By R. Sampanthan –
Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I move the following Adjournment Motion as a matter of urgent public importance:
“Whereas the Constitution of a Country is the Supreme law of the Country.
And whereas in Democracies the world over, a country is governed on the basis of a Constitution framed on the maximum possible national consensus.
And whereas Sri Lanka which is a multiethnic, multilingual, multicultural Country with a diverse and pluralist society is not governed on the basis of a Constitution framed on the maximum possible national consensus.
And whereas Sri Lanka has thus far been governed on the basis of three (3) different Constitutions: –
(i)The 1947 Soulbury Constitution framed by the Colonial British Government without the consensus of people of Sri Lanka.
(ii)The 1972 1st Republican Constitution, framed by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – the Government in power – which was able to muster a 2/3rd majority in Parliament without arriving at any consensus with the main Opposition Party, the United National party or the party representing the Tamils of the North and East – the Federal Party.
(iii)The 1978 2nd Republican Constitution framed by the United National Party Government in power which was able to muster a 2/3rd majority in Parliament without arriving at any consensus with the main Opposition Party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party or the main Tamil Party representing the Tamils of the North and East, the Tamil United Liberation Front.
And whereas the Tamil people of the North and the East are a people with a heritage and civilization of their own and a distinct linguistic and cultural identity and have historically predominantly inhabited the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
And whereas Sri Lanka has thus been governed since Independence in 1947 under Constitutions which did not enjoy the maximum possible national consensus of the diverse and pluralist people of Sri Lanka.
And whereas the situation of conflict that has prevailed in Sri Lanka from Independence in 1947 including an armed conflict that lasted for 25-30 years is attributable to the absence of a Constitution based on such maximum possible national consensus to suit the needs of a diverse and pluralist society.
And whereas Sri Lanka with a diverse and pluralist society, in the past 70 years, has failed to evolve a Sri Lankan identity as a Sri Lankan nation within a untied and undivided Sri Lanka.
And whereas ever since the enactment of the 2nd Republican Constitution in 1978 and in force until the present time, there has been a strong and consistent demand for the repeal of the said 1978 2nd Republican Constitution and the enactment of a new Constitution.”
And whereas several commitments made to the people of the country at several elections by political parties and political leaders for the repeal of the Second Republican Constitution of 1978 and for the enactment of a new Constitution have not been honoured and thereby the mandates granted by the people at the said elections for the repeal of the Second Republican Constitution of 1978 and the enactment of a new Constitution have been disregarded and violated.
And whereas consequently the 1978 Second Republican Constitution rejected by the people through several democratic verdicts has been in operation as the Supreme Law of the country up to the present time in violation of the will and without the consent of the people.
And whereas at the election held in 2015, a mandate was sought and received by the wining candidate for the enactment of a new Constitution.
And whereas at the said elections in 2015, the main opposition candidate himself sought a mandate to frame a new Constitution.
And whereas more than 90 per cent of the electorate voted for the framing of a new Constitution.
And whereas on the basis of the said mandates received at the said elections in 2015, a Resolution was adopted in Parliament unanimously on 9th March, 2016 which inter alia stated as follows;
(a) Whereas there is broad agreement among the people of Sri Lanka that it is necessary to enact a new Constitution for Sri Lanka.
(b) And whereas the people have at the Presidential Election held on 08th January, 2015 given a clear mandate for establishing a political culture that respects the rule of law and strengthens democracy.
(c) And whereas His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka has clearly expressed his desire to give effect to the will of the people expressed at the aforesaid Presidential Election by enacting a new Constitution inter alia, abolishing the Executive Presidency.
(d) And whereas it has become necessary to enact a new Constitution that inter alia abolishes the Executive Presidency, ensures a fair and representative electoral system which eliminates preferential voting, strengthens the democratic rights of all citizens, provides a Constitutional Resolution of the national issue, promotes national reconciliation, establishes a political culture that respects the rule of law, guarantees to the people’s fundamental rights and freedom that assure human dignity and promotes responsible and accountable government.
