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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings - Dr.S.Sathananthan > A to Z of Conflict Resolution in Sri Lanka

Selected Writings by Dr.S.Sathananthan

A to Z of Conflict Resolution in Sri Lanka
22 September 2004

"..At first intermittent "talks" with the national movement are mooted to legitimise the State's military onslaught as unavoidable and indeed made necessary by the "lawlessness" of the national movement. But when a military stalemate ensues, then "talks" become the continuation of war by other means. Having failed to disarm the national movement through force, the State then manoeuvres to draw the movement into "talks" with the principle objective of forcing it to decommission weapons. This continuation of war by other means is the so-called "peace process". If armed conflict is the power struggle at the military level, "peace process" is the power struggle at the political level..."

[see also Walter Kemp, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, reviewing 'After the Peace: resistance and reconciliation' by Robert L.Rothstein, 1999  "..A peace process is not so much what happens before an agreement is reached, rather what happens after it... the post conflict phase crucially defines the relationship between former antagonists..." and generally Future of Self Determination  and Conflict Resolution - Nadesan Satyendra, May 2004]


The Norwegian facilitator Mr Eric Solheim was back in Colombo last week to explore the scope for re-starting "talks" between the Sinhala State and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Almost simultaneously India's Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Arun Prakash, who came on a five-day official visit, declared that India is "solidly behind" Sri Lanka and "would like to underwrite the integrity" of the island (The Hindu, 17/Sep/04). What exactly are Norway and India trying to achieve?

The glib answer to that question is: peace. But whose idea of peace? The Sinhala idea of peace is to put an end to the armed resistance of the Tamil National Movement by permanently crippling the military capabilities of the LTTE, the cutting edge of the Movement. For Tamils the basis of peace is justice, the recognition of the national rights of the Tamil people, that eliminates the need to continue the LTTE-led armed resistance.

What are Norway's and India's objectives? Is it to assist the Sinhala State to neutralise the armed strength of Tamils or is it to educate the Sinhala leadership to recognise the national rights of the Tamil people? To answer these and other questions, we need to grasp the interests of the four core States - Norway, the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and Japan - that formulate the Sri Lankan policy framework on behalf of the international community.

What does conflict resolution mean for the four core States? Since the US sets the pace, it is useful to examine recent American policy formulations relating to the right to self-determination. The US Institute of Peace convened in 1995 a daylong conference on "Self-Determination: Sovereignty, Territorial Integrity, and the Right to Secession" in conjunction with the Policy Planning Staff at the US Department of State. The aim was to explore how the US Government should respond to the movements for self-determination growing in number and deepening in intensity around the globe.

The report on the conference makes interesting reading. The participants fully endorsed the regressive and anti-democratic stance of the international community that the existing national borders of countries are inviolable irrespective of how, by whom and under what conditions they were drawn.

The general tenor of the discussions is that "minorities" must be satisfied with "intermediate categories short of statehood that can address the minority group's interests and aspirations". The "intermediate categories" the conference suggested were "membership in various international forums and organisations" and participation in irrelevant "assemblies of national minority affairs, local autonomous administrations, decentralised and local forms of government". In return for this dubious compensation, they offered "mixed commissions...to continue dialogue on the issue" and advised "minorities" within a State territory not to resist but to "dialogue", to work towards an accommodation with the more powerful "majority" on terms effectively laid down by the latter.

In other words, the existing State - usually a unitary one - must be preserved. The four core States expect - based on a primitive Social Darwinism so close to the American heart - that "minorities" would inevitably be assimilated in the long run. The obvious hope is that the compulsion to share power would consequently fade away.

The conference participants predictably relied on the term "pluralism". "Pluralism" is a deeply political concept. It redefines nations and peoples - both large and small, whether territorially based or not - as "ethnic groups", each composed of persons who share one or more common social characteristic (language, religion, etc). This approach deliberately removes from the scope of analysis the vital aspect of State power - who controls and exercises that power. This political sleight of hand masks the all-important power relations and structures of domination between the large and smaller nations within a State territory. It deliberately and misleadingly conjures up the illusion that all "ethnic groups" within a State territory enjoy a level playing field, that no "ethnic group" has an advantage over others by virtue of controlling State power.

Another function of "pluralism" is to re-classify the large nation as "majority" and the smaller nations and peoples as "minorities" within each State territory. Then it denies the latter their collective or national rights on grounds that they are merely "minorities", who do not have national rights under international law and, therefore, do not possess the right of national self-determination.

In other words, the national rights of smaller nations and peoples are written off by the simple expedient of redefining them first as "ethnic groups" and later as "minorities"!!!

Neither does the "majority" have national rights under international law. But, because it controls State power, the "majority" becomes synonymous with "the nation". It can and does give expression to its national rights by, for example, enacting legislation to declare its own language as the official language of the country. Sinhala as official language in Sri Lanka is a typical case.

