups at that time.

The Tamil representatives jointly put forward the following as their aspirations:-

1. Recognize that the Tamils are a nation.

2. Recognize the existence of a Tamil homeland. (This is explicitly recognized as such  in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, but not implemented)

3. Recognize the right of Tamils for self-determination. (In accordance with the covenants of the United Nations, Tamils as a people or a nation have this right).

These aspirations were rejected out of hand by the government of the time.

K. Ceasefires and Talks

The liberation fighters had unilaterally declared ceasefires a number of times and the governments had responded. Talks were held with the Premadasa and Chandrika governments, but were not successful.

 The last CFA was declared in 2002 between the United National Party government and the liberation fighters under facilitation of the Government of Norway. Some provisions of the CFA were fully implemented. Several peace talks were held, but some of the agreements arrived at were not implemented, most importantly the one relating to the agreement to explore a federal type of government with the right to internal self-determination.

At the last such talks, it was decided that an Interim Administration should be implemented pending further discussions for a final solution. Both sides had submitted their proposals for interim administrations when President Chandrika dissolved Parliament and new elections were called.

Talks were also held with the current government once but ended in failure.

L. The Constitution

The constitution is blamed for the inability to do many things. After all, the Constitution was approved by the Parliament. It could be changed or amended by the same Parliament, which always has a Sinhalese majority. One such matter is the abolition of the post of the all-powerful Executive President. Almost all parties want to do so, but when they get elected and enjoy the perks of office, they forget about their pledges.

The 17th Amendment, which mandates various independent government oversight bodies, has not been implemented at all. As a result, the Constitutional Council has not been appointed, and consequently other commissions such as the Judicial Commission, Police Commission, Constitutional Commission are not functioning. This matter has been brought up several times in parliament and outside, but the President has not acted.

The merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces under the 13th Amendment was demerged in 2007 by a pliant Supreme Court, which also approved the abrogation of the tsunami aid PTOMS agreement signed between the then government and the liberation fighters after months of negotiations, and with advice from major countries.

M. The Current Government

President Rajapakse has given the top posts in government to his three brothers, the posts of Minister of Airports and Ports, Defence Secretary, and Special Advisor to the President. The president himself is the Minister of Finance and Defence. Many relatives have been given important posts. It has been estimated that more than 80 % of the country’s budget comes under the ministers and other officials from the family. In order to entice persons to cross over to the government, 109 ministers of different types have been appointed--the highest number of ministers in the world.

The country is having an inflation rate close to 30% and has been ranked #20 amongst failed states - a drop from 25 the previous year. It has the highest number of disappearances after Iraq, according to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

Human rights violations have increased and the perpetrators have complete impunity. Abductions by white vans with fake number plates or no plates take place for ransom. Many are killed, sometimes even after payment of ransom, According to the Sunday Leader of July 6, 2008, 94 abductions had taken place this year till 30th of June, excluding those who returned home. Almost all abductees are ethnic Tamils. Many criminal cases have not been solved for years. The armed forces, police and paramilitary forces supporting the government are suspected of participating in many of these, with impunity. Illegal arms belonging to tens of thousands of army deserters are circulating in the country.

Fourteen journalists have been killed and 7 abducted since the CFA. Many have been assaulted. A few have been arrested and not charged, even after 120 days in custody. 26 have left the country and gone into exile. The number of journalists in Jaffna has dropped from nearly 100 to the single digits. Despite protests by international and national journalist organizations, nothing has been done to change the situation. Two journalists, one an employee of the British High Commission were assaulted on July 1st this year. According to press reports, the next day police entered homes at 4.30 am, woke up 800 men, women and children and marched them up to a public park without even giving time to change from their night clothes. Their identity cards were checked and they were video-graphed.

The government does not bother about opinions of world governments or the UN. It has not bothered to change, and has refused permission for international and UN visitors, and even the peace facilitator Norway to visit the areas controlled by the liberation fighters. It has resorted to criticizing such officials, including those from the UN, in undiplomatic language.

In November and December 2007 about forty international NGOs and governments criticized the government on its various activities. The US State Department’s Report for 2007 on Sri Lanka was also very critical. However, there has been no improvement. The US putting Millennium aid on hold, Sri Lanka losing its seat in the UN Human Rights Council, and the threat of losing the EU's GSP plus facility, which could result in the loss of work for 100,000 garment workers and export earnings of about $3 million, does not seem to bother the government. The IMF has said that the nation's economic outlook of Sri Lanka depends critically on an end to the civil war.

Three Nobel price Laureates  have also  criticized the government on its human rights record.

