By G. K. Nathan –
The accord between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and the President of Sri Lanka J R Jayawardene was signed on 29th July 1987 to end the on going conflict between Sinhala and Tamil Nations, which started almost four decades ago with gaining of independence in 1948. A few of the key events which led to worsening of conflict and inevitable intervention of India are: disenfranchisement of Indian Tamils in 1948 brought by British to work in plantation sector, government sponsored colonization of North East Sri Lanka started in 1948 (recognized in the accord as area of historical habitation of Tamil speaking people, it is referred to as Tamil Eelam using the acient name), introduction of “Sinhala Only Bill” in 1956, deportation of large number of disenfranchised Tamils to India started in 1964 under Srimavo-Shastri Pact (no other country with Indian Tamils in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa has done so), depriving of economic benefits to Sinhala youth resulted in armed rebellion against the government in 1971, indirectly inspired by the Sinhala youth together with denial of educational and employment opportunities to Tamil youth initiated the Tamil militancy under the name of TNT in 1972, repeated anti-Tamil riots or pogroms (1956, 1958, 1974, 1977 and 1983) against Tamils as a reaction to the demand for recognition and equal rights. The accord and the direct intervention of India to enforce resolution of Sinhala-Tamil conflict, brought hope to the Tamil Nation and adverse reaction from a section of Sinhala Nation; but, overwhelmingly there was hope that the military confrontation between the Sinhala and Tamil Nations will be brought to an end and usher peace and prosperity to all. Contrary to expectations, after a brief period of “peace”, fighting broke out and continued for another two decades. The fighting intensified after President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka in January 2008, unilaterally abrogated the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA); signed on 21 February 2002 between Sri Lanka Prime Minister and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE, faciliated by US, EU, Norway and Japan, this was the second international intervention. The military conflict between Sinhala army and the LTTE ended on the 18th May 2009 and the military victory was achieved, probably with plenty of military supplies received from China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran; a few other countries gave indirect logistic support and many were indifferent to what was happening in the battle field. The expectation that the end of military conflict would bring peace and prosperity to the Sri Lanka was wrongly placed; ignoring of breach of International Humaitarian Law and International Human Rights Law during the conflict poses new international dilemma and there is growing demand for Independent International Inquiry to find the truth which may lead to accountability and reconciliation.
Current Policy of Sri Lanka, a Lost Opportunity for Peace
The end of military conflict brought concentration of political, defence and financial powers in the hands of a few in the current Government of Sri Lanka (GSL), which proceeded without a murmur from anyone, helped by euphoria of the Sinhala people over the military victory. Instead of using the concentration of power in the hands of the few, to bring about reconciliation between the groups of people in Sri Lanka, GSL is continuing with further maginalization of minority groups: Tamils, Muslims, Christians by not respecting their human rights and random attack on places of warships Hindu temples, Mosques and Churches. The action of the Sinhala Buddhist groups give the impression that such attacks are taking place with full immunity and tacit approval of people in power, as seen from their presence in events organized by such groups. At the same time, the proposed media code threatens free speech and freedom of press in Sri Lanka as reported by Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says 26 journalists are in exile in the last one year and murder of nine journalists are unresolved. The current unilateral actions by the GSL to restrict press freedom and oppression of journalists show that GSL is moving towards an authoritarian regime. At the same time, making progress with muzzling of free press, GSL is carrying out structural genocide in Tamil Eelam by building Buddhist places of worship, selective destruction of existing places of worship, forcible acquisition of land under different pretext and settlement of Sinhala people in the areas after forcibly evicting Tamils; these acts appeal to Sinhala Buddhist chauvanists groups, the support base of GSL. At the same time failure to achieve noticeable peace dividend and improvement in living standard of all people have made the country to become politcally strangled, economically weakened and lack of security for the people.
In Tamil Eelam hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced from their own land and they are subjected to different forms of harassment by the occupying military, over 90,000 “war widows” are living without a main bread winner and the Tamil Eelam is under military occupation of a victorious army restricitng people’s freedom. To the people survival has become a big challenge. Large scale suffering of people and loss of loved ones during the military conflict, forced tens of thousands of Tamils to leave the shores of Sri Lanka, immediately after the end of conflct. Four years after end of the conflict, many are continuing to take the dangerous “illegal boat journey” to foreign lands seeking safety and new livelihood and arriving at the shores of Australia telling a story of persecution. It is not a reassuring sign that refugees are paying large amount of money with their savings, selling their assets or borrowing to escape to a foreign land, often encouraged by people smugglers “with connection to officials in high office”. Most of them come from Tamil Eelam and others from North West; the migration further reduces the size of the population in Tamail Eelam. In all, deportation of Indian Tamils and migration of Eelam Tamils, numbering about 1.5 million people, thus the Tamils representation in the parliament is also reduced.