In place of national rights, the international community's handout to "minorities" is equality before the law allegedly enjoyed by every citizen and protection of human rights of all individuals. To make this credible, after excluding from analysis the crucial aspect of State power, "pluralism" easily morphs domination of smaller nations by the large one into social or economic "discrimination" against "individuals" of "minorities". So "pluralism" offers solutions at the level of the individual; it invariably recommends the State could introduce legislative reforms and strengthen human rights laws.

Having employed "pluralism" to debase smaller nations into "minorities", the conference participants claimed as follows. "Minorities" (a) have no right to an independent State, (b) should disband their military organisations, if any, and (c) must concede that there can be only one armed force within one State territory. In effect, then, the State and State power belong to the large nation.

This comes as no surprise. In almost every State within the international community, State power is controlled by the large nation, which is repressing the respective smaller nations. There are numerous examples. Think of the Hispanic (Spanish-speaking) nation in the US, Scottish nation in Britain, Corsican in France, Basque in Spain, Chechen in Russia, Kurds in Iraq/Turkey/Iran, Sindh in Pakistan, Nagalim in India, Tamils in Sri Lanka and Karen in Burma, and many more. Each State is busy trying to neutralise the national movements of its smaller nations. In the US, for instance, moves are afoot to weaken the Hispanic nation by promoting divisions among Spanish-speakers based on their country of origin - Spanish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and so on. In Sri Lanka we know how the Sinhala State is desperately manoeuvring to divide the Tamil nation by playing up the Jaffna/Batticaloa sentiments.

While the State is engaged in this time-tested divide and rule strategy, Sinhala intellectuals and conflict resolution activists, generally known as "peaceniks", are fascinated by two words, "inclusive" and "unity". The Sinhala position would warm even a heart of stone. Sinhala people generously want to "include" the Tamil people within a "Sri Lankan polity"; they desperately wish to "unite" with the Tamil people. The Sinhala "peacenik" who mouthed these platitudes had a serene expression and a cherubic smile on his face. We thanked the Sinhala people for their generosity and replied that Tamils wish to exercise their fundamental and inalienable right to national self-determination, to choose their destiny. The "peacenik" expansively waved his hands and, with what he thought was a disarming smile, said he hoped the Tamil people would seek to be "united" with the Sinhala people. What happened next was instructive. When we insisted that actually the vast majority of Tamils prefer to go their own way, the benign facade of generosity evaporated. The expression in his eyes hardened. His unstated reply was clear: if you (Tamils) do not wish to "unite" with us, unfortunately we will have to deploy the armed forces.

The Sinhala logic here is that it is better to put Tamils to death than to let them be separated from the Sinhala people!!!

The psychological roots of the pathological opposition to the emergence of independent States is a conservative, knee jerk reaction, driven by the primordial fear of change.

The developed countries also fear that the proliferation of independent States would lead to a decline in their relative economic power. This was obliquely stated in the conference report. After noting "the 'unstoppable drive' of people in the Third World wanting what the advanced industrial nations already have", the participant alleged as follows: "this situation threatens those in the wealthier nations who are concerned that their benefits will decline as more economic resources are transferred abroad to those in the Third World who lead more traditional lives and generally do not aspire to what they perceive to be 'crass materialism'."

The US Institute of Peace conference reached an ironic conclusion that would only stoke the fires of liberation struggles it sought to extinguish. They claimed that a more equitable distribution of resources is damaging because "those in the wealthier nations" should not consume less while "those in the Third World" have no desire to consume more.

The conference participants cynically compounded this profoundly anti-democratic ruse with staggering paternalism. They alleged that the international community must prevent new States emerging in the "Third World" in order to protect "those in the Third World who lead more traditional lives" from "crass materialism". So the rich wish to protect the poor from the negative influences of acquiring wealth! It is the national liberation movements in Asia and Africa that destroy the "traditional lives" of the poor by carving out for them a greater share of the world's resources and wealth!!

It is difficult to think of a more vacuous assertion to justify opposition to national movements.

What is more important to note is that an equitable resource distribution was misrepresented by the participants as one where "more economic resources are transferred abroad" from the developed countries. The fact of the matter is that a redistribution of resources implies the opposite; it means less resources are transferred from the developing to the developed countries.

The developed countries, and the United States in particular, know that each new State is the vehicle through which one more nation acquires a place on the world stage. They fear that each such nation could then make and enforce its demands for its legitimate share of resources and wealth through international organisations and especially the United Nations. It is, therefore, in the self-interest of the "wealthier nations" to prevent nations without States from establishing their own States.

A very similar situation prevails within each State.

