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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne
The Meaning of Peace in Sri Lanka
18 February 1996
1. The word PEACE occupies a prominent place in poltical and social discourse in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala people and their leaders, both political and religious, use the word freely. So do Tamil and Muslim people and their leaders. For the Sinhala people the word has a very specific meaning - it means PEACE WITHIN A SINGLE ALL - ISLAND STATE. There was PEACE of this type during British colonial rule at least from 1815 to 1948 when colonial rule ended. These 133 years were followed by 35 years of such PEACE from 1948 to 1983 when war broke out. The habit of 168 years has embedded in the Sinhala consciousness the concept of PEACE being inseparable from THE SINGLE ALL-ISLAND SATE. The two go together and stand or fall together. There is no concept or consciousness of PEACE as an independent value unattached to any other attribute let alone a value that transcends all others.
2. As a result of this nexus PEACE has become dependent on the restoration or the maintenance ( depending on one's point of vantage ) of THE SINGLE ALL-ISLAND STATE which itself is dependent on the victorious conclusion of the present war by the extermination of the LTTE or their defeat to the point of surrender. This is the logic behind the President's oft-repeated pronouncement that the war is a war for PEACE. The primary objective of the war is the restoration of THE SINGLE ALL-ISLAND STATE by the extermination of the LTTE or by its defeat to the point of surrender. When this primary objective is attained PEACE will follow. PEACE is a corollary or an adjunct to a greater and overriding value - THE SINGLE ALL-ISLAND STATE. In order
to secure it PEACE will be sacrificed by resorting to war. The
supreme value is not PEACE. The supreme value is THE SINGLE ALL-
ISLAND STATE. Not a single Sinhala voice has been heard to say it
3. PEACE is a moral value universally accepted by mankind. That acceptance flows from the sanctity attributed to human life and the need to preserve human life. From time to time in human
history peoples have been misled into believing that there are other values superior to human life, for securing which human life may legitimately be sacrificed. Such concepts invariably have led to war. Quite apart from the resultant evil of war, such a concept is fundamentally and egregiously immoral. It is repugnant to the spiritual ethic of every known religion - it is equally repugnant to the humanistic ethic of those who have no religion. So, when we pay with human life for some material objective we are paying with the sacred for the profane - a grievous error from which we must redeem ourselves.
4. There are, however, just wars. These are wars waged to preserve human life when it is under attack and in danger of destruction. Thus an invading army must be fought even at the sacrifice of some lives in order to save other lives from subjugation and destruction. The case of Sri Lanka is a perfect illustration of this.
5. The Tamil people residing in the north-east of the_ island decided, by an overwhelming vote through the normal political and electoral process, to establish an independent state where they lived and to rule themselves therein. Inevitably this would result in THE SINGLE ALL-ISLAND STATE being divided into two states. The response of the Sinhala people and all their political parties and leaders was the waging of war to prevent the Tamil determination from being translated into reality. For the maintenance or restoration of THE SINGLE ALL-ISLAND STATE the Sinhala people and all their leaders, both political and religious, believe it is legitimate to sacrifice the lives of their own troops and take the lives of Tamil troops who defend their homeland and the state they wish to establish. They believe, further, that their objective legitimises the exposure of civilian populations on both sides to death and injury and the destruction of their property when caught in the crossfire of war. The Sinhala people have subordinated the sanctity of human life to a secular, material objective which is the preservation of THE SINGLE ALL-ISLAND STATE. That decision is fundamentally and unreservedly_
6. It is necessary now to inquire whether the Tamil people of the north-east too have fallen into the same error of paying with human life for the establishment of a state of their own where they live.. The decision to establish a state of their own and to rule themselves therein is a decision of civilian life and not a declaration of war on anybody nor a call to arms. It is when the Sinhala stste refused to allow them to do what they had decided to do and backed it up with invasive military force that they were compelled to take up arms in their own defence. The Sri Lankan army now has over 200 military camps in the north-east of the island which is the
area in which the Tamil people live. The guerilla war waged by the
Tamil people is to expel this invading force. The Tamil resort to arms is consonant with the defensive requirements of a just war and is, therefore, moral.
7. The evolving norms and practices concerning such situations in the present world show how anachronistic the Sinhala position is. All four guerilla wars of national secession from individual states that have ended in this century ( in the U.K., Pakistan, Cyprus and Ethiopia ) have ended by separation i.e. the division of the mother state into two. Similar wars in Palestine and Bosnia-Herzegovina which are nearing settlement now are also based on the two-state solution. In Chechnya The Conference on European Security urges on the Russian government a "civilized" solution without recourse to war - an euphemism for separation subject to arrangements for the establishment of good neighbourly relationships for the future. In Northern Ireland though the peace process has broken down it is now clear that the voluntary surrender of weapons by one of the parties ( the IRA ) is impossible of achievement and so also is their military extermination. PEACE has to be secured between armed parties who will continue in possession of their arms for the foreseeable future. Constitutional tinkering is powerless to alter this reality. The evolving norms and practices of international life in the present day and age exclude attempts at military extermination of those seeking self-rule who have resorted to armed struggle. The international community strives to work out solutions accomodating the—existence of armed parties. The commonest way out is the two state solution along with negotiation of arrangements for the establishment of good-neighbourly relationships in the future.
8. These norms and practices are underpinned by the experience of repeated failures, even by strong industrialized states such as the U.K., to exterminate militarily or weaken to the extent of surrender or compromise, nationalist, secessionist guerillas fighting on their home ground against the conventional army of the state.
9. The position of the Sinhala people and their leaders and their government in the present war is morally reprehensible, anachronistic in the light of evolving international norms and practices in such cases and physically unattainable. It can only be explained as a combination of folly and perversity which will result in the degradation and pauperizing of the Sinhala nation in addition—to burdening it with criminal culpability for the death and destruction wrought upon the Tamil people of the north-east province. There is no rational alternative to the separation of PEACE from THE SINGLE ALLISLAND STATE and to working for the former for its own sake. A complete reversal of the present policy of war and the seeking of PEACE by adopting a two state solution on the island are the only means by which the salvation, both moral and material, of the Sinhala people can be secured.