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 > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > Peace with Justice, Australia > Tamils' Right to Self Determination > Selected Writings - Viswanathan Rudrakumaran

International Conference on the Conflict in Sri Lanka:
Peace with Justice, Canberra, Australia, 1996

The Tamils' Right to Self Determination

[see also Right to Self Determination - International Law & Practice]

Visvanathan Rudrakumaran
studied Law at Harvard University and is now a practising Attorney in USA
Political Adviser to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's International Unit

Article 1 of the Civil and Political Rights Covenant, a treaty law, declared that all people have the right to self-determination and the right to self-determination is a necessary pre-requisite for the enjoyment of other Human Rights and of peace. The Declaration on Friendly Relations among nations which has come to be accepted as a customary international law states that by virtue of the principle of self-determination of people , all people have the right to freely determine their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The essence of self-determination consists in the right of every people to determine their own political, social and economic destiny.

Self-determination may be realised in a variety of forms. According to the Declaration on Friendly Relations, the establishment of a sovereign independent state or the emergence into any other political state as freely determined by a people constitutes the mode of implementing the right to self-determination. The concept of any other political status suggests that the right to self-determination may be realised in a way short of secession. This is known as "internal self-determination".

Internal self-determination amounts to the right of a people to govern themselves and to maintain equal status with other constituent units of a given state. .This form of self-determination involves legislative and executive autonomy to the full extent desired by the people. It allows the people to determine their constitution including such arrangements as an autonomous status within the confines of a larger state. As one author pointed out internal self-determination allows a people to exercise their right to democracy. The fact that internal self-determination is capable of being realised within the confines of a larger state was also recognised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, a treaty-interpreting body, when it requested states to send reports concerning the constitutional and political framework appropriate to the fulfilment of the right to self-determination.

Internal self-determination as a legal principle translates into the political concept and programme of consortional democracy. Power-sharing at the Centre, and a meaningful autonomy in the region which allow an authentic self-rule are among the fundamental elements of consortional democracy as a political system. By ensuring power sharing at the centre on the basis of equality and self-determination precludes the danger of democratic deficit resulting from an arrangement where power is concentrated in the hands of permanent racist minority. Consequently self-determination by its very nature is imbued with the spirit of democracy.

While I intend to concentrate on the Tamils' position with respect to internal self determination vis-a-vis President Kumaratunge's Devolution proposal I would like to point out at the outset that external form of self-determination , namely, secession, is a viable alternative to internal self-determination. In the observation of one writer " without the right to secession there is no people's right to self-determination."

Without the right to secession , in the case of denial of internal self determination, the right to self determination would be empty. As a sanction for a state's failure to allow internal self-determination , the right to secession is useful to preservation of a certain community. The threat of secession may provide the motivation for a state to grant internal self-determination to certain constituent units. Curiously the best precaution against secession turns out to be precisely the right to secession.

The Tamil population in the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka which is endowed with a distinct language, a culture and objective factors who are united by their passionate yearning for freedom, a subjective factor, and who occupy an identifiable region constitutes "a people" under International Law. The Tamils of Sri Lanka proclaimed their right to self-determination in the 1976 Vaddukottai Resolution, the 1977 General Election, and the 1985 Thimpu Talks. They have made it clear by their continuous support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which has been in the very forefront of the Tamils' on-going campaign to realise their right to self-determination.

In the 1976 the Tamils adopted the Vaddukottai Resolution, which declared that due to the continuous alienation and victimisation of Tamils and in the absence of a constitutional and political framework conducive to the Tamils to realise their internal self-determination within a Sri Lankan polity, creating an independent state was the only means by which the right to self-determination could be genuinely realised. The question currently before us, whether the Sri Lankan Government's Devolution package indeed supplies a constitutional and political framework which may enable the Tamils to realise their right to internal self-determination.

In other words the issue is whether the Government's proposal is conducive to a meaningful power sharing at the centre and an authentic self-rule in the Tamil regions. As I pointed out at the Bergen Conference in Norway, the Devolution proposal contains no meaningful power sharing on the basis of equality at the Centre. Let us now consider whether the Sri Lankan Government present Devolution proposal enables authentic self-rule in the Tamil region.

