all towns are one, all men our kin.
|Home||Whats New||Trans State Nation||One World||Unfolding Consciousness||Comments||Search|
Home > Tamilnation Library > Eelam Section > Memorandum on Human Rights Violations and Ethnic Violence in Sri Lanka, 1983
TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Eelam
Sri Lanka, even though it is one of the poorest nations in the world has had an unique record among post-colonial states. A parliamentary democracy with full adult franchise has flourished in the Island since 1931; a multi-party system has been operative and governments have been replaced through free and fair elections1.Political dissent has been expressed through the parliamentary process, trade unions and a relatively free press.
The general elections of 1977 marked a major turning point in Sri Lankas modern history. The Sri Lankan masses expressed their dissatisfaction with the government of Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike by giving the United National Party led by J.R. Jayawardene a clear and massive mandate to take over the reins of government. Mrs. Bandanaiekes government was marked by increasing signs of autocratic rule, evidence of nepotism, political victimisation and rumours of widespread corruption and abuse of power.
Jayawardene promised to establish a "Dharmishta" (righteous) society according to the noblest ideals of Buddhist social philosophy. He promised clean government and unimpeachable ethical conduct in public life; respect for the Rule of Law, the Independence of the Judiciary, and the Freedom of the Press. The UNP also stated in its Manifesto that it would open up the economy and invite foreign investment to crest jobs, while generally maintaining existing welfare measures such as subsidised food, free medical and educational services, cheap public transport etc., that have marked Sri Lanka's policies since independence.2
The United National Party (UNP) came into power controlling 4/5ths of the electoral seats (143 of the 168 seats). An unequivocal expression of the peoples confidence in J.R. Jayawardenes pledge to establish true democracy and genuine socialism.
Six years of UNP rule have in fact been a record of cynical disregard and betrayal of electoral promises solemnly made. The pogrom against innocent Tamil civilians throughout the Island in July 1983, was not an aberration in Lankan society as Government spokesman in the Island and abroad would like to maintain it was the savage culmination of a style of government resorted to by J.R. Jayawardene, in which there was scant regard for the Rule of Law or the welfare of the poorest sections of the population, in which tactics of terror were used to intimidate political opponents, particularly the Tamil National Minority.
Today the menace of authoritarian rule looms over the country. This memorandum attempts to highlight the main features of the "constitutional dictatorship" now prevailing in Sri Lanka. This memorandum is concluded with an appeal to enlightened opinion in the west to help reverse the alarming development in Sri Lanka.
Section I - Constitutional Manipulation
Within the year of its coming into power the UNP government, rushed through parliament a new constitution, within a record period of three weeks. No Constituent Assembly was called; there was not even an All Party Committee and no opportunity for the general public to make submissions or amendments.
The new Constitution, on paper, marks a substantial advance in comparison to previous constitutions. It contains a comprehensive chapter on fundamental rights and measures to enforce these rights. The constitution includes provisions concerning the rights of minorities3 and for the first time as a constitutional provision, the prohibition of torture.
However, Article 15 also provides for the restrictions of these selfsame rights in the interests of "national security." Such restriction may be imposed on, for example: the presumption of innocence, the principle of non-retroactivity, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of movement, the right to equality before the law and freedom from arbitrary arrest.4 The new constitution seems to have been motivated by two factors. The need for political stability to push through a programme of rapid modernisation according to the Singapore model; and the need to do it within a democratic framework to re-assure public opinion at home and abroad.
The new Constitution introduced the system of proportional representation replacing the former "first past the post" British system, by which the UNP itself was elected to power. However the new Constitution also stipulated that in future no changes of constitution could take place without a 2/3rd majority in parliament. A study of past election statistics would show that it is highly unlikely that any party in the future would capture 2/3rds of the seats in parliament. The UNP came power with 143 of the 168 seats in the legislature, but with 51% of the popular vote. The new electoral system introduced by the constitution means that it cannot be changed by the same electoral support that brought it into being! To this extent the power of the Sri Lankan voter has been diminished. Since then the constitution has been amended (Fifth Amendment) to suspend proportional representation and revert to the old (repealed) system, for by-elections, during the governments extended term of office.
The new Constitution created an Executive Presidency and Mr. J.R. Jayawardene constituted himself as Sri Lanka's first Executive President. The constitution gives the President wide powers making him virtually independent of Parliament. The President is Head of States. Head of Cabinet, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He has the right to dissolve Parliament within a given period and under certain circumstances. He has the right to arrogate ministries to himself and may rule for limited periods of time by decree during times of emergency. The President himself may determine what constitutes a national emergency, though answerable to Parliament within a specified time. Whereas the Constitution claims to express the twin demands of political stability and democracy, it tips the scales in favour of authoritarian rule. The politics of J.R. Jayawardene has amply borne this out in practice.
