Article 1 of UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 recognises and grants the right of self-determination to peoples all over the world.
The Section says: “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”.
This fundamental human right of peoples is rooted on the preservation of their equality of rights, opportunities and treatment. In pursuit of these objectives, they can choose this option on their own without any third party intervention or compulsion.
People of different ethnicity, language, religion, history and culture posses this right to preserve and develop their identities, national consciousness is another mounting factor to claim this right, which allows them to form their own state and choose their own form of Government, which could be Union or Confederation with other similar states within a territory. This right is now recognised as a Universal Right exercisable by all the peoples who posses their own distinct characteristics.
Exercise of this right does not depend on any pre-conditions like oppression, discrimination and subjugation though these situations justify and invite international interventions, recognition and acceptance of their cause and decision.
As far as the Tamils are concerned, they are qualified as peoples within the UN definition of ‘peoples’ as they have been already recognised as people living in the North and East until the British conquest of Sri Lanka in 1798 and even later by the Bandaranayake-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1958, Oslo Accord 2002 and Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987.
This being accepted as a universal right, it is fully exercisable by the Tamils, though the past 50 year history of Tamils which is spilling with ill-treatment, genocide, discrimination, denial of opportunities etc. makes their case for the exercise of this right rock proof and more just and right.
Another viable option for the Tamils is to call for a referendum to decide the best possible political solution. Referendum involves a general voting by the electorate on a simple political question that has been referred to them for a direct decision.
As far as Tamils are concerned, a referendum would involve all the Tamil electorates to vote on a special political proposal or position to shape their political destiny. The political questions could be one of the following with answers of YES OR NO – OR NO OPINION:
 A Federal form of Government or
 Separation – Independent sovereign State.
 Unitary form of Government.
In order to legitimately call for a referendum it is important for Tamils to gain the political acceptance of the Tamils through election success which endorse the right of referendum for a particular political question. Alternatively, International Community including UN can initiate same with the consent of Sri Lankan Government, if Sri Lanka refuses to consent. However consent of Sri Lanka is only a distant possibility, and the only hope is UN”s Security Council to pass a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to hold a referendum confirming it to Tamil electorates.
During the 1990s many countries resorted to this referendum which paved way for the creation of several independent sovereign states. Some of the countries which became sovereign states after a ‘YES’ referendum vote are as follows:-
Eretria April 1993 separated from Ethiopia
East Timor August 19991 separated from Indonesia
Slovenia Dec. 1990 separated from Yugoslavia
Montenegro Dec. 2006 separated from Serbia
Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia – separated from Yugoslavia
South Sudan 2011 separated from Sudan.
It is to be noted that countries like Canada and Switzerland have constitutional provisions allowing referendum as a legal option, while Parliamentary Supreme countries like, United Kingdom can only approve referendum by passing legislation to that effect. French speaking state of Quebec in Canada held a referendum on October 30, 1995 to opt or reject to form a separate independent Government separate from Canada. The referendum voted ‘NO’ for separation. Likewise UK Parliament approved a referendum in 2015 for Scotland to decide the formation of an independent Scotland state. The referendum rejected the proposal with a 55% ‘NO” vote, However, moves are now underway in Scotland to initiate another referendum with the approval of UK Parliament.
The sticking point is that in UK, another Parliament has the power to revoke and reverse the ‘YES’ referendum vote of Scotland by another parliamentary legislation. Unless and until constitutional guarantee is in place, a referendum with ‘YES’ result runs the risk of ‘no effect’
Furthermore, referendum can be initiated for constitutional changes like extension of Presidential term or no election for certain period. Late J.R Jayaweardenae resorted to referendum in 2000 to extend his term of office for six more years, without a general election.
A referendum for Tamils can only succeed if the Sri Lankan Parliament approves it and also makes the necessary constitutional changes by making a “YES’ result by Tamils irrevocable under any circumstances. In that event only the referendum result will get international recognition. Other alternative is for the UN recognise it and pass a resolution to this effect calling for compliance from Sri Lankan Government to hold a referendum.
Similarly a referendum without the approval of a government, unless backed by international community or UN, runs the risk of being suppressed by a government using its central power and security forces, as happened in the 2017referendums in Turkey by Kurds, and Catalonia in Spain. The noteworthy and significant matter of political ‘Vaddukoddai Resolution” of 1976 which called separate state for Tamils resulting from the 1977 general election which was in fact a referendum which got a massive YES endorsement from Tamils.
Separation involves and aims at political independence based on race, religion, language or culture. In order to preserve one or more of the above, people who suffered from discrimination and/or subjugation resort to this step as a last resort to keep alive and foster their identity while deciding n their own political way of life,
Separate state is chosen by people as a group of individuals from another group which is usually larger, and differs by ways of language, religion, ethnicity, culture and even history.