And whereas in terms of the said Resolution of 9th March, 2016, a Committee of the Whole Parliament constituted itself into a Constitutional Assembly, a Steering Committee and Subcommittees were appointed to partake in the framing of a new Constitution which committees after public consultation and deliberation have submitted Reports to the Constitutional Assembly which have been debated in the said Constitutional Assembly.
And whereas in the past several months, the Constitution-making process has for some unknown reason been at a standstill with no signs of any movement.
And whereas the continuance in force of the current Constitution enacted in 1978, and the failure to adopt a new Constitution is tantamount to an arbitrary rejection of the massive mandate granted by the people at the last democratic election in 2015 to frame a new Constitution and is also tantamount to nullifying a unanimous Resolution adopted by Parliament in 2016, to frame a new Constitution and is also tantamount to the continued unjust imposition of the Second Republican 1978 Constitution on the people of Sri Lanka without their will and consent.
And whereas such a course of events would be immensely harmful to the future interests of the whole country and all its people.
And whereas it has therefore become necessary to debate this issue in Parliament and ensure that appropriate decisions are made to take forward the constitutional-making process and thereby evolve a Constitution based on substantial national consensus.
If a new Constitution with a substantial measure of national consensus is not formulated and if consequently the country is compelled to be governed under a Constitution which has been rejected by the people and also unanimously by the present Parliament, Sri Lanka could before long qualify itself to be termed as a failed State and I submit it is the duty of this Parliament to take every step to avoid such a grave calamity.”
I would now like, Sir, to make a few submissions on the Motion which I have submitted and you will permit me to do that.
The Sri Lankan Constitution-making process, Sir, has been long. In 1957, the late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike entered into a Pact with the Tamil Leader Mr. S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. The main provisions of the Pact were in regard to the creation of regional councils and colonization. One regional council was to be created for the North; two or more regional councils for the East. The regional councils had the power to amalgamate beyond provincial boundaries and colonization was to be entrusted to the regional councils including the selection of allottees and the selection of persons working in land development schemes.
In 1965, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake entered into a pact with Tamil Leader Mr. SJV Chelvanayakam, dealing substantially with State Land and the provisions are as follows:
Land under colonization schemes in the Northern and Eastern provinces to be dealt with on the basis of the following priority.
Firstly, to landless people in the District. Seondly, to landless Tamil-speaking persons resident in the Northern and Eastern Province. Thirdly, to other landless citizens in Ceylon, preference being given to Tamil citizens resident in the rest of the Island. Both Pacts, Sir, recognized the special concern of the Tamil people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
After 1983, there were negotiations with the good offices of India. There were several talks which culminated in the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 29th July, 1987 and the main provisions of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement were that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multilingual plural society consisting, inter alia, of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers; recognizing that each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured, also recognizing that the Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of the Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking peoples, who have at all times hitherto lived together in this territory with other ethnic groups.
So, Sir, the distinct identity of the different people who lived in this country was identified. There was an expression of a need to preserve and nurture that identity, and as far as the Northern and Eastern Provinces were concerned, it was accepted that there have been areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people and they were merged into a single unit of power-sharing subject to certain provisions pertaining to a referendum which was never intended to be held.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution followed in 1988. That was the first attempt at Constitutional power-sharing arrangements.
The Provincial Council Elections including in a merged North East were held in 1988. The main political party of the Tamil people, the Tamil United Liberation Front did not contest the Provincial Council Elections in 1988 for the reason that the devolution arrangements, the power-sharing arrangements under the Thirteenth Amendment were weak and inadequate and needed to be strengthened and enhanced.
After the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, three successive Presidents and Governments took steps to strengthen and enhance the Thirteenth Amendment.
During President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s term in office, in 1989, there were the Mangala Moonasinghe Select Committee Proposals which was a clear advance from the Thirteenth Amendment in power-sharing arrangements. During President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s term, there were new Constitutional Proposals tabled in Parliament in August, 2000 with Cabinet approval which was a major advance from the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Both President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa were in the Cabinet of Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga that granted approval for the Constitutional proposals that were tabled in Parliament.