The new Constitution provides that where Parliament by a 2/3rd majority approves any treaty or agreement entered into by the Government with the Government of a foreign state, for the promotion or protection of the latters investments in Sri Lanka, its companies or nationals, then such a treaty shall have the force of Law and no future law shall be enacted, no executive or administrative action shall be taken in contravention of such a treaty or agreement. Thus while this government has written into the constitution provisions for restricting the fundamental rights of its own people no provisions are made to impose restrictions under comparable circumstances on foreign investors. This provision in the constitutions therefore constitutes a grave infringement of the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka.
Once the new Constitution was passed through the legislature, the UNP has adopted a Machiavellian attitude towards it. It has displayed the cynicism of a government willing to change its own laws, whenever they got in its way. The Constitution has been amended six times; not to widen or enhance the rights of the citizens but in each case to manipulate the franchise and the electoral process.
The First Amendment was made to ensure that civil disabilities could be imposed on Mrs Bandaranaike outside the normal juridical process and to expel her from political life for a period of seven years, J.R. Jayawardene's most feared political opponent.
The Fourth Amendment, by which the government held a Referendum to postpone elections represents an absolute low-point in the history of Sri Lanka democracy that it must be treated in a separate section.
The constitution was amended for the third time enabling the President to advance Presidential Elections. The 1978 constitution had stipulated that Presidential Elections be at regular six-year intervals. By late 1982 the UNP was more than half way beyond its term of office. There were growing signs of popular disillusion with the UNP. The party had not kept its electoral promise of calling an All Party Conference to settle 'without delay' the just grievances of the Tamil people. The people were beginning to feel the pinch of the governments economic policies.
Under these circumstances J.R. Jayawardene asked parliament to amend the constitution, to advance elections to any time, after the lapse of :our years. This was presented as a highly democratic move. The President was not postponing elections but advancing them! He also solemnly promised that after the Presidential elections, he would dissolve parliament and hold general elections. Jayawardene won the elections polling 42.3% of the registered votes. 20% of the voters abstained. After his victory, the President decided to hold a referendum to postpone general elections, by amending the constitution again. The reason given for the Referendum was the 'discovery' by the President of a threat to his life and plot to overthrow the government, by a group of 'Naxalites' - a group within the main opposition party the SLFP. These persons were taken into custody and a state of emergency declared.
The Referendum was then held, with a State of Emergency prevailing; with the main organisers of the opposition party behind bars; and the presidents main opponent Mrs. Bandaranaike prevented from taking part. Once the Referendum was held, the threat to the government seems to have disappeared as mysteriously as it had emerged! A police inquiry into the alleged conspiracy could come up with no evidence against the accused. The fourth amendment was an highly irregular manoeuvre, since it prevented the coming into effect of certain provisions in the Constitution regarding the elections itself.
The Referendum was held in an atmosphere of violence, corrupt practices and intimidation of the opposition, unprecedented in Sri Lanka electoral history. The Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka has issued a statement documenting serious abuses of power by the ruling party during the Referendum. The whole shameful charade calls into question the legitimacy of the UNP's present term of office.
Like many another Third World autocrat J.R. Jayawardene has resorted to the strategem of a Referendum to provide a 'democratic' smokescreen for a dictatorial regime. As Juliet London commented on this Jayawardene style of democracy. "The forms of democracy apparantly intact mask a subversion of the process. A pre-determined result is obtained, exterior appearances are preserved, the world press cheers and the burial of real freedoms take place in a democratic shroud." (Saturday Review January 1, 1983). It is worth recalling that Hitler too, used the strategem of Referenda, maintained a climate of anti-semitism and anticommunism reinforced by political thuggery to suspend "guaranteed civil liberties", to create an awesome dictatorship.
Section II - Tinkering with the Judiciary.
Sri Lanka has justly prided itself with possessing a remarkably independent and impartial Judiciary, irrespective of the government in power. The conduct of present government gives cause for great concern about the survival of an independent Judiciary.
All three constitutions of post-independence Sri Lanka have built in safeguards to ensure the independence of the Judiciary from the Executive and Legislature. One such provision is the guarantee of tenure of office to Judges.
The new Constitution of 1978 (Article 163) enacted that Judges of the Supreme and High Courts would cease to hold office on the commencement of the new constitution. In one blow the government had sacked all the Judges! By compelling the judges to take an oath to uphold and maintain the new Constitution on re-appointment, the UNP government effectively placed the legality of the constitution outside judicial review.
President Jayawardene than re-constituted the New Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, but seven judges of the old Supreme Court and several judges of the High Court remained dismissed.
