Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home  Tamils - a Trans State NationTamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom  >  International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle  > International Tamil Eelam Research Conference, United States, 1991


Background to the Conference

The International Federation of Tamils announced in April 1991 that the Tamil Eelam Research Conference would be held in July in Sacramento. This was the signal for the Sri Lankan government to start pressurising the California State University authorities to stop the Conference. But the request to extend Sri Lanka's censorship to the U.S was politely declined by the University authorities.

Threats by Sinhala individuals resident in California followed. The initial threat was that the Conference will be disrupted by 5000 demonstrators When these threats were ignored, the organisers of the Conference were threatened with physical violence. Undeterred by these threats, the Organising Committee headed by Professor Balachandra went ahead with its plans for the Conference - a conference, which in the event turned out be successful - reflected not only in the large number of participants that it aUracted but also in influencing the international community to confront the issues relating to the national liberation struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam.

Death Threats at Tamil Parley - Batuk Vora , India Abroad, 26th of July 1991
Text of Preliminary Conference Announcement
Welcome Address, Professor J.Balachandra, Conference Chairman
Keynote Address - Sangar Thasam Gunanayagam, F.C.M.A., M.B.A.
A Brief History of The Conference - Wakely Paul
Message from Professor C.J.Eliezer,  Chairman, Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations
Human Rights, Humanitarian Law and the Tamil National Struggle: Evolving the Law of Self Determination, Karen Parker, J.D.
On the use of Governmental Aggression to Suppress a Minority's Quest for Self Determination - Deanna Hodgin
Sri Lanka Tamils - Professor Brian Pfaffenberger
Plan for Establishment of a Center for Dravidian Archives in Eelam - Sachi Sri Kantha


Tamil Eelam - A Nation without a State
International Tamil Eelam Research
Conference, United States, 1991

International Federation of Tamils  & Department of  Government, California State University, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

at California State University, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.
on 20 & 21 July 1991

Conference Chairman : Professor J.Balachandra,
California State University, Sacramento

Report on Conference - Wakeley Paul, 15 August 1991

The Research Conference on `Tamil Eelam - A Nation without a State' opened at the Sacramento Campus of the State University of California on Saturday, the 20th of July 1991.

Saturday the 20th of July was a bright, beautiful California morning. We were greeted by three Sinhala protesters before we reached the parking lot and another 20 in front of the Theatre where the conference was scheduled. This was a sharp decline from the 5000 they threatened to bring! The posters, some ungrammatical, included one that demanded that EELAMITES GO HOME. I will refrain from publishing my silent reaction to this. A matter of major moment on the eve of the conference was the $3500 needed for extra security to meet the threats of the government's SINHALA supporters to disrupt the event. Many in the organising committee recommended suing the government for making us incur this added expense because of their opposition to FREE SPEECH.

Around 175 participants from Australia, Canada ,India, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, United Kingdom and from many states of U.S.A. attended the two day Conference which was cosponsored by the University and the International Federation of the Tamils.

Visitors to the Conference included the Canadian Consul (prompted by the publicity surrounding the conference generated by the Sri Lanka media and its supporters in the U.S.) and Mr.Nariansamy Naicker of the African National Congress. Requests for the Conference proceedings were received from Vice President Quayles Office and from former President Carter's Peace Foundation.

The key note speech was delivered by Mr.Thasam Gunanayagam. The two morning sessions on the first day, were chaired by Dr. John Balachandra of the State University of

California and Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Conference. These sessions focused on the back ground to the Tamil struggle for self-determination and examined both the pre-colonial and post colonial history of the people of Tamil Eelam and the growth of their distinct national identity.

Amongst the papers presented were those by Dr Brian Pffafenberger of the University of Virginia and Professor Peter Schalk of the Department of History of the Uppsala University, Sweden.

Dr Pffafenberger's paper began with the assertion that the Tamils of Eelam were a distinct ethnic community of people, occupying the North and East of Sri Lanka. His presentation was a summary of a paper to be included in the Encyclopaedia of World Cultures in recognition of the separate ethnic identity of the people of Tamil Eelam.

Professor Shalk's paper was on the phenomena of Tamil Buddhism - an aspect of particular relevance, because of the attempts made by successive Sri Lankan Governments to claim parts of Tamil Eelam, on the ground that Buddhism had been practiced in these parts. Professor Schalk referred to the efforts of Cyril Mathew, the Minister for Industry and Scientific Affairs (1977 to 1983), who had identified 276 places where Buddhism had been practiced in Tamil Eelam and who had thereupon sought to contend that this showed that 'all this was Sinhala country'. Professor Schalk commented that this was nothing more than an attempt to legitimize Sinhala colonisation of Tamil Eelam, whereas the reality was that theTamils themselves had practised Buddhism.

