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Interim Self Governing Authority & Aftermath > TNA's Thrust in Sri Lanka
TNA’s Thrust in Sri Lanka Parliament
R.Sampanthan, M.P. (Tricomalee),
Parliamentary Group Leader, Tamil National Alliance(TNA)
Presentation at 16th Annual Lunch of the International Tamil Foundation,
Putney Leisure Centre, London - 27 June 2004
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured by the invitation extended to me by the International Tamil Foundation, to make a presentation to you on the occasion of your 16th Annual Lunch. I have been requested to speak to you on the "T.N.A’S Thrust in Parliament", which would encompass a comprehensive review of the crisis relating to the Tamil question in Sri Lanka, - at present.
A brief historical overview would be relevant. Before colonial conquest, there were in the island three kingdoms, the kingdom of the Kandyan Sinhalese, the kingdom of the low-country Sinhalese and the kingdom of the Tamils. Each one of these kingdoms lost its Sovereignty to colonial conquest at different times in history. The British who brought the different territories, under their control, at different times, eventually unified the whole country in the early 19th century, for the purposes of their administrative convenience.
But for colonial conquest, the Kandyan Sinhalese , the low country Sinhalese and the Tamils would have been accepted as three distinct nations. This indeed, was the position taken up by the Kandyan Sinhalese Leadership when they testified before the Donoughmore Commission for Constitutional Reform in the early 20th century. They strongly urged that Ceylon should become a Federation comprising of three federating units, the upcountry areas, in which the Kandyan Sinhalese were in a majority, the low country areas in which the low country Sinhalese were in a majority, and the North – East where the Tamils were in a majority. This was an expression of the right to internal self-determination by the Kandyan Sinhalese.
The British colonial rulers, however thought that certain safeguards, - particularly the provisions relating to non-discriminatory legislation in the Soulbury Constitution, the setting up of a second chamber which could serve as the watchdog of the first chamber, the assumption that Sinhala and Tamil Languages would enjoy parity of status in keeping with the policy enunciated in the State Council; would build a sense of partnership, mutual respect, and equality amongst the different nations that inhabited the island country. This was a grave error on the part of the British which they later realised and regretted.
Thus it was, that after the country attained independence, deep divisions appeared within the polity, consequent to the disenfranchisement of the Plantation Tamils, greatly diminishing the Tamil strength in the Legislature, the introduction of Sinhala as the sole official language thus relegating the Tamil Language and the Tamil people to a secondary status; the aggressive pursuit of state aided colonisation; - the settlement of majority Sinhalese in land developed at state expense in Tamil areas, particularly in the East so as to radically alter the demographic composition in the said areas and further weaken Tamil representation, the consistent pursuit by the state, of blatantly discriminatory policies in socio-economic activities, particularly in the field of education, employment and state-sponsored economic development, cumulatively resulting in the majority Sinhalese acquiring a privileged position at the expense of the Tamil people who were progressively reduced to a position of inferiority.
Such policies by the Sri-Lanka State led to the demand by the Tamil people as reflected in their verdicts at successive general elections, for a federal structure of governance, and regional autonomy for the north-east. The moderate leadership of the Federal Party who articulated these demands, entered into dialogue, and executed agreements with successive Prime-Ministers, such as the Bandaranaike – Chelvanayakam pact, and the Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayakam Pact, in order to bring about the desired changes in an incremental way. These pacts were, however, unilaterally abrogated or not implemented. The minimum demands that were placed on behalf of the Tamil people before the Constituent Assembly that enacted the 1972 Constitution, were summarily rejected. The 1972 constitution stipulated that Sri – Lanka would be a Unitary State, subjecting the Tamil nation to perpetual majoritarian Sinhala hegemony.
This led to the demand in 1976 for the restoration of Tamil Sovereignty. The 1977 General Election was contested in the north-east by the Tamil United Liberation Front and certain other candidates on the basis of this demand. The majority in the north-east as much as 53.53%, despite the extensive Sinhala colonisation that had taken place particularly in the East- – supported this demand.
The United National Party elected to power in 1977 proceeded to enact the 1978 constitution, which entrenched the unitary character of the Sri-Lankan State and required that the amendment or repeal of the constitution would require not merely a 2/3rds majority approval in Parliament, but also approval by the people at a Referendum, - Significantly the 1978 constitution, also introduced a system of elections, through proportional representation, which ensured that no single party could muster a 2/3rds majority in parliament. No single party has mustered strength even anywhere near to a 2/3rds majority, in Parliament, since the introduction of the new system of elections.
Consequently, the amendment or the repeal of the existing constitution, even to resolve the Tamil Question, remains an almost unachievable prospect unless there is a bi-partisan and consensual approach, between at least the two main Sinhala political parties.
It would be relevant to note that the United Front Government which enacted the 1972 constitution received only a 49% mandate at the 1970 general elections, and the United National Party Government which enacted the 1978 constitution received only a 50.84% mandate at the 1977 general elections, both mandates being lower than the 53.53% mandate received in the north-east at 1977 General Election for the restoration of Tamil Sovereignty . The Tamil Nation did not partake in the making of either the 1972 or 1978 constitutions.
It must also be recorded that since the 50,s the Tamil Nation has been subjected to racial pogroms and genocidal attacks consistently by anti-social elements within the majority community and the Security Forces of the Sri Lankan State. The right to life, liberty, security of person and property of the Tamil Nation has not been ensured by the Sri-Lankan State.
It is in this background of suppressive political victimisation and oppressive personal insecurity that Tamil Youth rebelled and commenced an armed struggle. This armed struggle commenced after the enactment and implementation of the 1972 constitution, and intensified after the enactment of the 1978 constitution. The armed struggle of Tamil Youth was greatly strengthened by the notorious genocidal attacks against the Tamil Nation in July – August 1983, in which the complicity of the Sri-Lankan state was clearly identified and which received world wide condemnation.
It must be noted that Tamil Youth did not resort to any form of violence against the Sri Lankan State prior to the enactment of the 1972 and 1978 constitutions though anti-Tamil racial pogroms had occurred even earlier. The Sri-Lankan state even used military force to crush non-violent campaigns conducted by moderate Tamil leadership as during the Sathyagraha campaign of 1961.
The armed struggle carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (L.T.T.E) seriously challenged the military supremacy of the Sri Lanka State.
The Sri Lanka State, which suffered severe military set backs at the hands of the L.T.T.E belatedly realised that the Tamil question could not be resolved by military means. The inability of the Sri-Lanka State, to militarily suppress the L.T.T.E, despite strenuous efforts to do so, compelled the Sri-Lanka State to accept the aforesaid reality.
It is estimated that over 80,000 Tamil Civilians have been killed and tens of thousands of other Tamil Civilians physically incapacitated and many parts of the North – East destroyed and devastated as a result of the conflict.
The country as a whole has suffered immensely as a result of the conflict. The country’s economy is in a parlous state.
It is in this background that negotiations have commenced between the Sri-Lanka State and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam with international facilitation.
The Peace process has become the central issue in Sri-Lanka. Everything else in Sri-Lanka depends on the success or failure of the peace – process. It is widely accepted that the failure of the Peace – process would have disastrous consequences for the whole country.
The Tamil nation has strived to achieve the right of internal self determination in its’ homeland, the North – East for more than half a century. The north-east is accepted as being the areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people, the Tamil and Muslim peoples whose mother tongue is Tamil. The Tamil speaking people continue to be a majority in every one of the districts in the north-east, despite the impact of extensive Sinhala colonisation in some parts of the East. The Tamil nation realises that the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese, who live in the north-east will have to co-exist peacefully.
Apart from Norwegian facilitation, the International Community has taken much interest in actively supporting the peace – process. The International Community has pledged substantial aid to help the country as a whole, and to rebuild and reconstruct the devastated North-east.
Around a million Tamils have been displaced by the conflict, who need to be resettled and rehabilitated. The dislocated and displaced Tamils, many of whom have been refugees for more than a decade, are returning to their villages and homes, and want to resume normal life, they want to resume their traditional occupation. They do not want to be refugees any longer or live at the mercy of others. To deny them the right to return to their homes, and to their villages, would be to deprive them of their right to freely pursue their economic social and cultural development; the denial of a fundamental human right.
The International Community -- The International Donors – have linked aid to progress in the peace – process. They have in particular linked aid to re-commencement of Peace Talks and stated that disbursements of Aid would depend on progress in the peace talks.
The Norwegians are endeavouring to draw up an Agenda on the basis of which talks can commence. The Norwegians insist that there should be clarity as to the issues to be discussed by the parties and the format for such discussions when the talks commence. They are clearly of the view that if there is no such clarity the talks will flounder.
The position of the Sri Lankan State at present is inconsistent. The present government is an alliance of primarily the People’s Alliance and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (J.V.P). The two parties as of now, do not have a common position on the Peace process. The Peoples’ Alliance segment within the Government has also lacked consistency. This could be attributable to one or more of the following factors - the lack of a sincere commitment to the peace process; desire not to alienate its’ alliance partner the J.V.P and thereby endanger the government’s sustenance in power; - immediate compulsions such as the forthcoming Provincial Council Elections. Whatever, the reason for the uncertainty, such weakness on the part of one of the negotiating parties is a disturbing phenomenon, and given the past experiences of the Tamils in the negotiation process, is far from encouraging.
The L.T.T.E, for it’s part, since it made public it’s proposals for the Interim Self Governing Authority, has been willing to discuss the said proposals. It has asked that the talks should be related only to the I. S. G. A. proposals. The L.T.T.E is not agreeable to talks on the core issues being taken up, along with talks on the I. S. G. A. proposals as suggested by the Sri-Lanka government.
The Tamil National Alliance has supported the position that the I.S.G.A proposals should be discussed first. Urgent humanitarian issues need to be addressed in the North-east, such as the resettlement and rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamil civilians, and a return to normalcy in the lives of the long suffering Tamil people. This is an immediate requirement, which cannot be delayed.
The Sri Lanka State has not been able to resolve the Tamil National question for more than the past fifty years, despite strenuous efforts by the Tamils to achieve the right to internal self determination. This is attributable to a lack of political will on the part of the Sri-Lankan State and the inability or unwillingness to evolve a sufficient consensus amongst the Sinhala membership in the legislature to achieve this objective.
The violence unleashed against the Tamils intermittently through anti Tamil pogroms, and genocidal attacks as in July/August 1983, is attributable to the incapacity of the Sri-Lanka State to resolve the Tamil Question through peaceful means, and were attempts to subjugate the Tamil nation through physical force. The unilateral abrogation and non- implementation of pacts entered into by Prime Ministers, with Tamil political leadership buttresses this position.
There does not exist a Sinhala consensus even today, not even within the ranks of the Government, to generate the confidence that an early resolution of the Tamil National Question is within the realm of the possible.
An interim self governing authority fairly constituted with sufficient powers, to administer the North-east is the only way to make a beginning. The concept of an Interim Arrangement has been accepted by all Governments. When an Interim Authority becomes operational in the North-east, it will generate the confidence amongst the Tamil people and the L.T.T.E, that methods of governance are changing and can change further. It is extremely unlikely that what is built and constructed by the Interim Authority will be destroyed by forces involved in the management of the Interim Authority.
Rhetorical positions taken up for political advantage cannot be a ground for not taking the peace process forward in a meaningful way.
Some of the significant achievements of the peace process thus far, have been the bringing about of the Cease fire, which has continued for more than the past two years, the setting up of a monitoring mechanism which has been able to closely interact with the two sides and sustain the Cease fire, the continuance of the Norwegian facilitation, which acts as a deterrent against the abandonment of hope, and the backing the Peace-Process has received from the International Community. India too, both the former and present Governments have expressed their firm commitment to the Peace-process.
Yet another encouraging factor is that nobody wants a return to War ------ not the Government of Sri-Lanka not the L.T.T.E nor the Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim peoples. But, it must be realised that a situation of "NO WAR" ---- cannot be a substitute for an "Honourable and Durable Peace" which we all desire.
In the present complex situation, the only practical and pragmatic way, indeed the only sensible way, is to take the courageous step of bringing about an interim arrangement, that will effectively administer and address the immediate needs of the north-east, bring to an end the agony of the long suffering Tamil people, resettle and rehabilitate them, rebuild and reconstruct the devastated and destroyed north-east. That would be the foundation, for a just and durable solution to the Tamil question. To delay would be to inflict further damage to the Peace Process.
If the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of Government, the results of the General Elections held on 2nd April, 2004, in the north-east clearly demonstrated that the will of the Tamil Nation is clearly not the basis of the authority of the present Government in the north-east. On the basis of the votes cast in the north-east in favour of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, representing the Tamil National Alliance, 22 members were elected to Parliament. This represents 2/3rds of the total number of 31 members of Parliament entitled to be elected from the north-east. The mandate granted to the elected members, on the basis of the manifesto of the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi, was clearly that negotiations should be only with the L.T.T.E, that the L.T.T.E should be recognised as the sole representative of the Tamil people, that an interim self-governing authority should be set up in the north-east after discussions with the L.T.T.E, that the right of self-determination of the Tamil Nation for political autonomy in it’s homeland – in it’s areas of historical habitation – the north-east – should be recognised. In fact, political autonomy based on the right of self-determination for the Tamil Nation in the north-east has been the trend of electoral verdicts for over the past four decades.
The Tamil Nation looks forward to a resolution of the Tamil Question, based upon the right of internal self-determination in it’s homeland, it’s areas of historical habitation – the north-east. The Tamil Nation is committed to a just resolution of the Muslim Question in the north-east.
If the Tamil Question is not resolved through dialogue and negotiations, the consequences could be excruciatingly painful for the whole country.
There must not be any assumption however, that the Tamil Nation as a people, if continued to be denied meaningful access to Government, to pursue their political economic cultural and social development, and thereby denied meaningful exercise of it’s right to self determination within the State of which it forms a part, is without remedy.
In fact, in the case relating to the secession of Quebec from Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that "The International Law Right to self-determination only generates, at best, a right to external self-determination in situations of former colonies; where a people is oppressed as for example under foreign military occupation; or where a definable group, is denied meaningful access to Government to pursue their political economic social and cultural development. In all three situations, the people in question are entitled to a right to external self-determination because they have been denied the ability to exert internally their right to self-determination".
The Court further ruled that "such exceptional circumstances are manifestly inapplicable to Quebec under existing conditions."
In Sri Lanka however, unlike in Quebec, a definable group, the Tamil people, is being consistently denied meaningful access to Government to pursue their political economic social and cultural development. That was the clear impact of the 1972 and the 1978 Constitutions enacted in violation of the wish democratically expressed by the Tamil Nation for a federal arrangement, that would have given them meaningful access to Government. The unwillingness or the inability of the Sri-Lankan State to meaningfully restructure the powers of governance for a period of over fifty years only reinforces and accentuates such denial.
It should also be noted that though in terms of the United Nations Covenants, the right to self determination was initially confined to people in colonial territories; with decolonisation almost exhausted, the restricted view taken earlier is being increasingly subjected to criticism.
The Tamil Question in Sri-Lanka, emanates from an instance of colonialism transforming the structures of governance in different territories by unifying them, purely for the purposes of their colonial administrative convenience, and leaving such a unified structure in place, at the time of their departure, thus engendering conflict between different peoples with different identities. Decolonisation has only aggravated the situation.
This cannot mean that the Tamil Nation which has not been provided with meaningful access to government, and the government of the Sri-Lankan State not being one which can claim in any manner to be representative of the Tamil Nation, that the Tamil Nation will have to perpetually submit itself to majoritarian hegemony and oppression.
What I have stated thus far, would give you some idea of the present situation of the Peace Process and some of the relevant issues. As you are aware, the T.N.A. works closely with the L.T.T.E in the furtherance of the Peace Process, in order to bring about through dialogue and negotiations, a just honourable and durable solution to the Tamil Question. The resolution of the Tamil Question has been difficult. Tamil moderates have tried very hard.
While emphasising that the L.T.T.E which has made tremendous sacrifices must be brought in, before any final solution, we have been earnestly involved in negotiations with the Sri-Lankan State. The Sri-Lankan State unfortunately never kept its commitments. The Sri-Lankan State was primarily interested in prosecuting the war and militarily marginalising the L.T.T.E. The Sri-Lankan State did not succeed in this effort. If the Sri Lankan State succeeded in militarily marginalising the L.T.T.E, our own experiences convince us, that any purported solution would have only been a pretence, and would not have been acceptable to the Tamil people. This explains the primacy the Tamil people and the T.N.A give the L.T.T.E.
Without allowing itself to be deceived by the Sri-Lankan State the L.T.T.E is prepared to negotiate seriously. We are committed to extending our support to a meaningful Peace Process. This is a historic opportunity, perhaps the last opportunity. Will the opportunity be grasped or missed once again. It is for the Sri-Lankan State to decide.
May I conclude by appealing to all of you my friends, to support a just honourable and durable peace in Sri-Lanka. That has to be our first choice. Thank You.