By the constitution of 1972, disciplinary control of judges End other officers administering justice was vested in the Judicial Services Disciplinary Board composed of the Chief Justice and other Supreme Court Judges. The new constitution (Article 81) provided for a special (Presidential) Commission of Inquiry and made the conduct of judges too a subject of inquiry by this commission. This has opened the door for political control of judges.
Mrs. Bandaranaike's conduct of affairs as Prime Minister was made the subject of inquiry by the Special Presidential Commission She made an application for a Writ of Prohibition, which was granted by the Court of Appeal. The government then passed ad hoc legislation to declare this judgement null and void and ordered the Commission to continue its work as if no court order had been made. The Act also blocked any possible appeal against the findings of the Commission to the Supreme Court.
On Dec.3rd '82 an organisation of clergyman called 'the Voice of the Clergy' held a meeting to express views critical of the announced Referendum. A police officer with some of his men, entered the place of meeting dispersed the participants. Later on Dec.8th '82, 2000 copies of the printed Pavidi Banda document were confiscated.
A Buddhist monk, a member of this organisation, made an application to the Supreme Court against the action of the police officer. The Court held that the officer had been guilty of a violation of fundamental rights and ordered him to pay a fine of Rs. 10.000/. The government responded to this vedict by paying the officers' fine and promoting him! This was a slap in the face of the Supreme Court. In June 1983, the Supreme Court again determined that the arrest of an opposition politician Mrs. V. Goonewardene in the course of a demonstration, was an infringement of her fundamental rights. The police officer concerned was promoted within 24 hours! The governments justification of such actions was "to ensure that police officers follow orders without fear of consequences from adverse court decisions" (sic!) (See ICJ Report: Ethnic Violence in Sri Lanka).
What happened after the judgement on the V. Goonewardene case, made the 11th of June 1983, a Black Day for the Judiciary and Democracy in Sri Lanka. A pro-government mob surrounded the residence of the three judges who heard the case, shouting abusive language and intimidating the judges. It was feared that the mob would physically attack the judges. Appeals to the police from judges, fell on deaf ears and no police protection was given. This was an alarming precedent. The judges made a public statement of protest giving details of the attack and the failure of the police to do their duty. Hundreds of lawyers walked out of court to join their colleagues in a protest meeting.
The government had not fully anticipated how shocked public opinion would be, by this event. In spite of widespread protest and expressions of shock, the culprits were not brought to book. On the contrary President Jayewardene at a public meeting expressed his satisfaction with this particular demonstration. "In a democratic country", he said, "the people have the right to demonstrate even against judges of the Supreme Court." Since the judges of the Supreme Court have repeatedly upheld fundamental rights, the President probably felt that it was fitting that the judges got a taste of their own medicine.
An editorial in the 'Island' newspaper of 13th June 1983 summed up the general feeling as follows: "There is proof that the demonstrators were brought in buses 5. The authorities must initiate an immediate inquiry to ascertain who was responsible.
If the judges of the Supreme Court cannot receive immediate protection from vulgar mobs, what chance will the ordinary citizen stand?"
During the violence of July, the President maintained a bewildering silence for four days. He then appeared on national TV to announce an amendment to the constitution banning any demand for separatism. Even though the President made it appear that this legislation was necessitated by a grave situation of national emergency, the Solicitor General admitted to the Constitutional Court that 'the proposed Bill was under consideration even before the outbreak of violence.' (emphasis added) (Ceylon Daily News August 4th, 1983). The Bill made it a constitutional requirement that all those in the service of the State take an oath disavowing separatism within a specified period (30 days) of the Bill becoming law. A bench of nine Supreme Court Judges examined the Bill, approved the sixth amendment, but recommended the amendment of two provisions as they were ultra vires the constitution.
Once the Bill went to parliament an amendment to it was added at the Committee Stage, introducing a mandatory clause that the judges of the Supreme and Appeal Courts should take their oath before the President. The judges according to the law presented to them for examination and following existing tradition, had taken the oaths before each other.
Once the thirty days had passed, and without any warning to the judges during this period that they were being remiss, the Attorney General ruled that the judges of the Supreme and Appeal Courts had ceased to hold office after September 7th 1983 as they had not taken their oaths as required by Law, before the Chief Executive! For seven whole days the judges of Sri Lanka's highest tribunals did not sit and there was no Supreme Court! The country was involved in an unprecedented legal tangle generating serious misgivings and fears on the part of the legal profession and the general public.
The President it was reported would strictly adhere to the new constitutional requirement that the Judges should have taken their oaths before him. Rumours were afloat that this was a move on the part of the President to get rid of certain judges including the Chief Justice, who it was suspected had become a persona non grata to the powers that be.
