By S. V. Kirubaharan –
The 1987 Indo- Lanka accord recognized the North East of the island of Sri Lanka as the hereditary land of the Tamil people. Under internationally agreed arrangement, the North and Eastern provinces were merged as one administrative unit.
Unfortunately less than a year after Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as President, the merger of the North and Eastern provinces was brought to an end on 16 October 2006, after systematic manipulation. The President’s voice, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna – JVP and then Chief Justice, Sarath N. Silva played an important role in this.
The President who ordered the National anthem to be sung only in Singhalese and who scrapped the Ministry which handled human rights, continues to cheat the International community by chanting the sweet word, “reconciliation”. What is lacking for Mahinda Rajapaksa to implement a viable political solution for the people who have demanded their fundamental rights for more than six decades?
The excuse given by the government is that a problem which lasted three decades cannot be solved in two or three years. So, why did they assure the international community that as soon as terrorism was wiped out, the ethnic problem would be settled?
As far as the realities, experience and history are concerned, regime change in Sri Lanka is not a viable solution for accountability and reconciliation. It is a myth created by some stooges who see benefit in it for themselves. As far as the ethnic conflict is concerned, every government in power has wanted to find a pretext to justify not solving the ethnic problem, rather than find a solution. A few examples follow:
Two third majority
In 1970, Srimavo Bandaranaike had a two third majority in the parliament. She used that to strip away the minimum political safeguards that the Tamils had under the Soulbury constitution.
Ceylon became a “Republic” on 22 May 1972, ushering in a Sinhala-Supremacist Republican Constitution, which made Buddhism the state religion.
The leftist parties, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party – LSSP and the Communist Party – CP who were for equal rights and were in coalition with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – SLFP, drafted the new constitution, and gave a prominent place for Buddhism and the Singhalese. They not only ignored the ethnic issue, they also removed the minimum protection provided in the Soulbury constitution . It is true that not all members of the LSSP and CP supported this view, but it cannot be denied that the leaders fully endorsed it.
In 1977, J.R. Jeyawardena of the United National Party – UNP became the Prime Minister, with a five-sixths majority in Parliament. He enacted a new constitution that made him the 1st Executive President of Sri Lanka. The Republic of Sri Lanka was renamed as the “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka”. Using the same majority in Parliament, J. R. Jeyawardena introduced the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in 1979, banning the Tamil militant organisations. The militancy had started only after three previous decades of non-violent protests had failed.
Then again on 8 August 1983, J. R. Jeyawardena enacted the sixth amendment to the constitution and rejected any demand for external right to self-determination for the Tamils.
The Sixth amendment, the PTA and the Emergency Law provisions became the instruments through which severe repression was unleashed on the Tamil people.
In 1989 R. Premadasa, in 1993 D. B. Wijetunga and in 1994 Chandrika Kumaratunga became the Presidents of Sri Lanka. Unlike Srimavo Bandaranayke and J. R. Jeyawardena, they had a simple majority in parliament. This was a good excuse for the three of them to continue the war saying that they were unable to bring any political solution without a two third majority in parliament. Like J. R. Jeyawardena they carried out indiscriminate bombings, killings, massacres etc in the North and East.
In fact, government propagandists are diplomatically admitting that from 1948 to 1983 mistakes were made because it was the period when the Tamils demanded their political rights, only through non-violent methods. During this period two pacts signed between the Tamil leaders and Prime Ministers of Sri Lanka (always Singhalese) were arbitrarily broken by the government. The unarmed Tamils were massacred, burned to death, raped and their properties were looted and destroyed in all parts of the island by the Sri Lankan security forces and Sinhala thugs. There were six anti-Tamil pogroms unleashed – 1956, 1958, 1977, 1979, 1981 and 1983.
How many Tamil MPs in Colombo?
Presently Mahinda Rajapaksa has a two third majority in the parliament. He uses this majority only for his own benefit – removing the obstacles for him to stand in the Presidential elections any number of times in future. He also uses his two third majority to take revenge on whoever is not obedient to him and his family.
