Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Open Letter to Secretary Clinton

by Nadesan Satyendra, TamilNation, April 6, 2009

Let me now turn to the third matter - and that is what appears to be your acceptance of  the view held by President Rajapaksa's genocidal regime that whatever may be the political solution it should be a 'post conflict' one. Given the genocidal onslaught launched on the Tamil people during the past several months, I trust that you will agree that 'post conflict' in this context means 'post genocide'.

Here I believe that it is helpful to point out that genocides do not just happen. Mao Tse-tung's famous dictum that the guerrilla moves amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea has brought with it the counter guerrilla strategy of draining the sea.

Your letter of  23 March 2009 to the Honorable Mary Jo Kilroy  was of particular interest because you mention that Congresswoman Kilroy's letter had touched on 'many of the points that State Department officials have raised in meetings with Sri Lankan government officials in Washington, as well as in Colombo, Geneva, and New York.'

I felt that a closer examination of that which you have said may be helpful.

You say  that 'a lasting peace in Sri Lanka will only be achieved through political inclusion of all of Sri Lanka's minority communities'.  You add that  you 'continue to urge the Sri Lankan government to devise a post-conflict political solution that will demonstrate to Sri Lanka's Tamil population and the Tamil Diaspora that the government is serious about political inclusion.'

Here, three matters arise.

One, is your reference to Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka as one of  'Sri Lanka's minority communities'. The second is your reference to  'political inclusion'. And the third  that you envisage that the political solution, whatever it may be,  will be a 'post conflict' one.

Let me examine each of these three aspects of US policy in turn.

Minority Community

Your view that the Tamils who inhabit the north and East of the island of Sri Lanka are simply a 'minority community' does not accord with the political reality on the ground. You will, of course, be not unaware of the declaration by  the Gandhian leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, Mr.S.J.V.Chelvanayagam in 1975, on winning a mandate for Tamil Eelam  -

"Throughout the ages the Sinhalese and Tamils in the country lived as distinct sovereign people till they were brought under foreign domination. It should be remembered that the Tamils were in the vanguard of the struggle for independence in the full confidence that they also will regain their freedom. 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 a subject people. These governments have been able to do so only by using against the Tamils the sovereignty common to the Sinhalese and the Tamils."

"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."

The historical fact is that 'the Sinhalese and Tamils in the country lived as distinct sovereign people till they were brought under foreign domination' in 1833. And the record proves that during the past 60 years and more, the national identity of the Tamil people has been consolidated by oppressive rule by a permanent alien Sinhala majority within the confines of a single state.

I urge you to recognise that the Tamils who inhabit the north and East of the island of Sri Lanka are not simply one of Sri Lanka's 'minority communities'  but that they constitute a nation of people and that the conflict in the island  concerns two nations who speak different languages, who trace their history to different origins and who live by and large in different territories.

You may query: what after all is a nation?  And I would respond that a nation is a community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture, a national consciousness -

"..A nation is a community of people, whose members are bound together by a sense of solidarity, a common culture, a national consciousness... a nation exists when a significant number of people in a community consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one. It is not necessary that the whole of the population should so feel, or so behave, and it is not possible to lay down dogmatically a minimum percentage of a population which must be so affected. When a significant group holds this belief, it possesses 'national consciousness'."  - Hugh Seton-Watson, Professor of Russian History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London: * Nations & States - Methuen, London 1977

I urge you to accept the view expressed by 15 Non Governmental Organisations 1  at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geneva on 8 February 1993 that 'the Tamil population in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka are a 'people' with the right to freely choose their political status' -

"A social group, which shares objective elements such as a common language and which has acquired a subjective consciousness of togetherness, by its life within a relatively well defined territory, and its struggle against alien domination, clearly constitutes a 'people' with the right to self determination. Today, there is an urgent need for the international community to recognise that the Tamil population in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka are such a 'people' with the right to freely choose their political status."

I also urge you to recognise the force of reason in that which 17 non governmental organisations2  told the UN Commission on Human Rights at its 50th Sessions in February 1994:

''..The Tamil population in the North and East of the island, who have lived from ancient times within relatively well defined geographical boundaries in the north and east of the island, share an ancient heritage, a vibrant culture, and a living language which traces its origins to more than 2500 years ago.

...Before the advent of the British ..., separate kingdoms existed for the Tamil areas and for the Sinhala areas in the island. The Tamil people and the Sinhala people were brought within the confines of one state for the first time by the British in 1833. After the departure of the British in 1948, an alien Sinhala people speaking a language different to that of the Tamils and claiming a separate and distinct heritage has persistently denied the rights and fundamental freedoms of the Tamil people. ..

It is ...our view that the Secretary General should consider invoking his good offices with the aim of contributing to the establishment of peace in the island of Sri Lanka through respect for the existence of the Tamil homeland in the NorthEast of the island of Sri Lanka and recognition for the right of the Tamil people to freely determine their political status.''