During President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term in office, he appointed an All Party Representative Committee and a Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee. The All Party Representative Committee called the APRC, was under the chairmanship of Prof. Tissa Vitharana. They have submitted thier proposals which are a clear advance on the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
It will be useful, Sir, at this stage to refer to the statements made by some leaders of the country in regard to the Constitution-making process. The first statement I would refer to, Sir, would be the statement made by (Prof.) G.L. Peiris, the then Minister of Constitutional Affairs, at a meeting held with the LTTE in Oslo between the 2nd and 5th of December, 2002 and this is what he said. I quote:
“Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities…”
And the parties agreed to, on that basis, discuss matters further.
Prof. G.L. Peiris, Sir, immediately after that agreement between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka, at a press conference, in the course of which he said, I quote:
“The LTTE is no longer insisting on a separate State but …. is looking at a different concept in earnest and that is internal self-determination.”
And he went on to explain what that meant, “which was power sharing, extensive power sharing within the framework of one country, no question of secession, no question of separation, but power sharing within the framework of a country.”
This was what Prof. GL Peiris said at that press conference and I quote from a record of that press conference.
Then, Sir, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now the Leader of the Opposition, convened a meeting of the All Party Representative Committee, the APRC and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee and he made a statement to them; a long statement on the 11th of July, 2006. I will read only the relevant parts. He said, I quote:
“The unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country must be preserved. This cannot be open to bargain. Our approach has been widely endorsed by the international community, notably India and the Co-chairs have clearly stated and have clearly ruled out any form of division of the country. Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka.”
He went on to say further, Sir, in the course of his speech at that meeting with the APRC and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee, I quote:
“People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement without over-reliance on the Centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities.”
Further on, in his statement he said, Sir, I quote:
“Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country. Given the background to the conflict, it therefore behoves on particularly the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace and there must be a demonstration of a well-stretched hand of accommodation.”
That is precisely what we want the Opposition Leader, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa, to do now. As a leader of the majority community, we want him to be accommodative with a hand that is stretched out to bring about genuine reconciliation amongst the peoples of this country. He went on in the course of his statement to further say, I quote:
“Any solution must therefore address these expectations as well. The role of the All Party Representative Committee, as well as the Panel of Experts is to fashion creative systems of Government and satisfy the minimum expectations that I had enumerated earlier as well as provide a comprehensive approach to the resolution of the national question”.
He wanted the APRC and the Multi-Ethnic Experts Committee to address the issue on the basis of views expressed by him, which he said were “minimum expectations”. We even could go beyond that. He wanted a solution on that basis. That was, Sir, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, presently the Leader of the Opposition.
Then Sir, shortly after the war ended, the Secretary-General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-moon arrived in Sri Lanka and there was a meeting between him and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, after which there was a Joint Statement made by them. This is what is said in that Joint Statement made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 23rd May, 2009.
It states, I quote:
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Secretary General agreed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio-economic development.”
Sir, again, I quote:
“President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue will all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.”
This was the commitment made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Secretary-General of the UN. When the Secretary-General came to Sri Lanka just after the war came to a close, largely to address the question of accountability and to give his mind to what has happened during the final stages of the war.
Sir, President Rajapaksa in the course of the statement that he made to the APRC, referred to India, the Co-Chairs and the international community as being against division and as being for a solution within the framework of an undivided country. I wish to refer, Sir, to the quotations of some Indian Leaders – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi – including India’s Foreign Minister and the India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman. Of course, what Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the late Indian Prime Minister, contemplated is contained in the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement which I have already quoted. But, Sir, I am going to quote now what the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in November, 2008 said in regard to the Tamil question in Sri Lanka. He said:
“We are deeply concerned. I spoke to him -” meaning ‘Rajapaksa’, “- that we have legitimate concern about the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils. It has a bearing on Sri Lanka’s relations with India. Not merely whether they are concerned about the wellbeing of the Sri Lankan Tamils, it has a bearing on Sri Lanka’s relations with India.”
