On Human Rights
Developments during the Winter , June - August 1984
"This Report is intended for general distribution to members
of the Parliamentary Group and other members of the Australian Parliament
concerned with human rights matters.
General. During the Recess I had the opportunity of taking up various issues
of concern to the Group, both in Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom, and of
consulting with other human rights bodies in those countries. You will
recall my letter, oh the eve of the Recess, asking MPs and Senators to takc
every opportunity, on their overseas visits, to promote human rights and to
make enquiries of local authorities concerning the situation of prisoners of
conscience, etc., in those countries. As we are aware, Michael Hodgman
exercised the initiative of visiting refugee camps in Papua New Guinea and
his personal report gives us first hand knowledge of the serious situation
confronting the Melanesian refugees from West Irian. I hope that other
Senators and MP's will be able to report to the Group, concerning similar
Sri Lanka. During a three day visit to Colombo and Kandy, I had some
opportunity of meeting government representatives and private organizations
and discussed the continual serious communal situation in Sri Lanka. I met
and lunched with the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr.Tyronne
Fernando and the Minister for Local Development, and a number of their
officials. They expressed a confident view that the security situation was
under control and that negotiations between the Singalese majority and the
Tamil minority would continue. I had reason to doubt such assertions. The
negotiations between Singalese and Tamil representatives have proceeded very
slowly since the communal violence of July 1983 and appeared to be now
I also had discussions with
Dr Neelan Tiruchelvam, an able lawyer and representative of the Tamil
United Liberation Front in the Parliament (the Tamil Opposition has now
withdrawn from the Parliament) and also with Father Paul Casperz, a Jesuit
priest in Kandy. He is the President of the Movement for International
Justice and Equity, which appears to be the only organization, in the south,
now endeavouring to effect a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
It was reliably put to me that the situation is complicated by the fact that
the Singalese majority (approximately 80%) are a majority with a minority
complex. Facing them across a narrow strait, are 40-50 million
people of India who give some support to Tamil sections. On the other hand
the Sri Lankan Tamils are a minority with a majority complex for the same
reason, and expect support from these Indian compatriots. Many of the
smaller Indian Tamil groups (mainly plantation workers) were
denied Sri Lankan
citizenship and many have been forcibly repatriated to India.
Sri Lanka is suffering from communal disasters which have broken out
frequently and it is clear the Government is embarrassed by it in its
foreign relations. Trade and tourism have languished and the economic
condition of the Tamils is bad.
discrimination is prevalent and communal differences are now exploited
even at a school level.
I was reminded very much of the situation in Zimbabwe where we now see a
majority government turning to violent activities and thereby jeopardizing
the economic success of that young nation.
The Sri Lankan Government must be persuaded to compromise by granting
devolution of power in Tamil areas on a generous basis.
While Australian trade and contacts have tended to dwindle in recent years, I
believe the Australian Government could play a useful role. We are respected
there and I believe the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, should pay an early
visit and try to pressure the Sri Lankan Government into realistic and early
While the first anniversary of the
riots passed without the feared disaster, the situation is most tense
and constant violent incidents are occurring. The army appears to be weak
and given to unstable and
to provocation. The deaths and destruction of cities in recent days
appears to confirm the fears expressed to me at the time of my visit.
I ascertained from Sri Lankan officials that most of the persons alleged to be
responsible for the deaths and destruction of Tamil property in 1983 had not
yet been brought to trial. I obtained figures that some 500 or more were to
be tried but court delays have meant that none had yet been tried. I urged a
speeding up so that justice could be seen to be done.
I left Sri Lanka most concerned that the terrible breaches of human rights of
1983 could well, be repeated. Sri Lanka
managed to stave
off a United Nations investigation of the July 1983 violence by promises
that have not been kept and other democratic nations should bring pressure
to avoid the further outbreaks of communal hatreds that threaten and that
will lead to further destruction of human rights. A number of documents made
available to me by the Sri Lankan Government and by Tamil Groups in London,
are available for your inspectionů."
Update Report by
Senator Alan Missen - Delivered to the Emergency Committee on Sri Lanka
formed under the auspices of SIFEC, at Rome, 30th June 1985
Following my visit to Sri Lanka in June 1984 as Chairman of the Australian
Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International (and the report then
presented), I decided to spend three days in Sri Lanka on the way to the
meeting of the
Emergency Committee on Sri Lanka in Rome. I also added to it one day for
talks in Madras with leaders of the TULF (Tamil party) now in exile. In this
assessment I assume awareness of the contents of an excellent background
paper presented by the Secretary-General, Martin Ennals, to the meeting.