Mr.Wakely Paul, Attorney at Law and Vice President of the Ilankai Thamil Sangam, U.S.A , and Dr. Selvanathan, of Griffith University, Australia, made presentations on the post-colonial history of the Tamils. The papers highlighted the attempt of the Sri Lankan state to destroy the distinct Tamil identity through legislative and administrative means. In a forceful speech, Mr.Wakely Paul asserted that the Conference was not concerned with individual groups as such but that `it was about whether the people of Tamil Eelam have a right to determine their destiny."

Dr. Selvanathan's paper dealt with the planned and determined efforts by the Sinhala Government to change the demography of the East in order to destroy the contiguity of the Tamil homeland.

The afternoon session on the first day began with Dr George Hart of the Department of South Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley commencing his address in impeccable Tamil. He said: `Tamils were the most literate people in the world, comparable only to the ancient Greeks.' Dr Hart's went onto describe Tamil literature as being one of the 'best kept secrets of the world' and that it was time that Tamil literature came under serious study by universities in the western world.

The next session, which focussed on the Tamil right to self determination was chaired by Mr. Wakely Paul. Papers were presented by Justice Satchi Ponnambalam of the Supreme Court of Belize, by Mr. Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran (a resident of Harvard Law School) and by a Professor of Law who wished to remain anonymous.

Justice Ponnambalam , author of 'Sri Lanka: The Tamil Liberation Struggle' began by identifying the parties to the conflict, as the Sri Lankan Government under the leadership of President Premadasa on the one hand and the Tamils of the Northeast whose interests were advanced and protected by the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam under the leadership of Vellupillai Prabhakaran, on the other.

The paper made a strong case for the Tamil right to self determination under international law by quoting from the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (General Assembly Resolution 2200 of 1966 and ratified by the Sri Lankan Governments) and the UN Declaration on the International Status of "Peoples" and their right to Self Determination (General Assembly Resolution 2625 of 1970). Justice Ponnambalam concluded that Tamil freedom fighters today assert and bear arms in pursuance of their internationally recognised right to self determination and in practical terms it was necessary to develop a constitutional formula for secession.

The presentation by the anonymous Professor of Law was read out to Conference. It began by pointing out that there was an accumulation of authority supporting that the right to self determination extends to ethnic minorities within states. In the end, it was this right which provides the minority with the means of preserving its basic human rights. The paper concluded that the only meaningful way in which the rights of Tamils can now be addressed is through the right to secession.

The paper by Mr. V. Rudrakumaran of the Harvard Law School was, perhaps, the most interesting as it sought to examine directly, the question of the legitimacy of the claim to the right of self-determination of the people of Tamil Eelam. Mr. Rudrakumaran pointed out that self-determination had today become the battle cry of several nations across the globe such as the Tamils of Sri Lanka, Eriterians of Ethiopia, Lithuanians of the Sov iet Union, Slovenians of Yugoslavia and others. At the same time, he pointed out that an independent Tamil Eelam was also justified in international law, under the concept of reversion to sovereignty.

The afternoon sessions on the right to self determination concluded with a "question and answer" session where the seeming reluctance of the International Community to recognise the Tamil right to self determination, while appearing to concede this right to other minority nations in the Baltic and Yugoslavia was explored.

The penultimate session on the first day, discussed a paper presented by Professor Wilson of the University of Brunswick, Canada who looked at the various constitutional models under which Sri Lanka could exist as a single country by taking on President Premadasa's offer to give "ellam". Professor Wilson referred to the Provincial Council arrangement under the Indo-Sri Lanka accord as an exercise in deceit and explored other arrangements that would enable the two sides to arrive at a political solution. In the question and answer session, Professor Wilson reiterated his position that the conflict was one between the LTTE (whom he identified to be the authentic representatives of the Tamil People) and the Sri Lankan Government and that the other Tamil Groups had no role to play.

The first days proceedings concluded with a discussion on the actions to be taken in regard to Tamil refugees who were the 'consequence of No Homeland'. The Chairman of the session, Mr.Wakely Paul noted that the solution was not to 'salve' the problem but to solve it.

The second days proceedings commenced with a morning session chaired by Mr. Ana Pararajasingham, a member of the Conference Organising Committee, Secretary of the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations and a member of the advisory editorial board of the "Tamil Nation". The session looked at the need to counter the propaganda war by the Sri Lankan Government, and the significance of the humanitarian law of armed conflict in relation to the Tamil national liberation struggle.

