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canada &
the Struggle for Tamil Eelam

Swiss Federation Letter to Canadian Foreign Ministry
15 November 1995

Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and International Trade,
125, Susses Drive, Ottawa,
Ontario K1A OG2

Attn: Mr. Bryan Burton, Deputy Director,
South Asia Division
Your Ref: PSA1416

Dear Mr.Burton,

An Appeal for Justice and Humanity

We thank you for your letter of 3 October, sent on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Honourable Andre Ouellet in connection with the situation prevailing in the island of Sri Lanka.

We understand your view that the 'social and political disharmony in Sri Lanka must be addressed through co-operation and peaceful dialogue among Sri Lankans, and irrespective of ethnicity or religion.'

It was the same view which led the Tamil people for a period of almost thirty years (from 1948 when Sri Lanka obtained independence) to endeavour through Parliamentary means, and working 'within the system' to resist institutionalised discrimination and oppression by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of an unitary state.

But the non violent efforts of the Tamil people were met with state terrorism which started as long ago as in 1956 when Tamil political leaders were assaulted in the precincts of the Sri Lanka parliament and the Sri Lanka police were ordered to look the other way whilst President Chandrika Kumaratunga's father, the late S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike piloted the Sinhala Only Act inside Parliament. State terrorism reared its ugly head again in 1961, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga's mother, Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike ordered the Sinhala Army into Jaffna for the first (but not the last) time to break up a non violent protest by Tamils in front of the Jaffna Kacheri.

In 1976, having pursued all parliamentary means at their disposal and having failed to stop the efforts of successive Sri Lanka governments to assimilate and subjugate the Tamil people within the confines of a Sinhala dominated unitary Sri Lankan state, all Tamil political parties came under one political umbrella called Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), met at a convention and passed the following resolution -

"The convention resolves that the restoration and the reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular and socialist state of Tamil Eelam, based on the right of self determination inherent to every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation of this country."

- Vaddukoddai Resolution (1976)

The TULF sought and received an overwhelming mandate from the electorates in the Tamil homeland at the 1977 elections, for a separate state for the Tamil people. The situation was comparable to a vote in favour of separation at the Quebec referendum. However the response of the Sri Lankan state to the declared will of the Tamil people, was to unleash Sinhala violence on an unprecedented scale against the Tamil people in 1977, and in 1981, culminating in the genocidal attacks of 1983.

The International Commission of Jurists commented in 1984:

"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." (Sri Lanka - A Mounting Tragedy of Errors, Paul Sieghart, Chairman, Executive Committee, Justice, International Commission of Jurists.)

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 that armed resistance is both lawful and just.

We agree that there is a need for 'co-operation and peaceful dialogue'. 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, in the island of Sri Lanka. 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 consisting of the International Organisation for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Educational Development, Centre Europe Ties Monde, International Indian Treaty Council, Fedefam, Association paur la Liberte Religiose, Codehuca, World Christian Community, Pax Christie International, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, Movement contra le Racisme, International Association of Educadores for World Peace, International Association against Torture, 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."

We respectfully commend these views for the consideration of the Canadian Government and 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.

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."

We are encouraged by your statement that Canada is 'willing to assist with the peace process if requested to do so by the differing parties'. But regretfully, Sri Lanka has turned down any such intervention by third parties and President Kumaratunga has declared recently: "We have our own conflict resolution specialists." At the sametime, in recent weeks she has intensified her genocidal attack on the Tamil people.

Here, we seek your urgent support for the appeal made by the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, on 4 November 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 has said that humanitarian aid on a significant scale was needed to minimise the suffering of the Tamil people.

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 though President Chandrika Kumaratunga has claimed that the Sri Lanka security services have endeavoured to minimise civilian casualties, the facts 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 had prevented food and urgently needed medical supplies reaching the peninsula.

On 1 November, the Government's own representative in the peninsula 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. Thousands of people have fled Jaffna with the spread of disease causing concern among relief agencies. Relief workers have said that the few hospitals in the peninsula are dangerously low on anaesthetics for surgery and several drugs essential to stopping the spread of diseases and treating war casualties. Without clean water and proper latrines, an epidemic could hit in a matter of days and the world probably wouldn't see it happen.

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."

The attack by the Sri Lanka armed forces 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 attacks on the Tamil people from reaching the outside world.

At the sametime, 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 conclusion is inescapable that the Sri Lanka armed forces are acting 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?

A. 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."

In this context, the claim of the Sri Lanka government on 4 November that the exodus of Tamil civilians was somehow 'contrived' to deprive the government of 'the stated rationale for its military action, namely to liberate the people of the peninsula from LTTE control' 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.

The truth now stands exposed by Paul Watson from the Asian Bureau in a report in the Toronto Star on 5 November 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."

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.

It is true that concerted international action is essential to combat terrorism. The facts is that in Sri Lanka, state terrorism was consolidated and refined as a way of political life by the J.R. Jayawardene government, and later by President Premadasa and President D.B.Wijetunga. And this continues under President Kumaratunga today.

On 9 August 1995, 20 non governmental organisations in a joint statement to the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities 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 went on to condemn such actions as being 'intended to terrorise and subjugate the Tamil people'. The Statement added:

"In May this year, President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared that it may be necessary to launch an all out attack in the Jaffna peninsula and that this 'would mean a lot of civilian casualties' and the 'place would be wiped out'. 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 targetted 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 Pope has expressed his deep sorrow at the bombing of the Church and the loss of civilian lives.

The Sri Lanka government, initially denied the bombing of the St.Peters Church. Then it criticised the ICRC representative for reporting the incident to the world media without consulting the Government. Later the government promised to hold an inquiry into the incident. Finally the Sri Lanka Foreign Minister declared that the government will 'boldly apologise' for the attack even before the findings of the inquiry.

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 and President Kumaratunga's belated promise to investigate the recent violations, must ring hollow in the ears of the Tamil people whose kith and kin have lost their lives or their limbs in the bomb outrage."

In all these circumstances, we appeal to the Canadian government, as a matter of urgency, to respond positively and with humanity to the call made by the Secretary General of the United Nations for urgent humanitarian aid for hundreds of thousands displaced Tamils and also call upon the Sri Lanka government

1. to withdraw from the occupied territories of the Tamil homeland and end the genocidal attack on the Tamil people; and

2. to recognise the right of the Tamil people to choose their political status in order to pave the way for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.


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