You may query: what does it matter whether the Tamil population in the North and East of the island constitute a nation?  In what way does that impact on the political resolution of the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka? The relevance relates to your stated view of  the need for  'political inclusion' and 'credible power sharing'. And it is to this matter of 'political inclusion' and 'credible power sharing' that I now turn.

Political Inclusion

The 'political inclusion'  of the Tamils as a people must begin by recognising their existence as such a people.

'..The simplest statement that can be made about a nation is that it is a body of people who feel that they are a nation; and it may be that when all the fine spun analysis is concluded, this will be the ultimate statement as well..". - Rupert Emerson: From Empire to Nation - The Rise to Self-Assertion of Asian and African Peoples, 1960

The 'political inclusion'  of the Tamils as a people must also begin by recognising the existence of their homeland. And the words of Sathasivam Krishnakumar in 1990 remain true today  -

''I was once asked by an Englishman connected with the British Refugee Council: 'You say Tamil Eelam, but where are the boundaries of this Tamil Eelam that you talk about? Show me.'  I was taken aback by the directness of the question. I thought for a while, searching for an appropriate response. Then I replied: 'Take a map of the island. Take a paint brush and paint all the areas where Sri Lanka has bombed and launched artillery attacks during these past several years. When you have finished, the painted area that you see - that is Tamil Eelam.''' Sathasivam Krishnakumar, (Kittu) a founding member of the LTTE, speaking in Zurich, on Maha Veerar Naal, in November 1990

I urge you to recognise that the struggle for Tamil Eelam is about the democratic right of the people of Tamil Eelam to govern themselves in their homeland - nothing less and nothing more. Democracy and the right to  self determination go hand in hand. I urge you to recognise that one cannot exist without the other.   If democracy means the rule of the people, by the people, for the people, then the principle of self determination secures that no one people may rule another. The ground reality is that  during the past 60 years and more, no Tamil has ever been elected by a Sinhala majority electorate and no Sinhalese has ever been elected by a Tamil majority electorate.  Rule by a permanent ethnic majority is the dark side of the practise of democracy within the confines of a single Sri Lankan state. 

I urge you to recognise the underlying truth behind that which Professor Marshall Singer said in 1995 -

"...One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement..." - Professor Marshall Singer, at US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Sri Lanka November 14,1995

I urge you to recognise the underlying truth that in Sri Lanka  a Sinhala ethno nationalism has sought to masquerade as a Sri Lankan 'multi ethnic secular civic' nationalism  albeit with a Sinhala Lion flag, an unrepealed Sinhala only Act, with Buddhism as the state religion and with a Sinhala Sri Lanka name which it gave itself unilaterally in 1972.

"...In the Sinhala language, the words for nation, race and people are practically synonymous, and a multiethnic or multicommunal nation or state is incomprehensible to the popular mind. The emphasis on Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhala Buddhists carried an emotional popular appeal, compared with which the concept of a multiethnic polity was a meaningless abstraction..."  - Sinhala Historian K. M. de Silva in Religion, Nationalism and the State, USF Monographs in Religion and Public Policy, No.1 (Tampa, FLA: University of South Florida 1986) at p31 quoted by David Little in Religion and Self Determination in Self Determination - International Perspectives, MacMillan Press, 1996

“The central place of Buddhism in the constitution of the Singhalese territorial relation of a nation goes back to the Sinhalese histories of the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian era, the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa. There one finds the myth of the visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, during which he freed the Island of its original supernatural and evil inhabitants, the Yakkas. As a result the Buddha had sanctified the entire island transforming it into a Buddhist territory. These histories thus asserted a territorial relation between Sinhalese and Buddhism, the stability of which was derived from a perceived order of the universe, that is, the actions of the Buddha. The reaffirmation of that relation may be observed to-day in the shrines throughout the island at Mahiyangana, where the supposed collarbone of the Buddha is kept, at Mount Samantakuta, where the Buddha’s supposed fossilized footprint may be seen and the most important one at Kandy, supposedly containing the relic of the Buddha’s tooth." - Stephen Grossly, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Clemson University on The primordial, kinship and nationality”. “When is the Nation?” Edited by Atsuko Ichijo and Gordana Uzelac Routledge (2005) p 68

I urge you to recognise that an 'inclusive political solution'  must address the political reality on the ground - and that is that 'a multiethnic state is incomprehensible to the popular (Sinhala) mind' and that the emphasis on Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhala Buddhists carries  an emotional popular appeal, compared with which the concept of a multiethnic polity is a meaningless abstraction. A principle centred approach to the conflict in the island of  Sri Lanka will need to recognise that the 'problem in nationally divided societies is that the different groups have different political identities, and, in cases where the identities are mutually exclusive (not nested), these groups see themselves as forming distinct political communities.'

