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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam: Getting to Yes > Ethnic Violence, Development and Human Rights
Ethnic Violence, Development and Human Rights
From the Introduction by Hans Thoolen, Director of the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Utrecht, 17 June 1985:
"It is hard to deny that ethnic conflict has been and continues to be one of the major causes underlying war, civil strife, repression, human rights violations and consequent setbacks in economic development.
However, both in research and in diplomatic action concerning these phenomena there has been a tendency to downplay the ethnic element. The inherent complexity of ethnic problems is probably part of an explanation, but there are other elements as well. Having settled most of the post-colonial boundaries, there has been little enthusiasm in the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies to (re)open the Pandora's box of self-determination by focusing on ethnic diversity within the agreed states.
It seems that problems of ethnic minorities enter the area of international concern only when tensions have led to conflict of such a scale and intensity that its consequences can no longer be hidden from public view. And even then, the explanation that ethnic conflict is at the base of these human rights violations is usually invoked by the repressive governments themselves, as if this explanation exonerates them from their normal duty to protect their citizens.
This failure of intergovernmental organizations, based on the reticence of its membership, to look into the question of ethnic conflict early in the process, and to play a protective role, is very much at the heart of the problem
Ethnic tension often is aggravated by ethnic minorities' deep seated mistrust of the government apparatus concerned, which is seen to be, and usually is in the hands of the "other side". The national government therefore, as a party involved in the emerging conflict, can do little to diminish the tension and develop solutions. Insistence on the strict application of the rule of "exhaustion of domestic remedies" seems not to be the answer in the case of collective demands of an ethnic nature. Even more than in the case of violation of individual rights, there is a intercessionist role to be played by regional or international organs.
It has to be investigated how the United Nations could play a more preventive role, e.g. by giving ethnic minorities more recognized formal standing in United Nations organs and proceedings, by creating better opportunities for minorities to call on the United Nations, or by giving the United Nations an arbitration role in emerging conflicts.
This as yet unfulfilled structure throws a larger share of responsibility on non-governmental organizations involved in the field of human rights and development. For this purpose, they have to establish more effective networks in which information can bc exchanged and action coordinated.
The present SIM Special (publication) underlines the necessity for giving far greater attention to research into the relation between human rights, development and ethnic conflict, and the cooperation of different non-governmental actors in these fields.
Although there are many longstanding ethnic conflicts, and special focus on the relation between ethnic conflict and human rights has been long over due, these two consultations were prompted by the continuously aggravating ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
At the February 1985 consultation, many of the participants, although from diverse organizational backgrounds, shared special knowledge regarding the situation in Sri Lanka, and the discussion on action to he taken in the short term focused very much on the case of Sri Lanka.
An introduction, given at the opening session of the Second Consultation, by David Selbourne, about recent events in Sri Lanka, has been omitted from this report, as the situation is constantly changing, and updating a publication such as this is difficult. It has been replaced by a short list of reports and articles which are easily available from the sources. (Appendix B)
Two particularly interesting projects on the collection of information and documentation on Sri Lanka, in London and in Oslo, are described briefly in Appendices C and D respectively.
The encouraging efforts of the United Nations University in the field of ethnic conflict are prominently illustrated by two reprints from The Lanka Guardian under the title: " U. N. U South Asia Perspectives Project: an Agenda for a Non-Violent Solution"
The general research part of the meeting is represented by three articles by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, Fali S. Nariman and Kumar Rupesinghe. Their contributions are proceeded by introductory notes as presented to the meeting by Asbjorn Eide and Rodolfo Stavenhagen.
After adoption of the summary reports of the two working groups, one on Sri Lanka and the other on research. the closing session on the morning of February 3rd marked the end of the Second Consultation. However, as many participants felt that immediate follow-up was called for, a Standing International Forum reconvened in the afternoon of February 3rd. in which the Sri Lankan participants to the Consultation declined to take part in order to allow frank and unbiased decision making concerning the case of Sri Lanka.
Report of Working Group Two of the Second Consultation
The Reality in Sri Lanka by Patricia Hyndman
The major point which came out of the discussion was the urgency of the current situation in Sri Lanka and the need for immediate action to be taken in order to avoid a total breakdown and further bloodshed.
