By R Sampanthan –
Sri Lanka’s immediate post independent history was marked by discriminatory policies on vital issues such as citizenship, language, alienation of state land, employment, education and economic opportunity. These features characterised the inception of majoritarian rule and the denial of the legitimate aspirations of minority peoples.
The abrogation of the Soulbury Constitution of 1947, under which the country attained independence, removing the minimum safeguards for minority peoples contained therein, the abrogation of the BANDARANAIKE – CHELVANAYAGAM pact (1957), the DUDLEY SENANAYAKE – CHELVANAYAGAM pact (1965), entered into between successive Prime Ministers, and the democratically elected Tamil Leader particularly to terminate State aided land settlement of majority Sinhala people in the North and East, the enactment of the 1972 Republican Constitution giving the majority religion and language, privileged positions, and the installation of a majoritarian structure of governance, perpetrated majoritarian hegemony which was further entrenched under the 1978 Constitution. These new features contributed towards ensuring that majoritarianism became the vehicle to political power.
This situation resulted in the demand of the Tamil people, for political autonomy through constitutional arrangements. This demand of the Tamil people rested on two pillars; the Tamil People are a distinct people, with their own identity, own history, own culture, own language, from time immemorial, and have historically inhabited the North Eastern part of the country with the Tamil speaking Muslim people. The Tamil speaking people are yet in a majority in every one of the districts in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, despite concerted efforts on the part of Governments through State aided land settlement popularly referred to as Colonisation, and other avenues such aspreferential employment to the majority people in both the public and private sectors, so as to convert the said areas into ethnically majoritarian areas. The extent of the demographic change in the Eastern Province can be seen from the fact that while the natural increase of the majority Sinhala population in the whole country since Independence has been in the region of 250 to 300% , the increase of the majority Sinhala population in the Eastern Province has been between 850 to 900%.
The demand for political autonomy for the Tamil People and their resistance to majoritarian inroads, through peaceful non -violent campaigns based on the Gandhian principles of “Ahimsa” led to repeated anti Tamil racial pogroms commencing from the 1950s which resulted in around 50% of the Sri Lankan Tamil population fleeing from the countryand seeking refugein several countries the world over. This segment, today, substantially constitutes the Tamil Diaspora.
A retaliatory armed conflict that commenced in the 1980 s and lasted more than twenty five years has come to an end around four years ago. It must be stated that this armed conflict which assumed very fierce dimensions on both sides, resulted in the occurrence of very unfortunate and regrettable incidentscausing much suffering and pain to all peoples in the country particularly the Tamil People. The end of the conflict presented an opportunity to the Country and to all its peoples to chart a new future premised upon the ascertainment of the truth and genuine reconciliation based upon justice, discarding military triumphalism and majoritarian hegemony. It is such a course that provides all the peoples of Sri Lanka with equal opportunities to build a new Sri Lanka based on peace progress and prosperity. It is in this background that I propose to analyse the events that have occurred since the conclusion of the armed conflict and what needs to be done to achieve the desired objective.
The War and its aftermath had several unacceptable consequences. The War was conducted by the Sri Lankan State on the premise that it could be completed without any witnesses and without adherence to Humanitarian or Human Rights Laws. In September 2008, all non-governmental organisations were directed to leave the “VANNI” – the area of conflict, both the domestic and international media were kept out, the United Nations personnel were required on grounds of their own security to leave, access to the ICRC was severely limited, and no one else, not even Members of Parliament were permitted to enter the area. The Sri Lankan Government claimed that there were only around 60,000 people in the conflict zone when there were in fact around 400,000 people in that area. Food and medicines were provided only as per government estimates. The expulsion of international agencies placed an unbearable burden on the people. Despite these rigid restrictions clear evidence has been forthcoming in regard to the nature of the attacks to which civilians were subjected, the extent of their suffering and deprivation, a realistic appraisal of the number of casualties and the atrocities committed by both sides. Eventually despite the Government’s claims, over 290,000 people came out of the conflict zone, conclusively establishing that the Government’s initial claim of only 60,000 remaining in the conflict zone was a gross distortion of the truth.
The visit of the Secretary General of the United Nations to Sri Lanka on 23rd May, 2009, almost immediately after the war came to an end and the joint communique issued by the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary General identified three issues as of fundamental importance.
- Political empowerment and Political solution
- Resettlement of internally displaced persons together with providing them with means of livelihood so as to enable the resumption of lives at the earliest
- The Government’s commitment to take measures to address its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of Human Rights in keeping with International Human Rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations, and the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Laws.
Since then we have had the benefit of
- The report of the Committee of Experts, appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations to advise him on issues of accountability.
- The report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the Sri Lankan Government, and the constructive recommendations contained therein to bring about genuine reconciliation.
- The resolution adopted at the Human Rights Council in March 2012, outlining the obligations of the Sri Lankan Government and the further steps relating thereto.
We now have the report of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to the Human Rights Council in regard to the manner of implementation by the Sri Lankan Government of the Resolution of the Human Rights Council of March 2012 and the new resolution to be introduced by the United States of America at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council.
It’s in this background and the background of the current situation on the ground in the North East that we have to consider what the future needs to be.
What has happened in the North East since the end of the conflict, instead of bringing about genuine reconciliation has only resulted in further alienation.