The judges were subjected to humiliation and ignominy. They were locked out of their Chambers, and police were posted to prevent entry. The judges including the Chief justice, were even denied the right to remove their own papers from the Chambers. Their official cars were withdrawn and police protection given to guard their residences was also promptly withdrawn. The President of the Bar Association appealed to the President to revise the ruling of the Attorney General expressing grave concern on the part of the Sri Lankan Bar. The situation was critical, threatening to undermine the very foundations of the Judiciary. The President however "re-appointed" all the judges, including the Chief Justice after they had dutifully taken the oath before him, but the judges were told that their salaries would not be paid for the period that they "were deemed to have ceased to hold their posts".6
Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the world's first women Prime Minister. She is a politician with immense popular appeal in Sri Lanka and a stateswomen with a considerable international prestige.
Soon after the promulgation of the new constitution, Mrs. Bandaranaike was the subject of Inquiry by the Special Presidential Commission. Mrs. Bandaranaike applied to the Court of Appeal for a Writ of Prohibition against the inquiry. The Court of Appeal allowed her application. The government then used its steam roller majority to amend the constitution. It also stipulated that the Supreme Court would have no jurisdiction if Parliament had already taken steps to disenfranchise or expel anyone from Parliament on the basis of the findings of the Commission.
The Commission found Mrs. Bandaranaike guilty of "abuse of power" and the Government Parliamentary Group voted unanimously to impose severe civic disabilities on Mrs. Bandaranaike and debar her from Parliament, for a period of seven years.
The day after Mrs Bandaranaike was expelled from Parliament the government again used its majority to amend the Parliamentary Elections Act and the Presidential Elections Act prohibiting any person who had been expelled from Parliament from participating in any election during the period of disqualification, (this included even speaking or canvassing on behalf of a candidate.) This amendment also disqualifies any candidate on whose behalf such a person may have participated.
According to the normal law of the land, a person may be disqualified from participation, only if found guilty of a corrupt practice by a Court of Law, after a fair trial, on legal evidence of a precisely defined offence proved beyond reasonable doubt; such persons have a right of appeal.
All these rights were denied Mrs. Bandaranaike the Prime Minister of two previous governments. Mr. Jayawardene's chief and most feared rival was reduced to the status of a political and civil outcast!
Sri Lanka has had a vigorous trade union movement and this is partly responsible for the advanced system of welfare service for which it is justly famous among Third World countries.
(It must be mentioned that almost all the trade unions have political affiliations; the UNP itself controlling one of the largest unions the JSS- Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya)
The economic policies followed by the government, am: the succumbing to IMF conditions made the dismantling of the welfare system and the shackling of the Trade Unions inevitable.
The Joint Trade Union Action Committee decided to stage a day of protest marked by a half-day token strike on June 5th.
President Jayawardene thereupon called the members of his own UNP union to organise a counter demonstration on the same day. This was highly irregular conduct for a Head of State. The counter demonstrators attacked the strikers and a prominent unionist Mr. D. Somapala the father of five young children, was killed.
Industrial unrest continued and the JTUAC decided on July 11th to call for a general strike on July 18th. The government introduced emergency rule on the night of July 16th and declared every imaginable enterprise both public and private an "essential service". The JTUAC had announced a meeting for July 18 to explain their case to the public. The government banned all public meetings on the 18th, but itself went on to hold a mass meeting on that very day! At this meeting the President announced that the workers who had absented themselves from work that day were dismissed from their jobs. The total number of workers who lost their jobs that day have been esti- mated to be between 80.000 to 100.000.7 With most of the active trade unionists disposed of, the government has succeeded in domesticating the working class. The Minister for Lands and Land Development and Mahaweli Development boasted to a group of visiting foreign investors on March 1981, "...in Sri Lanka we have a manageable population."
Two of the major newspaper concerns in Sri Lanka are respectively government controlled and owned. In addition the Radio and T.V. are state controlled enterprises. In spite of this the present government has successively imposed severe restrictions on the freedom of expression and dissent.
1. The Press Council Law which was passed by the previous government in the face of vigorous criticism by human rights organisations and by the MT then in the opposition. The UNP even challenged this law in the Constitutional Court. However after coming to power, the UNP has neither amended nor repealed this law, but has appointed its own nominees to the Press Council, in fact the government announced that it would enforce Section 16 of the Press Council Law which would make it a Criminal Offence to publish news relating to the Cabinet, unless approved by the Secretary to the Cabinet.
2. In addition the government passed legislation to punish editors and publishers of newspapers for reports which in the judgement of parliament might be a breach of parliamentary privilege. Parliament in this instance, where it is the alleged aggrieved party, functions as legislator, prosecutor and judge! The government then promptly proceeded to prosecute two journalists for mixing up the write-up under two photos, one of which involved a Cabinet Minister. This was done as Mr. Jayawardene put it whilst presiding over the hearings "to show that his legislation had teeth to it". When Mr. S. Nadesan published an appraisal of the new law, the government initiated proceedings against him, alleging that the article itself constituted a breach of privilege.