"...The problem in nationally divided societies is that the different groups have different political identities, and, in cases where the identities are mutually exclusive (not nested), these groups see themselves as forming distinct political communities. In this situation, the options available to represent these distinct identities are very limited, because any solution at the state level is inclined to be biased in favour of one kind of identity over another. That is to say, if the minority group seeks to be self-governing, or to secede from the larger state, increased representation at the centre will not be satisfactory. The problem in this case is that the group does not identify with the centre, or want to be part of that political community...One conclusion that can be drawn is that, in some cases, secession/partition of the two communities, where that option is available, is the best outcome overall. .." Professor Margaret Moore in Normative Justifications for Liberal Nationalism:Justice, Democracy and National Identity in 2001

I urge you to recognise that peace will not come in the island of Sri Lanka without recognising the separate 'political identities' (and therefore the separate 'national identities') of the Tamil people and the Sinhala people who inhabit the island of Sri Lanka.

Post Conflict

Let me now turn to the third matter - and that is what appears to be your acceptance of  the view held by President Rajapaksa's genocidal regime that whatever may be the political solution it should be a 'post conflict' one. Given the genocidal onslaught launched on the Tamil people during the past several months, I trust that you will agree that 'post conflict' in this context means 'post genocide'.

Here I believe that it is helpful to point out that genocides do not just happen. Mao Tse-tung's famous dictum that the guerrilla moves amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea has brought with it the counter guerrilla strategy of draining the sea.


l to r: Mao Tse-tung - Efrain Rios Montt

You will recall that it was a strategy which was spelt out with remarkable candour by US supported Guatemala Gen. Efrain Rios Montt in the 1980s -

"The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea."

That  Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, led some of the worst atrocities against the indigenous Maya people in Guatemala showed that for him, like Mao Tse Tung,  theory was a very practical thing.

"... In 1982, an Amnesty International report estimated that over 10,000 indigenous Guatemalans and peasant farmers were killed from March to July of that year, and that 100,000 rural villagers were forced to flee their homes. According to more recent estimates, tens of thousands of non-combatants were killed by the regime's death squads in the subsequent eighteen months. Based on the number of people killed per capita, Ríos Montt was probably the most violent dictator in Latin America's recent history, more so than even other notorious dictators such as Chile's Augusto Pinochet, Argentina's Jorge Rafael Videla, and Bolivia's Hugo Banzer. Given Ríos Montt's staunch anticommunism and ties to the United States, the Reagan administration continued to support the general and his regime, paying a visit to Guatemala City in December 1982. During a meeting with Ríos Montt on December 4, Reagan declared: "President Ríos Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. ... I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice." " Wikipedia on Gen. Efrain Rios Montt

President Rajapaksa has chosen to follow in the footsteps of  Guatemala Gen. Efrain Rios Montt . The Tamil people will be thankful that you have not followed in the footsteps of President Ronald Reagan and described Sinhala Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa as 'a man of great personal integrity and commitment' concerned to 'improve the quality of life for all Sri Lankans and to promote social justice'. The Tamil people will also take some re-assurance from the words of President Clinton in March 1999 -

 "For the United States, it is important I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression (in Guatemala) was wrong and the United States must not repeat that mistake."

I urge that the US does not repeat the same mistake. I  urge you to attend to the words of Benjamin Valentino, Paul Huth and Dylan Balch-Lindsay in 2004 -

"...Why do some wars result in the intentional killing of large numbers of civilians?.. In the statistical analysis of our data set of 147 wars, we find strong evidence supporting our hypothesis that mass killing is often a calculated military strategy used by regimes attempting to defeat major guerrilla insurgencies. Unlike conventional military forces, guerrilla armies often rely directly on the local civilian population for logistical support. Because guerrilla forces are difficult to defeat directly, governments facing major guerrilla insurgencies have strong incentives to target the guerrillas' civilian base of support. We find that mass killing is significantly more likely during guerrilla wars than during other kinds of wars. In addition, we find that the likelihood of mass killing among guerrilla conflicts is greatly increased when the guerrillas receive high levels of active support from the local population or when the insurgency poses a major military threat to the regimeDraining the Sea”: Mass Killing and Guerrilla Warfare, International Organization (2004), 58:2:375-407 Cambridge University Press

The mass killings by President Rajapaksa's armed forces is proof of the high levels of active support that the LTTE has received from the local population. Indeed, it will be fair to say that if the LTTE did not enjoy that support, the Rajapaksa regime would not have found the need to resort to genocide to drain the sea.  Unable to catch 'the fish',  the murderous President Rajapksa regime (like  the equally murderous regime of Guatemala Gen. Efrain Rios Montt), has sought to drain 'the sea' by resort to genocide - and imprisoning those it has failed to kill off in concentration camps called welfare villages.

