Report on Conference -
Wakeley Paul, 15
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.
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
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
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
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
(a resident of Harvard Law School) and by a Professor of Law who wished to
Justice Ponnambalam , author of
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
The penultimate session on the first day, discussed a paper presented by
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
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
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
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