3. In 1981 the Cabinet decided to amend the Newspaper Ordinance so as to compel all newspapers to provide financial security against possible defamation actions as a pre-condition to be allowed to publish!
The sum of money was to be determined per case by the cabinet. This move would make it impossible for a small newspapers, running on a shoestring budget to survive, whereas these often provide information and comment, not always found in the government controlled media or the wealthier press concerns.
The determination per case by :he cabinet opens the door to political victimisation and infringes the right of equality before the law.
Section IV - Politics of Terror
The use of the police or pro-government supporters, to harass, humiliate and intimidate the opposition is not a phenomenon peculiar to this government. The government of Mrs. Bandaranaike was well known for its recourse to these methods.
But under the present government this phenomenon has assumed an alarmingly new dimension, in the highly organised and systematic way in which goon squads are made use of for political purposes.
These squads are organised in two ways. UNP parliamentarians are known to have a permanent squad of vigilantes in their electoral districts, made up of UNP youth leaguers and well known local thugs. In addition, vigilante squads drawn from the UNP's trade union (The Jatika Sevaka Sangamaya JSS) have been organised in each Government Corporation.
These squads function as para-military units exercising pro-government discipline, and do not hesitate to use violence to achieve their ends. The Sri Lankan police generally does not interfere when these squads are deployed to break up anti-government protest meetings, demonstrations, or industrial action by workers. When Mrs. Bandaranaike was deprived of her civil liberties, the government feared that her supporters would come to Colombo to stage a Civil disobedience. To prevent this, groups of UNP thugs were deployed all over the city in addition to the armed forces. President Jayawardene himself admitted this at a public ceremony in the village of Thopawewa. He said "we told the party organisations, Trade Unions, Youth Leagues and Womens Leagues to protect their villages; not to allow even a dog to enter the city of Colombo, to ask those who try to enter why they were coming and to inspect them."
It is now becoming evident that the attack on innocent Tamil civilians in the last week of July 1983 was spearheaded by some of these Goon Squads.
The Civil Rights Movement has documented the following instances of violence, where Goon Squads have been used for political purposes. The way these squads operate are frightening reminiscent of the S.A. (sturm abteilung) used by Hitler. The Pogrom against the Tamil population in fact recalls to mind the notorious Kristall Nacht attack on innocent Jews
Incidents of intimidation, assult, arson and murder were so widespread that an official Committee of Inquiry was appointed to look into the allegations. Over 5600 complaints are said to have been received by the Committee; a frequent allegation was that the police did not intervene to prevent such violations of law, but remained passive observers. The Committee of Inquiry submitted its report to the government; this document has not been made public. (Ref: Civil Rights Movement (CRM) E 3/10/79 and E 05A/10/81).
The report of the Sansoni Comission appointed to investigate these incidents has documented cases of
Any actions taken by the government on the findings of this Commission have not been made public (Ref. CRM E 05A/10/81).
The passing of the Indemnity Act of 1982 gives immunity to ministers, public officers, members of the security forces and to persons acting under their authority in respect of acts committed during the communal disturbances of August 1977 "with a view of restoring law and order". This in fact affected proceedings pending in the courts in respect of certain alleged unlawful arrests.
Demonstrations by trade unions and pickets in
The last-mentioned of these was being addressed by Dr. E.R. Sarachchandra, a notable Sinhala intellectual, on the impact of external influences on present-day Sinhala culture. The meeting was disrupted and Dr. Sarachchandra himself was assaulted.
Complaints to the police against these disruptions have been totally ineffective.
Several other meetings, eg. a meeting organised by the Pavidi Banda (Voice of the Clergy) - a grouping of Buddhist and Christian Clergy at Gampaha in December 1982, have been prevented from being held by thuggery (Ref: CRM E05A/10/81).
Elections to the Jaffna Development Council held in June 1981, were marked by blatant irregularities. A number of ballot boxes were forcibly removed and not received at the counting centres.
The burning of the Jaffna Public Library on 31 May 1981 and the sacking of many buildings in Jaffna, following the shooting of two police officers, affected the climate in which these elections were held.
No offenders have been brought to book for any of these offences (Ref.: CRM E01/6/81 and E 02/6/81).
The police are alleged to have assaulted,
Women teacher trainees demonstrating at Maheragama and a nurse meeting at Narahenpita were attacked by thugs (Ref CRM E03/4/83 and E05/10/81)
Election laws relating to publicity for meetings and the exhibition of symbcls were openly flouted by supporters of the ruling party. Specific complaints to the police were disregarded.
The campaign and the polling were vitiated by flagrant acts of abuse; polling observers of opposition parties were intimidated, harassed and prevented from attending the poll; voters were intimidated and prevented from recording their votes; polling officials were intimidated; impersonation of voters was carried out on a mass scale (Ref: CRM E07/11/82, E03/12/82 and E02/1/83) "Complaints to the police were ineffectual."
