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Home > International Relations in the Age of Empire > International 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
Australasian Federation of Tamil
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:
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:
Again Timothy J.Moore of the Australian Section of the International Commission of Jurists reported in June 1983:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
The Voice of America reported on 28 November:
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:
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:
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 -
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:
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:
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 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::
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 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:
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:
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:
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