It is evident that four years after the end of military conlict, GSL’s policy has addressed neither the accountability for the violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law nor made efforts to bring about reconciliation among the people. In recent time, the international community not seeing any progress in Sri Lanka with respect to accountability and reconcilation has began a process at the United Nation Human Rights Council –UNHRC and passed two resolutions at the 19th and 22nd sessions, to persuade Sri Lanka to follow the righteous path. It is unfortunate, that GSL pays very little notice to the UNHRC resolutions, but the forthcoming Head of Governments Meeting – 2013 (CHOGM2013) in Sri Lanka has made GSL to make promises on implementation of the 13th Amendment to placate other Government leaders to attend CHOGM2013. At the same time some of the world leaders have forewarned that their present at the CHOGM2013 will be used to persuade GSL to find a peaceful resolutions to the long standing conflict and to promote implementation of UNHRC resolutions, but Canada has said that unless there is improvement on humman rights record, Canadian Prime Minister will not attend. The military victory over the Tamils has made the current GSL, to proclaim that there is no “ethnic problem in the Sri Lanka”, but underlying reasons for the conflict remains and now the focus is turned on Muslims and Christians to uphold the view that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist Country, GSL action todate support this presumptuous hyopthesis, against the truth as stated in the Indo-Sri Lanka accord which was signed to guarantee the rights of the people of Tamil Eelam. At the same time GSL is looking at ways to introduce the 19th Amendment to further dilute the 13th Amendment and has appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC), made up members of the ruling Coalition who support GSL’s view; but members of the opposition parties in the parliament are boycotting the committee process. In the past PSC process is used as a delaying tactics by the current government. The key features in the accord agreed by the signatories are:
- Sri Lanka is a ‘multi-ethnic and a multi-lingual plural society” consisting, inter alia, of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers (section 1.2),
- Each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured (section 1.3),
- Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups (section 1.4),
- Merger of Eastern Province with Northern Province will be decided by a simple majority of the people of Eastern Province (section 2.3), conducting a referendum by the people.
The above characteristics are universally acceptable, in a multilingual, multiethnic and multireligious country, implementation of them could have prevented the tragedy in Sri Lanka, but in Sri Lanka communal politics plays its part to determine who is in power and pampering the fringe extreme groups is part of the Sinhala Buddhist political culture. The fringe groups working with the current government say that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country, contradicting all international conventions which respect rights of other groups in a country. These views of the fringe groups are exploited by main stream Sinhala dominated political parties to canvass the support of the Sinhala Buddhists who make up the majority in the country to gain political power. It is unfortunate that the extreme views are supported by very prominent people in the current GSL. This scenario in Sri Lanka makes it almost impossible to find consensus between Sinhala and Tamil Nations, even with involvement of the International community. Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to President Rajapaksa says 13A was forced on, then GSL and it accepted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution without calling for a referendum in the face of a threat of invasion from India. “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”, adopting what is said by the Secretary to President about referendum and equally applying to all groups in the country will receive the universal applause and speed up reconciliation. To find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka, everyone need to be persuaded to accept the Indo-Sri Lanka accord which recognizes Sri Lanka as a plural society; Sinhala, Tamil and English are considered as official languages; the right of people to decided by a referendum with a simple majority. The United Nation process which was successful in the case of South Sudan, East Timor, Eritrea etc. need to be adopted in Sri Lanka as the third International Intervention to bring about a peaceful outcome. When will that happen?
Political Development in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis India and Singapore
India is the dominant regional power with common enduring cultural and historical links with Sri Lanka, which extends over two millenium and as the immediate neighbour and as a party to the Indo- Sri Lanka accord has a role to promote reconciliation and resolution of over six decades long Sinhala – Tamil conflict, to maintain security and peace in this region. Looking at both countries, it is obvious that Sri Lanka is a microcosm of India with about 2% of the population of our gigantic neighbour and there are many lessons Sri Lanka can learn from India which successfully integrated the multiethnic, multireligious and multilingual country as a Nation (common territory and government) by being inclusive of all Nations (refers to a community of people who share a commn language, culture and ethnicity), which show that a country can use the dual meaning of the word “Nation” and achieve integration. India’s acceptance of the differences of Nations within the country, incorporating secularism and accepting all Nations within India as equal in the constitution, resulted in Prime Ministers and Presidents of India coming from different regions of India belonging to different Nations, which bonded the people together as one Nation or country. Comparison and examination of political developments in India and Sri Lanka, since both became Independent from Britain about the same time, will help to identify the root causes of why Sri Lanka failed, while India found strength in diveristy and making rapid progress and soon to be an economic power. Also inclusion of International Bill of Human Rights of all people in the Indian consitution strengthened the country as one Nation though very diversified, no comparable success story can be found elsewhere in the world.