The failure of Tamil political leaders, during four decades, to bring about reforms on behalf of the Tamil people has led to the emergence of a militant Tamil youth movement in the North. The UNP promised in its 1977 manifesto that it would "without delay" call an All Party conference to redress the just grievances of the Tamil people.
However once it came to power with a massive victory the UNP seemed to have dropped the question of the Tamil minority from its list of priorities. Since 1977 there has been an escalating spiral of violence in the North and East; selective violence on the part of the Tamil militants, and indiscriminate violence against Tamil civilians. (for a list of violent attacks by Tamil militants, see Appendix 1).
The almost exclusively Sinhala armed forces were sent to the North to "wipe out terrorism". However the army in what is virtually "alien" territory have not been able to achieve this, while the Tamil militants have become increasingly bolder and more effective in their attacks. Frustrated by their failure and under pressure from the government, the Sri Lankan army has begun to act like an occupation army and has unleashed a reign of terror in the North and the East.
Indiscriminate arrests, torture, retaliations against civilians, and destruction of property etc on the part of the armed forces have been documented by local human rights groups as well as by Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists.
The government in order to strengthen the hand of the police and the Army passed the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and later amended it to make the death penalty mandatory for a number of offences.
The law initially introduced for a period of three years was not allowed to lapse but has since 1982 been made permanent law of the land. The ICJ commented on this as follows:
"The fact that the PTA was made permanent ...indicates that the government intended to use the weapon of preventive detention permanently and not merely as a temporary measure in dealing with the minority problem." (ICJ report 1983).
Under this Act a person may be detained incommunicado for up to a period of 18 months, "in such place and subject to such conditions as may be determined by the Minister." The Minister in question being not the Minister of Justice, but the Minister of Defence. The Act makes confessions made to the police admissable in court even if the person in questions retracts it during the trial. The long period of detention incommunicado and the admiss ability of confessions, has opened the door wide for abuses of power, including torture. Several deaths while in custody have been reported. The Prevention of Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka has been compared to South Africas Internal Security Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act of the United Kingdom.
The ICJ report (Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka. ICJ Report 14 December 1981, pages 43-50) points out that in its most obnoxious features the Sri Lankan PTA is closer to the South African Act. As a result of this Act the people in the North and East of Ceylon have been placed outside the Rule of Law and civilians have been exposed to a reign of state terror.
This grave situation has been aggravated by the promulgation of a Public Security Ordinance enabling senior Police and Army officers to bury dead bodies without any inquest or post mortem inquiry. This ordinance applies to any dead body, including those who have died in custody.
According to the latest ICJ report (August 1983) 23 persons of the Tamil community have died while in custody. The disappearance of several other persons cannot be accounted for.
Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Human Right organisations, Religious leaders and several political parties in Sri Lanka have condemned the PTA and demanded that it be repealed.
Several provisions in this Act are in gross violation of the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka under this government, became a signatory.
The civilized world followed with shocked disbelief the systematic attack on the lives and property of innocent Tamils civilians throughout the Island, triggered off by the killing of 13 Sinhala soldiers by Tamil militants.
The most shocking incident of savagery during this period was the massacre of 53 Tamil prisoners while under legal custody. The first massacre took place on Monday the 25th of July when 35 prisoners were killed. The government apparently took no precaution to prevent a repetition and two days later a further 18 prisoners were killed. Only few of these prisoners had been convicted of offences; charges were pending against a small number, but the majority had been detained under the notorious PTA, with no charges levelled against them at all.
A magisterial inquiry was held into the deaths. But prison officials who testified claimed the killings were the result of "a prison riot" and that they could not identify any of the persons responsible for the killings!
His own attitude to the Tamil people may have been indicated in what he stated to Ian Ward in an interview published in the London Daily Telegraph on 11th July 1983:
"I have tried to be effective for some time but cannot. I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now...Now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or of their opinion about us."
Here was a Head of State repudiating his responsibility towards an entire section of his citizens.
The President in his address to the nation announced a ban on the demand for a separate state and the constitution was amended for the sixth time to incorporate this ban.
The demand that TULF leaders openly denounce separatism, as the ICJ report correctly points out, "places the TULF leaders in an impossible situation politically. The likely result would be to leave the Tamils without any representation in Parliament and, in fact disenfranchise the Tamil people." The TULF is at the moment not represented in Parliament.
Sri Lankan ambassadors as well as propaganda material now disseminated abroad by the Ministry of State, generally take the line that the violence of July was due to extreme provocation of the Sinhala people by the terrorists, especially after the killing of 13 Sinhala soldiers: that a spontaneous outburst or violence led to an uncontrollable breakdown of law and order. However in the immediate aftermath of the violence both President Jayawardene as well as Minister of State Anandatissa de Alwis stated in addresses to the nation that the violence was the result of a well-planned and systematic attack.