“A group has a right to separate if and only it has suffered certain injustices, for which a separate state is the appropriate remedy of last resort”.
The recent history is replete with creation of numerous separate states based on ethnicity, language and religion.
- For instance, Soviet Union broke up after the creation of fourteen countries based on ethnicity.
Azerbaijan declared sovereignty on 23 September 1989.
- Georgia declared sovereignty on 9 March 1990 and subsequently elected a nationalist government on 11 November 1990.
- Lithuania declared independence on 11 March 1990. On 17 July 1990, the republic announced that it would create its own army units.
- Estonia declared independence on 30 March 1990.
- Latvia declared independence on 4 May 1990.
- Russia declared sovereignty on 11 June 1990.
- Uzbekistan declared sovereignty on 20 June 1990. An Uzbek Presidential decree in early September 1990 stipulated that future drafts of Uzbeks would be worked out through an agreement between the republic and union-level officials.
- Moldova (Moldavia) declared sovereignty on 23 June 1990. In early September 1990, the Moldovan Supreme Soviet and President issued declarations that the draft was to be suspended for Moldovans, pending negotiations with the central leadership.
- Ukraine declared sovereignty on 16 July 1990. On the same day, its Supreme Soviet also declared the republic’s right to have its own armed forces.
- Belorussia declared sovereignty on 27 July 1990. The Belorussian Supreme Soviet declaration stated that the republic had a right to have its own armed forces.
- Turkmenistan declared sovereignty on 22 August 1990. Similar to Kazakhstan’s sovereignty declaration, Turkmenistan’s declaration stated that the republic “determines the procedure for military service by citizens of the Turkmen SSR.”
- Tajikistan declared sovereignty on 25 August 1990.
- Armenia declared independence on 23 August 1990. Even before this, on 3 May 1990, at an extraordinary session of the Armenian Supreme Soviet, a resolution was passed that stopped the draft for active duty military.
- Kazakhstan declared sovereignty on 25 October 1990. This sovereignty declaration contained the qualification that the republic claims the right “to define the procedure and the conditions for its citizens’ military service” in cooperation with the central authorities.
- Kirgizia declared sovereignty on 12 December 1990.
All these countries are now enjoying UN membership as independent sovereign nations, and recognised by the International community.
As far as the Tamils in Sri Lanka are concerned, they are more than justified to call for the exercise of the:-
 Right of self-determination
 Right to referendum or
 Right to separation
The motivation and reasons for separation are many, some of which are as follows which has been experienced from 1948.
 |The state discrimination in employment and language use.
 156 massacres of innocents and commission of genocide and crimes against humanity [2006-2009]
 Economic and political dominance of majority Sinhalese with North and East neglected for industrial growth.
 Destruction of religious and historical sites and symbols, building Buddha statutes and Viharas adjacent to Historical Hindu Temples and Churches.
 An agenda of Buddhisiation and Sinhalisiation aimed at the assimilation of Tamils in the North and East with change of demography in mind.
 Permanent residence of about 180,000 security personnel other than the police force in the Northern and Eastern provinces which is almost one soldier to every three civilians [ratio 01:03] and occupying about 34,000 acres of private and state lands including of about 6500 acres in Jaffna peninsula.
 Dishonoring all recommendation, Accords, Pacts entered from 1958.
 Entrenched culture of impunity for Government officials, and security forces for crimes committed thus giving free hands to commit violent acts or crimes against other religious groups, places with no fear of prosecution. This culture is now almost declared a basic state policy as seen from the recent statements from the President, PM and Ministers. With all these injustices heaped, the suffering Tamils are left with no other alternative other than to seek the help of International Community, United Nations and/or friendly nations to right the wrong and offer remedial justice without further delay.
Geographical, economic and political interests of any nation or nations must not prevail and ride roughshod over the universally recognized and respected principles of human rights and dignity of the historical Tamil race.
Besides propping up of Sri Lankan Government’s without punitive action which are adept in doling out hollow promises and hoodwinking the International Community, United Nations, European Union and UN Human Rights Council only encourages them to continue their defiance of international norms while setting up precedents and encouragement for other countries to follow and practice Sri Lanka’s path of non-compliance with UN Resolutions, calling for accountability for the crimes committed against its own citizens. Hence, the Tamils living in Sri Lanka and worldwide have to act without delay in launching diplomatic and face to face meetings with foreign dignitaries and leaders convincing them to endorse a referendum based on UN’s self-determination Article 1 of Convention 1966.
Besides, peaceful non-violent campaigns including propaganda targeting the Buddhists Clergy and hard-core politicians are of serious importance at this critical period when the present Government is engaged in bringing out a new constitution, which as usual, if enacted, would end up with a full fledged ‘Sinhala-Buddhism’ protected and fostering constitution, leaving the Tamils to square one.