This is Sri Lankan politics and attitude. In other words, whether it is UNP or SLFP or any other party in power, there has never been any commitment to devolution of powers to the Tamils even at a minimum level.
In fact the total opposite is true. Recent statements and speeches show obvious commitment to rampant colonising of the Tamil regions! They say that if 60% of the Colombo population are Tamils, why can the Singhalese not live in the North and East?
If this statistic of 60% of the Colombo population being Tamil is correct, then how many Tamil parliamentarians are elected in Colombo? Those who talk about such figures should be able to explain why no Tamil parliamentarians are elected from Colombo.
Truly speaking, mistrust has taken very deep root among the majority of the people in each community in Sri Lanka. The moderates are minorities within their own community and have no voice.
Extra-judicial killing of Rohana Wijeweera
Look at the attitude of the extreme political party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna – JVP. They are not worried about what happened to their members who were affected in their armed struggle against the state in 1971 and 87 to 89. On 13 November 1989, Rohana Wijeweera was captured alive. Without any inquiry or legal process, he was killed on the following morning and the security forces cremated his body. This extra-judicial killing committed by the Sri Lankan security forces is ignored by the JVP. If anyone is interested to know more about this story, read the book, “A soldier’s version”, written by Rtd Major General Sarath Munasinghe.
On 10 November, 2004, BBC Sinhala service, “Wijeweera murder investigation not priority – JVP” Since the killing of Rohana Wijeweera, his wife widow Srimathi, four daughters and two sons were taken in to ‘government care’ and now their house is located inside the Welisara Navy Camp. Why has their freedom been denied by every government? Are any members or the Minister of the JVP concerned about them? No.
But when it comes to the Tamil people, the JVP was in the forefront to file a case on the merger of the North East. Who motivated them? Some say Indian decision makers motivated Mahinda Rajapaksa and then he used the JVP and Sarath N. Silva to achieve his goal. In other words, the advice for the demerger of the North Eastern provinces was a gift given by India, in return for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bogus promises. India trusted Rajapaksa too much, overlooking the fact that the North and East are predominantly Tamil-Speaking and the historical habitation of the Tamil People.
Demerger of North and East
The bench of five judges of the Supreme Court on the demerger of the North East were all Singhalese: Sarath N. Silva Chief Justice; Nihal Jayasinghe; N. K. Udalagama; A.R.N. Fernando Judge; R.A.N.G. Amaratunga. They unanimously declared that the merger of the Northern Province with the Eastern Province was unconstitutional, illegal and invalid.
The interesting news is that the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, Mr Wigneswaran is a person equal to these five, he too was a Chief Justice. He said during his campaign in the Provincial council election that the North and East should be merged together. This is the position of the TNA manifesto as well.
At the beginning of the Supreme Court order President Rajapaksa said that he would make a careful study of the decision of the Supreme Court. (BBC Sinhala, 16 Oct 2006)
On 6 January 2010, President Rajapaksa stressed that he would never merge the North and the East under his administration.
Is the Sri Lankan judiciary independent from the President? If so, how come the President called the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to meet him to discuss its functions? The JSC refused and they faced the consequences.
Then what is happening to the criminal charges faced by Douglas Devananda and Rishard Bathurdeen who are Ministers in the present government. What action the Sri Lankan Judiciary was able to take against these Ministers? I can quote a few other examples.
What is happening to the highly controversial “Oslo Declaration” of 5 December 2002? Introduced at the conclusion of the 3rd session of peace talks between Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE, the “Oslo Declaration” stated that “the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self determination in areas of historical Tamil habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples based on a federal structure within a federal framework within a united Sri Lanka.”
In fact the Norwegian government, the Co-chairs and Sri Lanka owe an explanation to Tamils as to why the “Oslo Declaration” was ignored, even after Sri Lanka eliminated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE. The donor countries, European Union; Japan; Norway; and the United States known as Co-chairs, met in Oslo on 25 November 2002 and laid a foundation for lasting peace in Sri Lanka.
