By C.V. Wigneswaran –
Someone asked me; “One of our Foreign Office official on hearing of your joint appeal to the UNHRC has said as follows: ‘These demands (of the Tamil Political Parties before the UN) will only harden the stand of the majority community, whose views no democratic country can ignore. It’s time the Tamils realized this and accepted the thesis that the liberation of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of ethnic or other identities, lies in economic development on an equitable basis.’ Could you comment on this?”
My response was; There are many basic matters which the referred Foreign Office official does not seem to know nor want to know.
Firstly the North Eastern Tamil speaking people are not minorities. They have been majority in the North East or the area covered by the present Northern and Eastern Provinces and more extending towards Negombo in the West and Kathirgamam in the East for over 3000 years. The latest excavations prove that. (Check with Professor Pathmanathan and Professor Pushparatnam for details).
It is only in 1833 that the Country was brought under a single administration. Until the Western Countries conquered us there were separate Tamil Kingdoms in the North. The East was governed by semi independent Chiefs called Vanniyars paying tithes to the Kandyan King who was a Tamil in later times. There is no evidence to show that Sinhalese lived in the North and East in large numbers at any time. Colonization in recent times during the 20th Century brought the Sinhalese to the East. Earlier seasonal fishermen used to come from Negombo and other areas, stay until the season was over and return. This was so in Trincomalee even in the early 1940s. I am personally aware of this. So too Mr.Sambandan. We were both born in the 1930s.
Secondly it was by deceit that the Sinhalese gained control over the Tamils when the British left us. The Sinhalese promised Sir P. Arunachalam in or around 1919 a seat for the Tamils in Colombo and got him to speak to Honourable Sabapathy the leader of the Jaffna Tamils to consent to territorial representation instead of communal representation. Communal representation was better for the Tamils since the North and East being majority Tamils would have been separately governed. There was little chance of the Sinhalese gaining control over the Tamils and the Tamil areas, if the North Eastern territorial and communal integrity was maintained. Once Hon’ Sabapathy on behalf of the Tamils consented to territorial representation together with the Sinhalese and moved the British to grant territorial representation, the North and East lost their individuality. Once they got what they wanted the Sinhalese leaders went back on their promise to Sir P. Arunachalam. Territorial representation in a single Parliament made the majority in the North East become minorities among the majority in the other Provinces. Still it is so.
Thirdly the Foreign Office official speaks of the stand of the majority. He believes the views of the majority must be considered paramount in any democratic country. This is not so. It is the so called Minorities’ rights which must be primarily ensured in a Democracy. Inter-ethnic tensions, divisions and exclusion that remain unaddressed can easily become a source of instability and conflict as it did in this Country. Dealing efficiently with minority-majority relations in the aftermath of ethnic conflict is central to achieving a durable peace. In this regard, the protection of national minorities is not only fundamental to enhance social cohesion in diverse societies, but also essential to achieve democratic security, sustainable development and peace in a context of instability.
Articles 26 and 27 of the ICCPR states as follows:
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, or to use their own language.
This would show that there are no special privileges to the majority communities in democracies contemplated in International legal documents. It would be seen that it is the so called minorities’ views that no democratic country can ignore. (Vide Article 27 above). I say so called because Tamils are majority in their own areas but referred to as Minorities in this Country working under a Unitary constitution.
I am amused by this gentleman’s following statement-
It is time the Tamils realized this (that majority rights are paramount) and accepted the thesis that the liberation of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of ethnic or other identities, lies in economic development on an equitable basis.
This is rubbish! How could he talk of liberation of all Sri Lankans? Are the Sinhalese in need of liberation from Sinhalese? We Tamils are in need of such liberation from the stranglehold of the Sinhalese. But not the Sinhalese from Sinhalese. Probably what he meant was development of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of ethnic or other identities, lies in the economic development on an equitable basis.
It is such development which has become impossible after the War. How could the North and East develop if the Military is stationed in large numbers in the North and East in some places in the ratio of two is to one? How could the North and East develop when the lands in those areas are being grabbed by Central Governmental organizations day in and day out under various pretexts? How could the North and East develop when the Central Government holds the financial and administrative reins over the North and East in its hands regarding any projects? How could the North and East develop when Provincial Councils are not provided with the necessary finances for development? When I was Chief Minister of the Northern Province every cent given to us by the Central Government (though the sum given to us was woefully low) was spent by us. But the Government gave very large sums to its officers at the District Secretariats and most of that money was sent back though the blame was placed on the Chief Minster who had no connection nor control over those finances.
Therefore economic development on an equitable basis is not possible when the majority community holds the whip hand over all matters pertaining to the minority groups. This is why we have called for full devolution of powers under a Confederal Constitution. Majority Community has no right to harden their views as stated by the Official because we are by International Law entitled to the right of self determination. How could the Sinhalese harden their views when we Tamils of the North and East have always been separate and individual? We did not take over lands occupied by the Sinhalese in the North and East. It is the remnants of the Tamil Buddhists (Demala Baudhayo) that are being put forward for the Sinhalese to further usurp the lands of the Tamils.
*Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, M.P.