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Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle > > International Conference on Tamil Nationhood, Canada 1999 > The Need for Third Party Conflict Resolution in the Island of Sri Lanka > Selected Writings - Viswanathan Rudrakumaran

Proceedings of International Conference On Tamil Nationhood
& Search for Peace in Sri Lanka, Ottawa, Canada 1999

The Need for Third Party Conflict Resolution
in the Island of Sri Lanka

Viswanathan Rudrakumaran , LLB, NY, USA

The Tamil national leader Mr. Vellupillai Pirabaharan stated in his 1998 Martyr Day speech:

"We have not closed the door for peace. We are open to the civilized method of resolving conflicts through rational dialogue. Since the Sinhala leadership lacks the political will and sincerity to resolve the problem, we favor third party mediation for political negotiation."

Studies have shown that from 1980 to 1990, 60% of a total of 265 conflicts were resolved through mediation. Recent resolutions such as the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, the 1998 Northern Ireland Peace Accord and the 1998 Wye Agreement, all demonstrate the imperative for third party mediation in either conflict reduction or conflict resolution.

According to Jack Bercovitch, mediation is an extension and continuation of the parties own conflict management effort. Susskind, another scholar, similarly points out that "mediation is an assisted negotiation."

Third party mediation contributes towards the improvement of the environment in which the conflict occurs. In a protracted conflict, there are social and psychological processes at work which exacerbate the conflict environment beyond the basic nature and immediate circumstances of the conflict itself. On the island of Sri Lanka, in particular, the betrayals and deception perpetrated by the Sinhala political establishment have created a psychological distance between the parties which inordinately exacerbates the suspicion and mistrust between the two parties to the conflict. Moreover, this psychological distance has also been exploited by the Sri Lankan government to engage in demonization of the Tamils and LTTE which has furthered the distance.

Mediation can work on this perception. Intervention by a third party will bring the added benefit of organization to the process. It can lead to the introduction of new guidelines for communication between the parties, and thus enable each party to appreciate the other side�s perspective. Properly structured communication would impose a certain reality check upon each party�s assumption regarding the other.

Third party intervention can work to prevent the parties� demonization of the other and would prod the adversaries towards cooperation. Third party diplomatic activity alongside this process is another dimension. The Third party can play various roles at various stages along the continuum of the process providing facilitation, consultation services, analyses, channels and forums for discussion; helping to identify the issues and interests, clarify the situation, develop the framework, add resources and invent solutions and so on.

Despite the virtues of third party assistance in the resolution of conflicts, which has been demonstrated in various parts of the world, the Sri Lankan government continues to reject the very notion of third party mediation. While the Sri Lankan government reiterates its objections to third party mediation, it has thus far failed to provide any meaningful reason for its opposition. By some spokesmen for the Sri Lankan government, claims have been put forward that this current armed conflict- which has resulted in the cost of thousands of lives lost - is the internal affair of the Sri Lankan government. Characterization of the current armed conflict as an internal matter is morally wrong, legally incorrect and diplomatically na�ve and also indicative of the hegemonic attitude of the Sinhala government towards the Tamil nation.

To conceal the systemic persecution of a nation and its untold human suffering is morally wrong. The characterization of the situation which causes a flood of refugees to threaten the stability of neighboring countries, and which involve war crimes, crimes against humanity as not being properly subject to international law and international concern is legally untenable. Given the U.N. involvement in the protection of the Iraqi Kurds and the NATO involvement in Kosovo, the characterization of the situation on the island of Sri Lanka as an internal affair is diplomatically na�ve.

Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government�s pact with India made ostensibly for the sake of Tamils has clearly taken the current conflict from the domain of internal affairs. Once consent to foreign intervention in so-called internal affairs is granted, the consent places the issue in the international domain. The permanent court of international justice in the Tunis-Moroco Nationality Decrees case of 1923 stated that the moment a state conclude and international agreement, that subject is no longer a matter of exclusively internal concern, but there after becomes a matter of international concern. Thus, now it is simply absurd to argue that the conflict should remain outside the international purview.

Could it be that the real reason for the Sri Lankan government�s opposition to third party mediation in the conflict is due to its immersion in the delusion of a military solution? The Sri Lankan government may be dreaming that it can force the Tamils into capitulation and into submission. The Sri Lankan government�s military�s failure to open a land route, and the Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi battles should instruct the Sri Lankan political and military establishment that negotiated settlement is the only route towards a final resolution of this protracted conflict, which has cost both parties so very dearly.