There are two principal methods of evaluating their authenticity or the degree of self-rule. First by analysing to what extent the proposed Regional Councils machinery, i.e. its Executive, Legislative and Judiciary branches are subject to the control of the Central Government. Secondly by examining the jurisdiction of the subject matter of this proposed Regional Administration as said in the legal draft.

First let us deal with the Executive: with respect to the life-span of the Executive branch of the Regional Administration, the legal text of the Devolution package Section 26 - 4 says "If the President is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which a Regional Administration is promoting armed rebellion or instruction or engaging in international violation of constitution which constitutes a clear danger to the unity, sovereignty of the people of the Republic, the President may assume to himself all or any of the functions of the Administration of the region and all or any of the powers vested in it. " It also said, "The President shall also the power to dissolve the Regional Councils in these circumstances." But of course there is no objective criteria to establish whether the Regional Council indeed engages in any such activity and it follows inevitably the fate of the Regional Council is at mercy of a Sinhala-dominated Centre upon whose arbitrary and unlimited power the Tamils' internal right to self-determination is made contingent.

Let us now move to the Legislative Powers: the Devolution legal text states that Regional Council may make laws applicable to the regions with any subject set out in the Regional list. By contrast with the United States whose Constitution explicitly provides that the residual powers are retained by the states, the legal text of the Devolution package is completely silent about residual powers. Since the proposals aim at Devolution rather than power-sharing, it is natural to assume that any new subject will fall within the jurisdiction of the Central Government.

Notably absent in the Devolution package is the concurrent list that gave an illusion of power to the Provincial Council under the 13th. Amendment. This deserves to be deplored. However even in the absence of a concurrent list as such the Ceylon Workers' Congress correctly pointed out in their memorandum that there still remains a spectre of concurrence. This spectre of concurrence raised concerns whether the powers devolved upon the Regional Councils in relation to those subjects may turn out to be nothing but a sham.

It must be emphasised that this Devolution Package ought not to analysed in isolation; it must be analysed in the context of the existing Constitution. In the words of President Chandrika Kumaratunga " one has to read the political package with the other provisions of the Constitution." Thus the envisaged Regional Council will be subject to the State policy guidelines embedded in Article 27 of the 1978 Constitution. As President Kumaratunga has pointed out since policy planning is the prerogative of the Centre, the Central Government has a hold on every subject a Region handles. The Centre retains the ability to interfere in the affairs of a state not only by clinging to a "spectre of concurrence" or on the pretext of a state policy planning but also by exercising its pending powers and Emergency powers.

Article 155 Subsection 2 of the 1978 Constitution states the Government has the power to make Emergency Regulations having legal effect of overriding amending or suspending operations of the provisions of any law except the provisions of the Constitution. As Prof. A.J. Wilson rightfully pointed out that "the Emergency powers can make Sri Lanka a tightly-knit unitary state during the period when a state of Emergency is proclaimed". In short it can be said, the Centre dominated by the Sinhalese continues to overide the Region even in the sphere of the Reserve List thus denying the Tamils the right to independently choose their own course of action in that sphere. Having thus demonstrated that the degree of Tamil autonomy offered by the Devolution legal text is insufficient to allow the Tamils to exercise their legitimate right to internal self-determination I would like to discus now the Jurisdiction of the proposed Regional Administration.

Since time will not permit me to dwell on this matter in exhaustive detail, I would like to focus on how the legal text demarcates the Regional Council competence in the following areas:-

1.Land and Land Settlement:

As the 1976 Vaddukottai Resolution states that the successive Sinhalese Governments since Independence have used their political power to the detriment of Tamils by making serious inroads into the territories of the former Tamil Kingdom by a system of planned and State aided Sinhalese colonisation calculated to make Tamils a minority in their own homeland. Until 1976 the power of alienation and transfer of State land was vested in the Sri Lankan Parliament. By the 13th. Amendment the Provincial Council was given an advisory role in the alienation and transfer of state land.

When you look at the legal text of the Devolution package, Section 24 Subsection A says that the Regional Administration shall be entitled to exercise the rights, including alienation of land. However Section 24 Subsection 3 of the draft states that if the Centre is satisfied that the State land in a region, needed for the purpose of Reserve subject, the Centre may after consultation with the relevant Council require the Regional Administration to make available the land to the Centre and the Regional Council shall comply with such requirement. According to Prof.G.L. Peris, the architect of this Devolution Package, "consultation" virtually connotes "informing" as distinct from "concurrence".