"...Without special permission from the Ministry of Defence, you can't even visit Vavuniya, a town in the north where civilians fleeing the conflict are being brought and which has never been in rebel hands. The army also told me I couldn't visit wounded civilians in the eastern town of Trincomalee, "because that's the way we want it. Simple answer." A visiting crew from Al Jazeera complained about travelling around Sri Lanka only to film soldiers putting their hands over the camera lens. Eventually, the army invited about 50 frustrated reporters on a day trip to one of the "welfare villages" where displaced Tamil civilians are being settled outside Vavuniya. Although it's surrounded by razor wire and soldiers prevent anyone from entering or leaving, the army would have you believe that no one is actually being detained. We were told we could wander freely and speak to whomever we liked. But soldiers wandered with us and some people said they'd been instructed not to speak to the foreigners." Media & the Soldier - The Gospel According to Gotabhaya - Amos Roberts, The Australian, 23 March 2009

But, the actions of Muthukumar, Ravichandran, Thamil Venthan, Sivaprakasam and Muruguthasan suggest that as President Rajapaksa drains the sea, he is also feeding the fire.


"draining the sea and feeding the fire..."

I am reminded of something which Savyamurthy Thondaman who served as a  Minister in President Jayawardene's cabinet said in March 1992 -

''...If you mean defeating the LTTE, it could in my opinion be equated to defeating every single Tamil in the North-East. One thing is clear. You cannot isolate the LTTE from the rest of the Tamil people. Wiping out the LTTE means wiping out the Tamils. Until there are Tamils there will be a LTTE hard-core. Remember that the LTTE... is seeking to express the aspirations of the Tamil people..'' Savyamurthy Thondaman in March 1992

You say in your letter that you have 'called on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to allow civilians freedom of movement and to discuss modalities for ending hostilities.'  You also say that you have  'condemned the actions of the Tamil Tigers who are reported to be holding civilians as human shields, and to have shot at civilians leaving Tiger areas of control'.

I note that you have been cautious and referred to the actions of  the LTTE as having been 'reported.' Given the control of the media by the President Rajapaksa regime and the disinformation campaign carried out by his regime, you are right to be cautious. Said that, calling the sea in which the guerrilla swims as a 'human shield' is misleading as that would  suggest that the responsibility for the continuing genocide somehow lies with the resistance movement.

It is unfortunate that the US  policy that you have adumbrated in your letter,  labels the 'sea' in which the guerrilla swims as a 'human shield' and appears directed to help draining  the sea by evacuating the Tamil civilian population from their homeland in the Vanni to camps - albeit supervised/overseen by the international community so that the US and the 'international community' (presumably not including China and/or Iran and/or even India) may secure their own physical presence in the island, through international NGOs and/or the United States Pacific Command.  It is an approach that has led some Sinhala writers to draw their own conclusions -

"..The West wants a “humanitarian pause.” Whenever anyone uses the word “humanitarian”, its like politicians kissing babies, its time to get worried. The word “humanitarian” is another word for “weapons of Mass destruction”. .. The present “Humanitarian” pause smacks of a Western agenda, rather than the World coming running to help the Tamils. It is an attempt by the West and India to counter Chinese strategy in Sri Lanka and to safeguard their strategic interests. The Western world have been preoccupied with other issues and have been taken by surprise by the speed and the momentum of the Sri Lankan military advance. Suddenly, it has dawned on them that the politico military landscape of Sri Lanka has changed and is continuing to change rapidly. They have suddenly woken up to the prospect that in Sri Lanka, the exit of the Tiger, will result in ‘enter the Dragon’. The West is scrambling to press the pause button. A humanitarian pause, of course." Exit the Tiger, Enter the Dragon " Dushy Ranetunge 2 April 2009 in Transcurrents

Given all the foregoing I have tried to understand the reasons for your denial of  the justice of the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for an independent state - an independent state which may associate on equal terms and in freedom with an independent Sinhala Sri Lankan state. As I had pointed out in an open letter to Senator Kerry on 19 February 2009, it is not that the US does not have an understanding of the issues in relation to the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka. You will recall the statement by US  Congressman Mario Baggio in the US House of Representatives many years ago in May 1980 -

"To understand the problems that exist in Sri Lanka - formerly known as Ceylon - it is essential that we review its history. Located in South Asia, the island of Sri Lanka has been composed of two distinct populations for centuries - the Tamils and the Sinhalese. They lived not as one, but as two nations, with separate languages, religions, cultures, and clearly demarcated geographic territories...

My colleagues and I have introduced the following resolution because we believe it is essential to express the concern of the Congress about the army occupation in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka: the denial of basic rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equal citizenship and educational opportunities; and the freedom to exercise the right of political self-determination."

You will also recall the resolution of US Massachusetts House of Representatives in June 1981 calling for the Restoration of the Separate Sovereign State of Tamil Eelam -

".... Whereas, from ancient times two nations the Sinhalese and the Tamils possessed distinct languages, religions, cultures and clearly demarcated geographic territories until the British who were characteristically oblivious to the differences between these two separate nations, imposed one rule for the purpose of colonial administrative unification,  and

Whereas, as was to be expected in 1948 when the British left the island and two unwilling nations were consequently left under a unitary governmental structure, the majority Sinhalese faction subverted democratic principles to become the new masters of the Tamil - speaking people, and...

