By R.M.B. Senanayake –
The Government must win over the Tamil people to preserve democracy and the territorial integrity of the State as one nation.
In a democracy the State must obtain the willing consent of the people. The people include not only the majority religio-ethnic group however large such group is. The Sinhala Buddhists constitute 70% of the population but that leaves out 30% who will be a permanent minority. Majority decision-making does not permit the violation of the fundamental rights given to all citizens by the Constitution. These are not alterable for they are not given by the State but are the inherent rights of individuals irrespective of their affiliation to any race or religion.
But recent changes in the the law and the Constitution have meant the removal of fundamental doctrines like the separation of powers, checks and balances, independence of the Judiciary from the Executive and the Rule of Law which requires the law to be enforced equally against all citizens- rich or poor, politicians or citizens, soldiers or civilians. Without these institutional safeguards there can be no protection for the fundamental rights of citizens.
There cannot be groups of people in a State who are permanently alienated or estranged. The State is an abstraction and it is represented concretely in the form of the ruling political party or parties. The present regime has been co-opting the minority political parties by dispensing political patronage. But the Tamil National Alliance which represents the majority of the Tamil people, will not be co-opted for such considerations at least not until the rights of their people are respected and upheld by the government. The Government has mobilized a few Tamil politicians to bolster their claim of representing the Tamils. But this farce will not go down with the International Community. The Sri Lankan state can presently claim only the consent of the majority Sinhala Buddhists. In fact other ethnic and religious minorities are also complaining. The Tamils have complained for the last fifty years that they have been discriminated against on language, education, jobs and civil liberties. They allege discriminatory enforcement of the law against them. They fought a long and bitter war for setting up a separate State for themselves in the North and East. They did so after peaceful negotiations for devolution of power had failed over a period of 30 years. Unfortunately their armed struggle was characterized by terrorist acts against civilians including Buddhist monks and religious places of worship. This helped the government to mobilize the majority community behind it to wage a relentless war. It also helped to mobilize the support of the Western countries which had subscribed to the UN Charter in 1945. So they too assisted the government by banning the LTTE, preventing them from collecting money from the expatriate Tamil community in their countries and by providing war intelligence which effectively blocked the LTTE from obtaining weapons from overseas. The LTTE was roundly defeated in May 2009 and the territorial integrity of the State was restored.
But democracy requires that the consent of the Tamil people be obtained. It was necessary to look into and remove the grievances of the Tamil people which drove them to take to arms. So the Government appointed the LLRC which looked into Tamil grievances and made recommendations. But the Government has been dragging its feet in implementing these recommendations. Instead the Government has concentrated on development- demining the area making it safe for the internally displaced to return and spending money to restore the infrastructure. The Government has shown distrust of the Tamil people and deployed a large military in the north. Instead of winning the willing co-operation of the Tamil people the Government has sought to suppress any expression of political opinion by the Tamil people. The Army is accused of supervising the civilian administration and monitoring the behavior of civilians depriving them of the usual freedoms of expression permitted in a democracy. The internally displaced complain that their original lands have been taken over by the Armed Forces as Security Zones.
The Army is accused of running a police state to control the Tamil people monitoring civilian behavior and intruding into their private lives, presumably to oppose what they consider as Tamil nationalism. So the elected representatives of the Tamil people complain that their party offices have been attacked and that they are being harassed by ‘unknown’ assailants. The Tamil press has been vandalized. Whatever the purpose of these acts of violence they will only nurture popular fears and make both the Armed Forces, the government and the Sinhalese terribly unpopular and strengthen opposition to the State. Man does not live by bread alone says the Bible. The Tamil people want to be treated as equals and enjoy the fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. They want to live their lives without harassment. It is the duty of the State to provide them security and any State that fails to provide such security for life and limb and the fundamental freedoms of a free people loses its moral right to exact obedience from its subjects. History seems to be repeating. In 1956 the Tamil ‘Satygrahis were attacked with impunity on the Galle Face Green and later outside the Jaffna Kachcheri. Several attempts to win Tamil rights through non-violent means such as ‘satyagraha’ were treated with contempt by the majority Sinhala Buddhists. Successive agreements entered into with the Tamil political parties by Sinhalese political leaders were reneged.
The UN recognizes that all people must be treated equally by the State irrespective of ethnicity or religion. The UN even recognizes the right of a “nation” to self determination with sovereignty and territorial integrity although there is no agreement on either what constitutes a nation or how self determination should be exercised- whether by independence, federation, protection (Kurdistan) or some form of autonomy. Whether Tamils constitute a nation or not the right to some form of devolution of power has been accepted and incorporated in the Constitution under the 13th Amendment.
The Government will have to win over the consent of the Tamil people by allowing them to elect their representatives freely and fairly and allow the Provincial Council of the North to function without undue interference from the Army. The Army would have to be confined to barracks and law and order enforced by the Police. The local Police would have to be accountable to the Provincial Council at least for the normal police functions of crime prevention and investigation although some role for the national police need not be excluded as in a federal state. Otherwise the demand for self determination will echo and re-echo across the Palk Strait until it is given ear to by the UN. The unification of the territory through war has to be accompanied by unification of the hearts and minds of the people of the North with the rest of the country. We cannot afford to run a large army as the economic cost is too high. Time will show that the financial burden of the Army cannot be carried by a State running a massive budget deficit. It is difficult to increase government tax revenue and expenditure affecting public welfare cannot be cut. The cost of the Army can be reduced if there is reconciliation with the Tamil community.