There are at least five good reasons for the West to re-evaluate its policy on "internal wars" fought in pursuance of self-determination by smaller nations within states dominated by larger nations.

Firstly, such wars are widespread. According to the Oslo-based International Peace Research Institute, between 1990 and 1995 there have been 97 such wars. Michael Brown (in his 'Preface' to "Nationalism & Ethnic Conflicts" MIT Press, 1997) counts thirty-five armed conflicts to fall within this category. Bernard Q Nietschmann of the University of California (Berkley) in a paper written in 1985 has estimated 45 conflicts prevailing at that time to be conflicts of this nature. According to Neietschmann,

Most wars since 1945 have not been state against state, but states against indigenous nations and ethnic groups that are fielding resistance forces to protect sovereignty, to gain greater autonomy, to restore national boundaries erased by colonial powers, and to end economic exploitation and political oppression. (Center for World & Indigenous Studies, 1985)

Secondly, such conflicts claim and continue to claim civilian lives in the tens of thousands. This is mainly because of the attempts by dominant nations, which control the government and the military to use their superior firepower to beat the rebelling smaller nation into submission. It is also due to actions by the rebels to take the war into enemy territory-the dominating nation's capital by targeting political and economic centres.

Thirdly such wars often result in rendering hundreds of thousands as refugees. Although these refugees are deemed "internal" and are not recognised as refugees under international covenants, invariably many thousands do find their way to the West! (According to the Joint Statement issued by fifty-four International Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) at the fifty-fourth sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 1998 there were 850,000 "displaced' people living in appalling conditions in the North East of Sri Lanka.)

 Fourthly, such wars when prolonged ruin the economy and cause considerable economic hardship to all. 

Fifthly, such wars when prolonged give rise to an economy based on war, which provides an economic rationale for the continuation of the war.

Yet, the West has done little to end these wars. On the contrary Western policy has been to support the dominant nations in the hope that it may help preserve the status quo and maintain "stability". The net result has been to further prolong the war and the destabilization of the entire region.

It is the writer's contention that it is time the West reviews its policy to help end these so called "internal wars".

The war in Sri Lanka, in fact, is a classic case exhibiting all of the above consequences. The West's' collective response to this war too has been typical. The Tamil rebels are deemed "terrorist" by the US State department and the "Green Berets" have been dispatched to provide training to the Sri Lankan military. The Australian Government's policy has been to support the Sri Lankan Government in that the atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan regime are pointedly ignored while the Tamil rebels are condemned for acts of violence. This is so despite mounting evidence of the genocidal nature of the Sri Lankan Government's actions. Canada and the UK are more circumspect but their policies are no different. The West European countries (Germany, France and Switzerland) home to over 250,000 Tamil refugees have remained aloof despite having to pay an economic price. Meanwhile, the West in general is bankrolling the war by providing aid and loans through various institutions.

The nature of the conflict
In order to formulate a policy, the West needs to understand the nature of the conflict.

Most importantly they need to understand that these conflicts are not about minority rights. Nor are they about fostering multi-ethnic pluralistic societies. Here the West needs to refrain from drawing a parallel between societies being forged in Australia, Canada and to some extent in the USA where ethnic minorities have willingly embraced a dominant culture, its institutions and way of life to situations where so called 'ethic conflicts' are now underway.

It ought to be understood that countries like Sri Lanka are multi-national states in which the dominant nation has sought to impose its rule by crafting the constitution to institutuinalise its dominance by deliberately ignoring the reality that those deemed 'minorities' are a nation in their own right in possession of a distinct culture, language and most importantly territory or homeland.

In this context Western policy makers need to understand what has been said about people who regard themselves to be a distinct nation. It is also here that Western policy makers need to note the assessments by some of their own academics who have developed the concept of "fourth world" or 'underrepresented nations" to describe this phenomina. According to Griggs(The Meaning of 'Nation' and 'State' in the Fourth World, University of Capetown, Copyright 1992, Center for World Indigenous Studies) "A convenient shorthand for the Fourth World would be internationally unrecognized nations." He points out that these nations represent a "third of the world population whose descendants maintain a distinct political culture within states, which claim their territories. In all cases the Fourth World Nations are engaged in the struggle to maintain or gain some degree of sovereignty over their national homeland" (Griggs, 1992, Pg 3).