N. What Negotiations and with Whom?

Despite statements regarding the need for peace talks made by many governments and international organizations, as well as prominent persons from all over the World,  the Sinhala majority government is hell-bent on fighting and eliminating the liberation fighters who they call terrorists. The President has used paramilitary forces (TMVP) who broke away  from the original liberation fighters (and still  carry arms), to drive the former away from the East.  Subsequently, the government formed an alliance with the TMVP and held elections in the demerged Eastern Province. The President made the second in command of the TMVP the Chief Minister of that Council. Karuna, the leader of the TMVP, was provided with a diplomatic passport with a Sinhalese name, according to Karuna himself in testimony, by the Defence Secretary. He spent some time in the British jail for entering the country on a false passport and was deported back to Sri Lanka, allegedly using the name Antony in his passport. It is anybody’s guess as to who provided the new false passport. Karuna has been welcomed and has been promised some facilities. He has been promised the leadership of his party and there is speculation that the government will use him to lead a force to fight the liberation fighters, as he did in the East.

The liberation fighters have conveyed their agreement for peace talks, with Norway continuing as the facilitator. and Norway has agreed.

The government, the president and all ministers have been spreading all kinds of false propaganda to deceive the world that it is working on a political arrangement alongside their military campaign. It is said that in war, the first casualty is truth. But there should be a limit to that, too.

The President formed an All Party Representative Committee (APRC) to come up with a solution to what the government calls the “Ethnic Problem.” However, the Tamil National Alliance, the party representing the majority of electorates of the merged Northeast Province, who are the main representatives of Tamils in Parliament, were not invited! As could be expected, after meetings lasting more than an year, and trips to foreign countries to “study” how power could be devolved, the President of the APRC came up with no solution. It is hard to come up with any solution with such a motley, unrepresentative group. Even if a solution is arrived at, it has to be approved at a national referendum by a population which has a 74 % Sinhalese majority.

Eventually, after much arm-twisting, the APRC said that the 13th Amendment, which is already in place, but not implemented in full, was the solution for the time being. The APRC is supposed to come up with a 'final' solution soon. However, even the President’s proposal put forward by the APRC chairman  has not been implemented. The para-military group, the new-found friend of the government, which still carries arms, has been admitted to the APRC! Already the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province has asked for more devolution

It is hard to believe that the President does not have the “tiger by the tail.”

How can one trust such a government?

On the war front, the President has been exponentially spending more and more money every year on arms purchases and payments to the armed forces. Deadlines given to finish the war have been moved constantly from April 2008 to December 2009 now. The army commander has recently said that, even after 20 years, the war will continue to exist with new recruits due to rising Tamil national feeling--what a revelation!

The President has already said that the government will not talk with the liberation fighters unless they lay down their arms before agreeing to talk. Surely he is mature enough to know, that it will never happen. He has also said that, at the next peace talks, he will talk with all Tamil groups and not only the LTTE.

Tamil aspirations have been spelt out. Added to that should be “treatment of all communities with Equality, Justice and Dignity.

The government’s view is that it wants a united state with some devolution to provinces and continued hegemony over Tamils. It is true that at one time the liberation fighters had agreed to explore Federalism with internal self –determination. Now even that that is too little, too late. Some argue that Tamils should accept an Indian type of federalism. The Indian type is not federalism, but quasi-federalism. India’s Constitution provides for a Governor nominated by the Central Government and has a  section 356 under which the center could dismiss a state government. The governor of a state, if any, should be elected by the people of that state and he should be the chief executive. The Center should not have the power to dismiss him or the State Government. Tamils may consider the type of Federalism that exists in many countries throughout the world, such as the USA, Canada, Australia, etc.

Ambassador Ms. Terresa Shafter, one-time US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, once suggested a confederal  solution to the problem.

If the problem cannot be solved on any basis acceptable to the Tamil people, the fighting will continue. The fighting and loss of life and property should stop and we should revert to the Status Quo Ante, before colonialists came to the island.

Tamils and the Sinhalese should revert to their own sovereignties and territorial integrities as before the colonial powers came in. The hundreds of thousands of killings, displacements and destruction would then stop and money spent on arms and the war front by both sides could be used for development purposes. All the people, Sinhalese and Tamils can live without fear and trepidation in their own homelands.

The alternative is not a happy proposition.

This is nothing new in this and has been done in Kosovo, East Timor, Eritrea/Ethiopia, Czechoslovakia, and Singapore//Malaysia, etc.

A free and fair referendum supervised by the United Nations or by countries nominated by it could, if needed, be held from all Tamils born in the island and their natural descendants (as has been done in the case of East Timor) to find out their wishes. Such a solution should be guaranteed by the UN or major countries.



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