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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne
The Meaning of
Hot Spring, 1 March1998
1. The word peace ccupies a prominent place in political and social discourse in Sri Lanka. The Sinhala people and their leaders, both political and religious, use the word freely. So do the Tamil and Muslim peoples and their respective political and religious 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 state. The two go together and stand or fall together. There is no concept or consciousness in the Sinhala mind of peace as an independent value unattached to any other attribute, let alone a value that in itself 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 view) 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 by their defeat to the point of surrender. This is the logic of 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. on the attainment of which peace will follow. So, peace is a corollary or adjunct to a greater and overriding value , namely, 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 Thesingle all - island state. Not a single Sinhala voice has been heard to say it would have peace without The single all - island state.
3. Peace, by itself, is a moral value universally accepted by mankind. That acceptance flows from the sanctity attributed to human life and to the need to preserve human life. However, from time to time in human history, peoples have been misled into believing that there are other values superior to human life, for the securing of which human life may legitimately be sacrificed. Invariably such concepts 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 of all their political parties and leaders was thewaging 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 injury and death 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 immoral.
6. It is necessary now to inquire whether the Tamil people of the northeast too have fallen into the selfsame 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 where they live 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 state 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 where the Tamil people live. The guerilla war being 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 eolving 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 heading for the two-state solution. In Chechnya the Russian attempt at military subjugation has been abandoned. All Russian troops have been withdrawn leaving the Chechen guerilla force in possession of their homeland which is now governed by an elected president, Asian Mashkhadov , who commanded the Chechen forces right through the war to its end. Russia has assured the international community that by 2001 the future status of Chechnya will be settled by negotiation without recourse to force. The independence of Chechnya, a country smaller than the north-east province of Sri Lanka ( 6,250 sq.mlles as against the 7,300 sq. miles of the north-east province) is thus only a matter of time.
In Northern Ireland the current peace negotiations have studiously avoided the attempt to secure the disarmament of the IRA in advance of other armed parties in this conflict. It is equally clear that the IRA cannot be extinguished militarily after nearly 30 years of trying. In all the cases mentioned in this paragraph peace has had to be, and will have 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 in their territory of domicile and who have had to resort to armed struggle for the purpose. The international community strives to work out solutions accommodating the existence of armed parties. The commonest way out is the two-state solution along with the negotiation of agreements for the establishment of good-neighbourly relationships for the future between the separating states.
8. These norms and practices are underpinned by the experience of repeated failures, even by strong industrialised 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 all - island state" and to working to attain 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.