Whereas, successive Sinhala governments have been guilty of racism and acts of racial discrimination against the Tamils in the fields of education, employment, religion, politics,  economic development and trade,  and

Whereas,  from time to time violence is used it the Sinhala governments, army and the police against the Tamils without provocation as a political weapon in order to obtain subservience and

Whereas,  in 1972 the representatives of the Sinhala and Tamil nation met together and peacefully overthrew British sovereignty and thereby each nation resuscitated, and reverted to, its own sovereignty, and

Whereas, a new constitution, which reiterated that foremost place should be accorded to the Buddhist religion and the Sinhalese language. was unilaterally adopted without the cooperation or consultation with the majority of the Tamil representatives in Parliament, and

Whereas, the Tamil nation of Eelam at the general election of May 1977 gave a clear mandate for the restoration and reconstitution of the separate sovereign state of Tamil Eelam by winning 18 out of 19 Tamil seats in Tamil Eelam, and

Whereas, the Tamil people were again not a party to the constitution of 1978 which replaced its predecessor of 1972, and

Whereas, the Tamil nation of Eelam opposed the two constitutions as illegal impositions on them and their territory and asserted their right of self determination and sovereignty by non violent agitations, and

Whereas, the Sinhala government of Sri Lanka has occupied the territory of Tamil Eelam with its armed forces and security services and are denying the right of self-determination and sovereignty of the Tamil nation by the use of force on Tamil people, and

Whereas, the Tamil United Liberation Front which received the mandate of the Tamil  people at the may 1977 general election for the separate  sovereign Tamil state is continuing the struggle for freedom by non-violent ways preached and practised by Mahatma Gandhi  and by the late leader of Tamil nation, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam,

Resolved, that the Massachusetts  House of Representatives hereby urges the President and the Congress of the United States to support the struggle for freedom by the Tamil nation for the restoration and reconstitution  the separate sovereign state of Tamil Eelam and to recognize publicly the right of self determination by the Tamil people of Tamil Eelam, and be it further resolved,

that copies of these resolutions be forwarded to the President of the United States, to the Presiding  Officer of each branch of Congress, to the members thereof from this Commonwealth, to the Secretary of State, to the Director of the World Bank and to the Secretary General of the United Nations." Resolution of US Massachusetts House of Representatives 18 June 1981

I urge you to accept that states have lifecycles similar to those of human beings who created them and that restrictions on self-determination threaten not only democracy itself but the state which seeks its legitimation in democracy -

"...Let us accept the fact that states have lifecycles similar to those of human beings who created them. The lifecycle of a state might last for many generations, but hardly any Member State of the United Nations has existed within its present borders for longer than five generations. The attempt to freeze human evolution has in the past been a futile undertaking and has probably brought about more violence than if such a process had been controlled peacefully...Restrictions on self-determination threaten not only democracy itself but the state which seeks its legitimation in democracy"  Self Determination & the Future of Democracy  - Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, 2001

I trust that you will not take it amiss if I urge you to revisit your  words in October 2007 -

"..I believe that terrorism is a tool that has been utilized throughout history to achieve certain objectives. Some have been ideological, others territorial. There are personality-driven terroristic objectives. The bottom line is, you can't lump all terrorists together. And I think we've got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raisons d'être of terrorists. I mean, what the Tamil Tigers are fighting for in Sri Lanka, or the Basque separatists in Spain, or the insurgents in al-Anbar province may only be connected by tactics. They may not share all that much in terms of what is the philosophical or ideological underpinning. And I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush, which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what it is we were up against when it comes to those who pursue terrorism for whichever ends they're seeking... (US) can have an approach that tries to project power and authority in an appropriate way that draws on all aspects of American power, that inspires and attracts as much as coerces."

A  principle centered approach which will 'inspire and attract' will also need to draw a distinction between violence and terrorism. The two words are not synonymous and much confusion arises by conflating the two. All violence is not terrorism and an US approach which liberates political language will also help liberate peoples who have taken up arms as a last resort in their struggle for freedom from oppressive alien rule.  

I urge you to accept that there is a compelling need to attend to the conclusions of  the UN Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K. Koufa in 2004 -

"The most problematic issue relating to terrorism and armed conflict is distinguishing terrorists from lawful combatants, both in terms of combatants in legitimate struggles for self-determination and those involved in civil wars or non-international armed conflicts. In the former category, States that do not recognize a claim to self-determination will claim that those using force against the State’s military forces are necessarily terrorists. In the latter, States will also claim that those fighting against the State are terrorists, and that rather than a civil war, there is a situation of “terrorism and counter-terrorism activity"....The controversy over the exact meaning, content, extent and beneficiaries of, as well as the means and methods utilized to enforce the right to self-determination has been the major obstacle to the development of both a comprehensive definition of terrorism and a comprehensive treaty on terrorism. The ideological splits and differing approaches preventing any broad consensus during the period of decolonization still persist in today’s international relations. ...