Ms.Deana Hodgins, Bureau Chief of Washington D.C.s Insight magazine, gave a graphic and moving account of the war in Tamil Eelam. She showed to the conference slides of photographs taken by her last September in Tamil populated areas of Sri Lanka. She said that she had worked as a foreign correspondent in many trouble spots in the world including Cambodia, Kashmir, Lebanon and Afghanistan but the brutality in the Sri Lankan conflict was the "most inhuman I have seen". She went onto give an account of her meeting with the late Ran jan Wijeyeratna and his c allous disregard for Tamil lives and his regret that Deana had survived her visit to the North! Deana's moving account of the war accompanied the slide show was a sensitive portrayal of a war in which the Tamil civilian population had suffered immensely and which had, despite the brutal attacks, had managed to preserve its humanity. "

In Batticaloa, the villagers had stopped eating fish  from the lagoon because the large number of dead bodies floati ng there. A health care worker in Batticaloa says he has neverseen such brutality: he whispered about his difficult 12 hour drive to transports 15 year old boy whose larynx had been punctured - his larynx was damaged when two army officers cut his neck  from ear to ear."

She said: "In Manipay Hospital the halls were flooded with the injured and the dying. Doctors showed us the burned victims of barrel bombs, shattered victims of mines. They pointed to holes in the ceilings and floors where Government planes had fired at the Hospital "

She went on:" The saddest of all were the children who have become accustomed to living in a war. One little boy was running an errand for his mother, driving a bike much too big for him. Suddenly the helicopters appeared. Schooled in the etiquette of survival, the boy sounded the alarm for his neighbourhood to let others know to clear the street. 'Heli, Heli' he shouted as he fell and dragged himself to the side of the road." Dianna Hodgins broke down at this point overcome by the selfless spirit of that young Tamil boy and many in the auditorium, on that clear California day, felt the agony and the pain of a people who struggle so that they may live in freedom and with dignity.

Ms. Diane Alexander, representative of International Alert, said that the Sri Lankan Government propaganda must be countered by the Tamils engaging the services of a full time lobbyist in the US and other power centres.

Mr. Robert Oberst of the Nebraska Wesleyan University identified the three stages through which the Government had lost its legitimacy v is a v is the Tam ils. The first being the re-establishment of Sinhala hegemony between 1948 and 1970. The second, the control of Tamil society from 1970s to 1980s and the third the open suppression of the Tamil population since the 1980s.

Karen Parker, an International Human Rights lawyer said "it is true that international opinion is not yet in favour of Tamil Eelam, but Tamils as a separate people, deserve their right to self determination." Referring to India's role, she said: "What India did by sending its troops to Sri Lanka under the late Rajiv Gandhi's regime exactly matched the wishes of the State Department of the United States.

The U.S. could not do that but they welcomed India's intervention in glowing terms. But this began a period of brutal repression and blood shed never before seen in that part of the world. Rajiv Gandhi was terribly misguided in taking such interventionist action." She declared that an armed conflict against a racist regime becomes a legitimate struggle for self determination in conformity with universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Principles set out in Humanitarian Law.

The final session chaired by Mr J.M Rajaratnam, President of the Illankai Thamil Sangam of the USA, focused on the economic future of Tamil Eelam. Papers were presented by Dr.Sachi Sri Kantha , Bio Stalistics Institute, Osaka and by Mr.K.Satchithananthan, a former UN Consultant Speakers included Professor Kopan Mahadeva of the UK, Dr. Sriskantharaja of Australia, and Dr.K. Sivarajah, Fisheries Advisor, Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries. Professor Kopan Mahadeva giving a detailed account of the death and destruction of Tamil Eelam said that the "estimated total cost of reconstruction after establishing peace would be around $3 billion." The broad consensus view that emerged is that the "Sinhala leaders should redefine and restructure their relationship with the Tamil people and seek new approaches to old problems".

Death Threats at Tamil Parley
Batuk Vora , India Abroad, 26th of July 1991

After receiving dozens of death threat letters and phone calls, heavy security measures were initiated by organisers at the start of an international conference on Tamil Eelam held here on July 20-21.

The event was sponsored by the Britain based International Federation of Tamils and the department of government, California StateUniversity, Sacramento.

Dr John Balachandra, professor of electrical and electronic engineering at the State University, Sacramento, and one of the main organisers of the meeting, told India Abroad: "We received about 86 letters and 200 telephone calls threatening the lives of the organisers" He said the threats came from people trying to disrupt what he described as an entirely academic conference to discuss issues relating to the Tamil people.

New Jersey-based attorney Wakeley Paul, press relations officer of the conference, said, "The Sri Lankan government had put pressure on the university to prevent the conference for being held, but their attempt to extend their censorship to an American university has miserably failed. However, the threat from some elements resulted in an extra $3,600 expense on security."