The Sri Lankan Government has not made tangible progress on any of the constructive recommendations identified by the L.L.R.C and incorporated in the U.N.H.R.C resolution of March 2012 – viz – credible investigations of wide spread allegations of extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances – several thousands yet remain unaccounted for; amongst the more egregious of these killings was the murder of five students in Trincomalee and seventeen aid workers in Muthur, despite Government’s commitments no action has been taken to conclude the investigations and prosecute the offenders; not even the report of a Commission of Inquiry appointed to inquire into these, amongst other grave violations of Human Rights has been published; An Independent group of eminent persons appointed to oversee the working of the Commission and to ensure that its performance was in keeping with International standards, terminated its mandate stating that the Sri Lankan state did not have the political will or commitment to investigate grave human rights violations in keeping with International norms and standards;this clearly demonstrates the attitude of the Sri Lankan State towards extra judicial killings and enforced disappearance of Tamils; demilitarisation of the North of Sri Lanka, particularly the dismantling of High Security Zones and restoring such lands to the civilians entitled thereto both for residence and occupation;
The Government has made commitments to the Supreme Court that the people evicted from the Vallikamam High Security Zone and the Sampur High Security Zone would be resettled, the Government has also given an assurance in Parliament that the people evicted from the Sampur High Security Zone would be resettled; while in Vallikamam there has been part settlement and there is more to be done, no settlement has taken place in Sampur and steps are afoot in both areas to use the land for other purposes; implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms – that would enable restoration of lands presently occupied by the Armed Forces and Para Military groups to civilians entitled thereto; re-evaluate detention policies, – large numbers yet continue to languish in detention,; strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, – these institutions are being further weakened; reach a political settlement involving devolution of power, – the Government has moved backwards despite the best efforts of the Tamil People and the Tamil National Alliance; protect the right of freedom of expression for all; and enact rule of law reforms. In every one of these areas the steps taken by the Government have been retrogressive. The Government has even chosen to blatantly deny credible evidence that has been placed in the public domain by credible International Agencies with adequate expertise in such fields. The Government acts with a sense of impunity and seems to believe that through such repeated blatant denials it can lay to rest any credible investigations in regard to such issues.An impartial credible International investigation remains the only avenue available in the context of the Government’s failure to conduct an impartial credible domestic investigation and merely engaging in bald denials. The Sri Lankan State which has continuously failed to keep it’s domestic commitments which have brought Sri Lanka to its present crisis seems to think that it can conceal itself behind the cloak of Sovereignty to avoid fulfilment of its International commitments and obligations. No one wants Sri Lankan Sovereignty which belongs to all its peoples to be usurped; at the same time one cannot permit the Sri Lankan State to use Sovereignty as an excuse not to fulfil the State’s International commitments and obligations. Such a situation can only lead to instability within Sri Lanka harmful to its own Sovereignty, and become a threat to both Regional and International Peace. It is therefore imperative that the Sri Lankan State must be made to conform to its International commitments and obligations. A State which has continuously failed to comply with it’s domestic commitments surely cannot be absolved from fulfilling its International commitments and obligations.
Since the repeal of the 17th amendment to the Constitution which ensured the independent appointment to and the independent functioning of important civil institutions such as the Elections Commission, the Judicial Services Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Public Services Commission, the National Police Commission, the Bribery Commission, the Members of the Higher Judiciary, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, and other important appointments such as the Attorney General, the Auditor General, the Secretary General of Parliament and since the removal of the restriction on the term of the Presidency under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, and all such appointments now being solely at the discretion of the President, the Country is inexorably moving towards Authoritarian Rule. The impeachment of the Chief Justice because the Government found the interpretation of the Supreme Court on certain Constitutional provisions, a duty vested exclusively in the Supreme Court unpalatable, on the basis of charges which were of a highly dubious nature and through an investigative process which was rushed through in one sitting in a single day, in violation of all principles of Natural Justice and disregarding competent judicial verdicts pertaining to the said process, is not merely tantamount to the undermining of the independence of the judiciary but is also strongly indicative of very unhealthy trends which portend a future pregnant with the most undesirable consequences. Physical assault on members of the Judiciary is a clear indication of the breakdown of the rule of law. The oppressive presence of the Military, particularly in the North, continued steps to changethe demographic composition of the North and East and to alter the linguistic and cultural identity of the North and the East through State sponsored actions are clearly indicative of the Government implementing an agenda, the aims of which are to destroy multi ethnicity, multi-culturalism, pluralism and diversity and thereby suppress and subjugate the Tamil People who remain, and compel them to accept the status of inferior citizens which inevitably will have serious consequences.
Democracy, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law are clearly in jeopardy in Sri Lanka. Political expediency takes precedence over all values and principles. In the interests of Sri Lanka and all the peoples who live in Sri Lanka this situation should not continue. The time has certainly come for all necessary appropriate action so as to ensure that Sri Lanka complies with its International commitments and obligations.
*STATEMENT MADE BY MR. R SAMPANTHAN M.P., LEADER TAMIL NATIONAL ALLIANCE AT THE THIRD ANNIVERSARY CONFERENCE, 2013, LONDON, OF THE GLOBAL TAMIL FORUM IN COMMITTEE ROOM 14 AT THE UK PARLIAMENT ON WEDNESDAY, 27TH FEBRUARY 2013