Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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War Against False Democracy

by Roy Ratnavel

In his July 1983 Report on 'Ethnic Violence, the Independence of the Judiciary, Protection of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka-Fragile Freedoms?' Mr. Timothy J. Moore, M.P. of the Australian Section of the ICJ commented “…in the abstract theory of international law, it would appear that the Tamils have at the very least, an arguable case, and possibly a sustainable one [to the right to self-determination].”

When I sat down to write my thoughts regarding the Tamils' plight in Sri Lanka and the current situation, first I wanted to find out the meaning and interpretation of the word ‘Democracy.’ On a bookshelf in my home office sits a fifth edition of The Little Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, edited and reprinted in 1982. It is a tiny dictionary, the size of one's palm, and contains not only the ‘different significations’ of the words therein, but also ‘examples’ illustrating those words in use.

The dictionary has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I have consulted this handy, 708 pages long book on numerous occasions – but never thought I would ever need to consult this little aid for such a simple, but most overused (by the Sri Lankan diplomats to the Western world) terms. It also never occurred to me – until today when I looked at the inside book jacket – , that this dictionary was a gift to my wife from one of her dearest friends in 1983. Ironically, this was also the same year in which government organized pogrom in Sri Lanka extinguished thousands of innocent, defenceless Tamil lives senselessly by bloodthirsty mobs, while civilized societies around the world stood by idle and tongue tied.

Under the term ‘Democracy’, one reads, “Government by all the people, usu. through elected representatives; equality of rights in society, group etc. Looking at ‘Society’ one sees a long explanation, but I plucked a portion of it: “Social mode of life, customs and organization of civilized nation.

Mangala Samaraweera – the newly appointed foreign minister of Sri Lanka – in a recent interview to the Washington Times described Sri Lanka as a "democracy under siege."

Sri Lanka is a democracy? What a lurid imaginary! Though it is not easy, crafting such stories is what Sri Lankan politicians do for their free trips and posh offices.

Any lingering doubts there may have been about Samaraweera’s poor diplomatic instincts – some might say stupidity, but that would be rude – were surely confirmed with his outrageous claim. A generous assessment of Sri Lanka will quickly reveal that it has systematically crushed all organized political dissent by Tamils. So, what can one say? Is it marketing at its finest hour combined with a gullible audience? Is it willingness to accept cheap mediocrity? Is it mass refusal by the world to accept the Tamils' condition in Sri Lanka? Or is it 'sins of omission' by Mr. Samaraweera? Indeed! The world may not know about this grotesque Sri Lankan-style of democracy – some would say deliberate dishonesty forever –, but too many Tamils are all too familiar with it.

I have been at the receiving end of grotesque Sri Lankan-style democracy. Sri Lanka is nothing but a ‘thug’ state. Nobody can dispute Sri Lanka’s expertise and credentials in the realm of undemocratic acts: It masterminded the policy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, ‘mass murder’ and ‘terror’ in the NorthEastern parts of Sri Lanka. And, the thuggery against Tamils continues. 

Amidst this, as a voice of moral outrage, the foreign minister's words ring hollow. I am not sure what kind of democracy Mr. Samaraweera thinks Sri Lanka is practicing, and Tamils are confused as well, but here are the facts.

The Sri Lankan government has committed, and continues to commit undemocratic acts in Sri Lanka against Tamils – its own citizens. It has broken international law and the Geneva Conventions many times with its brutal use of force and horrific violence against innocent Tamils and their property, to intimidate and coerce the civilian population, and many segments thereof, in furtherance of social, economic and, especially, political objectives. By definition the Sri Lankan government is guilty of terrorism.

If the Sri Lankan government adheres to the democratic principle of ‘Government by all the people’ and ‘Equality of rights in society’ as it claims – that means including the Tamils, it would have prevented injustice against the Tamils. Instead, the government has tried to bomb and starve the Tamils into silence. Since the dawn of independence from the British, politicians in Sri Lanka get elected ‘democratically,’ but turn around and rule like ‘thugs.’

The Sri Lankan government and its ‘democratically’ elected cabinet has failed to make any real effect to protect Tamil rights over the last five decades, nor does it have any plans of doing so – and the government that today encourages their own brand of terror in the NorthEastern parts of Sri Lanka, should be held accountable.

There is no law in life or nature that says a group may commit atrocities against another without impunity. When the atrocities are commited by the government, it is a more serious matter and should lead to greater repercussions. To achieve peace and when extolling the virtues of democracy, Sri Lanka must adhere to the ‘equal representation of all people’ instead of just merely declaring it to the press in the West.

It is somewhat troubling to know that the interests of the prevailing majority are so fondly protected by the international community, while labeling the Tamil minority, who dares to question the oppressive Sri Lankan government. In that process, Western media and some politicians have become ‘little Adolf Eichmanns’ of Sri Lankan tyranny. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Adolf Eichmann: he did not have his hands directly in killing of the Jews, but he ensured the smooth running of the efficient killing infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Aiding a country like Sri Lanka is akin to committing crimes against the Tamil minority.

