The “Wisdom” of Mr. H.L. de Silva

by Shan Suntharam; originally published November 26, 2003

Ostensibly, it was an address to mark the 50th anniversary of his call to the Bar by Mr. H. L. de Silva, who was described as a constitutional “luminary.” Thus, the expectation was of feast of constitutional wisdom distilled from fifty years of immersion in the law. However, gleaning from the excerpts appearing in TamilNet, it was, rather, a Sinhala chauvinistic interpretaion of the equally flawed constitution that has been imposed on the unwilling Tamil nation.

In his speech de Silva beats the reactionary drums of war even more furiously than the Buddhist “monksters” and other assorted Sinhala armchair warriors. That he is using the occasion and his legal reputation for base partisan and racial political purposes is only too obvious, not only from the tone and content of the speech, but also from the patronage provided by the PA through its point-man, Kadirgama. We must take the speech as a political one of the extreme kind, despite the academic reputation of the speaker.

If anyone ever wondered where Kadirgama got his much over-used word “sovereignty,” the spanner-in-the-works expression “core issues,” or Kumaratunga’s favorite, “War for Peace,” look no further than to the excerpts of de Silva’s speech. He seems to be the wellspring of all the reactionary thoughts and ideas that shape the mind of not only the PA politicians, but also the violent fringe of the Buddhist monksters, the JVP and the Sinhala Urumaya. Throughout his speech he uses words which should have universal meaning to strengthen his chauvinistic argument. To Mr. de Silva, nation = the Sinhala nation, peace = the supine acceptance of injustice by the Tamils/the surrender of the Tamils to the Sinhala army, sovereignty = Sinhala hegemony over the Tamils, state = the Sinhala government, a united Sri Lanka = Sinhala rule over the whole country, territorial integrity = Sinhala claims to all Tamil ancestral land, war for peace = war on Tamils for peace for the Sinhalese.

De Silva shows a frightening contempt for human life: “Is the absence of violence the paramount value and preservation of human life the all important consideration, whatever the consequences? If that be so, is the destruction of the territorial integrity of the State and the humiliation and subjugation of a significant section of the Sri Lankan nation deemed a trivial matter, of little consequence or value?” Mr. de Silva is saying that if the Sinhala leaders pay any regard to the prevention of violence or the preservation of human life, then 1.) the “territorial integrity” of the (Sinhala) state will be destroyed, 2.) there will be humiliation and subjugation of a significant section of the Sri Lankan (read Sinhala) nation and 3.) some unknown party is treating such destruction of the Sinhala state as trivial vis a vis (Tamil) human lives. Can you believe that de Silva is the preeminent advisor to the PA government!

I am puzzled by de Silva’s pronouncement as to consequence (2), namely, “there will be humiliation and subjugation of a significant section of the Sri Lankan nation.” Tamils are fighting for their dignity, self-preservation and freedom from subjugation, so he cannot mean by “significant section” the Tamils. I believe he means the groups of Sinhala colonists who, under the aegis of the Sinhala state, illegitimately appropriated Tamil land. A man who expresses so much indignation about the possibility of a small group of transgressors losing their privileges has not seen fit to mention the thousands of Tamils massacred in the Sinhala south under the sovereignty of the Sinhala government, nor does he mention the million Tamils bombed and killed or living as refugees.

De Silva cannot open himself to new and productive kinds of relationships between ethnic groups and nations. Look out, Mr. de Silva, the world is full of countries like Mayalsia and Singapore, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Eritrea and Ethiopia, Serbia and Croatia, Timor and Indonesia which were once united in a single state. For that matter, does Mr. de Silva regret Ceylon’s secession from the British Empire?

Ironically, the two countries that intrusively admonish the Tamils not to ask for independence, India and the USA, have been , when it was advantageous for them, the cause of the break-up of countries – Panama from Colombia, for instance, and East Bengal from India.

The Sri Lankan government did not lose control of Tamil territory for want of harshness of atrocities, rather inspite of and partly because of these. Mr. de Silva is old enough to know as an eye-witness all the Tamils’ peaceful political struggles, during which they were severely physically and mentally abused by the ever-compassionate Sinhalese. He must also have been an eye-witness to the periodic slaughters by the Sinhalese of helpless Tamils. He also knows that the Tamil youngsters took up arms because the “sovereign” power not only failed to protect the Tamils, but was also complicit in that large-scale, organized violence against the Tamils. Is it not, therefore, better to die bravely standing up to the tyranny than to be cut to pieces just for being Tamils or peacefully demonstating for one’s rights? Is not the LTTE, as the Tamils defenders, “according to just war doctrine entitled indeed obliged in the circumstances it was placed to wage war against ‘the agressors’ to defend itself and protect the citizens…”(in de Silva’s own words). The LTTE quite literally turned the aggressors’ arms and artillery against them.

The last paragraph of de Silva’s speech quoted in TamilNet is very telling. In justifying “the acts of vengence” by the government, he concludes “the acts of prevention of wrongdoing also have benevolent objectives and purposes.” Mr. de Silva thus cinched the case for the LTTE.

The 2Ks (Kumartatunga and Kadirgama), while touting “sovereignty,” were going about begging every country that would listen to them to aid Sri Lanka with money, arms, military advisors, bomber pilots and other mercenaries, clearly demeaning the country and detracting from its sovereignty vis a vis the international community (as it has lost it vis a vis the Tamils). It should be realized by Sinhala politicians that if they want the peace process to go anywhere, they should stop chanting unproductive mantras such as “sovereignty,” “unitary state” and “territorial integrity.” As regards the constitution and its sanctity, Mrs. CBK said not long ago that the consitution is not a Bible or something; the people should be able to change it when they want.

Sri Lanka’s constitution is like a double keyed box in which the stolen rights of the Tamils are locked up, with each key held by the UNP and the SLFP. These two should come together to open the box or else it will surely be broken into.

It is now the right thing to break out of the stifling confines of the sterile legalism of a flawed and fraudulent constitution and approach peace negotiations with an open mind in order to devise a modus vivendi for the two nations (Tamil and Sinhala) so that a permanent peace may prevail between them.

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