By G K Nathan –
Open Letter to Members of United Nation Human Right Council – Tamil Nation Awaiting Justice in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka an Island is presently inhabited by multilingual (Sinhala, Tamil and English) multireligious (Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians) and multiethnic (Sinhala, Tamil, Arab and European descendents) peoples. Brief history of Sinhala and Tamil Nations gives evidence of antiquity of Tamil Nation and both Nations have lived in the Island for a few millennia. Each of the two Nations meets the legal definition of a Nation: “A distinct group or race of people that share history, traditions and culture” for obvious reasons the language has been left out in the legal definition as many ancient Nations in Asia, Australia, Americas etc speak variety of languages or dialects. In Sri Lanka, both Nations speak two different languages which further reinforce the concept and differences between the two Nations, recognition and acceptance is a prerequisite for reconciliation to occur. Tamils are a sea-faring Nation as known from ancient literature; further reinforced in A Survey of Indian History by Sardar Kavalam Madhava Panikkar which says “From the first century CE we witness the strange fact of Hindu or Hindu (influenced) kingdoms in Annam, Cochin-China and the islands of the Pacific. The Ramayana knew of Java and Sumatra. Communication by sea between the ports of South India and the islands of the Pacific was well established many centuries before the Christian era.” Beside that majority of Tamil population live in South India across the Palk straight from time immemorial and they were the first settlers in Sri Lanka, as seen by the archeological evidence before others came to the Island. Further evidence can be found from the website “A Tribute to Hinduism” the extracted evidence given below shows: the major sea-route linking South India to South East Asia and to the West, and a frieze of ocean going ship’s arrival from South India at Borobudur in Java.
Sinhala people claim that they are descendents of migrants from North India based on Mahavamsa of 6th CE, as per Codrington these are mythological stories related to Buddhism; Sinhala chauvinists propagate that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country, contrary to facts above, is the source of current Sinhala-Tamil conflict in the Island. Interest in spice trade, attracted European powers, following the ancient sea-routes established by Tamils; first of the colonial power, the Portuguese landed on the West shores of the Island in 1505, at that time there were three well established “countries” or Kingdoms in the Island: two of them were Sinhala kingdoms one in the South and the other in the Central Hills (Kandyan); the third one a Tamil Kingdom in the North East. The Kingdoms in the South and the North came under the control of colonial rulers: first to the Portuguese, then to the Dutch and finally to the British. British the last of the colonial rulers conquered the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815 and unified the three Kingdoms as one country for administrative convenience in 1833. The Island became independent in 1948 with promulgation of a unitary constitution and handed power to Sinhala Buddhists with connivance of Tamil leaders, but only safeguard for the rights of minority groups were provided with unalterable, section 29(2) of 1946 in the unitary constitution. Failure to recognize the historical differences between the two Nations by the UK sewed the seed of conflict, as soon as Sinhala political leaders started imposition of Sinhala views on minority groups. After more than six decades of majority rule, the unitary constitution promulgated at the time of Independence is found to be wanting in a multi-ethnic, lingual and religious country like Sri Lanka. The transfer of power in the hands of the Sinhala Buddhist majority community, instead of sharing power as happened prior to colonial era, was the worst that ever happened in the Island. The UK has primary responsibility for unifying the “countries” into one, which eventually, let to uprising of Tamils against oppression and finally leading to military conflict. The World silently watched war crimes and crimes against humanity, the worst occurred during the final stages of the military conflict. Allegedly, by both combatants which resulted in death of large number of Tamils. It is time an independent inquiry is held on what happened in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); to which Sri Lanka is a signatory.