There seems to be overwhelming evidence that his attack was spear- headed by members of the ruling party itself and that several UNP members of parliament as well as Cabinet Ministers were involved; that there is a caucus within the ruling party, led by the Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs Mr. Cyril Matthew and Buddhist monks which is spearheading a militant anti-Tamil campaign.
This has been reported by reputable newspapers and journals throughout the world; that under the chairmanship of Mr. Cyril Matthew a semi-official anti-Tamil campaign was being waged much prior to the violence of July; literature based on an extremely Sinhala Buddhist chauvinist ideology, enumerating Tamil privileges (ownership of property and business, representation in the professions and university etc.) have been propagated through certain Sinhala institutions as well as among certain sections of the armed forces.
During the debate on the 6th Amendment, August 4, 1983, (Hansard Volume 24 No. 13), Mr. Cyril Matthew made no secret about his views on the cause of the violence. He stated that he was not speaking as a Cabinet Minister but as a representative of the Sinhala people. Referring to the destruction of the Pettah shopping area of Colombo, which was a virtual Tamil monopoly and to government plans to re-build it, he said,
In spite of appeals even by Tamil members of the UNP cabinet, little has been done to restrain Mr. Matthew even after the tragedy of July. The Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka has urged the government (18 September 1983) in view of the constitutional ban on the promotion of separatism by word or deed, to likewise enact legislation to prevent the public utterance or publication of material likely to promote hatred against the Tamil minority. This would be in accordance with similar legislation obtaining in several Western countries prohibiting racist propaganda and discrimination. But the anti-Tamil campaign led by Cabinet Ministers and anti-Tamil sentiments in the press seem to continue unhindered.
On Monday 1st August 1983, the government banned three Marxist parties and ordered the arrest of several members of these parties declaring that these had a hand in the violence, as part of a four-phased plan to overthrow the government. On August 22nd President Jayewardene in his second address to the nation after the violence speaking as he said "from the depth of my own conscience", repeated the allegation that leftist Marxists were responsible.
Mr. A. Amirthalingam, Leader of the Opposition and General Secretary of the Tamil United Liberation Front; Mrs. Bandaranaike, Leader of the largest, predominantly Sinhala, Opposition Party and Mr. S. Thondaman, Cabinet Minister in the present Government and representative of the Plantation Tamils, have in public statements refused to buy the Presidents conscience story.
On the contrary they have stated that he should look for the culprits within his own party and among people very close to him, including certain members of his Cabinet. Whilst thousands of looters have been arrested, few arsonists have been brought to book. In fact according to very reliable reports, it would seem that where the Police acted to arrest some of these culprits, politicians have intervened to have them released.
Whilst the Tamil community was still reeling under the savage blows dealt to it in the last week of July, the Minister of State announced by Government Gazette notification that "all property affected by the riots shall be vested in the State." The Minister then went on to explain the purpose of this law. A special authority would be set up he said (the Rehabilitation of Property and Industrial Authority - REPIA), which in consultation with the Urban Development Authority, UDA, would engage in a massive re-construction effort, according to a Master Plan to modernize the City of Colombo and other major towns.
In the Sinhala version of his speech the Minister said that, once the government had spent so much of its resources for reconstruction it would be 'unjust' to simply hand over such property to their previous owners. We shall decide he further stated, to whom and in which manner these properties will be restored. In one fell blow, it seemed that the victims of violence and arson had also been expropriated. Once again there was a storm of protest particularly from legal bodies, which stated that such a measure would be 'ultra vires' the constitution. The Island Newspaper of Sunday 14th August 1983, quoted one such legal opinion in its front page.
"A forcible vesture of this nature would be tantamount to a violation of the freedom of a citizen to possess property, transact business and retain capital."
Government spokesmen there upon hastened to add that the legislation was intended to prevent unjust speculation in property and protect victims from unscrupulous landlords.
However there are grave fears in Sri Lanka that this legislation would only crown what had been intended by Sinhala arsonists, namely to 'break the back of the Tamil economy'. Another aspect raises serious misgivings about the purpose of this legislation. In its drive for modernisation, the government set up an Urban Development Authority, which had drawn up Master Plans for the modernisation of the City of Colombo and other major towns.
However, acquiring property in the inner cities for demolition, would have embroiled the UDA in endless and prolonged litigation. Perceptive observers have remarked that a study of the areas where old buildings were destroyed reveal that there was 'a method in the madness'.
