For the Tamils of Sri Lanka
by Thambu Kanagasabai, July 8, 2018
The current situation affecting the Sri Lanka’s Tamils fairly and justifiably need a referendum to decide their own fate to guarantee their existence in Sri Lanka, if they were to avoid their gradual extinction in a country where they being the original inhabitants who existed in Sri Lanka from before BC 500.
Independence from British rule in 1948 heralded the process of Sinhalisation and later Buddhisiation to make Sri Lanka an exclusively Sinhala Buddhist state, which was also the ambition of late Anagarika Dharmapala who sowed the first seeds of nationalism, racism and Buddhist supremacy during his lifetime [1864-1933], including a hate campaign against other religions and races.
The Sinhala politicians and leaders from late D.S. Senanayake to the present President Maithirapala Sirisena, including the Prime Ministers who ruled Sri Lanka gleefully embraced and exploited this agenda as a convenient ladder to climb and capture the seats of power and also to accelerate this agenda.
In this process, the Sinhala leaders unleashed legislations, state terrorism including pogroms and massacres, colonization of Sinhalese in the North and East[Traditional and Historical Homeland of Tamils], construction of Buddhist Viharas and Buddhist statutes, state discrimination in employment, and allocation of funds for development in the North and East, seizure and occupation of civilian lands by the Security Forces in the North and East, permanent residence and involvement of Security Force in the daily lives of Tamil civilians, prevalence of a climate of insecurity and fear among the civilians, employment of Sinhala Officers and Employees in Government Offices in Tamils homeland [North and East] For instance ninety percent of Sinhala Police Personnel are serving for the Tamils in the North, for example out of the 434 Police Personnel in the Jaffna district only 67 are Tamil Police Officers.
Another instance is the Sinhala settlements sponsored and assisted by Sri Lankan Governments in the North and East particularly in Amparai and Trincomalee which have resulted in drastic demographic changes as can be seen as follows:
Sinhalese 29.3% Sinhalese 39.7%
Tamils 23.8% Tamils 17.4%
– 1953 – -2012-
Sinhalese 18.2% Sinhalese 27.0%
Tamils 44.7% Tamils 32.3%
To counter the chauvinistic policies of Sri Lanka Governments, the Tamils waged struggles first choosing non-violent and later armed struggles to remedy their grievances within a united Sri Lanka calling for Federal System or Regional Autonomy and as a last resort separation. The above resistances were crushed brutally by the Sri Lankan Security Forces with the assistance of its friendly countries totalling more than twenty two which swept the injustices meted out to Tamils under the carpet, and even branded them as terrorism while encouraging and condoning State Terrorism unleashed by the state against its own citizens which is now only drawing the attention of United Nations and International Community as war crimes against humanity etc.
The Tamils now have no hope to live as equal citizens with equal rights, dignity, respect and to be able to manage their own affairs in their traditional homelands – [North and East of Sri Lanka] as recognised by India in the Indo-Ceylon Accord of 1987.
The only option for the Tamils now is SELF-DETERMINATION with a right to hold a referendum. A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is invited to vote on one or more questions or a proposal.
“The name and use of it thought to have originated in Swiss Canton of Graubunden as early as in the 16th century.” – Wikipedia –
Referendum can be mandatory as prescribed in the laws of a constitution or voluntarily initiated by the legislature or Government or even initiated by citizens who petition directly to put a proposal for popular vote. A proposal can be even referred to the legislature which then refers it to popular vote for adoption in the legislature if and when approved by a majority.
“Referendum also means a vote in which all the people in a country or an area are asked to give an opinion about or decide an important political or social question”. [Cambridge English Dictionary] A referendum proposal can also be initiated by a head of state, who can refer it for approval or rejection, like a President of a country.
It is to be noted that since 18th century more than hundreds of national referendums have been organized and executed in the world. For Example:-
Referendums for Independence were successfully held in:
Montenegro .. 2006
Eriterea .. 1993
East Timor .. 1999
Slovenia .. 1990
Referendum for particular proposals was held in the following countries:
Scotland Proposal for devolution in 1997
United Kingdom Proposal to quit European Union In
South Africa 1992 referendum ended its apartheid
Canada Quebec referendum in 1980 and 1995
rejected secession from Canada.
It is to be noted that in some countries like Canada and Switzerland, the constitution allows the right to hold a referendum by Quebec in Canada or Cantons in Switzerland. Recently referendums held in Catalonia in 2017 and in North Kurdistan by Kurds in 2017 calling for independence from Spain and Turkey were not recognised as they were held without the approval of the respective Central Governments.