Sir, in June, 2001, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India made a statement with regard to Sri Lanka. It states, I quote:
“You have a situation in Sri Lanka. The decimation of the LTTE was something which is good. But the Tamil problem does not disappear, with the defeat of the LTTE. The Tamil population has legitimate grievances. They feel they are reduced to second-class citizens. And our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, that the Tamil people have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect.”
So, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, was very clear in regard to the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and he was very clear in regard to what needed to be done. The Co-Chairs comprising of the European Union, Japan, USA and Norway, they expressed their views in regard to Sir Lanka. President Rajapaksa said that they were against separation, yes, they were against separation, but they also expressed their view in regard to what the solution should be.
The Co-Chairs have said on the 30th of May, 2006, I quote:
“It must show that it is ready to make a dramatic political change to bring about a new system of governance which will enhance the rights of all Sri Lankans, including the Muslims. The international community will support such steps; failure to take such steps will diminish international support.”
The Co-Chairs went on to say, Sir, in the course of the same Statement. I quote:
“The Tamil and Muslim peoples of Sri Lanka have justified and substantial grievances that have not yet been adequately addressed.”
They are very clear in regard to that matter.
Then, Sir, before I conclude I would like to refer to what one of the Co-Chairs, an imporatant Co-Chair, the USA, stated. The Assistant Secretary of State of the US for South and Central Asian Affairs, Mr. Richard A. Boucher, was in Sri Lanka on the 01st of June, 2006 and this is what he said, Sir, in the course of an important statement that he made. I quote:
“We also think the government should provide a positive vision to Tamils and Muslims of a future Sri Lanka where their legitimate grievances are addressed and their security assured. President Rajapaksa has spoken of ‘maximum devolution.’ Previous negotiations have agreed on ‘internal self-determination’ within a federal framework. However the idea is expressed, it could offer hope to many in the North and East that they will have control over their own lives and destinies within a single nation of Sri Lanka.”
He went on to further state, I quote:
“Although we reject the methods that the Tamil Tigers have used, there are legitimate issues that are raised by the Tamil community and they have a very legitimate desire, as anybody would, to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their homeland; in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited….”
So, Sir, while the international community, while India and the Co-Chairs have all expressed views on separation, they have also very clearly stated the sort of political solution they have in mind. Before I conclude with the international community, Sir, I would also like to refer to some of the statements made by the Foreign Minister of India after interacting with the President, the Foreign Minister and the Government of Sri Lanka.
The spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of India, Sir, on 22nd December, 2011 made a Statement and I quote that Statement pertaining to Sri Lanka:
“In this context, we have been assured by the Government of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance-
I will repeat what I said, Sir:
“In this context, we have been assured by the Government of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, leading to the full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and to go beyond, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers and genuine national reconciliation.”
That was the Statement made by the foreign spoksman on behalf of the Foreign Ministry of India.
I refer to another Statement made by the Foreign Minister of India, S.M. Krishna, on the 4th of August, 2011. He said, I quote:
“.. the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties. A devolution package, building upon 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.”
That was the Statement made by the Foreign Minister of India.
Thereafter, once again, Sir, the Foreign Minister of India was in Sri Lanka between the 16th and 19th January, 2012, in the course of which he interacted with both the President and the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Prof. G.L. Peiris and made a Statement while he was in Sri Lanka. He made this Statement in the presence of Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka, Prof. G.L. Peiris.
“The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to the Government, conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and building on it, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers…..”
TO: KU/12.30/The international community….
If you say that the international community, the Co-Chairs, India, are all opposed to division of the country, that is perfectly true. But at the same time, they are very clear in regard to what needs to happen. They are very clear in regard to the fact that the present position cannot continue.
Before I conclude on this matter, Sir, I might say this. Prof. G.L. Peiris, the then Minister of External Affairs of Sri Lanka, around this time also made a statement. He made this statement when he went to India in May, 2011. He was in India from 15th of May to 17th of May, 2011. In his statement, he said, I quote:
“In this context, the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties.