It is now expected that the government will turn especially to Western agencies for aid to reconstruct, after the 'tragic and unforeseen' destruction. This may fit in well with the projected U.N. worldwide campaign for Housing and Construction. Third World elites could then put up show-piece modern Capitals and sattelite towns and a fillip will be given the ailing Western building industries.
The confiscation of 'affected property', means that innocents Tamil victims without, the 'right connections' may be subjected to bureaucratic caprice. It will also open the door to corrupt practices.
The Rule of terror to which the Tamil people in the North have been exposed in the last six years - the mob violence against Tamils in the South since 1958; the savagery of the violence in July; the inability of their elected leaders to arrive at a negotiated settlement; the sustained anti-Tamil propaganda campaigns led by Ministers of this government -have led more and more Tamils (even moderates) to believe that their only hope is in a separate state. It seems that the country is moving inexorably towards a bloody civil war.
The Sri Lankan Government and its Embassies abroad have repeatedly declared that the violence of July was a spontaneous outburst, and that it was an aberration in an otherwise just and democratic state. The purpose of this Memorandum is to make clear that what happened in July 1983 was not an aberration. That it was the tragic culmination of a style of government, in which there was scant respect for the democratic process, the rule of law and where the use of violence for political purposes had become the order of the day. Even the normally sycophantic government newspaper, The Ceylon Daily News, shocked to sanity by the events of July admitted in its editorial of 20th August 1983:
We therefore make an urgent appeal to all freedom loving people who are dedicated to the ideals of democracy, to use their influence and good offices to reverse the dangerous state of affairs brought to being by this government. In its determination to create political stability for the furtherance of its economic policies, this government has brought Sri Lanka to the brink of anarchy and civil war.
The present government has toyed with the highly inflammable ethnic issue, to subvert the traditions of Social Welfare, Democracy and the Rule of Law in order to militarise the nation and create a National Security State. We see Sri Lanka going the way of many another Third World Dictatorship. Western governments and institutions have based their claim to moral authority in the world, on their alleged respect for and commitment to human rights. The present government in its attempt to open up the largely stagnant economy of Sri Lanka bas bad to attract Western aid and investment. The necessary concom mitant of this has been the need to create a stable political and social climate satisfactory to the foreign investor. The government has had to submit to IMF conditions for balance of payment support, including the fourth tranche, become liable to the severest terms of "conditionality".
Enlightened opinion in the West cannot therefore be indifferent to the grave situation in Sri Lanka today. Does an economic partnership with the democratic West lead inevitably to the denial of these same democratic rights to the poorer and dependant nations of the world? Very specifically we appeal to Western government, Political Parties, Non-Governmental Organisations, Human Rights Organisations, Trade Unions and Third World Solidarity Groups.
To Western Government and Agencies to scrutinise Aid and Investment programmes to ensure that they do not strengthen the present governments dictatorial, or racist policies. The conduct of this government in the field of Human Rights should be a criteria for further co-operation.
We further Appeal:
List of Terrorist Attacks by Tamil Militants in the North
A note on "Buddhist Leaders and Violence"
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country. Sinhala extremists have justified attacks on Tamils, in the name of safeguarading the Buddhist religion and preserving Sinhala "culture". Among these have been several Buddhist monks and some Cabinet Ministers, notably the Minister of Industries and Scientific Affairs, Mr. Cyril Matthew.
The extremely biased reporting in the Sinhala media of Tamil political demands and the highlighting of terrorist activities by Tamil extremists, have tended to confuse and prejudice Sinhala public opinion. Yet the majority of Buddhists have been shocked by the savagery of the violence in July. Outstanding Buddhists have declared that such conduct could in no way be justified in the name of the Buddhist religion or culture. The courage of many Sinhalese in coming to the help of Tamils all over the country has yet to be documented.
At the height of the violence, in July 26th, the Head of the Buddhist Order, the Mahanayake of the Malwatte Chapter in Kandy was the only public figure who had the courage to appeal to the nation for sanity and civilised conduct. When President Jayawardene assumed office in 1977, the Head of the other major Buddhist Order, the Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter in Kandy reminded him:
"1. You are Prime Minister not only of the Buddhists, but of all countryman
2. You must hold the scales evenly among the Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims
3. Religions and language should be treated equally.
4. You should do everything to correct the situation that has hitherto prevailed."
(quoted by Satchi Ponnambalam, a Tamil, in his book: Sri Lanka - The Tamil Liberation Struggle, p.196).
Several sources were consulted for the preparation of this Memorandum. For the reader interested in checking any statement or point of view expressed or in further information on any aspect therein, we present the following background material.
A. Sri Lankan Government Sources
Sri Lanka. Non-Partisan Organisations
3. Sri Lanka Journals
4. Sinhala Nationalist Documents
5. Tamil Nationalist Documents
6. International Organisation
7. International Press (Journals)
8. Dutch Press (journals)