Indeed, a modicum of thoughtful deliberation on the part of the Sri Lankan government would reveal the fact that third party mediation would in fact be helpful to the government itself. Although once it was perceived that President Chandrika Kumaratunga had political courage and statesmanship, she has demonstrated clear lack of such qualities initially attributed to her. One has often heard the expression that the President would like to solve the conflict, but the political system hardliners and the hawks within the military establishment will not allow her to do it. Well! Third party mediation will furnish her with an opportunity to demonstrate her political courage. The President can pursue bold initiatives for peace; and any political risk resulting from such action can be distanced from her by the third party assuming responsibility.

The Sri Lankan government, wittingly or unwittingly, through political rhetoric has entrapped itself by seeking only a military solution to resolve the current conflict. This Government has invested its image and political survival on a perilous route. Third party mediation would have allowed the Government to leave its trap and at the same time ensure its political survival.

However, given the Sri Lankan government�s irrational opposition to third party intervention, the question before us is what can the international community do to bring forth third party mediation. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, Karl Inderfurth�s offer demonstrates the international community�s view that third party intervention is an essential element for negotiated settlement aimed at bringing peace to the island of Sri Lanka.

When the Sri Lanka government is subject to a hurting stalemate, it will come to realize that a negotiated solution is the best way out. Conflicts characterized by asymmetry such as the armed conflict in the island of Sri Lanka, power asymmetry works against the creation offer hurting stalemate. Change of heart on the part of larger power is usually unobtainable where asymmetrical conditions exist.

In the present armed conflict on the island of Sri lanka there is a disparity between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) in terms of resources and power that they command. As a government the Sri Lankan side enjoys the benefits of access to resources and other benefits and patronage that accrue with that status. Even though LTTE has reduced the power asymmetry relation between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils, power asymmetry still exists. This power asymmetrical relationship precludes the possibility of obtaining a hurting stalemate for the Sri lankan government. When the Sri Lankan government�s military capability is reduced and/or when the Tamils� right to self-determination and the legitimacy of the LTTE are recognized, the Sri Lanka government�s cost-benefit analysis will point towards the acceptance of third party mediation.

The above mentioned development can take various forms, both tangible and intangible, such as cessation of arms supplies and military training provided to the Sri Lankan government; condemnation of the persecution of the Tamils; acknowledgment that the political arrangements mentioned in the Devolution package falls short of the self-governance principles of the Rambulli Interim Agreement or even to some extend President Milochicic�s counter proposal for the Kosovars; call for the withdrawal of troops from traditional Tamil areas is similar to NATO�s call for withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo; and recognition of the legitimacy and authenticity of the LTTE�s representation of the Tamils.

I take this opportunity to say just a few words here about the Devolution package put forward by President Kumaratunga vis a vis the Rambulli Interim Agreement and the Milochvic�s counter proposal . The Rambulli Interim Agreement for Peace and Self Government in Kosovo and even president Milochivic�s counter proposal regonize the equality national communities which is glaringly absent in president Kumarathunga Devolution proposals. The concept of concurrent mutual veto power which is the basis of the Rambulli Interim Peace Agreement is not present in president Kumarathunga�s Devolution proposals.

Most importantly the international community reaffirmation the withdrawal of troops as the essential element for a political settlement in the Rambulli Peace Agreement. There is no similar provision for the withdrawal of troops in Kumarathunka�s package. The Rambulli Peace Agreement which implicitly regoganize the Kosovo�s right to self determinations and envisions a referendum i to decide the final status of Kosovo after three years, whereas president Kumarathunga�s Devolution package is blind to the Tamil�s right to self determination

Given the above, President Kumaratunga�s chronic statements that the introduction of the Devolution package to the Parliament is a panacea for the Tamil national question are not only deceptive, but also insults the intelligence of those whom she expects to accept her solution.


Third party mediation is a political process. It contributes to a negotiated settlement. The other option is for a military solution, in which only one party wins, and in the case of Sri Lanka will only serve to prolong the conflict since the Tamil Nation cannot be subjugated. Third party mediation enables both parties to emerge as winners. The Sri Lankan government must seize the opportunity, to put an end to the human suffering and to allow both the Tamil people and the Sinhala people to coexist peacefully on the island of Sri Lanka.


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