This submission is made on behalf of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are continually facing structural genocide under the current regime and Tamil diaspora of about a million in number; most of them were made to abandon their former homeland in Sri Lanka and are living in foreign countries. Migration was caused by many repressive actions, since Independence in 1948 and they are: disenfranchisement of a section of Tamil population in 1948; planned colonisation of the Tamils’ historical homeland, which started in 1949; the above actions reduced the representation of Tamils in the parliament in 1952 within four years after Independence, which resulted in Sinhala Buddhists gaining two third majority in the parliament; followed by denial of language rights of Tamils with 1956 Sinhala only bill. Gaining of two third majority was put to full use and Sinhala Nation promulgated new constitutions, in 1972 and in 1978, which further consolidated all powers in the hands of Sinhala Buddhists at the expense of minority groups: Hindus, Muslims and Christians; their rights’ became readily dispensable. The subjugation of minority groups was completed by dropping the safeguard entrenched in section 29(2) of 1946 from the new constitution of 1972. Gandhian style non-violent peaceful protest against subjugation led to repeated pogroms against Tamils in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1974, 1977 and 1983, last of the pogroms over 3000 people were killed and large scale destruction of properties of Tamils occurred Island wide. After every pogrom increased number of Tamils left the country, seeking refuge in foreign land. Having had repeated failures to find a negotiated resolution to the political differences between Sinhala and Tamil Nations, in 1976 all the Tamil political parties called for “Right to Self –Determination of Tamil Nation” that was approved by 83% of people of Tamil homeland, North East Sri Lanka, in the 1977 General Election, the call is justified under Articles 1 and 27 of ICCPR. The Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) acceded to ICCPR on 11 June 1980, within a short period, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka was enacted in August 1983, through article 157A (2). The 6th amendment stated that: “No political party or other association or organization shall have as one of its aims or objectives the establishment of a separate state within the territories of Sri Lanka” thus denied the democratic rights guaranteed in ICCPR Articles 26 to the Tamil Nation. Following the approval of call for referendum by the people of Tamil Nation, the Tamil youth started a military campaign for liberation of Tamil homeland from Sinhala domination, after more than three decades of military campaign, the war came to a sudden halt on 18th May 2009. Shocked by atrocities and numerous deaths that occurred during the final stages of military conflict, the same countries that tacitly supported the GSL during the conflict are now clamouring for justice and seeking the truth through UN processes.
International Response and Sri Lanka’s Prevarication
There were serious allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the warring parties in Sri Lanka in the International media and supporting evidence produced by Human Rights Organizations. This led to the United Nation Secretary General (UNSG) visit to Sri Lanka and at the conclusion of his tour on 23 March 2009, a Joint Statement was issued with President of Sri Lanka which “underlined the importance of an accountability process“ and the Government of Sri Lanka agreed that it “will take measures to address those grievances“. The UN Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka (PoE) was appointed by the UNSG and their report lifted the lid on atrocities that occurred during the conflict, but President Rajapaksa maintains to date that the war was conducted against “terrorists” with “zero casualties”. The PoE found credible allegations, which if proven indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed by both combatants, PoE estimated about 40,000 perished in the final stages of the war. Further evidence was adduced in a Channel 4 documentary Sri Lanka’s killing fields. The UN failed operation in Sri Lanka was criticised and the UNSG appointed a UN Internal Review Panel to investigate the UN operation in Sri Lanka, during the conflict and its failure to contain the conflict. The review panel put forward proposals, how to avoid repetition in the future; but also increased the previous estimate of number deaths to 70,000. Both Panels appointed by the UNSG were not allowed by GSL to visit Sri Lanka and make a reasonable assessment. The Social Architects (TSA) a group of academics based inside the country carried out a survey in both the Tamil provinces and came to a conclusion that 118,036 people were killed, from September 2008 to May 2009. The Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), appointed by GSL to investigate the final stages of the conflict, as part of the agreement with UNSG, failed to give a number for the civilians killed. The LLRC maintaining the facade of “zero civilian casualties” put forward by President Rajapaksa, which casts doubts whether any internal mechanism will succeed bringing the truth to the surface. Under President Rajapaksa’s regime, in all fifteen Commission of Inquiries have been set up; reports neither published nor implemented. Bishop of Mannar in his submission to LLRC raised the discrepancy between the number of civilians at the beginning of final conflict and the 282,380 people who were incarcerated in prison camps in the North at the end of the conflict; there was a discrepancy of 146,679. The difference between the missing people and dead people given by TSA could be the number of people who could have escaped as refugees to other countries? President Rajapaksa before the final onslaught, ordered all the UN and NGO personnel to vacate the war zone and conducted a war without 24/7 news coverage.
The veracity of this number need to be investigated by setting-up an Independent International Commission of Inquiry (IICI), which will reveal whether the breach of International human rights and humanitarian laws have occurred and true number of people injured and/or killed. The call for IICI is being pursued by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, David Cameron Prime Minister of the UK who recently announced at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka and many others have joined the call. The USA has been consistent in their call to implement the LLRC report, since sponsoring the UNHRC resolutions at the 19th session(Promoting Reconciliation in Sri Lanka – A/HRC/19/L.2) and 22nd session (Promoting Reconciliation in Sri Lanka – A/HRC/22/L.1), repeated their call once again, in US media briefing. The International community should take note that the current regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has avoided the responsibility to implement what was agreed with UNSG which “underlined the importance of an accountability process” and that GSL “will take measures to address those grievances” of Tamil Nation. The alleged breach of International human rights law and humanitarian law remain not investigated, for more than four years. When will the International community’s patience run-out?