On the contrary, Sri Lanka with only three languages as agreed in the accord and major religions:Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians failed to follow the practices adopted by India, instead agravated the situation by removing the unalterable section 29(C) from the 1948 consitution gauranteeing equal rights and religious freedom to all groups and gave Buddhism a pre-eminent position in the 1972 consitutuion and becoming Sinhala Buddhist centric country at the expense of other minority groups. The new constitution of 1972 led to the rise of Sinhala Buddhist chauvanism, promoted by political parties as a means to rise to power resulted in emhasising the differences of language and religion among the people rather than bringing them together as one Nation, as India did. The minority groups in Sri Lanka make up about a third of the total population, yet almost all senior positions in the government are held by members of the Sinhala Buddhist community, further aggravating the unity of the country. This led to call for the division of country, as existed in the pre-colonial era. Communal politics dominates Sri Lanka political scenes and finding a political solutions, accountability and reconcilaition are beyond any leaders in Sri Lanka, international intervention is becoming inevitable to find a peaceful solution to the Sinhal-Tamil conflict.
The recent reactions to 13th Amendement, prior to the first North Provincial Council Election, from politicians of India and Sri Lanka are not reassuring that the current regime of GSL is at all prpepared to make peace with minority groups as equals, recognizing the political rights of the minority groups to live as equal in a United Sri Lanka?
- Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has stated that electing a Northern Provincial Council (NPC) under the 13th Amendment would pose a threat to the security of the entire country. Defence Secretary is the brother of President Rajapaksa and his views are widely known.
- A new organisation calling itself the “Collective for the abolition of the Provincial Council System” was formed today. It comprises the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), the SihalaRavaya (SR), and civil activists including Attorney-At-Law S.L.Gunasekara, Professor Nalin De Silva and other individuals and organisations.
- National Freedom Front leader and Minister Wimal Weerawansa said he has appealed to President Rajapaksa to repeal land and police powers for Provincial Councils enshrined in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
- Amending 154G Will Make Devolution Meaningless will be a gross discrimination against the people in the North who are predominantly ethnic Tamils says Laksiri Fernando
- Justice Minister and SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem, has protested strongly against President Rajapaksa’s controversial move to circumscribe devolution by amending the Constitution.
- Amending 13th Amendment yet another broken promise The Tamil National Alliance has repeatedly pointed out the consistent and continuing failure of the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its promises to the peoples of Sri Lanka.
Some of the comments and observations listed above about the forth coming North Provincial Election which was promised by President Rajapaksa to the International leaders to secure the holding of CHOGM2013, will be a great concern to the world leaders. Failure to honour the undertaking may cause doubts about holding CHOGM2013 in Sri Lanka. While this is happening some of the international leaders observations related to events taking place in Sri Lanka forewarns GSL that failure will lead to adverse and painful impact on the politics of Sri Lanka.
- Indian government has sought an urgent meeting with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on the 13th Amendment to the constitution
- India, US should put pressure on Sri Lanka on Tamils issue: Congress MP says at the leadership training programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, USA
- The United Sates says it is looking for Sri Lanka to proceed with accountability and genuine reconciliation and will be watching “very carefully” to decide what steps may be necessary to be taken again at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveys dismay over Sri Lanka move on 13th Amendment. “He stressed on the expectation that the Sri Lankan Tamil community would lead a life of dignity, as equal citizens, and reiterated that India would make every effort to ensure the achievement of a future for the community marked by equality, justice and self-respect”
Another country in the region, which has succeesfully demonstrated the integation of a plural societ with four ethnic groups (Chinese, Malays, Tamils and others) speaking different languages (Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English) is Singapore, fostered by Father of the Nation Mr Lee Kuan Yew. He built a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi- religious plural society, in which all citizens lived in equality, safety and harmony, and economically prospered as a newly developed country. Singapore became an Independent country in 1965 peacefully separated from Malaysian federation and there is a lesson for Sri Lanka to learn. Mr Lee Kwan Yew who became the Prime Minister at a very young age was impressed by the educational achievement of Sri Lanka, as a fair number of the department heads in Singapore at that time, were Tamils and their contributions to education at all levels were noticeable, though numerically a small number. Tamil academics at Singapore University watched with anguish the downward slide of Sri Lanka preoccupied with communal politics in comparison with Singapore which moved forward based on merit and equality of all races. Though both countries started at about the same economic position when became Independent, Singapore advanced rapidly and has become a developed country and Sri Lanka is left in the quagmire of communal politics with uncertain future as a country. This reflected in the statements made by Mr Lee Kuan Yew on treatment of Tamils and many quotes are given in an article written by Dr Dayan Jayatilleka titled Tamil Autonomy, Lee Kuan Yew Line, Putin Policy; one of the quotation from Mr Lee Kuan Yew is given here recognizing his wise words, to show how Sri Lanka missed out advancing from a third world to a first world country, as Singapore did.