The immediate interest is in
talks between the warring parties to be held shortly in Bhutan -
coinciding with the
present cease-fire or "cessation of hostilities" - which have been
arranged by the initiative of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister.
It should be stressed that there have been a number of deaths on both sides
since the coming into place of the cease-fire: These may have been reported
in the outside press but they have only partly been reported in the Sri
Lanka press. Evidence indicates that some such incidents were caused by Sri
Lankan military forces in the Eastern area (an area of particular
difficulty) and that some other attacks are apparently attributable to Tamil
groups that are not among the major bodies that will be in the negotiations
at Bhutan. The lessening of tension and restoration of transport between
North and South coming into force at the moment following the cease-fire,
adds to the incentive for a peaceful solution.
While there is a perceptible easing of violence and some signs of moderation
on both sides, I do not regard the short three months' cease-fire as
encouraging. There is considerable cynicism on the part of Tamils that the
cease-fire might mainly be used by the Sri Lankan Government as a device for
obtaining war supplies from the United States of America, Pakistan and South
Africa to resume the aim of a military solution. A gesture, like the release
of Mrs. Bandaranaike from the loss of her civic rights, and the full
involvement of the Bandaranaike section in the Bhutan Conference would do a
lot, in my opinion, to show the genuineness of the Government in its
commitment to securing Sinhala support for a full settlement.
There is exhaustion on both sides, but the action of the President and his
advisers in proclaiming an end of violence by the end of the year, in
claiming success (and thereby keeping his Sinhalese Opposition, the
Bandaranaikes, out of the action and uninformed), and the
of immigration on a substantial scale by Sinhalese in Tamil areas do not
look good omens for success.
We must work on the basis that the cease-fire is a short opportunity to be
seized, that pressure must be brought to bear and that, if it fails, the
subsequent position will be considerably worse and cynicism and extreme
forces may well take over.
People interviewed during the visit:
o Australian High Commissioner Bob Cotton, who arranged many interviews at
o Neelan Tiruchelvem , remaining ex-MP (Tamil), lawyer and spokesman for TULF
o Chief Justice Sharvananda, a Tamil, recently appointed Chief Justice.
o Anura Bandaranaike, leader of the SLFP Opposition, Mrs. Bandaranaike still
being out of the country at the moment, and still dispossessed of civil
o Luncheon guests arranged by the Australian High Commissioner including
Canadian High Commissioner, Apostolic Delegate Monsignor Di Paulo, newspaper
men, etc. Later interviews were arranged with Mr.Desmond Fernando, the
President of the Human Rights Movement of Sri Lanka, and Frank Jayasinghe,
the Executive-Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, and
Foreign Minister Hameed.
o In Madras I saw Mr.A.Amirthalingam, leader of the TULF, and important
members of the TULF - Mr.Chandrahasan, Mr.Chellin, and Mr. Thangathurai, who
recently came seeking refuge, MP for Trincomalee District.
I also had the opportunity of speaking briefly with the Australian Foreign
Minister, Bill Hayden, before leaving Australia and, in more detail, with
his staff about his recent visit to Sri Lanka. I .also had the opportunity
of talking to many Australian aid organizations on the subject.
I shall not refer, in this report, to specific proposals made by individuals,
for obvious reasons, but will raise matters that 1 consider were responsibly
put forward in discussion of a possible settlement and the part which this
Committee could play in its achievement.
General Statement of Attitudes (Based upon the
Many present day irrelevancies cloud this debate:
Who settled Sri Lanka first? Whether there were
independent Tamil Kingdoms in the first place? A great deal of
recrimination takes place over the progress of ethnic relations since
Independence. None of the political parties is seen to have a good record of
consistency, and politics, played by one faction shaping Sinhala opinion
over the others, has led to the failure of successive election promises. The
intransigence of the Buddhist clergy and the Tamil rebels in recent
years has worsened the situation, giving excuses for retaliation leading to
the undermining of moderate leadership on both sides.
The abandonment of the Tamil idea of a state or provincial authority and the
demand, since 1975, for 'Tamil Eelam' or a separate state, which, while
economically is just feasible, is clearly unacceptable to Sinhala opinion,
and would have enormous ramifications of long borders and general economic
cost. It would deprive Tamils of their opportunity for wider service in the
Sri Lankan State. Among moderate forces in the community, particularly in
the Human Rights Movement, the inter-religious social activity led by Father
Caspersz, a Jesuit priest, and the work of the International Centre for
Ethnic Studies, all create a broad base for sensible living relations
between Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Moor and Burgher communities in building a
multi-cultural society. Unfortunately, the forces of envy and prejudice have
so far proved too strong.