The man who represented the government of Sri Lanka during the peace talks was Prof G. L. Peiris. He is the present Minister of External Affairs and travels the world, justifying Sri Lanka. Like Chandrika Kumaratunga did before him, he pleads with countries, complaining that Sri Lanka is a developing country and not to support any resolution against it.
During the merger of the North Eastern provinces the statistics of the population in the area was 65% Tamil; 18% Tamil speaking Muslim and 13% Singhalese. When the Eastern province is considered as a single unit, according to 1981 statistics, the population was 40% Tamil; 32% Tamil speaking Muslim and 26% Singhalese. These figures speak volumes.
What does development in a country mean? The continuous improvement in standard of living and quality of life of the citizens are known as development. However, Human rights and security are also part of development. The promotion and protection of human rights, guarantees against oppression and discrimination; stability for investment and growth all count very much on security for the people.
In the North an East – reconstruction of roads, buildings, bridges, villages which were destroyed in bombing and shelling does not necessarily contribute to development. Of course, what is happening in the down South of Sri Lanka is development – New airport, new harbour, extension of railway track, new highways, etc. The question posed is – why all these happening only in the South but not in other parts of Sri Lanka? Is it to re-establish the Kotte Kingdom in the future?
Those who are in favour of regime change in Sri Lanka should go through the interviews and statements of Chandrika Kumaratunga who was the President from November 1994 to November 2005. For example, listen to Chandrika Kumaratunga’s BBC HardTalk interview of 31 October 2001. It is well known that she is the only person who can defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa in the next Presidential election.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga told South African television that Tamils were not the “original” people of Sri Lanka. “They are wanting a separate state, a minority community which is not the original people of the country,” she said in the interview. (Excerpt)
In fact Tamils lived in this island for more than 3000 years and there are historical evidence for it.
General Sarath Fonseka
General Sarath Fonseka who contested the last Presidential election said the following : “…thirteenth amendment is now out dated. It was dated 20 years ago, during the war. Now we have better understanding within the communities. We have better respect towards communities. There is no mistrust…all the communities to live together, like take example from America, how blacks and the white live together. They live like one country one nation…Still live together as one Nation…”
On 23 September 2008, General Sarath Fonseka said to Stewart Bell of National Post – Canada, that – “I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people,” he says. We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country. We are also a strong nation … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things.”
Opposition UNP and TNA
President D. B. Wijetunga from May 1993 to November 1994 of the UNP said, “minorities are like creepers clinging to the Sinhala tree.” (Excerpt)
President J.R. Jeyawardena from February 1978 to January 1989 of the UNP said, “I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people. Now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion. The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here. Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.” Daily Telegraph, UK 11th July 1983
Regarding the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s purported future visit to war torn Northern province, the chief opposition UNP Whip, John Amaratunga said last week in Parliament that, “if the Indian PM arrives in Sri Lanka without an invitation from the Sri Lankan President, he should not be allowed to come here. John Amaratunga further said that ‘they suspect that this move is an attempt to separate the country’.
I think these few examples are enough for the International community and the local polity to understand that regime change in Sri Lanka is not a viable solution for the ethnic question or for accountability. Those who are for regime change either want to let Rajapaksa(s) off the hook, or they expect their favourites to form a new government where they can have their shares!
Regime change in Sri Lanka will only pave the way for an excuse from the international community that, a new regime needs time and space for its transitional period. By that time Tamil people would be completely wiped out from the North and East. It is obvious that a new regime will not accommodate anything new on accountability and reconciliation. This unchallengeable fact has to be understood by the international community.
Albeit this is my point of view, I am not advocating anyone to vote for Rajapaksa or his political party. It is a fact that voters from the North and East are the deciding factor, especially in a Presidential election. Therefore if the Tamil National Alliance – TNA wishes to collaborate with any common candidate, they must sign an accord for political solution and accountability before the election rather than be fooled after the election. This is the experience of the Tamils since 1948 or even before!