The extreme measures which are currently being adopted by the government inevitably provoke extreme reactions from the other side. The political negotiations have now broken down; there has been an alarming increase in the number of violent incidents and a military rather than a political solution has been selected.
The normal life of the population of the North has been seriously affected. People either have great difficulty or find it completely impossible to continue with their employment and there is a severe shortage of food and basic necessities. The imposition of long curfews, severe curtailment of movement, and other restrictions have brought great hardship, deprivation, and suffering to the people in the regions in the north and east, which have been declared to he prohibited and security zones. Many Tamils are daily fleeing across the Palk Straits to Southern India.
The continuing colonization of Tamil areas with Sinhalese settlers and the arming of such Sinhalese is exacerbating the situation. Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankans are in a state of great insecurity and the country would appear to be on the brink of civil war.
In this context the need for international initiative was discussed.
The following points and suggestions were made by the participants:
There was a general consensus that a forum should be established and that this must be done as a matter of urgency to take immediate, planned, and concerted action to avoid further violence on both sides.
Group Chairman: Goran Backstrand, Rapporteur: Patricia Hyndman, Assistant-Rapporteur: Daniel Ravindran
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS Second Consultation, 1-3 February 1985,
Appendix B Selective Bibilography
- Selection of Documents on Human Rights in Sri Lanka Available at SIM
THE TAMIL INFORMATION CENTRE
Control of the Press
The independence of the press in Sri Lanka was being gradually eroded during the last two decades by direct and indirect coercion by successive governments. In the seventies two large newspaper groups came under the control of the government. The newspaper groups which were not under the control of the government too were afraid to be critical of human rights violations by the government. All newspapers, whether government-controlled or not' were not only slow to give publicity to any human rights violations against the Tamils, but even blacked out the news. At least one group of newspapers was more racist than the government-controlled papers. The opinion of the Tamil people found little or no place in the Colombo-based papers; except one Tamil daily, all dailies are published from Colombo.
Saturday Review an English weekly, was started in January 1982 mainly for the purpose of publishing the human rights violations in the country and the views of the Tamil people relating to their problems, so that the Sinhalese people, at least the English-reading public, may become aware of the correct situation. Saturday Review was banned to prevent publicity to the planned massacre in the Trincomalee District in June 1983. Though Saturday Review was allowed to re-commence publication in February 1984, it is subject to special censorship, and only government-approved materials are printed.
Awareness outside Sri Lanka
The correct information reaching the outside world was limited to communication by human rights organisations or activists, or by persons who visited Sri Lanka and in particular the North and East. The nature and extent of violations against the Tamils in the North or the East are seldom appreciated by visitors who met people only in Colombo or in the South. The work of the human rights organisations and activists were closely watched by the government. In late 1982 and early 1983 the government had started using the powers under the Prevention of Terrorism Law (introduced in 1979 and under which several activists have been detained and tortured) to intimidate human rights workers, and it has then become dangerous to publish within the country and to communicate with the outside world. The government was quite sensitive to the image created in the world and it wanted to prevent information flowing out rather than conform to international human rights norms.
Tamil Information Centre
Owing to the repression within Sri Lanka there was an urgent need to have an organisation for the collection and dissemination of news relating to the repression and human rights violations against the Tamil people. Tamil Information Centre (TIC) started its work in dune 1983 end from lst July 1983 it functioned officially. The need for its work is increasing because of the desire of the Sri Lankan Government to impose a military solution. The repression is now more extensive and includes periodic killings of civilians, massacre of prisoners, "disappearance", rape, and torture. Tamil Information Centre has branches in Madras and Madurai in India. The Madras Branch carries out publications, while the branch at Madurai does information gathering.
2. The Work of TIC
TIC gathers information daily from Sri Lanka and India and if necessary from other points. TIC receives all publications in English and Tamil, including dailies and periodicals from Sri Lanka. There are also arrangements to receive special reports, photographs, memoranda, and any document touching on the problem. The information received daily is recorded and stored. The documents received are indexed and filed.
