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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Is Sri Lanka Truly Sovereign?

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

Is Sri Lanka Truly Sovereign?

4 February 2004

Sri Lanka is not a sovereign state. Firstly it does not enjoy sovereignty over its external affairs. Secondly, it cannot exercise its sovereignty over the full extent of territory over which it claims a sovereign right. Thirdly, a section of the people in whom, according to its constitution, this sovereignty is vested say they did not accede their sovereignty to the Sri Lankan state when it was reconstituted and promulgated as a sovereign republic in 1972 and 1978.

However, as we can see, it is perfectly possible to carry on like the naked emperor, insisting that Sri Lanka is a sovereign state indeed.

A sovereign state should have the sovereign will and right to enter into any relationship with any other sovereign state in its best national interests. This is one of the fundamental aspects of a sovereign state that defines it as one in the comity of nations. Encyclopaedia Britannica (ready reference suite) defines sovereignty also as "freedom from external control".

In a perceptive analysis of the 1987 Indo Lanka Accord written two months after the signing of the treaty, Dr. Amal Jayawardene very correctly and boldly observed that the legally binding exchange of letters that accompanied the agreement gave "India a supervisory role over Sri Lanka's foreign policy, at least in the areas covered by the Letter" (The Island 14 October, 1987, quoted in John Gooneratne's 'A Decade of Confrontation', the only sensible book on Indo Lanka affairs published to date). Dr. Amal Jayawardene put it quite mildly as its were. The Indo Lanka Treaty clipped Sri Lanka's sovereign right to freely enter into military or intelligence relationships with any external power other than India.

Hence all the military/intelligence relationships that Sri Lanka enjoyed since the Indo Lanka Accord have been at India's pleasure. It is India, and not Sri Lanka, that is legally entitled to draw the line regarding Sri Lanka's external military/intelligence relationships.

When President Jayewardene signed the Indo Lanka Accord, Sri Lanka lost its sovereignty over its internal affairs too. Article 2.16 (e) of the treaty states, "The governments of India and Sri Lanka will co-operate in ensuring the physical security and safety of all communities inhabiting the northern and Eastern Provinces".

Dr. Amal Jayawardene has noted that, in this respect, the Indo Lanka Accord circumscribes Sri Lanka's sovereignty more comprehensively than what the Indo Bhutan Accord does to Bhutan's sovereignty.

Fools who have no clue as to the nature of international treaties will, not doubt, continue to indulge in their ranting about Sri Lanka's sovereignty; and in so doing erode it by alienating more of its people from whom that sovereignty should flow voluntarily. Here I shall not go into an undertaking that the Sri Lankan state appears to have given India as the unwritten part of the treaty because it is unwritten. (It continues to be honoured by Sri Lankan heads of state much to the puzzlement and chagrin of Sinhala nationalists) This was not the first time that Sinhala leaders bartered away their nation's sovereignty without compunction to look after their selfish interests.

Why did the Soviet Union consistently veto Ceylon's application for membership in the United Nations as a sovereign state until 1955? Every time Colombo made an application for membership, the Soviet Union wanted to know 'how sovereign was Ceylon'. Why? Independent Ceylon had handed over its sovereign right over all its "naval and air bases and ports and military establishments and the use of telecommunications facilities" to the United Kingdom in terms of a defence treaty that D. S Senanayake had signed with Britain at independence. It should be noted here that the treaty was first proposed by D. S Senanayake in his discussions with the Colonial Office in London in 1945. The treaty gave Britain a say over Sri Lanka's external affairs too.

Soviet Union's taunt about Ceylon's sovereign status appears to have had little effect on the acute Sinhala nationalist sensibilities of J. R Jayewardene, which he set out to display so well in his agitation against the Banda-Chelva Pact.  In 1983 he wanted to revive the defence treaty with Britain. He claimed the treaty was still valid!

Sri Lanka's leaders did not fight for their nation's independence. They shed neither blood nor sweat to fight for their country's freedom. This possibly may explain their attitude towards the value and meaning of sovereignty and national honour.

Now let us look at the second aspect of a nation's sovereignty - unchallenged and unqualified control over all parts of its territory. There is no need for us to go over this in detail.

Today, the Sri Lankan state retains only a legal claim over that part of its territory which is controlled by the LTTE in the northeast. Kuranguppanchan (Maniarasan Kulam) was a clearly an instance to check the Sri Lankan state's sovereign will to act on that legal claim. This is not all. The Sri Lankan state has no sovereign claim over one of its most valuable possessions - Trincomalee. This island's territorial sovereignty is circumscribed by the India Lanka Treaty, which, among other things, stipulates that Sri Lanka cannot unilaterally decide what it wants to do with its ports - particularly Trincomalee and its tank farm. And the main aspect of the Letters of Exchange is that Sri Lanka has no sovereign right to freely do whatever it may want to do on its sovereign territory in terms of its national security interests. And finally to the most important aspect of a nation's sovereignty - its people.

Article 3 of Sri Lanka's constitution states "sovereignty is in the people and is inalienable". Now the basis of the Tamil demand for self determination is based on the argument that the Tamil people of the northeast never acceded their sovereignty to the independent Sri Lankan state ever since it came into being. Thousands of very clever counter arguments can be launched against this position. But they would all be beside the point. All such counter arguments cannot do away with the fact that this position has been consistently articulated by politically important segments of Tamil society in 1972, 76' (Vaddukoddai), 77' (general election), in 1985 (Thimpu) and 2003 (LTTE's ISGA proposal).

The best exposition of the Tamil stand on sovereignty is to be found in the arguments of G. G Ponnambalam, S.J.V Chelvanayagam, M. Thiruchelvan, S. Nadesan etc., in the Trial-at-Bar proceedings against the TULF hierarchy.

To reiterate the point I made earlier - this is not at all about arguments whether the position that the Tamils have every reason to exercise their sovereignty independently of the Sri Lankan state is right or wrong.

The point is that it is an indubitable fact that a segment of the people from which also the Sri Lankan state derives its sovereignty is consistently, and at least on the basis of one general plebiscite, claiming that it did not accede its sovereignty in forging the Sri Lankan state.

It is also a fact that a segment of people say it has sufficient reasons such as the denial of opportunities in education and employment, Prevention of Terrorism Act, mass evictions, pogroms, massacres, economic embargoes etc., not to accede its sovereignty to the Sri Lankan state because it perpetrated all of this systematically against the Tamils.

Ultimately the erosion of Sri Lanka's sovereignty can be traced to the desire to define this country's sovereignty in terms of Sinhala Buddhism. I am not saying this is not possible. But it requires genocide and assimilation of non-Sinhala Buddhists.

Anglo-Saxon protestant whites massacred and assimilated native populations in North America and Australia to define the sovereignty of the nations they forged in terms of their Caucasian/Christian identity. This as we all know is not possible in Sri Lanka. In attempting to define Sri Lanka's sovereignty purely in terms of a Sinhala Buddhist identity through various non-consensual means, Sinhala nationalists have bartered away the island's sovereignty as we saw in July 1987 and as we see today.

Sinhala Buddhist nationalists should understand they are slashing their nation's nose to spite its beautiful face.


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