A devolution package building upon the 13th Amendment would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.“
That was the statement he made. While interacting with India, he affirmed his Government’s commitment to fully implement the Thirteenth Amendment and the building on the Thirteenth Amendment so as to achieve meaningful devolution and that had been exactly the position of the Co-Chairs, the USA, India, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and that was the position that they were all taking up.
I draw attention to these matters, Sir, for the reason that both former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Prof. G.L. Peiris are playing an important role in the process relating to the formulation of a new Constitution and to make clear to all concerned, that the present efforts do not in any way exceed what they were prepared to agree to during their term in office when they made such statements. Earlier positions of political leaders need to be made public for the people to be made aware that their present position is different from their earlier position and that there is no merit in their current criticism.
Sir, the armed conflict in Sri Lanka prevailed for between 25 and 30 years, was a very severe conflict. I would like to briefly refer to the LTTE. I think, it is relevant, Sir. After Independence, the Tamils demanded equal rights regarding citizenship, language, land, economic development, education and employment.
They were subjected to violence. The law was not enforced. The Tamils did not retaliate. The Tamils began to leave the country. To date, around 50 per cent of the Tamils who lived in Sri Lanka have left the country and live abroad the world over. Agreements entered into with Tamil leaders were breached. The Tamils were defenceless. The LTTE manifested itself in the early 1980s, well-nigh 30 years after the country attained Independence and during which period, the Tamil issue had become a matter of serious concern.
If the Tamil issue had been resolved amicably with Tamil political leadership during the three decades after Independence, the LTTE would never have emerged.
The LTTE was militarily defeated in May 2009. The international community, India, the United States of America, the European Union, the United Kingdom and several other countries helped the Sri Lankan Government to defeat the LTTE. The LTTE was not merely banned in those countries as a terrorist organization, the international community crippled the activities of the LTTE. This was on the assurance of the Sri Lankan Government that the LTTE was an impediment to a negotiated settlement and that a reasonable solution would be arrived at once the LTTE was defeated with international help. The Sri Lankan Government has now reneged on the said commitment. Ten years have ended since the LTTE was militarily defeated. A reasonable political solution has not yet been arrived at. The Tamil people continue to live as second-class citizens.
I am happy my Friend, the Hon. Dullas Alahapperuma has come here. It is time for people like you – I know you are very progressive. You have got very forward views – to take an interest in this matter and resolve this matter, if you want to save Sri Lanka from calamity. Otherwise, Sri Lanka will be destroyed. But, I do not want to be a part of that.
It is respectfully submitted that the international community cannot be mere spectators to the Tamils being treated as second-class citizens. We respectfully submit that the international community, politically, diplomatically and economically must influence the Sri Lankan Government to come up with a reasonable political solution. If the international community does not do so, a grave injustice would be perpetrated on the Tamil people. It would appear that the international community helped the Sri Lankan Government to defeat the LTTE and then the Tamil people were betrayed.
Sir, I am happy, the Hon. Nimal Siripala de Silva has walked in now. He knows the efforts we made to find a solution during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term. He was the leader of that government team, I led the Tamil team and he knows how much we tried. So, do not blame us. If you do not do it, we will be compelled to take certain actions and if we do that, do not blame us.
Sir, before Independence, the Tamils did not ask for separation. The Tamils advocated “Poorna Suwaraj, full independence” for the whole country. After Independence, the Tamils only sought effective power-sharing arrangements. This was the consistent democratic verdict of the Tamil people at every election since 1956.
The following, Sir, is a quotation from the Election Manifesto of the Federal Party in 1970 in proof of this. I read this to show that we even put this into our Election Manifesto.
Our election manifesto said, Sir, I quote:
“It is our firm conviction that division of the country in any form would not be beneficial, either to the country, or to the Tamil-speaking people. Hence, we appeal to the Tamil-speaking people not to lend their support to any political movement that advocates bifurcation of the country.”
That was the position of the Federal Party and it was quite explicitly stated in its Election Manifesto in 1970.
It was only after the enactment of the 1st Republican Constitution that the Tamils for the first time in 1976 demanded the restoration of their sovereignty. This was done after they failed to achieve even minimum political goals. On the advice of India, this demand was given up in a short while. After the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution, the political demand of the Tamil people has been an effective power-sharing arrangement within the frame work of a united, undivided Sri Lanka.