Text of Preliminary Announcement, April 1991

International Scholars, both Tamil and non Tamil, will participate, in a research orientated academic conference which will focus on the issues concerned with the continuing struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam for self determination. The conference will be sponsored by the International Federation of Tamils, US Section, and the Department of Government, California State University, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

Venue: California State University, Sacramento Campus, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.
Dates: July 20th and 21st, 1991


- the brief explanations to each topic heading are not intended to exclude other matters appropriate to the topic in the context of the theme of the conference
- a paper may cover all or any part of the matters related to a particular topic heading.

1. Colonial and pre colonial political history of the people of Tamil Eelam

- early growth of the identity and separateness of the people of Tamil Eelam, the linkage and influence of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam as the three major religions, the growth of the Tamil language, the shared economic life rooted in land, existence of Tamil and Sinhala kingdoms, advent of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British, influences of Indian national struggle and Tamil cultural renaissance in South India, the growth of the Sinhala Buddhist identity and its impact on the people of Tamil Eelam.

2. Government sponsored colonisation of Tamil homeland

- the fact of such colonisation, the re drawing of district and provincial boundaries, the resulting demographic changes , whether such colonisation was a deliberate and systematic effort of the Sinhala majority to encroach into Tamil majority areas and thereby hasten the assimilative process, and if so, whether this assimilative 'melting pot' approach was workable in the case of the Tamil people and the Sinhala people.

3. Legislative Adminstrative & Economic discrimination

- disenfranchisement of plantation Tamils, discriminatory policies in respect of employment and allocation of resources for agricultural and industrial development of Tamil Eelam, discrimination in educational opportunities, constraint of development in a third world economy and its impact on the aspirations of the people of Tamil Eelam.

4. Peaceful protest, Sinhala response of genocidal proportions and rise of militancy

- the non violent protest movements of 1956, 1958, 1961 and 1970 to 1976, the Bandaranaike Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957, the Dudley Senanayake - Chelvanayagam Agreement of 1965, the new Republican Constitution of 1972, the Presidential Commission of 1981, the reasons for the failure of the negotiating process, the increasing resort to violence by the Sinhala majority - beginnings of militancy in 1972, connection with standardisation of admissions to University, the relevance of the absence of Tamil participation in the JVP insurrection of 1971, the origins of the Ilaingar Peravai, the Vaddukodai Resolution of 1976 for a separate state as a response to pressure from the early militant movement - widespread and deepening oppression by the State, the enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, extra judicial killings and torture in 1979 and thereafter, violence of 1981, the burning of the Jaffna public library in 1981, the planned attack on the Tamil people in 1983, and whether cumulatively the attack on the people of Tamil Eelam was genocidal in intent.

5. Consolidation of the armed struggle and its legitimacy in international law

- initial growth of different militant groups, attempts at unity, limited Indian support for militant groups, the ideological uniqueness or otherwise of the armed struggle of the people of Tamil Eelam and whether the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has emerged as the leaders of the struggle - right of an oppressed people to defend themselves, whether the cumulative actions of successive Sri Lankan governments and their agents amount to genocide, recognition of existence of armed conflict within the meaning of the Geneva Conventions and recognition of the LTTE as combatants in international law

6. Right to Self Determination of the people of Tamil Eelam

- historical, socio-anthropological and legal approaches - are the people of Tamil Eelam a 'people' within the meaning of that expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the application of the principle of self determination in a post colonial world, what does the right of self determination include - does it include the right to secede?

7. World Bank, IMF & Tamils for past 40 years

- increasing dependence of Sri Lanka on international aid, whether international aid given to Sri Lanka was denied by the government to the people of Tamil Eelam and furthermore was also channelled to attack them.

8. Economic Viability of Tamil Eelam

- natural resources of Tamil Eelam - fisheries, agricultural products, energy, tourism - the capacity of the people of Tamil Eelam to build a stable and successful economy, the material base for the demand for a separate state.

9. Financial Institutions for Tamil Eelam

- Bank of Tamil Eelam, how it may be established (legal framework and functional structure) and in what way it may directed to serve the needs of people of Tamil Eelam.

10. Political Model of Tamil Eelam

- future needs of the people of Tamil Eelam and the possible political structures for the independent state of Tamil Eelam, the impact of the armed struggle on such structures.

11. Negotiations with Sri Lanka

- the Annexure C Parthasarathy Proposals, the Thimpu Talks of 1985, the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987, the LTTE-Sri Lanka Talks of 1989/90, efforts at international mediation, whether a mediatory process to resolve the conflict through negotiations should be structured around the recognition of the right of self determination of the people of Tamil Eelam, the role of international mediation.

12. International Lobbying

- the need for international lobbying, the limits of such lobbying, the need to counteract the propaganda war carried out by the Sri Lankan Government, and the organisational steps that should be taken to secure international recognition of the right of self determination of the people of Tamil Eelam.




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