By treating these conflicts as "internal" the conflict may be masked but not understood and resolved.

It is therefore important for Western Policy makers to realise that while to the dominant nation those who resist their dominance are seen as 'rebels', "terrorists' "bandits" "separatists" and "extremists", to the fourth world nations who seek independence or political autonomy they are soldiers, fighters and warriors.

Unfortunately to the West, it is states that declare war, while (Fourth world) nations declare terrorism.

This has to change.

Treatment of the combatants
The West's treatment of the combatants flows from this flawed understanding of the conflict.

Western policy makers have tended to regard the 'State' notwithstanding its total control by and identification with the dominant nation to be the legitimate entity. This understanding needs to be re-evaluated. Instead, serious consideration should be given to the interpretation by Bernard Q Nietschmann who has pointed out that " States are the political apparatuses that unite (sometimes forcibly) different peoples and nations into one internationally recognized political and territorial entity. Nations, conversely, are made up of a self-identifying people, often united by a common language, religion and political consensus, who occupy all or part of an ancestral territory."

The treatment of the combatants (in the case of Sri Lanka, the Government and the LTTE) must reflect this view. In other words, the West needs to treat the combatants as equals who are in conflict because of their respective desires to dominate and resist this domination.

Equal treatment does not mean merely paying lip service to the concept or issuing blanket statements condemning violence by all parties. It could be more constructive in that actions are designed to monitor the situation to ensure that international covenants covering armed conflict are observed by both parties. It could also include the condemnation of war crimes and genocidal violence irrespective of the perpetrators.

When such treatment is genuinely neutral international governments may find themselves being in a position to play a role in mediation.

Political Solution
It ought to be realised that a political solution to such conflicts will have to involve invoking the right of self-determination. A right that has been stipulated in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and reads as follows: "All peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."

 In the case of the Tamil people this right was exercised when they voted overwhelmingly at the General Elections in 1977 to restore sovereignty.

Justice Marcus Einfield, former Chairman of the International Commission of Jurists and one of Australia’s leading Human Rights activists believes self-determination to be the key. Addressing a conference co-sponsored by the Australian Human Rights Foundation on “Peace with Justice in Sri Lanka”, Justice Einfield identified the Tamils' call for self-determination to be "at the heart of the war" and called on the international community of states to respect "the plea by the Tamils for self-determination". ( Edmund Barton Centre, Canberra, June 1996)

In this context one cannot ignore that the Australian government's 'historic shift' in policy to recognise East Timor's right to self-determination was a factor forcing Indonesia to  consider granting East Timor political autonomy, or even independence.

As we are about to enter the 21st century, our understanding of political sovereignty given the increasing globalization of the world economy has to be regarded afresh. It ought to be realised that it is possible to develop new associative structures where entities can enjoy political independence while maintaining economic interdependence.

The West can help develop and forge such structures which can not only end conflicts but promote the global economy.

More specifically in the case of the situation in Sri Lanka, the West can take the following measures that may help bring peace.

Firstly, signal to the Sri Lankan Government that economic and moral support will not be given unconditionally while it continues with the policy of "beating the Tamils" into submission.

Secondly, help bring about an immediate end to the hostilities by persuading the Sri Lankan Government withdraw its troops from the Tamil Homeland.

Thirdly, recognise the Tamil right to self-determination as the basis for a negotiated political solution.

Fourthly, explore associate structures under which larger and smaller nations could co-exist.

It is this writer's assessment that once the Sri Lankan Government realises that it cannot escape condemnation by the West and that the West will no longer continue with its unconditional support to the annihilation of the Tamil nation in the Island of Sri Lanka, it (Sri Lankan Government) will have no other choice but to seek an end to the conflict. 

The West which had taken the moral high ground in pressuring the Serbian Government to end its oppression of the Kosava Albanians cannot continue to support the Sri Lankan regime which has been shown to be as cruel as the Milsovich regime. The assessment by Kissinger, who in a recent article (Sydney Morning Herald, 2 April 1999) referred to Sri Lanka as one of those places "where infinitely more casualties have been incurred than in Kosovo"  highlights this point.  

Ana Pararajasingam
Australasian Federation of Tamil Sangams

November, 1999