And the State will have the full ability to deprive a Regional Council of its land even if the Council should object against it. Curiously this view is shared by President Chandrika Kumaratunga who acknowledged that as far as land is concerned the Centre is free to get land from any part of the country for a subject of the Centre, even if a Regional Council opposes the Centre has the power to go ahead and allocate land for its purpose. It follows that the President ( and her Minister) by her own admission that the title to State land granted to Regional Council will in fact be a sham. It will still enable the Sinhala dominated Centre to continue the colonisation of the traditional Tamil homeland. The Regional Council is denied a meaningful autonomy under the Chandrika Kumaratunga's Devolution package and is denied internal self determination.

2.Law and Order

The Devolution legal text proposes to institute Regional Police Commission in addition to National Police Commission. Both will be appointed by Constitutional Council which is a part of the Central establishment. Although the Constitutional Council is requested to act in consultation with the Chief Minister in matters relating to Regional Police Commissions; as we have seen "consultation" is an empty word. Consequently even in the appointment of a Regional Police Commissioner the Centre is at liberty to act arbitrarily and over the head of the Regional Council.

Another alarming feature of this Devolution Package is that just like under the 13th. Amendment the National Police Service is invested with the investigation of offences against State, threat to national security and the like. The National Police is answerable to the Central Government alone. The Regional Council is not even given a modicum of control over it. The proposals do not help to rule out the arbitrary arrest and torture of Tamil people such as what occurred on the notorious 4th Floor and even within the north-east Provincial Council itself. If the proposals are adopted in their present form the safety conditions of Tamils, especially the Tamil Youths in the Tamil areas will revert to a pre-1983 standard .

3. Finance and Taxation

A degree of division of power can be measured by comparing the revenue and expenditure of the Central Government and the regional administration. Grants by the Central Government and non-Central Tax are the principal components to the body of non-Central resources. Similar to the Financial Commission instituted by the 13th. Amendment the Devolution package envisages a national Financial Commission. But there is nothing about what criteria will be used in the allocation of grants. Concerning Taxation: the Regional Councils are given power of a Betting Tax, Turnover Tax, Property Tax and so on.

However Income Tax and taxes on Capital Companies and Corporations remain the Central Government's prerogative. Genuine autonomy demands that the Regional Council should exercise exclusive powers of taxation within their region while remitting on the Region's behalf a certain specified amount to the Central Government. It is true that the Northern Regional Council, which is predominantly Tamil in its composition, is permitted to borrow from other Sinhala-dominated Regional Councils but when it comes to international borrowing the requirement is not consultation with the Centre but the Centre's concurrence! With respect to foreign investment likewise the Regional Council's power are subject to conditions drawn by the Centre. All these go to show that this Regional Council is unable to engage autonomously in the area of international borrowing or international investment.

In summary, the factors that gave rise to the 1976 Vaddukottai Resolution which called upon an independent Tamil Eelam are still in existence. After the passage of twenty years and loss of thousands of lives the political framework which abandons the destiny of Tamils to the mercy of permanent Sinhala political majority, a factor that necessitated the 1976 Vaddukottai Resolution is precisely the basis upon which President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Devolution package is founded. Similarly the power of the Sri Lankan Government to bring about the colonisation of the Tamil areas, another factor that led to the 1976 Vaddukottai Resolution, remains undiminished to this day and clearly looms behind the Devolution legal text.

The Government's continued hold on to this strategy of turning the State machinery into an apparatus of terror against the Tamils, circumstances which also contributed cardinally to the adoption of the 1976 Vaddukottai Resolution. Lastly, the Sinhala political establishment's practice of imposing uni-lateral constitutions on the Tamil people proves precisely the norm guiding President Chandrika Kumaratunga today.

In conclusion I would like to emphasise that the Tamils constitute "a people" under international law and consequently possess the right to self determination. Self determination may be activated either internally or externally. The latter alternative inevitably comes into play when the former is denied. In 1976 having realised that they could not achieve self-determination within the existing constitutional and political framework the Tamils adopted the external form of self-determination as their political goal.

It is very sad to observe that after 20 years of sheer irresponsibility on the part of the Sri Lankan Government and after the loss of thousands of lives, President Chandrika Kumaratunga's administration's Devolution legal text fails to make substantial alterations to the old flagrant constitutional and political paradigm.



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