I repeat, Sir, the consistent political demand of the Tamil people has been an effective power-sharing arrangement within the framework of a united, undivided and indivisible Sri Lanka. You have denied that to us. That is why there is no peace in this country. That is why there is no development in this country. That is why there is no investment in this country. That is why nobody will turn and look at this country. We want this country to be a powerful country, a country that achieves progress and resolves the Tamil issue with Constitutional arrangements.
It will be useful in the context of this dispute being unresolved for several decades to refer to certain international instruments.
Firstly, I refer, Sir, to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Sir, Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states, I quote:
“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Tamil people are entitled to right of self-determination.
Secondly, Sir, I refer to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states again, I quote:
“All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
Sir, self-determination is categorized as internal self-determination and external self-determination.
There was a famous case in Canada in the Canadian Supreme Court pertaining to the Province of Quebec. Quebec wanted to secede from Canada and sought to secede unilaterally from Canada. The Canadian Central Government and the other provinces opposed it. The matter was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada. I have got the judgment of the Court here with me. I will not read it. But, permit me to say what the judgment states. It states, “The Court having inquired into this matter stated that self-determination was either internal self-determination or external self-determination.”
People have the right to self-determination. But if the people have the right to internal self-determination within their own State, which means that they have access to governance, they are able to maintain their self-respect and dignity and fulfil their political, civil, cultural and economic aspirations, then they have self-determination. People who have internal self-determination are not entitled to external self-determination.
So in that context, the people of the State of Quebec have no unilateral right to secede because they had internal self-determination within their own State. If you deny the Tamil people the right to internal self-determination persistently and consistently, and if the Tamil people are treated as second-class citizens, we as a distinct people with a distinct cultural and linguistic identity, with a tradition and a civilization of our own, will be entitled to external self-determination on account of your default. So, please remember that. It will be a great error on your part not to remember that.
The third instrument that I want to refer to, Sir, is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which contains some very important matters.
This is what the Article 21 (3) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states, I quote:
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
The will of the people shall be the basis of governance; shall be the authority of governance. From 1956, the Tamil people in the North and the East have voted for a change in the system of governance. Tamil people have consistently said that they are not prepared to accept the present Constitution. But you have not granted us internal self-determination and we are continuing to demand that we are entitled to internal self-determination.
Sir, we are all aware that Sri Lanka committed itself to a political solution in the Resolution adopted at the UN Human Rights Council in October, 2015. The Resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council co-sponsored by Sri Lanka unanimously states as follows:
“Welcomes the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to a political settlement by taking the necessary constitutional measures, encourages the Government’s efforts to fulfil its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population;..”
That was another commitment made by you to the international community.
Sir, the Motion I have moved also refers to Parliament of Sri Lanka being converted into a Constitutional Assembly and the reasons and objectives for that step. Much work has been done under the present Resolution moved in this Parliament by the Constitutional Assembly, the Steering Committee, the Subcommittees and the Experts’ Committee. This is comparable with the work done by President Ranasinghe Premadasa under the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Proposals, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga under the August 2000 Proposals and President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s own Proposals under the Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s APRC Report. There has been substantial consensus built around all these Proposals.
The current Process was proceeding well, but is now experiencing delay. The present process has three objectives: (1) Executive Presidency (2); Electoral Reforms / The Preferential Vote; (3) The National Question / Sharing Powers of Governance – Devolution. If there is delay in regard to one and two, then three, on which there is substantial consensus can be proceeded with and finalized.
There is a fear amongst the Tamil people that the aggressive implementation of a policy of advancing a Sinhala Buddhist environment and influence in the North-East is the cause for the delay in the process of devolving power being finalized. If that be so, it is a very shortsighted policy and must be abandoned. But we ourselves are beginning to fear that such a policy is being rather insidiously pursued.