In so far as Tamils are concerned, there are justifiable reasons to call for a referendum confined to the areas where they have been historically and habitually residing for more than 2500 years.
The reasons can be listed as follows:
- Tamils in Sri Lanka are living as a majority community in the North and East of Sri Lanka for more than 2500 years as such they are eligible to conduct a referendum as residents of this AREA .
- Tamils have been treated as second class citizens since 1948 and this unsettling position is continuing with no sign of redemption but only signs of their gradual extinction are only discernible to erase their existence in Sri Lanka.
- Tamils are entitled to hold a referendum on the basis of the right of self-determination as prescribed in the United Nations Covenant on Political and Civil Rights Article 1 which states as follows: “All peoples have the right of self-determination by virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and thereby pursue their economic, social and cultural development”. Tamils posses this universally recognized right as a people to determine their political destiny to preserve their existence, identity, language, culture, religion and traditions, besides their chequered historical records.
- The call for a referendum under this right is not an infringement of the provisions of the sixth Amendment which only prohibits demands and agitations for a separate state. The referendum can include one or more proposals for the vote of Tamils living in Sri Lanka and abroad. It could be:
- Federal system of Government as in USA, and Australia
2. Confederation like Canada
3. Regional autonomy like Scotland or even secession.
The initiative to hold a referendum in Sri Lanka lies only in the hands of Tamils living in Sri Lanka and Diaspora Sri Lankan Tamils who number about four million out of a world total population of about 80 million Tamils. The petition has to be submitted to the United Nations Security Council, UN Human Rights Council and other human rights groups and activists.
A public and media campaign through local organizations in countries specifically in countries which allow referendum is important to utilize their support to canvass other countries for their endorsements.
Since Sri Lanka’s constitution does not allow referendum for the North and East Provinces to choose their political status, The Tamils political parties, leaders, civic groups local organizations have to organize and mount a mass non-violent campaign to obtain the approval of Tamil voters. A nationwide referendum to deal with the options of Tamils will surely be defeated by the majority Sinhalese voters. Even a proposal to hold a referendum to decide an option like Federation is also unlikely to be approved by the Parliament of Sri Lanka due to the majority of Sinhala members of Parliament who will all unite to defeat it while rising above party differences.
In short, Tamils have to be supported by the United Nations and International Community to resort to the right of Tamils for self-determination and calling on Sri Lanka to hold a referendum in the North and East allowing them to choose their political status.
The following brief reasons more than justify their right to call for the intervention of United Nations and International Community.
- Sri Lankan Governments policy and practice of communalism coupled with majority hegemony.
- Several breaches of promises, agreements, pacts, understandings with Tamil Leaders since 1958.
- Total absence of accountability and justice to the affected Tamils victims since 1958.
- The embedded and enshrined culture of impunity to armed forces which mutilates the hopes of justice for Tamils, who live with festering wounds of anger and frustration. The Government’s rejection of international investigation and protection of Security Forces alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity etc. shows the culture of impunity.
- State supported, encouraged and organized killings and torture committed against Tamil civilians and their properties.
- The agenda of militarization and Sinhalisation which was initiated in1948 is continuing in acceleration supported by the Army of occupation in the North and East.
- The process of hidden genocide is being actively carried out since 1948 along with structural genocide [POGROMS in 1956, 1958, 1971, 1977, 1981, 1983, 2006-2009 and 156 massacres confirm the hidden agenda. Viewing the above ground situation prevailing in Sri Lanka, the United Nations and the International Community are duty bound to take cognisance of the above inimical factors which are targeted to erase the existence of Tamil in Sri Lanka.
- Complete lack of political determination and sincere commitment by the Sri Lankan Governments to offer and implement a just and permanent political settlement.
- Dominant role and final say of Buddhist Clergy and ‘Maha Sanga’ who make detrimental political decisions affecting Tamils which have to be heeded by the ruling Sri Lankan Governments.
The Tamils are calling for the right of self-determination and referendum to preserve their existence in Sri Lankan in order to stop and avoid their extinction, unlike the referendums in some states which are calling for secession while already enjoying self-rule and/or regional autonomy like Quebec in Canada, Scotland in England and Kurds in Turkey.
In this respect, the initiative and worldwide campaign launched by the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam [TGTE] calling for a referendum is timely, just and wise to ascertain the final option and approval of Sri Lankan Tamils worldwide as to the solution they prefer, before agitating for a separate state for Tamils in Sri Lanka.
Thambu Kanagasabai LLM [Lond.] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka