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Home  > International Relations in the Age of EmpireInternational Frame & the Tamil Struggle > Australia.& the Tamil Eelam Struggle >Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations submission to International Commission of Jurists - Australian Section, 11 December 1995  

australia &
the tamil Struggle for freedom

Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations submission
to International Commission of Jurists - Australian Section

11 December 1995

Written Submission on the Current Situation in the island of Sri Lanka presented by the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations at an informal one hour meeting with some members (including the Chairman, Justice John Doud, Deputy Chairman, Justice Marcus Enfield, Secretary General David Bietel who is also Chairman of the Australian Refugee Council) of the International Commission of Jurists (Australian Section) on 4 December 1995 and later at a three hour formal meeting (at which 40 members and invitees were present, including representatives of the External Affairs Ministry, two ICJ members who had been present monitoring the Presidential elections in Sri Lanka in November 1994) on 11 December 1995


Twelve years ago, in December 1983, the International Commission of Jurists Review commented on the attacks against the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka:

"Under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, acts of murder committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such are considered as acts of genocide. The evidence points clearly to the conclusion that the violence of the Sinhala rioters on the Tamils amounted to acts of genocide." (The International Commission of Jurists Review, December 1983)

Four months later, in March 1984, Paul Sieghart, the Chairman of the British Section of the International Commission of Jurists referring to the same attack reported:

"Clearly this was not a spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred among the Sinhala people.. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with a concerted plan, conceived and organised well in advance. " (Paul Sieghart: Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and its British Section, Justice, March 1984)

He added:

"The intervals between these episodes (of violence) have become shorter; their extent over the Island wider; and the violence has become more intense� Communal riots in which Tamils are killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless are no longer isolated episodes; they are beginning to be become a pernicious habit."

Again Timothy J.Moore of the Australian Section of the International Commission of Jurists reported in June 1983:

"...the author accepts that it is the almost universal practice of the military authorities to physically assault and mistreat these persons who have been in their custody with the principal locations for that assault being the Elephant Pass army camp and the Panagoda army camp in Colombo...the author finds that this treatment is not only in breach of Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution which states that 'no person shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment' but (that it) is also carried out on a systematic basis. " (Ethnic and Communal Violence: The Independence of the Judiciary: Protection of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka - Fragile Freedoms? - Report of an ICJ Mission to Sri Lanka in June 1983 - Timothy J.Moore)

During the past several years the attacks on the Tamil people have not only continued to remain a 'pernicious habit' and but have also continued with increasing intensity and with increasing impunity. In August 1992, the International Commission of Jurists joined 19 other non governmental organisations at the 44th Sessions of the UN Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, to declare:

''Our organisations have been extremely concerned about violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Sri Lanka both in the context of the Tamil people and their national struggle in the north and east and the oppression of political factions in the south. At present, we strongly condemn the economic blockade in place since July 1990 as well as on-going military attacks on refugee camps, residential areas and protected facilities such as places of worship, schools and hospitals. Disappearances in the south and east continue unabated, numbering more than 5,000 in the east since June 1990."

More recently on 9 August 1995, at the 47th Sessions of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, 21 non governmental organisations including the American Association of Jurists, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, International Federation of Human Rights, International League for Human Rights, Pax Romana, Centre Europe-Tiers Monde, International Federation of Free Journalists, International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Liberation and Movement against Racism, For Friendship Among Peoples and Regional Council on Human Rights in Asia expressed their grave concern at "the impunity with which the Sri Lanka armed forces continue to commit gross and inhumane violations of human rights and humanitarian law" and regretted that the "attempts by the Sri Lankan government to address international criticisms of its human rights record have been of a largely cosmetic nature". The Joint Statement added:

"In May, June and July the Sri Lanka armed forces launched a genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people in the Tamil homeland in the North-East. In early July alone, 245 Tamil civilians including around one hundred women and children were killed in the North. More than 470 were injured. Indiscriminate and incessant night shelling of Tamil villages in the north led tens of thousands of Tamil civilians to evacuate their homes. The Sri Lanka airforce indiscriminately bombed villages and targeted temples, places of worship and schools. Sellachennathy Hindu Temple was bombed. St.Peters Church and St.Peters School in Navaly where hundreds had sought shelter from the incessant shelling was bombed on 10 July 1995. More than 120 including 13 babies died in their mother's arms�

The Sri Lanka government, initially denied the bombing of St.Peters Church. Then it criticised the ICRC representative for reporting the incident to the world media without consulting the Government�The aerial bombardment of civilian population centres and places of worship follow a pattern set by the Sri Lanka armed forces over the past several years�

The Sri Lanka government has also imposed a total economic blockade on the transport of goods, including supplies of essential food and medicines, to the North. Hundreds of Tamil civilians lie injured in Jaffna hospital without treatment�

The Sri Lanka Army has also unleashed a reign of terror in the East. Arbitrary arrests and reprisal attacks on Tamil villages in the Batticaloa area have become commonplace. Tamil civilians have been compelled by the Sri Lanka army to act as human shields to detect land mines in the East.

Further during the past few months, in Colombo, Kandy and elsewhere in the South, hundreds of Tamils have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured. Many have 'disappeared' and bodies found floating in the waterways and lakes near Colombo have been identified as those of Tamils.

During the past twelve years, the UN Commission on Human Rights and the Sub Commission have heard hundreds of statements expressing grave concern at the situation prevailing in the island of Sri Lanka. The record shows that it was the oppressive actions of successive Sri Lanka governments from as early as 1956 and in 1958, and again in 1961 and again with increasing frequency from 1972 to 1977 and culminating in the genocidal attacks of 1983 that resulted in the rise of the lawful armed resistance of the Tamil people.

We are constrained to condemn the actions of the Sri Lanka government as gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law, intended to terrorise and subjugate the Tamil people."

Grave Humanitarian Crisis

It is against this backdrop that Sri Lanka has launched, with impunity, the current genocidal attack against the Tamil people in September 1995 - an attack that has caused a grave humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude.

Though Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga has sought to justify the invasion of the Tamil homeland as a war to 'liberate' the Tamil people from the Liberation Tigers, the fact is that the Tamil people have fled in their thousands from their would be 'liberators', leaving behind them their homes and hard earned belongings.

Again, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has claimed that the Sri Lanka security services have endeavoured to minimise civilian casualties. But the undeniable fact is that the invading Sinhala army has indiscriminately bombed and shelled the Tamil homeland; that hundreds of Tamil civilians had been killed and thousands maimed; that houses had been flattened and farmland destroyed; and that the economic blockade imposed by Sri Lanka has prevented food and urgently needed medical supplies reaching the peninsula.

On 1 November, the Government's own representative in the peninsula, the Government Agent, urged the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry to stop bombing civilians and refugees in Jaffna and has told President Kumaratunga that civilians in refugee camps were being killed by aerial raids and appealed for safe areas to be set up. The Sri Lanka government responded by suspending the Government Agent.

On 4 November the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, called for urgent humanitarian aid for up to 400,000 Tamil refugees fleeing their homes as Sri Lanka government troops invade the Jaffna peninsula. Dr Boutros-Ghali said that humanitarian aid on a significant scale was needed to minimise the suffering of the Tamil people. Sri Lanka responded by expressing its displeasure at the statements made by the UN Secretary General and refused to allow international relief agencies free access to the refugee camps.

The Sri Lanka state controlled Daily News reported on 7 November 1995:

"Mr. Kadirgamar said he would write to UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali about his statement expressing his deep concern about the massive displacement of civilians in the northern province. "It will be a little sharp", he said. He revealed that Boutros-Ghali had made his statement "without the full knowledge of the available facts" and despite pleadings by the Sri Lankan ambassador... Some reports place the number of displaced at 400,000. The minister questioned the veracity of the figure and said the government placed the figure at 100,000 after taking into account the numbers that had left the peninsula to the south and to foreign countries."

But UNHCR Resident Representative Peter Meijer told the Colombo press on 5 November that according to reports 'about three fourths of the population of Jaffna had been displaced.' Medicine Sans Frontiers Country Director said the organisation normally works in collaboration with the Health Ministry and that the organisation had so far not been called by the Sri Lanka Government to assist in the matter.

The Sri Lankan government spokesman have lied and lied again on the reasons that have led to this unfolding human tragedy.

The Sri Lanka government's position on 22 October was that Tamil non combatants had moved to places of safety following the warning leaflets dropped by Sri Lanka. At a Press Conference on 22 October, Sri Lanka military spokesman Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe, 'denying the charge levelled by the LTTE that the security forces have resorted to killings of civilians and the looting of houses, admitted that non-combatants had fled from the area over which the security forces had established control.' According to the Brigadier, the civilians may have moved to places of safety following the air drop of leaflets warning of a fresh Government offensive against the LTTE. "We appreciate this," he said.

Later, on 4 November, the Sri Lanka government claimed that the exodus of Tamil civilians was somehow 'contrived' by the LTTE to deprive the government of 'the stated rationale for its military action, namely to liberate the people of the peninsula from LTTE control' - a claim that would be farcical if not for its callous disregard of the unfolding human tragedy in the Tamil homeland, caused by the wanton actions of the Sri Lanka armed forces.

Finally, on 7 November, Foreign Minister Kadirgamar quibbled about numbers, suggesting with equanimity that a figure of 100,000 displaced Tamils without shelter and food was somehow an acceptable level of suffering. Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Kadirgamar knew only too well that the real question was not whether the numbers displaced exceed 100,000 or are closer to 400,000. The real question is the tremendous toll in human suffering to thousands of Tamils caused by the actions of the Sri Lanka armed forces.

Press Censorship

Furthermore, the attack has taken place under cover of a press censorship imposed by Sri Lanka on September 21. The press censorship has prevented full details of Sri Lanka's genocidal attack on the Tamil people from reaching the outside world.

In addition, Sri Lanka has used the cover of the press censorship, to manage news of the war to the outside world and plant malicious propaganda concerning alleged attacks by the LTTE on armed Sinhala settlements in the Tamil homeland in the East.

The Toronto Star reported on 5 November:

"Relief workers are so afraid of making the government angry, they refuse to photograph or shoot video of the refugees' suffering and smuggle pictures out to the reporters� Few were willing to criticise the government publicly because they are afraid it will shut down their relief operation in retaliation� 'I think they don't want an International presence there to witness what's happening,' a senior Western relief official said."

The Voice of America reported on 28 November:

"The Sri Lankan Government is waging a propaganda war to complement its military offensive. Correspondent Michael Drudge reports from Colombo that truth has become one of the war's victims. Media observers say Sri Lankan television has begun resorting to disinformation in its reporting on the war against Tamil Tiger guerrillas.

A Government television news broadcast Monday quoted Tamil Tiger Commander saying the military take over of the northern Jaffna peninsula was a serious set back for the rebel movement. In truth Commander Prabhakaran called the loss of Jaffna only a temporary set back.

The Government newscast said Commander Prabhakaran's reference to peace negotiations was a sign of Tamil Tiger weakness. In reality, he simply rejected any negotiation as long as the army occupies Jaffna.

Observers say the television newscast was but the latest instance of government media officials hedging the truth.

The military press office on Saturday issued a statement that the Tamil Tigers had used gas on troops, implying it was a chemical weapons attack. Only later did military sources admit the gas in question had been tear gas.

The government continues to ban reporters from the northern war zone. The state information department hands out video and still photographs produced by the Sri Lankan army. Information is provided by fax.

The government is also forbidding reporters to visit camps where hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to escape the fighting.

Sri Lanka media are subject to military censorship. The local cable operator even blacks out stories about Sri Lanka that appear on foreign television channels."

Genocidal Attack

The conclusion is inescapable that the genocidal attack by the Sri Lanka armed forces is in accordance with the dictates of their commander in chief President Kumaratunga who said in an interview with an Indian journal on 30 April 1995:

"Q. Where do you go from here?

A. ...To defeat the LTTE you have to launch an all out attack (which would mean a lot of Tamil civilian casualties) and the place (Jaffna) will be wiped out.

Q. Is that possible? Can the Sri Lankan forces do it?

Ofcourse it is possible. That is what the IPKF tried to do."

President Kumaratunga's words are at one with the words of her predecessor, President Jayawardene to a British newspaper, a couple of weeks before the 1983 genocide of the Tamil people in Colombo and elsewhere:

"I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people... now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion... the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here... Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy."

The truth stands exposed by several reports from independent sources.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled Jaffna with the spread of disease causing concern among relief agencies. Gerard Peytrignet, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross in the island has said that about half of the 400,000 Tamil refugees are living and sleeping outdoors in heavy monsoon rains. He added:

"The rest are holed up in churches, schools and relatives' homes. The refugees have very little food or proper sanitation. Doctors are already seeing cases of dysentery and eye infections, and while cholera hasn't struck yet, the conditions are perfect for a deadly epidemic.. Of course, in this type of situation, anything could happen, quick action is needed."

Christopher Thomas in Vavuniya, Northern Sri Lanka reported in the London Times on 31 October 1995:

"Many civilians have been killed by government shelling and bombing, which has hit residential areas of the town. There is panic among the 600,000 Tamils on the Jaffna peninsula. The greatest humanitarian crisis of the war is in the making...Tamil civilians in Jaffna are evidently terrified by the advancing of the soldiers and are looking to the Tigers to save them from what they are convinced will be a massacre.."

Paul Watson from the Asian Bureau in a report in the Toronto Star on 5 November said that "while Sri Lanka's army fights to crush Tamil rebels, its battling on another front against foreign relief workers trying to care for 400,000 war refugees." He reported:

"Western relief agencies accuse the military of blocking desperately needed aid. Tight restrictions are preventing the delivery of drugs, tents and blankets as well as equipment to build latrines, said frustrated aid officials, who spoke on condition they not be named�More food won't end the refugees' suffering or stave off disease because most have no shelter from the rain, proper toilets or safe water, relief workers said. While the government is announcing the new food of deliveries by sea, its army was blocking a small convoy of relief trucks that was supposed to cross into rebel territory yesterday."

Attempt to demonise the LTTE

President Kumaratunga has sought to justify the invasion of the Tamil homeland by claiming at the United Nations General Assembly in October that "an armed group which claims to represent the Tamil minority has been engaged in violent acts against successive popularly elected governments preventing them from ensuring peace and justice for all in our land."

But, the undeniable fact is that it was the oppressive rule and state sponsored terrorism of successive, so called 'popularly elected' Sinhala governments that led to the rise of lawful Tamil armed resistance - and that too after decades of non violent protest by Tamil Parliamentarians had failed to secure justice. To claim that the 'violent acts' of that lawful armed resistance against state sponsored terrorism, somehow 'prevented' 'successive popularly elected governments' from 'ensuring peace and justice for all' is to prevaricate and deny the underlying causes of the conflict.

Sinhala chauvinism and President Kumaratunga are at one in refusing to acknowledge that the armed resistance of the Tamil people arose in response to decades of Sinhala oppression; that it is lawful; and that the leaders of that armed resistance, the Liberation Tigers are the true representatives of the Tamil people. Sinhala chauvinism and President Kumaratunga are at one in refusing to negotiate in good faith with the Liberation Tigers to secure a political resolution of the conflict which has taken such a heavy toll in human suffering.

Again the people who President Kumaratunga chooses to describe as 'the Tamil minority' are in fact the 'majority' in their own homeland in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka - and have been so for several centuries. Sinhala chauvinism and President Kumaratunga are again at one in refusing to admit to the existence of the Tamil people as a 'people'. President Kumaratunga obfuscates because she knows that a social group, which shares objective elements such as a common language and which has acquired a subjective consciousness of togetherness, by its life within a relatively well defined territory, and its struggle against alien domination, clearly constitutes a 'people' with the right to choose their own political status - and Sinhala chauvinism refuses to deal with the Tamil people, as a people with that right.

President Kumaratunga declared recently at the UN: "Concerted international action is essential to combat terrorism and to compel the terrorists to renounce violence and enter the democratic process. Unfortunately, effective action to that end has been frustrated through sterile philosophical debate about the nature of terrorism."

That Sinhala chauvinism should assert that discussion about the nature of terrorism, is 'sterile' and 'philosophical' is not altogether surprising. On the one hand, Sinhala political parties (who had 'entered' the so called 'democratic process') have during the past four decades sponsored and actively encouraged terrorism against the Tamil people. On the other hand, President Kumaratunga seeks to demonise the lawful armed resistance of the Tamil people to decades of oppressive Sinhala rule as 'terrorism' and provide a legitimising facade for her current genocidal attack on the Tamil people.

Collapse of the Peace Talks

President Kumaratunga has also sought to justify her current military operations by persuading the international community that it was the withdrawal of the LTTE from the peace talks in April 1995 which led to Sri Lanka's current 'war for peace'. For instance, the Australian External Affairs Ministry in a letter dated 7 October 1995 to the Swiss Federation of Tamil Associations said that the Australian Government has 'expressed strong disappointment at the unilateral decision of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to withdraw from the peace talks and resume armed conflict' and added -

"The LTTE's justification for ending the Cessation of Hostilities� was not convincing and served to cast considerable doubt on the sincerity of LTTE's stated desire for a peaceful settlement to the ethnic conflict."

On the question of sincerity and good faith, may we point out Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga's frank admission in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times on 20 August 1995:

"I have studied and acquired considerable knowledge on guerrilla warfare when I was a student in Paris, and we knew how they would behave. We conducted talks on the basis that the LTTE would not agree to any peaceful settlement and lay down arms."

Whilst it is significant that President Kumaratunga's Paris education had not extended to a study of the Kissinger negotiations which ended the conflict in Vietnam or for that matter the London negotiations which ended the guerrilla war in Zimbabwe what is more significant was her frank admission that she did not participate in the peace talks in good faith with the object of reaching a 'peaceful settlement' because her Paris studies had convinced her that this was not possible with a guerrilla movement. President Kumaratunga's hidden agenda was exposed by her own appointee as Chairman of the Sri Lanka state television, Rupavahini, Mr.Vasantha Rajah, who wrote with the knowledge of an insider in the Sri Lanka state controlled Sunday Observer on 25 June 1995:

"... a hidden agenda seeped into the government's peace effort. Instead of making a genuine effort to cultivate confidence and trust with the Tiger leadership and exploring 'common ground', the government got side tracked by a different strategy: to try and isolate the Tiger leadership from the Tamil masses so that the military could corner and defeat them. The military establishment, together with most Sinhala intellectuals and left wing politicians... had been preaching this was for some time. This became the aim of the Presidential initiative too. In other words the peace process began to resemble a tactical episode in the government's strategy to crush the Tigers. Indeed President Chandrika even spoke about such an intention publicly."

The fact is that the so called peace process failed not because of so called LTTE intransigence, but because President Kumaratunga sought to use the talks as a mere 'tactical episode' in her attempt to quell Tamil resistance.

President Kumaratunga's "Devolution Proposals"

President Kumaratunga has also sought to buy the silence of the international community to her genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people by persuading them that she has presented 'radical and wide ranging proposals' for constitutional reform.

For instance, a Joint Motion for a Resolution of the European Parliament in November 1995 welcomed "the peace proposals announced by President Kumaratunga on 3 August 1995" stating that they "contain wide ranging constitutional reforms, including more extensive devolution to the provinces and a merger of the restructured Northern and Eastern Provinces and which are currently before a select committee of the Sri Lankan Parliament."

However, the fact is that the 'political package' that President Kumaratunga announced on 4 August, one month after the launch of the intensified attacks on the Tamil homeland, in July 1995, and one month before President Kumaratunga renewed these attacks in September 1995, was clearly a 'mask' to cover her government's military strategy.

Two days before the official unveiling of the 'political package' on 4 August 1995, President Kumaratunga had met with the Buddhist High Priests in Kandy and promised that the package will not be finalised until the war against the LTTE is won. Again, predictably even the original devolution package announced by President Kumaratunga on 4 August was further watered down and eventually, the presentation of the draft legislation spelling out the specifics of the 'devolution package' to the Parliamentary Select Committee was also deferred. In addition the main Sinhala opposition party, the United National Party, has withheld expressing its views until the Government presents a draft of its detailed legislation.

As for the proposals which have been touted to the international community as 'wide ranging and radical' and devolving 'significant powers from the central government to regional administrations', President Kumaratunga herself exposed its true nature in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times reported on 20 August 1995:

" The President said that since Policy Planning was a subject for the centre, the central government had a hold in every subject a region handled... the President said, even if a Regional Council opposes, the centre has the power to go ahead and allocate land for its purposes. The President also moved to allay fears of a North-East merger saying that the government did not have any idea of merging the North with the East."

The ex Chief Justice of India, V.R.Krishna Aiyer commented in the Hindu on 6 September 1995 on the failure of the Chandrika proposals to recognise the existence of the Tamil homeland::

" It is beyond argument that the North-East is the homeland of the Tamils and an unconditional acceptance of their integrated existence as a provincial unit is basic. To treat the Tamil region just like any other region is to miss the categorical imperative that the North and East is an entity with a higher autonomy and foundational features, as distinguished from the other provinces. To carve out other areas and glorify them as regions may be a stroke of federal realism but the North-East is a "quasi-Eelam" with more sub-sovereign powers and less Central presence than the other regions. Otherwise, the whole course of the decade-long bloody history will come to nought...

The Chandrika vision of Sri Lanka with all communities living in safety and security, human dignity and equality, together with a string of platitudes regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms does not take note of the core of the controversy� The sharing of power of all regions cannot be alike since that obliterates the relevance of the Tamil struggle which entitles them to a far larger protection regarding human rights, coexisting, as they are, with a snarling Sinhala majority.. The contiguous Tamil territory, with its integrity restored as before the disintegrative process during the last decade began, is important. Even the powers, administrative, legislative, and judicial have to be wider, deep-rooted and beyond manipulation by a majority in Parliament. The grievous error in the "Chandrika package" is its failure to install the North-East as a special category."

The response of the Liberation Tigers to the so called 'devolution package' was a measured one. LTTE spokesman, Mr.Anton Balasingham addressing a Press Conference in Jaffna on 11 August 1995 said:

"The so called political package is a mask to conceal the government's military intentions.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga has already promised the Buddhist Maha Nayakas that she would not finalise the proposals until the Liberation Tigers are militarily defeated and the war brought to a finish. Under these conditions, how can she resolve the conflict through political means or bring durable peace to the country?...

It is being said that under this package, areas that were forcibly colonised by Sinhalese will be excised from the North-East region. It is also being said that this is not a package to devolve power to the Tamil people but to all the regions in the island.

The package has to be placed before the Parliamentary Select Committee. After the Committee sits on it, it has to go before Parliament which must pass the bill with a two-thirds majority. The Peoples Alliance government has only a wafer thin majority in Parliament and within the Alliance itself there is opposition to the proposals. Having passed all these hurdles, the Sinhala people have to approve the proposals at a referendum.

We say that the Tamil people have the right to determine their own future. If any attempt is made to impose an arbitrary political settlement on the Tamil people through military means, the LTTE will resist it....

... even today when the Chandrika government has closed its doors on peace, we have not given up hopes of exploring a peaceful settlement. Whether it is peace or war, we are ready for both. If the government halts its military operations and creates the necessary atmosphere for peace by showing concern for the day to day living needs of the Tamil people, we are still prepared for political negotiations�"

The political reality is that the proposals presented by President Kumaratunga far from addressing the 'underlying causes of ethnic conflict and aspirations of the Tamil population' sought, on the contrary, to perpetuate Sinhala rule in a rather more sophisticated manner. Successive Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka governments have failed to recognise the correctness of the assessment made by Professor Virginia Leary in her Report of a mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists in 1981:

"The Tamils could be considered to be a 'people'. They have a distinct language, culture, a separate religious identity from the majority population, and to an extent, a defined territory.... The application of the principle of self determination in concrete cases is difficult. It seems nevertheless, that a credible argument can be made that the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is entitled to self determination...What is essential is that the political status of the 'people' should be freely determined by the 'people' themselves. (Virginia Leary: Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka - Report of a Mission to Sri Lanka on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists, July/August 1981)

We agree that a negotiated settlement, is ultimately the only logical course to achieving a durable solution to the conflict. But the short point that we seek to make is that a peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in the island demands also a recognition that the armed resistance of the Tamil people, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, arose as a response to decades of oppressive rule by a Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka state and that it is lawful and just.

It is not that representatives of two peoples cannot engage in peaceful dialogue and work out structures within which they may associate with one another, in equality and in freedom. They can. But such a dialogue must surely begin with the recognition of the existence of two peoples in the island living, in the main, in two different territories.

Eighteen non governmental organisations including the International Organisation for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Educational Development, Centre Europe Ties Monde, International Indian Treaty Council, World Christian Community, Pax Christie International, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, World Confederation of Labour, and International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, put it well on 8 February 1993 at the UN Commission on Human Rights:

''We are of the view that any meaningful attempt to resolve the conflict (in the island of Sri Lanka) should address its underlying causes and to recognise that the armed struggle of the Tamil people for self determination, arose as a response to decades of an ever widening and deepening oppression by a permanent Sinhala majority, within the confines of an unitary Sri Lankan state.

It was an oppression which included the disenfranchisement of the plantation Tamils, systematic state aided Sinhala colonisation of the Tamil homeland, the enactment of the Sinhala Only law, discriminatory employment policies, inequitable allocation of resources to Tamil areas, exclusion of eligible Tamil students from Universities and higher education, and a refusal to share power within the frame of a federal constitution. It was an oppression by an alien Sinhala majority which consolidated the growth of the national consciousness of the Tamil people.

During the past several years the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan government has attempted to put down the armed resistance of the Tamil people and has sought to conquer and control the Tamil homeland. The record shows that in this attempt, Sri Lanka's armed forces and para military units have committed increasingly widespread violations of the rules of humanitarian law.

In the East whole villages of Tamils have been attacked by the Army and by the so called Home Guards. Many Tamil residents in these villages were killed. Others have been tortured. Those Tamils who were detained by the Sri Lankan authorities have had little or no hope of coming out alive. The attacks on the Tamil homeland have been coupled with the declared opposition of the Sri Lankan Government to the merger of the North and East of the island into a single administrative and political unit.

However, despite the sustained attacks of Sinhala dominated governments over a period of several decades, the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland in the North and East of the island has remained. The Tamil population in the North and East, who have lived for many centuries within relatively well defined geographical boundaries, share an ancient heritage, a vibrant culture, and a living language which traces its origins to more than 2500 years ago.

A social group, which shares objective elements such as a common language and which has acquired a subjective consciousness of togetherness, by its life within a relatively well defined territory, and its struggle against alien domination, clearly constitutes a 'people' with the right to self determination.

Today, there is an urgent need for the international community to recognise that the Tamil population in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka are such a 'people' with the right to freely choose their political status. It is our view that such recognition will prepare the ground for the resolution of a conflict which has taken such a heavy toll in human lives and suffering during the past several years."

The way forward

We urge that the way forward is for governments to openly recognise that which many non governmental organisations with a strong commitment to human rights have recognised for more than a decade - the right of self determination of the Tamil people.

We are mindful that real politick may have influenced the responses of sections of the international community. We are mindful that President Chandrika Kumaratunga, prior to being elected, pledged abrogation of the 1983 Voice of America (VOA) agreement, but has since reneged on this promise, permitting an expanded VOA to continue despite considerable domestic opposition. We are also mindful that similar changes in attitudes have taken place with regard to the Trincomalee port with its oil storage facilities and ability to function as a naval base. We are also mindful of the importance of the role of Sri Lankan, Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala as chairman of the UN Nuclear Non-proliferation Conference.

However, we urge that the interests of democratic governments committed to the rule of law will not be furthered by supporting the genocidal actions of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government - because, apart from everything else, oppression is not the path to stability. We urge that the desire to retain the territorial integrity of existing states should not prevent the international community from recognising, as events in the old Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe have shown, that national identities rooted in language, culture and history have proved to be long enduring and the attempt to suppress such national formations serve only to consolidate resistance to alien rule. In an increasingly small and interdependent world, concepts of 'sovereignty' and 'territoriality' are themselves undergoing change.

Significantly as long ago as 1992, Velupillai Pirabaharan, the leader of the LTTE declared:

"It is the Sri Lanka government that has failed to learn the lessons from the emergence of the struggles for self determination in several parts of the globe and the innovative structural changes that have taken place."

The failure of governments to openly condemn the innumerable terrorist actions of the Sri Lankan armed forces and para military units during the past several years and in particular during the past few months at a time when President Kumaratunga's government has intensified its genocidal attack on the Tamil people, has not advanced the cause of peace in the island of Sri Lanka. The bombing of the Navaly Church in July and the bombing of the Nagar Koil School in September, under cover of a Press Censorship are cases in point.

Further, the publicly stated positions of some governments on the war in the island (as we have witnessed recently) will encourage Sri Lanka to continue her genocidal onslaught with impunity, to ignore the concerns expressed by the United Nations Secretary General for the suffering of 400,000 Tamil refugees in their own homeland, to continue with its press censorship and to refuse free access to international relief agencies to help save Tamil lives. It will also lead to a loss of credibility for these countries as neutral and impartial third parties committed to securing justice and may also undermine the ability of these countries to facilitate an end to a conflict which has taken such a heavy toll in human lives and human suffering.


It is our urgent request that the International Commission of Jurists

  1. openly condemn the genocidal attack launched by the Sri Lankan government on the Tamil people
  2. call upon Sri Lanka to withdraw its armed forces from the occupied territories of the Tamil homeland
  3. call upon Sri Lanka, as a matter of grave urgency, to permit free access to international relief agencies to minimise the suffering of an estimated 400,000 displaced Tamils who face starvation, disease and death.
  4. call for the recognition of the right of the Tamil people to self determination and pave the way for talks between Sri Lanka and the true representatives of the Tamil people, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, so that the two parties to the armed conflict may agree on structures within which the two peoples in the island may associate in equality and in freedom.


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