...The Special Rapporteur has analysed the distinction between armed conflict and terrorism, with particular attention to conflicts to realize the right to self-determination and civil wars. This is an issue of great international controversy, in need of careful review due to the “your freedom fighter is my terrorist” problem and the increase in the rhetorical use of the expression “war on terrorism”, labelling wars as terrorism, and combatants in wars as terrorists, and it has an extremely undesirable effect of nullifying application of and compliance with humanitarian law in those situations, while at the same time providing no positive results in combating actual terrorism...." Terrorism and Human Rights  Final Report of the Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K. Koufa,  25 June 2004

International Frame

As I have said, I have tried to understand the reasons for your denial of  the justice of the struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for an independent state - an independent state which may associate on equal terms and in freedom with an independent Sinhala Sri Lankan state.

I am driven to the conclusion that it is the dynamics of the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region that leads you to give your support to the continued existence of an undivided Sri Lanka.

It appears that the US is concerned that support for an independent Tamil Eelam may lead to an increased Chinese/Iranian presence in Sinhala Sri Lanka and in the Indian Ocean region. This is not dissimilar to the concern of India in 1980s that support for an independent Tamil Eelam may result in President Jayawardene turning more to the US. 

The record shows that Sinhala Sri Lanka has exploited the balance of power triangle (US - India - China) in the Indian Ocean region  by engaging in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own by handing over parts of the island (and the surrounding seas) to India, US and China. We have India in the Trincomalee oil farm, at the same time we have a Chinese coal powered energy plant in Trincomalee; we have a Chinese project for the Hambantota port, at the same time we have the attempted naval exercises with the US from Hambantota (to contain Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean); we have the grant of preferred licenses to India for exploration of oil in the Mannar seas, at the same time we have a similar grant to China and a 'road show' for  tenders from US and UK based multinational corporations;  meanwhile we have the continued presence of the Voice of America installations in the island and the  ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) was signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007.

Said all that, you will ofcourse recognise that a 'post conflict', 'post genocide' Sri Lanka will prove to be no different to Saddam Hussien's Iraq which the US supported in Iraq's war against Iran. I have no wish to sound patronising but George Santayana's  remark that 'those who do not learn from history are condemned to relive it' continues to remain true.

" ..Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that some foreign and local elements' attempt to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka by framing charges of 'war crimes' and human rights violations against the country, would never succeed. "That would never succeed as long as the Sri Lankan government getting support from the people of the country," the President said addressing some 4,000 former UNP supporters from the Kalutara District, who joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party yesterday at the Temple Trees in Colombo. "I am ready to go to gallows or the gas chamber for more than ten times to save the motherland," the President said He also charged the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe for signing the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE leader Prabhakaran." Framing charges against Sri Lanka would never succeed, says Sri Lanka President, 4 April 2009

Murderous regimes who have acquired a propensity to murder will continue to murder to stay in power. The murder of  Sinhala editor Lasantha Wikremaratne is a case in point. 

Shift Happens

Again, I am not unmindful of the issues raised by Al Qaida, the US presence in Afghanistan and the US need to secure the support of Pakistan. Nor am I unmindful of the global financial/economic crisis, its impact on US foreign policy and your declared view that your 'relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century'. I am also not unmindful that the US may regard today's world as an 'unipolar world with a multilateral perspective' whilst others may  regard today's world  as an 'asymmetric mutipolar world' and still others may see it as an 'emerging bi polar world'.

For those who have lived through the collapse of sterling as the world trading currency, the depression of the 1930s, the rise of Germany and the eventual carnage of World War II, there may be a sense of deja vu  - a compelling sense of familiarity. Shift happens.

"Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too." - Marcus Aurelius A.D.169




I recognise that today, the US is a debtor country and that the role of the US dollar as a world trading currency is under threat.

"....The global crisis of overproduction is showing up the underlying weakness of the US real economy, as a result of which US trade and budget deficits are galloping.  The euro now poses a credible alternative to the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency, threatening the US’s crucial ability to fund its deficits by soaking up the world’s savings. The US anticipates that the capture of Iraq, and whatever else it has in store for the region, will directly benefit its corporations (oil, arms, engineering, financial) even as it shuts out the corporations from other imperialist countries. Further, it intends to prevent the bulk of petroleum trade being conducted in euros, and thus maintain the dollar’s supremacy...." The Invasion of Iraq: Oil & the Euro, Aspects of India's Economy - December 2002

Way Forward

Given all this, there are two ways in which the world may go in the aftermath of the current global financial/economic crisis.

One will be the path that was trodden in the 1930s, the jostling for narrow national advantage, leading to world wide conflict when push comes to shove - with China being cast in the role of Germany in the 1930s. 