I am already concerned at the real dangers of the President's truculent
attitude expressed in his interview given to "The Sun" of the 26th June
1985, which he believes will solve the problem. He
is insisting that he will carry his undisclosed terms through the rather
unrepresentative Parliament. (It is true that he has in his pocket the
"resignation" of each Government MP, but there is real danger that the
Opposition may call on the support of strong Buddhist clergy In the country
to upset these ideas).
The necessity for a real consensus seems to escape the leadership. The
Bandaranaike forces must be joined in the talks and enjoy some of the kudos
of any successful outcome.
There is at present some doubt as to whether the proposed settlement will
address itself to the real issues: Foreign Minister Hameed claims that
matters were 95% solved at the constitutional talks last year. The calling
off of these talks is a matter of buck-passing between the parties, but
clearly the Sinhala clergy and MPs would not accept the President's earlier
Talk of devolution must be defined. If the President has in mind only the
cosmetic District Development Councils without real financial power or
the right to consolidate into Provincial Councils (with the powers of the
Indian or Australian States), then this is no solution. It is believed that
the Government may go so far, if pushed, to obtain a settlement. This seems
to be a view held among Tamil sources. Whether the settlement will be
subject to a referendum (which Foreign Minister Hameed doubts) remains to be
seen. If it is to be carried by referendum and not subject to abolition by
any subsequent governments, then obviously a very good selling job must be
undertaken to persuade the Sinhala electorate.
A real settlement requires a substantive change of attitude on both sides, and
a restoration of enforceable civil liberties (jointly built in with some of
the Australian human rights safeguards recommended by Professor.
Weeramantry, the Australian scholar of Sri Lankan origin, who has recently
been in Sri Lanka).
Such a settlement must face up to major issues such as control of law and
order by Provincial forces, control of immigration, control of land tenure
in the hands of Provincial forces. (This is a subject of real disquiet,
heightened by threatened settlement of Sinhalese in Tamil lands, and the
development of the
Mahaweli water scheme without changing the ethnic balance of communal
forces in the Eastern Zone). The right to the use of all the national
languages, education system, etc., will need to be clarified.
I am constantly reminded of the assessment of the situation made by Father
Paul Caspersz to me in Kandy last year. The majority Sinhalese, though an
overwhelming majority in numbers, suffer from a minority complex. They have
an exaggerated fear of India, particularly of the 50 million Tamil Nadu
residents a very few miles away.
They are easily roused by the necessity of preserving their
Buddhist Sinhala way of life, are afraid of the Tamils who, after all, have
lived side by side with them for over one thousand years yet they see them
and describe them as "foreign" Tamils. They see the use of language as a
method of achieving equality or superiority in their own land.
On the other hand, the Tamils, particularly the Sri Lankan
Tamils as distinct from the more recently arrived Indian Tamils (the estate
workers) who hold a very tenuous position, have a majority complex though a
small number (less than 13% of the total population.
They place too
heavy a reliance on India to protect them and Tamil "Tigers" or
guerillas see violence as a successful way of attracting world (and Indian)
attention. It leads them to advocate Tamil Eelam as a separate state and has
led to a decline in the support for moderate Tamil leadership.
The present realism and intervention of India can only help to solve the
tension and, one hopes, solve the real problems of living together on one
island. Cyprus stands as the other and most impractical solution of a
problem of two people cohabiting one small island, backed by military force.
Attitude of Government and Officials
The attempt to
keep down the number of industrious Tamils in the Government's service, in
law and medicine, etc., and the use of the language (Sinhala) to achieve
this has led to a burning resentment by Tamil youth. The system of Sri
Lankan democracy leaves much to be desired, with harsh laws, similar to
South Africa's, muzzling of the local press and intolerance of minorities
(one both sides), a system of Presidential control, the extraordinary
one-sided nature of the voting system - the one-sided Parliament made worse
by forcing out the Tamil MP's - and the long-extended term of Parliament -
all make for an
unhealthy form of "democracy". The rise of violence has been consistent
and in the last year the number of civilians killed by Tamil guerillas rose
to over 250 (from 12 the previous year) showing a constant growth. The
failure of the French in Algeria and the USA in Vietnam to defeat guerilla
forces - though many times superior in numbers and fire-power-must be a
constant lesson as to the folly of a military solution.
