the Struggle for Tamil Eelam
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.