The other is for all of us to learn from the lessons of the past and resolutely seek a principle centred approach to the resolution of conflicts between peoples and recognise the enduring wisdom of Charles Chaplin in the Great Dictator -

"...I'm sorry, but I don't want to be an emperor. That's not my business. I don't want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone - if possible - Jew, Gentile - black men - white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other's happiness - not by each other's misery. We don't want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men's souls - has barricaded the world with hate - has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost...." Charles Chaplin in the concluding speech  in his film the Great Dictator - quoted in Charles Chaplin : My Autobiography,1964  "

A principle centred approach will need to pay more than lip service to that which the peoples of the world proclaimed in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948 in the aftermath of World War II -

"...Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law...

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.."

In this day and age, the approach spelt out by India's External Affairs  Minister, Pranab Mukherjee in October 2008 is nothing short of neanderthal and a regression to the politics of the old cold war -

“We have a very comprehensive relationship with Sri Lanka. In our anxiety to protect the civilians, we should not forget the strategic importance of this island to India's interests,... especially in view of attempts by countries like Pakistan and China to gain a strategic foothold in the island nation...Colombo had been told that India would "look after your security requirements, provided you do not look around". "We cannot have a playground of international players in our backyard." Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee

The United States, India and China will want to recognise that the Indian Ocean is nobody's 'backyard'. Neither is it a playground. The Indian Ocean is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas and for any one country to claim hegemony is the path not to peace but to confrontation and perpetual conflict.

"The Indian Ocean ...is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. Boasting rich living and non-living resources, from marine life to oil and natural gas, IO is economically crucial to Africa, Asia and Australasia, the three continents bordering it, and the world at large....The Indian Ocean is a critical waterway for global trade and commerce. This strategic expanse hosts heavy international maritime traffic that includes half of the world’s containerized cargo, one third of its bulk cargo and two third of its oil shipment. Its waters carry heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oilfields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia, and contain an estimated 40% of the world's offshore oil production...

The Ocean features four critically important access waterways facilitating international maritime trade - the Suez Canal in Egypt, Bab-el-Mandeb (bordering Djibouti and Yemen), Straits of Hormuz (bordering Iran and Oman), and Straits of Malacca (bordering Indonesia and Malaysia). These “chokepoints” or narrow channels are critical to world oil trade as huge amounts of oil pass through them. "  The role of the Indian Ocean in Facilitating Global Maritime Trade, Nazery Khalid, June 2005

Indian Ocean

A principle centered approach will also want to recognise that, significantly, the day before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on 9 December 1948, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which declared, inter alia

" The Contracting Parties, Having considered the declaration made by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 96 (I) dated 11 December 1946 that genocide is a crime under international law, contrary to the spirit and aims of the United Nations and condemned by the civilized world;  Recognizing that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity; and Being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required; Hereby agree as hereinafter provided.... The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish..."

Here I urge you to give credence  to your responsibility to protect by strengthening the capacity of the people of Tamil Eelam to resist the genocidal onslaught launched on them by Sinhala Sri Lanka and to that end, remove the ban that you have imposed on the LTTE - rather than await its annihilation and await a 'post conflict' solution from President Rajapakasa's regime. At the risk of repeating myself may I say that  'post conflict'  means 'post genocide'. And for President Rajapaksa  'inclusive political solution' means that which  the Sinhala Buddhist ethno nation  may offer to a conquered people so that Sinhala Buddhist hegemony may be secured in the island for the forseeable future within the confines of a so called Sri Lankan 'civic nation/state' with a Sinhala Sri Lanka name (which it gave itself unilaterally in 1972), with a Sinhala lion flag, with an unrepealed Sinhala Only Act and with Buddhism as the State religion.

 I urge you to accept that  human rights activist Yelena Bonner (widow of Andrei Sakharov) was right when she declared 

"the inviolability of a country's borders against invasion from the outside must be clearly separated from the right to statehood of any people within a state's borders." 

I believe that the long term strategic interests of the United States will not be furthered by steadfastly defending the inviolability of territorial boundaries of existing states, regardless of how and when they were determined.  That will not be the path to a stable world order. Time will ofcourse, tell. 

"....The political stability in-ground is much more conducive to human rights and all those aspirations that we hold sacred in the United States. And I think that we've got to get away from this idea that we need to support the central government everywhere because it's always preferable to have a unified state rather than different ones.... we need to rethink the customary support we give for unity, and blinding ourselves to the oppression, to the misery that's inflicted on minorities and creates civil warfare, if you will, as in Sri Lanka, that will persist forever, until there's finally an ability to create a separate statehood that will be able to conduct its own affairs in ways that satisfies its own domestic constituency and is harmonious with its neighbours.... Remember the wisdom of Lord Palmerston: nations don't have permanent friends and enemies; they have permanent interests. And the interests the United States regularly is in recognizing these separatists—if you want to call them separatist moments for statehood, really, because it furthers political stability..." Bruce Fein, founder of the American Freedom Agenda, served in the US Justice Department under President Reagan, adjunct scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a resident scholar at the Heritage Foundation, lecturer at the Brookings Institute, and adjunct professor at George Washington University in Kosovo: The global significance of independence, 24 February 2008

There is a need for the US to defend the very real values that a people stand for and speak from the heart to the hearts of those people. These are the values which the Obama administration has pledged to uphold. 'Values are the essential principles of life without which life would be without meaning – things would fall apart, and the centre cannot hold. They are agents of social cohesion'.