An ansaphone service to give out reports was started in September 1983. A short report is prepared from the information gathered daily and a recorded message is given from 6 p.m. until the following morning 9.30 a.m. The service has a high demand and we have two lines for English messages and one line for Tamil messages, which was introduced at the request of Tamil refugees in France and Germany who do not have adequate knowledge of English. The system of messages over the ansaphone has become popular and it is adopted by Associations in Canada, USA, France, and the U.K. It is believed that most of them get the news from TIC services.
From 1st January 1985 a daily report is prepared and it is stored in the computer. The Daily Report is also posted to two parties who require the service. There is an arrangement for the Daily Report to be transferred to a computer in the USA for the use of its customers. A Tamil organisation has made the arrangements to receive the information. There is also an arrangement to send the Daily Report by telex to a Tamil organisation in Australia.
From 1st January 1985 TIC has started a service to supply copies of paper cuttings of important news items appearing in the British press and items in other papers reaching TIC. It is used by four parties now. TIC collects paper cuttings from all over the world, except from Sri Lanka, in the English language (or where English translations are available) and the collection is hound monthly. A programme of newspaper documentation is carried out by the Theepam Institute, Jaffna for dailies and periodicals published in Sri Lanka.
In October 1984 PRIO requested TIC access to documents within TIC and to fill up a preliminary version of the HURIDOCS STANDARD FORMATS for the purpose of storage in a computer. The work was carried out as a special task during November 1984. The "documents" included books, periodicals, reports, affidavits, pictures, cassettes, and video cassettes. The newspaper cuttings at TIC were not included.
A team of three experts concerned with documentation, using the computer from PRIO, has carried out a training programme during the last week of January to assess the work completed and to train the staff at TIC and volunteers to carry out scientific documentation. It is proposed to continue the documentation at TIC using a computer. The work will be done in association with the Theeparn Institute. Part of the work will be done at the branch of the TIC in Madras.
TIC gets requests for information on specific questions relating to Tamil problems in Sri Lanka from human rights organisations, pressure groups, and the media. All efforts are made to provide the required information or document. It is not unusual for institutions to verify any reports they have received about Sri Lanka with TIC.
TIC published Urgent Notes from 14th June 1983 more or less weekly until the end of 1983 and twice a month in 1984. Urgent Note sets out verifiable facts relating to the human rights violations against the Tamil people without any comment. The Urgent Note is sent to human rights organisations, church organisations, pressure groups, activists, media, and selected embassies. The number of points we reach has now increased to almost one thousand. Urgent Note is received well and it will be continued in 1985 as a bimonthly.
TIC published a monograph on '`Insecurity of Tamils", which was updated twice, and it is proposed to update it again shortly. TIC has also published two other monographs on specific problems, edited by its branch at Madras. TIC has published "A diary of incidents in 1984", The paper cuttings available are used to publish material relating to specific problems. Selected reports on serious incidents in 1984 are published. TIC promotes publications which are useful to the understanding of the problem. TIC also sells the publications of others relating to the problem.
A journal under the name of TAMIL INFORMATION is edited by the former editor of Saturday Review, who is now a refugee in Madras, and which is published by the Madras branch. The journal is a useful forum to assess the Tamil opinion. The editor enjoys the usual editorial freedom. It is also expected that the journal will be helpful to generate support for the work of the TIC.
A library is being built up in London. Another library, in particular for the use of the editorial staff of TAMIL INFORMATION, is being built up in Madras. The libraries are available for any reference work. The dailies and periodicals from Sri Lanka are read regularly by visitors.
TIC has functioned for 1 1/2 years and a basic organisation is built up to handle information service. It is proposed to offer services to institutions or persons concerned with the problem. Information gathering is becoming increasingly difficult. However, TIC will endeavour to overcome the problems.
Daily Bulletin and Paper Cuttings
The daily bulletin could be sent daily or accumulated and sent bi-weekly or weekly according to need. The daily bulletin could also be sent by telex or by facsimile transmission or to computers. Paper cuttings too could be sent daily, or accumulated and sent bi-weekly or weekly.
Documentation of material available to TIC can be carried out in any required format. If the documentation in association with PRIO is carried out, then the information could be shared with any institution or person.