The disastrous effect on aid programs (nations are unwilling to provide money
when it cannot be spread evenly in Tamil areas), the collapse of tourism,
and the bad name gained by Sri Lanka throughout the democratic world are
obviously of worry to Sri Lankan authorities. Not sufficient worry for them
to reply to or attempt remedies for any of the Reports of Lawasia,
Commission of Jurists,
Amnesty, and the British
Parliamentary Human Rights Group, to name a few organizations making
serious allegations concerning human rights violations over recent years.
Sri Lankan leaders complain bitterly about distortion in the foreign press,
but make no attempt to answer allegations or to allow them to be reported in
the local media.
The rising tide of violence from an
undisciplined army whose excesses are not punished, and whose offending
officers have on some occasions been promoted by Government, and from the
counter-punching by Tamil extremists makes the prospects of a quick
settlement rather remote. International pressure must be brought to bear to
create a change of attitude by all parties. Undertakings I was given last
year by Foreign Office officials and public servants engaged in human rights
that legal delays would be overcome and trials would proceed, have not been
rule of law is
under serious challenge and the Supreme Court plays but a minor part in
enforcing constitutional guarantees.
I have discussed with various authorities certain international action that
ought to be taken and suggest the present (non-exclusive) conclusions.
(Outside the Government, action along these lines is warmly supported by
many of my interviewees. In this sense international involvement is
desirable, probably crucial to securing realistic solutions during the three
months period of cease-fire)
1. UN Commission on Human Rights. Approximately 18 months ago the Sri Lankan
delegation turned aside a suggestion of intervention by this Commission by
promises, many of which have not been attended to. Further attempts to
involve the UN Commission have been unsuccessful.
I believe the
SIFEC organization should take every step to see that the events in Sri
Lanka are investigated and, more importantly, that a high-powered delegation
should go to Sri Lanka, consult all parties, and use the international
machinery to secure compliance with the human rights commitments of the
Government. The last resolution before the Commission was not seconded. I
hope that Australia, as a member of the Commission, will now see the wisdom
of pressing for international inquiry and arbitration.
2. The work of International Red Cross and other non-government organizations
must be allowed inside Sri Lanka. While thousands are homeless and injured,
150,000 Sri Lankan
citizens have fled abroad, it is inexcusable that International Red
Cross is denied entry, particularly in view of
recent deaths and
burnings in the Eastern Zone where citizens survive in incredible
squalor. Other non-government organizations, including aid and Church groups
(and particularly Buddhist groups) should be encouraged to enter the country
and play their part. Sponsored visits, including a visit by this Committee,
should be undertaken and by business and trade union leaders who
should investigate the scene.
3. Aid programs.
Despite the resistance of aid giving countries to be involved in internal
racial matters, the fact is that they are so engaged in Sri Lanka and their
aid is assisting the myopic attitude of the Sri Lankan authorities. The
world banking group should be encouraged to take a more realistic view of
what they are doing. Pressure by India, USA, Japan, and West Germany, all
responsible aid givers or powers concerned in the success of Sri Lanka,
should use their good offices to intervene.
4. Support for local human rights groups. Members of such groups in other
countries should assist organizations in Sri Lanka working for human rights,
legal aid, and in ethnic studies. Independent assessment of the extent of
the denial of human rights is called for.
5. Peace keeping force. While this offends the susceptibilities of the Sri
Lankan government, the raising of an International Force to re-establish law
and order and confidence in police obligations may be necessary on a
temporary basis. At the very least, the Commitment of India and
international bodies to the permanence of the settlement is an essential
prerequisite to success.
6. The use of a mediator or mediators should be offered in facilitating moves
towards a workable state and a restoration of confidence by all sections of
7. Overseas refugees. Action must be taken to secure the return to their
country of most if not all of the 150,000 Tamil Sri Lankan citizens
displaced by communal violence. It
will require that they be accompanied by Indian or other international
persons to secure their return without victimization.
8. The folly of
racial violence. Its part in the
of a working democracy in Sri Lanka, and the enormous economic cost,
must be brought sharply home to the people of Sri Lanka of all backgrounds,
and this three months breathing space used by responsible world leaders and
world human rights bodies in achieving a lasting solution.
Senator for Victoria
(Chairman - Australian Parliamentary Amnesty Group)
Encs. July, 1985
President Junius R. Jayewardene's rather truculent statement reported in
"The Sun" of 26.6.85 is some evidence of this.
2. Evidence of non involvement of
International Red Cross is contained in the attached letter from the
Australian Red Cross Society dated 20th March 1985.
3. Evidence contained in telex from the
Tamil Information Centre, London, dated 16th July1985.