I would like to remind the House, Sir, that this Adjournment Motion is not being brought in a spirit of confrontation. Since 1989 much work had been done, over a period of 30 years, to enhance and strengthen the Thirteenth Amendment around which efforts there has been much consensus and commonality that it could be unwise not to make use of all that material. The Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee Proposals during President Premadasa’s term, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunga’s August 2000 Proposals and Prof. Tissa Vitharana’s APRC Report during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term were valuable efforts, in all of which the SLFP was involved. These and the current Steering Committee, Subcommittees and the Experts’ Committee Reports around which there is sufficient consensus provide us with adequate material to build the necessary Constitutional structure on devolution / power sharing.
The alternative would be that we continue to be governed under the 1978 Constitution which has been rejected by the people and by this Parliament. This can only be harmful to the whole country and all its people. It is our respectful submission that in view of the consensus and commonality that exists on devolution/ power sharing, the same must be completed during the term of the present Parliament.
In view of all that has happened in the past 30 years, the institution of the State must not be seen to fail in this regard. Without Constitutional reforms on devolution/ power sharing, thereby the National Question being addressed Constitutionally, there can be no progress in any other sector, peace and permanent security will be elusive. Devolution of power to different levels would help to greatly minimize extravagance waste and corruption. The view also prevails in the country that concentration of power at the Centre is meant to facilitate corruption. Corruption on a wide scale is a charge that has been levelled against all governments whichever party was in power.
I am finishing, Sir. Before I conclude, I would refer to the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Statement issued by the Friday Forum, but I will not quote them in detail due to lack of time.
The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission was appointed by you comprised very leading members of civil society. The Friday Forum comprised leading members of civil society. Both those institutions have urged you very strongly to come up with your Constitution, a new Constitution, to come up with devolution proposals to enable the National Question to be resolved. They are very, very respected, highly educated persons of the civil society. It will be a mistake on your part not to do that. Please, act in terms of the recommendation made by the LLRC – Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission – and the Friday Forum.
Sir, just give me two minutes to conclude. Very briefly, looking back at the whole issue, the process of Constitutional Reform has been on the anvil from 1957: in 1957, Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike; in 1965, Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake; in 1987, President JR Jayewardene; during 1988 – 1989, President R. Premadasa; during 1994 – 2000, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, during 2006 – 2014, President Mahinda Rajapaksa; during 2015 – 2019, President Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. He was also Prime Minister in 2001 and 2002. Certain Constitutional reform movements took place during the term of every one of these leaders.
If you do not come up with the Constitution, if you do not keep your commitments to the international community, if you want this country to be ruled under the 1978 Constitution, we will be ruling the country under a Constitution which has been rejected from 1994 at five Parliamentary Elections, including the last elections held in 2015, both Presidential and Parliament. If you rule this country for such a long period under a Constitution rejected by the people without their will and consent, you will qualify to become a failed state. You will cease to be a legitimate state. You do not keep your commitments to the international community. We made several commitments to the international community which we have not kept. We will lose international legitimacy. You will become, even internationally, an illegitimate State.
The Tamils are a distinct people with a distinct linguistic and cultural identity. We have historically inhabited the North and the East. We cannot live as second class citizens. We must live with self-respect and dignity. Maximum possible power sharing must be effected, power must be devolved within a united, undivided, indivisible Sri Lanka. We must be able to determine our destiny. Our Leaders have said it. The Sinhalese Leaders in this country whom I have referred to very adequately today, they have said it. The international leaders have said it; the Prime Ministers of India too. I am not referring to Prime Minister Modi’s statement on account of the fact that he spoke in this Parliament. Sir, Prime Minister Modi has said that the only way to keep a country united is to ensure that all its citizens are able to live with self-respect and dignity; all its citizens are able to fulfill their aspirations. He also said, “I want to strengthen every village, I want to strengthen every state in my country because it is only when other tiers are strengthened in my country that our Centre becomes strong; the country becomes strong.”
So, please remember this and the earlier you do it, the better. If you do not do it and abstain from doing the right thing, I do not think the Tamil people will take it lying down for too long.
Thank you, Sir.
*Transcript of the speech made by R Sampanthan on the 25th of July in Sri Lankan Parliament