“…During my visits over the years I watched a promising country go to waste. One-man-one vote did not solve a basic problem [federal solution at independence could have avoided this disaster]. The majority of some eight million Sinhalese could always out vote the two million Jaffna Tamils who had been disadvantaged by the switch from English to Sinhalese as the official language. From having no official religion, the Sinhalese made Buddhism their national religion. As Hindus, the Tamils felt dispossessed…”
Ignored International Calls and what is to Follow?
During the military conflict and events that followed the end of conflict on 18 May 2009, many world leaders called upon the warring parties in Sri Lanka to respect the human rights and humanitarian needs of the people caught in the conflict, which fell on deaf ears and President Rajapaksa continued the war to win at all costs. Should there be a price to be paid for this act? There are allegations that during the conflict both parties have committed serious violations of International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law as determined by Panel of Experts and Review Panel, both appointed by Secretary General of United Nations. Similar conclusions have been made by Human Rights organizations and further evidence has been adduced by Channel 4 News and videos. President of Sri Lanka too appointed Lesson Learnt and Reconcilation Commission (LLRC) to invetigate the events from 21 February 2002 (start of Cease Fire Agreement – CFA, between GSL and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE) and end of the military conflict on 19th May 2009. The LLRC conclusions corroborated the claim made by GSL that war was conducted with “Zero Civilian Casualty” which cast doubts on the report, but LLRC provided caualty figures for the Armed forces and the LTTE combatants, nevertheless there were positive recommendations which remain unfullfilled. On the contrary, other reports mentioned above, estimated casualty figures of civilians during the conflict is between forty and one hundred thousand, many do not know what happened to their loved ones and still waiting? The call to appoint an Independent International Inquiry to know the truth is getting louder, which is hoped will lead to determination of truth and accountability followed by reconciliation between Nations in Sri Lanka.
During the conflict over six decades, all attempts at persuassion and implementation of agreements between the warring parties to resolve the Sinhala – Tamil conflict have failed and resulted in marginalization of Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the attempt at peaceful restoration of rights of all people through Indo-Sri Lanka accord in 1987 and Cease Fire Agreement in 2002 have failed, and many questions remain unanswered, why the efforts failed? The two reports: Panel of Experts in 2011 and Review Panel in 2012 initiated by United Nation Secretary General, the LLRC report in 2011 initiated by President of Sri Lanka have not brought changes to the situation in Sri Lanka. Indo-Sri Lanka accord recognized that Sri Lanka is a multilingual, multireligious and multiethnic plural society with Tamils living in a defined region validating the demand for a homeland. The two resolutions passed at 19th in 2012 and 22nd in 2013, sessions of the UNHRC and other promises GSL made to International leaders to find an amicable resolution poses a big challenge to the International community. If GSL fails to implement the undertakings, that may be in breach of Commonwealth charter will the members of CHOGM reconsider their decision to attend CHOGM2013 in Sri Lanka or change the location of CHOGM2013? Will the international community take appropriate initiatives to persuade Sri Lanka to implement the resolutions and agreements? Or India and the USA provide leadership to bring about resolution of the long standing conflict?
In the words of elder statement Mr Lee Kuan Yew on Sri Lanka – “It is not a happy, united country. Yes, they [the majority Sinhalese government] have beaten the Tamil Tigers this time but….the Jaffna Tamils have been in Sri Lanka as long as the Sinhalese. …I don’t think they [the Tamils] are going to be submissive or go away”. Taking note of this observation and call from International leaders, the current regime of President Rajapaksa has failed to respond positively. The way forward is the path shown by India and Singapore where multilingual, multireligious, multiethnic plural society have found a peaceful way forward. The current leaders of Sri Lanka have to take note of the quotation of Abraham Lincoln – “You can fool some of the people all of the time; all of the people some of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”.