The large nation in every State knows that if smaller nations are allowed State power (federal or confederal), then the latter would acquire control over national resources (land, water, employment, education, etc) within their respective internal territories. The amount of resources the large nation could directly access would correspondingly decrease; that is, it would have to come to accept a re-distribution of resources (and wealth). The only way a large nation can hold on to all national resources is to exclude smaller nations from competition for resources, by denying them State power.

In Sri Lanka, for example, the Sinhala leadership has repeatedly rejected federalism, claiming that would give Tamils control over two-thirds of the island's coastline and the corresponding maritime resources.

Therefore, conflict resolution is a strategy also to blunt the political capacity of the "minority" people to resist the "majority" gobbling the largest share of the economic cake. In almost every case, the international community has sought to force "minority" leaders to accept the best offer the "majority" leaders are prepared to make. In the conflict resolution industry, that is supposed to be a "win-win" compromise.

Here we must note the exceptions made by conference participants. With apparent generosity they conceded that "secession can be a legitimate aim of some self-determination movements, particularly in response to gross and systematic violations of human rights and when the entity is potentially politically and economically viable". These are at best formal but disingenuous statements that have neither moral relevance nor political teeth. Indeed platitudes about "gross and systematic violations of human rights" are a transparent deception. This is clearly evident from the arrogant and thinly veiled threat of genocide confidently documented in the report. It said, "the United States´┐Żshould make it clear to those seeking independence that they cannot object to the violence waged against them by claiming they were simply attempting to exercise their 'right' to secession."

In Sri Lanka, the then Defence Minister Lalith Athulathmudali amused his Sinhala constituency in 1986 with clever arithmetic. "If one Tamil person dies for every Sinhala person killed, in the end there will be only Sinhalese left in the country." The US envoy Thomas Pickering issued a more explicit threat of genocide against Tamils during his visit to Colombo in May 2000. He bluntly warned Tamils that the independent State of Tamil Eelam is possible only on "a planet of the dead". About six months later, 27 Tamil detainees were slaughtered within the Bindunuwewa detention centre by Sinhala Policemen and Prison Guards. The US, Norway, and the rest of the international community looked the other way; they did not condemn the Sinhala Government.

The objectives, interests and prejudices documented in the US Institute of Peace conference report are the central motif of the approach of the four core States who represent the international community in Sri Lanka. Not surprisingly, the US Government is helping to upgrade the destructive capacity of the Sinhala armed forces. Simultaneously Norway is working hard to strengthen the political credibility of the Sinhala State, while the Indian Admiral rejects recognition of a third navy, the LTTE's Sea Tigers, in the region.

What, then, does conflict resolution mean? Can it result in Tamil and Sinhala peoples sharing State power? Here we must keep in mind two important aspects. The first is Sinhala national psychology. Two generations of Sinhala politicians (barring a few irrelevant Leftists), every Sinhala political party and the vast majority of Sinhala people have over the past half-century resolutely rejected the Tamil demand for a federal alternative. Conceding it now is tantamount to a historic defeat for Sinhala nationalism. No Sinhala leader of any hue - either current or on the political horizon - contemplates being the architect of such unprecedented national humiliation.

The second aspect is the political imperative. Centralisation of power has been the political logic since the early1970s. The 1971 Insurrection of the Sinhala Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) laid bare the class contradictions and caste antagonisms within Sinhala society. It also exposed the vulnerability of the Sinhala ruling classes. Following the Insurrection, which was crushed, the then United Front (UF) Government initiated action to transform the largely ceremonial armed forces into a professional war machine. The emergence of the LTTE and other Tamil militant groups in the mid-1970s underlined the national contradiction between the Tamil and Sinhala nations. The Sinhala ruling classes centralised power further through the 1977 Executive Presidency to contain the political challenge from Sinhala working classes, spearheaded by the JVP. Simultaneously, it rapidly Sinhalised the armed forces, bureaucracy and the judiciary to meet the military challenge posed by Tamils, through the LTTE-led armed resistance. The federal alternative dilutes power in the Centre. It goes contrary to the necessary and inescapable logic of centralisation of Sinhala power.

In other words, there is virtually no political space for a federal alternative. There is even less space for a confederal one, which is the only realistic basis for power sharing between Tamil and Sinhala peoples because it would allow Tamils to retain their parallel armed forces. But the Sinhala State cannot consider even a minimal federal constitution.

What on earth, then, is the purpose of conflict resolution?

We must seek the answer perhaps in the implications of an armed resistance by a national movement against a State. When a national movement arms itself, that means the State's monopoly of armed power has been broken. As we know, the civil bureaucracy administers laws and implements rules; the military bureaucracy (armed forces) administers the application of violence. An armed national movement breaks also the monopoly of violence by the State.

The State is driven, by the inescapable psychological imperative of power, to re-establish the monopoly of armed violence it possessed prior to the emergence of the national movement's armed resistance. The immediate reaction of a State is to deploy its armed forces to crush the armed challenge from a national movement.

