Sri Lanka and
the International Community
Ceylon Daily News, 4 July 2003
The tri-partite Ceasefire Agreement requires the
active and full-hearted cooperation of all three sides to deliver
even more than it has done so far. Now, however, one side to the
Agreement, the GOSL, is paralysed by internal dissension within the
The President and the fastest growing Sinhala political party, the
JVP, oppose any further progress under the Ceasefire Agreement tooth
and nail. If recent promises made to the international community are
to be fulfilled the present constitution has to be changed radically
or abandoned altogether and replaced by a new one which reflects the
realities of our present condition. As you are no doubt perfectly
aware neither of these is a practical possibility given the present
composition and alignments of the Sinhala political class.
The international community will soon realise that the Gordian Knot
has to be cut and it is only their intervention with the needed
force that will do it.
The hackneyed term "the international community" which had a vague
connotation for years has assumed a new and far sharper definition
after the Tokyo Conference of June 9th and 10th 2003.
The unanimous Declaration of that conference was signed by the
representatives of 51 states of Europe , Asia and North America and
of 22 international organisations. Taking the leading role in that
gathering were Norway, Japan, The United States and The European
Union's Presidency and Commission. Many of these states have already
acted in concert to bring about peaceful resolution in recent
conflicts in Europe -in Bosnia, in Kosovo and in Macedonia. They
have the tacit agreement of the United Nations.
The conflict in Sri Lanka presents the international community with
a far more intractable problem than any of the European conflicts
mentioned above. The divide between the two contending parties is
deeper and wider than in any of the European cases. An
ethno-territorial separation compounded by linguo-cultural
dichotomy, different systems of personal law and religious
difference all combine at the same time to produce a chasm which the
wit of man has so far failed to bridge. A peacemaking effort by
India in 1987 failed spectacularly with the peacemakers themselves
being embroiled in war with the LTTE and falling from grace with the
Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). Direct peace talks inter se in
1989/90 and again in 1994/95 broke down acrimoniously followed by a
return to war.
The recognition that neither side is able to bring the war to a
successful conclusion and that the two parties together are unable
to make peace by negotiations inter se has led , at the urging of
the international community , to the invitation by both sides to The
Royal Norwegian Government to act as a facilitator to bring the two
sides together and to engender in them the will to peace which is
indispensable for a peaceful settlement.
The first fruit of the facilitatory effort was the
conclusion of a tri-partite Ceasefire Agreement which has survived
for 15 months despite many infringements by both sides. Unhappily
these infringements are escalating in seriousness as time passes and
the limits of the facilitator's effectiveness without any armed
force to enforce their findings and recommendations becomes ever
more evident. In both Bosnia and Kosovo the international community
has backed up its intervention with well armed military forces to
enforce its decisions in the interests of maintaining peace.
The international community's peacemaking strategy
in Sri Lanka is less intrusive than in either Bosnia or Kosovo. It
is based upon the hope that the two contending parties will be able,
in direct negotiations with each other with the help of the
facilitator, to develop an acceptable solution - acceptable, that
is, not only to the Sinhala and Tamil peoples but also to the
international community in respect of its human rights concerns.
The record so far of nine months of dealings between the two sides,
however, offers little hope for optimism. On the contrary, with
every passing day it becomes clear that such a rapprochement is
entirely beyond their capability.
The separate national constituencies that each party represents are
too far apart for any rational hope for an agreement inter se. In
short, the situation is Bosnian or Kosovan in an even more
exacerbated form than in either of those countries.
The Declaration of the Tokyo Conference, however, calls on the two
parties to reach an agreement first on a provisional administration
for the North and East in which the majority of the Tamil people
live and then go on to devising a federal form of government to
replace the existing unitary state. The aid pledged at the
Conference is conditional on the successful achievement of these
objectives. This requires either a radical change of the present
constitution of Sri Lanka or, more likely, its replacement by an
entirely new constitution.
Neither of these is a practical possibility due to the rooted
opposition to either by the incumbent President, her party the
People's Alliance and the third, (and fastest growing) Sinhala
extremist party, the JVP. This conditionality demonstrates vividly
the international community's failure to grasp the magnitude of the
abys that separates the two sides and the political paralysis that
afflicts the Sinhala side.
If the international community is serious about a peaceful
resolution of the Sri Lankan conflict it needs to adopt a far more
interventionist approach. It needs to devise, in consultation with
the two parties , a federal form of government for Sri Lanka, compel
the acceptance of that form by the two sides and enforce its
implementation on the ground by the presence of its own military
forces under an High Representative of the international community
who will be resident in Sri Lanka and will be answerable to the
international community. This is the Bosnian model and it has worked
for the last 8 years from 1995 to the present.
It could be said that this will be the end of Sri Lanka's
independence. This is just a sterile legalistic objection.
Sri Lanka's "independence" is a myth that can no longer be allowed
to stand in the way of a new chapter of life for the peoples of the
island in accordance with the norms and values of international life
in this century.