Marie Colvin of the London Sunday Times, once noted “Certainly, Sri Lanka is a forgotten conflict. Some 83,000 people have died since the country exploded in civil war in 1983, a loss barely noticed except by their families” [August 12th 2001]. What will it take for the world to react? A human tragedy in this scale evokes only silence by the world and is unbearable to us Tamils. If the value of a Tamil's life is really that worthless, then the international community is not only worthy of admiration, but of contempt.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka have been crying out for the world’s help against Sri Lanka’s atrocities ever since the dawn of independence from the British in 1948. No country effectively responded to their cry. The 1983 race riot was a critical test and a marvelous opportunity for the world’s commitment to humanitarianism and for all those who are committed to international justice to demonstrate to a country like Sri Lanka that injustice against minorities is not tolerated. Furthe more, it could have also been a dramatic rallying point for all good people throughout the world to enforce international standards, which applies to all civilized nations on Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government shamelessly argues that it is a democratic country and Tamils' do not have a right to self-determination, since such a right is not recognized by Sri Lankan law. My reply is, “NONSENSE upon stilts” to quote the famous philosopher and libertarian Jeremy Bentham. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights lists the right to freedom, the right not to be tortured, the right to free speech, economic and social rights, the right to health, food and employment and has found wide support in real laws, at the international level and in civilized nations around the world. These ‘rights’ are routinely violated by Sri Lanka. Against this backdrop, Sri Lanka’s presumptive claim of being ‘democratic’ would put Bentham in a pickle.

Given that many Tamils were tortured and killed by Sri Lankan army, that many others were forced out of their homes and many others are still living under Sri Lankan army occupation, the suggestion of measuring a Tamil right to self-determination based on Sri Lankan law is laughable.

The Tamil right to self-determination is asserted and protected under international law and has been established by the people living there under the right of self-determination given by the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, Article 1.

In his July 1983 Report on 'Ethnic Violence, the Independence of the Judiciary, Protection of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka-Fragile Freedoms?' Mr. Timothy J. Moore, M.P. of the Australian Section of the ICJ commented “…in the abstract theory of international law, it would appear that the Tamils have at the very least, an arguable case, and possibly a sustainable one.”

Instead, Sri Lanka with its ‘Sinhala only’ agenda – has taken on a colonial guise and, in this way, has crossed moral and legal boundaries. When it began exercising discriminatory practices and unleashing violence over the Tamil population, Sri Lanka became undemocratic. To the extent that Sri Lanka, through past and current policies, has injured, denied and deprived the Tamil population of its human, legal and moral rights, it has deviated from the legitimacy conferred on it and must therefore stand to account. There is a general consensus among the Tamils today, that the Sri Lankan government, and the international community for that matter, have been unwilling and unable to promote and protect the human rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka for the last 50 years.

When should a particular ‘peoples’ indigenous placement on the earth become official, and have unquestionable, unalienable right? At 15 years? 150 years? 1,500 years? Are people in this situation required to settle for less than their full rights? Can the international community impose on Tamils, a forced marriage they no longer want and in which they can clearly demonstrate they have been abused?

Unlike the measures adopted by the Sri Lankan government, the Tamils' freedom struggle is not aimed at domination; instead it serves to protect the sovereign identity of the Tamil people.

Throughout history, occupying forces have met violent resistance from indigenous populations, because it is human nature to resist occupation with all means available so that one can live with freedom and dignity. The pain Sri Lanka had to endure is appalling, but it doesn't make a martyr of Sri Lanka, nor – much as one would like it to – does it sweep away all argument about the ambiguities of Sri Lanka's participation in its own downfall.

A c halk outline is being drawn around Sri Lanka and its government can’t even recognize it. The fate of the Tamils is still not clear, and the pain and anger intensifies, while the agony of separation compounds. Tamils have accordingly lost all confidence in any present or future willingness or ability of the Sri Lankan government and the international community to do so.

I remember reading somewhere that people can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. In the context to the injustice committed against Tamils in Sri Lanka, the international community so far collectively belongs to the second group. The international community must take a stand against such false democracy – and, declare war against it per se. A failure to do so is apathy at its most destructive.

Tamils welcome any new shift in policy of the international community that peruses an agenda of combating such false democracy and shows support for levelling the playing filed for the disenfranchised.

Sri Lanka and its supporters may beat their ‘democratic drums’ around the world claiming that they are working for democracy and good governance. If Sri Lanka wins, it will be a stupendous victory for ‘state terrorism’ – not for democracy. If I am wrong about this claim, then I need to get a new dictionary that may reflect a different meaning of the word ‘democracy.’ If I am right, then someone should buy the current Sri Lankan foreign minister and the entire cabinet a copy of my tiny dictionary.

Democratic nations, in their tradition, must respond in kind to the Tamils' struggle by smashing the very things that allow such a struggle to exist: poverty and injustice.

I am reminded of the words of US civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. He once lamented, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."

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