Right to Self – Determination
The historical evidence as given above establishes the antiquity of Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka, which is more ancient than that of the Sinhala Nation because Sinhala language only evolved in the 8th century CE. Since independence in 1948, contrary to historical facts, Sinhala politicians with the support of Buddhist monks propagated among Sinhala masses that the Island of Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country, which aggravated the dissent between the two Nations because Tamil Nation refused to concede to the propaganda. Almost 450 years colonial rule of the Island started with the landing of Portuguese in Ceylon, in 1505 and ended with the promulgation of independence in 1948. Colonial rulers had made available, independent proof of antiquity of two Nations in Sri Lanka, contrary to partisan views propagated by Sinhala Buddhists. During the colonial occupation, the truth about the Tamils in the Island came to be known, contradicting to the Mahavamsa myth and defined the area of land occupied by the Tamil Nation, given below. In June 1799, Sir Hugh Cleghorn, British Colonial Secretary, challenged the myth, when he said:
“Two different nations, from a very ancient period, have divided between them the possession of the Island: the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior in its Southern and Western parts from the river Wallouwe to Chilaw and the Malabars (Tamils) who possess the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion….”
The map of 1681 presented by Robert Knox, above shows three Kingdoms at the arrival of colonial rulers. This and other historical evidence shows beyond any doubt the land occupied by Sinhala and Tamil Nations in the Island of Sri Lanka. Ancient Tamil literature of BCE gives further evidence of antiquity of Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka.
At the time of Independence of the Island of Sri Lanka in 1948, Great Britain as the last of the colonial powers promulgated a unitary constitution bringing together multiethnic, multilingual and multireligious Nations to form a country. Since then many Nations brought together have gone their own way following their own national identity for example: Pakistan and Bangladesh, USSR, Yugoslavia, Eretria, Czechoslovakia, East Timor and South Sudan. The Tamil Nation’s antiquity and the land occupied by them are established beyond any doubt and as a linguistic group speaks one of the seven oldest languages in the world. Under the ICCPR the following three clauses are applicable to both Sinhala and Nations in Sri Lanka; following the precedence set by other countries, holding a referendum among all Tamils with historical link to Sri Lanka will a way forward:
Article 1-1 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.
Article 25 (Electoral Rights) every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.
Article 27 Guarantees persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities the right, in community with other members of the group, to enjoy and practice their own culture, religion or language.
The international community is waiting for almost FIVE years to know the truth about what happened at the last stages of the war which ended on 18 May 2009, Sri Lanka has conveniently used procrastination; even though President of Sri Lanka and the United National Secretary General (UNSG) showed their commitment by issuing a joint statement on 23 March 2009, which “underlined the importance of an accountability process” and the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) agreed that it “will take measures to address those grievances”. As the outcome of this joint statement UNSG appointed Panel of Experts on June 2010 and the report was issued on 31 March 2011, President of Sri Lanka appointed Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in May 2010 and the report was issued on 16 December 2011, both remain unimplemented. It should be noted that the Tamil Nation has been in the Island of Sri Lanka as an Independent Nation from time immemorial that right was denied by the UK at the time of Independence in 1948, since then successive Sinhala Governments of Sri Lanka have continued to deny the rights of Tamil Nation to date. The two resolutions passed at 19th and 22nd sessions of UNHRC calling on Sri Lanka to implement the LLRC report issued by commission appointed by GSL, remain unimplemented. It should be noted that Sri Lanka a signatory to the International Covenant to Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is in breach of this covenant as given above. To bring a meaningful end to the long standing conflict between the Sinhala and the Tamil Nations, the 25th session of UNHRC in March 2014 offers an opportunity to set a platform to initiate the following actions, without any further delay:
International community has to take into consideration that Sri Lanka, since the end of the conflict, has knowingly avoided to implement for almost five years all promises made and in addition not respected the joint statement issued with UN Secretary General. Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegation of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both combatants will lead to justice for all victims of the conflict; which has been demanded by a number countries, led by the USA, EU etc and reinforced by the Prime Minister of the UK David Cameron calling for International Inquiry appearing at CHOGM2013 in Colombo November 2013. The proposal through UNHRC should also consider alternate actions, if procrastination continues. International community need to take into consideration that Sri Lanka as a signatory to ICCPR has obligation to uphold ICCPR articles 1-1, 25 and 27 and International community and in particular the UK has moral responsibility to resolve the long standing conflict of more than six decades. There is evidence from other countries to suggest that conducting an internationally supervised Referendum to determine the wishes of Tamil Nation in the Island of Sri Lanka is a way forward. A constitutional arrangement to bring peace and reconciliation in the country between two Nations will lead to Tamil Diaspora of about one million becoming an asset to the country.