 "...Movements for justice throughout the world and throughout history always begin with and are sustained by a moral statement, a value idea...Movements are sustained when there are enough people whose imagination is captivated by a vision that lifts them beyond wherever they may be and which encourages them to have a better idea of themselves and their history into what they might or could become.. Values are the essential principles of life without which life would be without meaning – things would fall apart, and the centre cannot hold. They are agents of social cohesion.... " N Barney Pityana in Liberation, Civil Rights & Democracy, The Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Lecture, 2004

I urge you to recognise that the United States has an opportunity to make Sri Lanka a model and help it to evolve, by negotiating, two autonomous democratic political structures within a system acceptable to both parties,

"....The United States has an opportunity to make Sri Lanka a model and help it to evolve, by negotiating, two autonomous democratic political structures within a system acceptable to both parties, where ethnic communities can coexist peacefully on the Island. The US should be firm in its message to the government and the opposition, that if negotiations are not forthcoming immediately, they should be prepared to conduct a referendum of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. This can be done with the assistance of the United Nations similar to the referendum in East Timor. Thus, in the absence of a negotiated settlement, the Tamil people could determine whether they want a confederation or a separate state as endorsed by the Tamil people in the last democratic elections held in 1977 in the north and east of Sri Lanka...." - US Congressman Brad Sherman, 1 September 2000

Yours sincerely,

Nadesan Satyendra

Foot Notes

1.  International Organisation for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Educational Development, Centre Europe Ties Monde, International Indian Treaty Council, Fedefam, Association paur la Liberte Religiose, Codehuca, World Christian Community, Pax Christie International, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, Movement contra le Racisme, International Association of Educadores for World Peace, International Association against Torture, World Confederation of Labour, and International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples

2. International Association of Educators for World Peace, International Educational Development, International Indian Treaty Council, Consejo Indico de Sud America, Comision de Deeches Homonas de El Salavador, Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in Central America, World Council of Churches, International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism,Action des Christians Pour L'Abolition de la Torture,FIMARC, International Council of Women, American Association of Jurists, Centre Europe-Tiers Monde, Servieiv Pax Justica America Latina, Pax Romana, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, and World Christian Live Community

Text of Letter also in PDF

THE SECRETARY OF STATE
WASHINGTON

March 23. 2009

The Honorable Mary Jo Kilroy
House of Representatives
Washington,D.C.  

Dear Mary Jo

Thank you for your March 9 letter expressing concern over the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.

Your letter touched on many of the points that State Department officials have raised in meetings with Sri Lankan government officials in Washington, as well as in Colombo, Geneva, and New York.

We agree that a lasting peace in Sri Lanka will only be achieved through political inclusion of all of Sri Lanka's minority communities. We continue to urge the Sri Lankan government to devise a post-conflict political solution that will demonstrate to Sri Lanka's Tamil population and the Tamil Diaspora that the government is serious about political inclusion. We have called on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to allow civilians freedom of movement and to discuss modalities for ending hostilities.

 In the past week, State Department officials have engaged the Sri Lankan government on the humanitarian issue. On March 13, I called Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to express my deep concern over the deteriorating conditions and increasing loss of life in the Sri Lankan government-designated "safe zone." In my conversation with President Rajapaksa, I emphasized that the Sri Lankan Army should not fire into areas where civilians are trapped in the conflict zone. I urged President Rajapaksa to devise a political solution to the ongoing conflict, and pressed him to give international relief organizations full access to the conflict area and displaced persons camps, including screening centers. I condemned the actions of the Tamil Tigers who are reported to be holding civilians as human shields, and to have shot at civilians leaving Tiger areas of control.

Due in part to the State Department's efforts here in Washington as well as our Embassy's tremendous work in Colombo, access for the international organizations to the safe zone has improved. However, much more remains to be done, particularly in allowing medicine into the safe zone and stopping the shelling. On March 15 and 16 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was able to evacuate over 900 wounded people from the safe zone and will likely conduct additional evacuations in the coming days. In addition, the World Food Program completed a shipment of 500 metric tons of food on March 13 and another shipment of 500 metric tons on March 19. The majority of this food assistance has been donated by the U.S. government.

The State Department continues to press the Sri Lankan government to provide adequate conditions in internally displaced persons' camps. We have urged, and the government has agreed, to allow UN agencies and the ICRC greater access to the camps, including monitoring the treatment of displaced persons. We also continue to press the government to permit full ICRC and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to all screening centers. The international community has started planning for the post-conflict period and remains committed to returning displaced persons to their homes as quickly as possible. The international donor community in Sri Lanka has also agreed on certain guiding principles for post-conflict donor assistance. These principles include the Sri Lankan government's good faith effort towards political inclusion, credible powersharing, and respect for human rights.

Sincerely yours,

Hillary Clinton