At first intermittent "talks" with the national movement are mooted to legitimise the State's military onslaught as unavoidable and indeed made necessary by the "lawlessness" of the national movement. But when a military stalemate ensues, then "talks" become the continuation of war by other means. Having failed to disarm the national movement through force, the State then manoeuvres to draw the movement into "talks" with the principle objective of forcing it to decommission weapons.

This continuation of war by other means is the so-called "peace process". If armed conflict is the power struggle at the military level, "peace process" is the power struggle at the political level.

We have reached this stage in Sri Lanka. Clause 18(j) of the 2003 Tokyo Declaration specified that the "international community" expects "agreement by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE on a phased, balanced, and verifiable de-escalation, de-militarization and normalization process at an appropriate time in the context of arriving at a political settlement." This does not mean the Sinhala State will disarm. Not at all. But the Declaration asymmetrically demands the LTTE - a so-called non-State entity - to unilaterally disarm. The LTTE did not participate in the Conference and is not a party to the Tokyo Declaration. What is worse, that Clause 18(j) requires the LTTE to disarm "in the context of arriving at a political settlement". This flies in the face of the traditional, time-tested practice in which decommissioning of weapons takes place after a settlement is reached and it is done in stages linked directly to the successful implementation of the settlement.

The US Charge d'Affaires in Colombo, James Entwistle, did not mince his words. The LTTE, he declared, "need to renounce violence by word and deed"; that is, the organisation must decommission weapons and thereafter "become a serious player in the peace process". The visiting US Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism, J Cofer Black, fully endorsed that position. Mr Black mouthed the usual platitudes calling upon "the Government and the LTTE to swiftly resume the peace talks". But he said nothing about either the covert operations of the Sinhala armed forces against the LTTE or the role of the Sinhala State in the Karuna Affair. Instead, when he made a general observation that there is "a clear rise in violence", he referred specifically only to "the July 7 suicide attack in Colombo." He complimented the Sinhala leadership; "the Government", he said, "has the will to resist terrorism, to engage in negotiations, good faith negotiations." But he warned Tamils; "the LTTE", he admonished, "must negotiate with the Government in good faith" (Daily News, 9/Sep/04).

We must keep in mind that the exhortations to "renounce violence" were made by a US administration that invaded Iraq and is in colonial occupation of that country. The invasion violates international law and flouts civilisational norms. This point is forcefully made in the 2003 report titled Tearing Up the Rules: The Illegality of Invading Iraq issued by the New York-based Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR). CESR is a human rights organisation affiliated with the UN. Its report unequivocally argues that the US is guilty of the supreme international crime, of an unlawful act of aggression against a sovereign country. To entrench US colonialism, its armed forces have unleashed unprecedented terrorism on the Iraqi people. So far US and British forces have murdered an estimated 30,000 unarmed civilians - men, women and children - and the number is rising.

In a BBC interview on 15 September, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan forcefully stated that the US invasion of Iraq is "illegal" (The Hindu, 17/Sep/04). He elaborated further on the subject in his address to the UN General Assembly yesterday (21 Sep). He underlined the importance of the rule of law and issued a thinly veiled condemnation of the US invasion that claims to usher in democracy on the backs of battle tanks. He observed that "those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it" (Times of India, 22/Sep/04)

In view of US and British terrorism in Iraq, in Sri Lanka we must take especial note of the blatant pro-Sinhala bias in the policies of the US, the other three core States and the international community. For them, the Sinhala State is acting in good faith; the LTTE is not!!!

More to the point, the assertions by the US representatives are an unambiguous statement that underlines the position of the four core States and the international community. The LTTE, in their view, must "renounce violence" not only in "word" but also in "deed". This precisely means that the LTTE must abandon its weapons to prove its "good faith" before commencing negotiations. In other words, the international community demands that LTTE must negotiate from a position of weakness!!!

Clause 18(j) of the Tokyo Declaration was a little less draconian. It required the LTTE to disarm and weaken itself during the course of negotiations.

The demands for decommissioning weapons, of course, have to do directly with the desire of the international community to help the Sinhala State re-establish its monopoly of armed power and of the application of violence.

Therefore, conflict resolution has nothing to do with a peace that is the consequence of justice. Rather "peace" is expected to bloom once the Sinhala State re-establishes its military dominance. As Mr Black helpfully explained, the "object of peace" is "to protect individuals on all sides, and that's what we strive to do, that's our objective." For Mr Black, peace carries the coarse meaning of an end to violence; of a crass lack of violence. He obviously has yet to hear of Mr. Nelson Mandela's dictum that "peace is the product of justice".

In Sri Lanka, the approach the international community has taken will necessarily lead to further militarisation in the vain hope of defeating the LTTE and to greater centralisation of power in the unitary Sinhala State.

 

 

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