Tamil Struggle for Freedom:
to Commonwealth Heads of Government
by International Federation of Tamils
20 October 1997
The International Federation of Tamils
headquartered in Switzerland appealed on 20 October 1997, to the
Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh to give urgent
attention to the Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam armed conflict which during the
past two decades has caused much suffering and more than 70,000 deaths.
Text of Appeal
Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam
The International Federation of Tamils (with constituent
membership in many commonwealth countries including Great Britain, Canada,
Australia, Malaysia, India, and South Africa) appeals to you and the
Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at Edinburgh to give your urgent
attention to the Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam armed conflict which during the past
two decades has caused much suffering and more than 70,000 deaths.
2. On 9 April this year, at the United Nations Commission on
a record number of 53 non governmental organisations, concerned with ending
the Sri Lanka-Tamil Eelam war, called for the withdrawal of Sri Lanka's
occupying forces from the Tamil homeland and for the recognition of 'the right
of the Tamil people to choose their own political and national status'.
3. We urge the Commonwealth Heads of Government to extend
their influential support to the call made by these non governmental
organisations at the UN Commission on Human Rights.
4. Such support will fall within the
1991 Harare Commonwealth declaration, which reaffirmed the commitment of the
member states to the 'individual's inalienable right to participate by means of
free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or
she lives' and their opposition to 'all forms of racial oppression'.
Reality of democracy in the island of Sri
5. In the island of Sri Lanka, the reality of the so called
'free and democratic political processes' was that no Tamil was ever elected to
predominantly Sinhala electorate and no Tamil was ever elected to a
predominantly Sinhala electorate. Majority rule within the confines of an
unitary state and the constraints of a third world economy served to perpetuate
the oppressive rule of
the Tamil people by a permanent Sinhala majority.
6. It was a permanent Sinhala rule, which through a series of
legislative and administrative acts, ranging from disenfranchisement, and
standardisation of University admissions, to discriminatory language and
employment policies, and state sponsored colonisation of the homeland of the
Tamil people, sought to consolidate its hegemony over the Tamil people.
7. These legislative and administrative acts were reinforced
from time to time with physical attacks on the Tamil people, in 1956, in 1958,
in 1961 and again in 1977, with intent to terrorise and intimidate them into
8. The gross, consistent, and continuing violations of the
rights of the Tamil people, by the Sri Lankan government and its agencies during
the past several decades, include grave breaches of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the
Genocide Convention, and the Geneva Conventions relating to the humanitarian law
of armed conflict. Sri Lanka's state terrorism has been well documented by
several human rights organisations and independent observers as well as by eye
9. It was this political reality which impelled
21 non governmental organisations to declare to the UN Sub-Commission on
Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities on 9 August 1995:
"During the past twelve years, the UN Commission on Human
Rights and the Sub Commission have heard hundreds of statements expressing
grave concern at the situation prevailing in the island of Sri Lanka. The
record shows that it was the oppressive actions of successive Sri Lanka
governments from as early as 1956 and in 1958, and again in 1961 and again
with increasing frequency from 1972 to 1977 and culminating in the genocidal
attacks of 1983 that resulted in the rise of the lawful armed resistance of
the Tamil people."
10. Today, the Sri Lanka government has built up a massive
120,000 member armed force constituted almost exclusively of Sinhalese, and
under Sinhala command and has allocated more than 20% of Sri Lanka's gross
national product to its armed forces so that the genocidal attack on the Tamil
people may continue.
Two peoples in the island
11. The further political reality is that there are two peoples
in the island of Sri Lanka, the Tamil people and the Sinhala people. They speak
two different languages, by and large profess different religions and occupy
separate geographical areas. Each people trace their history to different
origins. The two peoples were brought within the confines of one state for the
first time in 1833 under British rule. The Tamil national identity is solidly
rooted in the past, and has been consolidated by the struggle of the Tamil
people to free themselves from Sinhala rule.
Fifteen non governmental organisations concluded in February 1993 at the UN
Human Rights Commission in Geneva:
"... despite the sustained attacks of Sinhala dominated
governments over a period of several decades, the territorial integrity of
the Tamil homeland in the North and East of the island has remained. The
Tamil population in the North and East, who have lived for many centuries
within relatively well defined geographical boundaries, share an ancient
heritage, a vibrant culture, and a living language which traces its origins
to more than 2500 years ago.
A social group, which shares objective elements such as a
common language and which has acquired a subjective consciousness of
togetherness, by its life within a relatively well defined territory, and
its struggle against alien domination, clearly constitutes a 'people' with
the right to self determination.
... there is an urgent need for the international community to
recognise that the Tamil population in the North and East of the island of
Sri Lanka are such a 'people' with the right to freely choose their
political status. It is our view that such recognition will prepare the
ground for the resolution of a conflict which has taken such a heavy toll in
human lives and suffering during the past several years."
Lawful armed resistance - not terrorism
13. The attempts made to stigmatise the Tamil struggle for
freedom, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as 'terrorism' are but
thinly veiled efforts to strike at that which the oppressor recognises only too
well as the fundamental strength of the Tamil struggle - its moral legitimacy.
14. The cyanide capsule in the hands of the Liberation Tigers is
not the expression of the simple minded willingness of a suicide to die. The
liberation fighter values his life. But his willingness to give up that which he
values so highly is but a measure of a fierce determination that cries out: 'I
will not lose my freedom except with my life.'
15. It is this determination and this cry which has found an
answering response in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people living in Tamil
Eelam as well as the Tamil diaspora. And to say that is not to 'romanticise'
the armed resistance of the Tamil people, nor to ignore the
suffering that the Tamil people have undergone and continue to undergo in
the defence of their homeland - it is to point out the bed rock on which Tamil
resistance is built.
16. Some of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting at
Edinburgh, having been called 'terrorists' themselves, during the days of their
struggle for freedom, will recognise the attempt to categorise the Liberation
Tigers as a 'terrorist' organisation for what it is - an attempt to taint the
moral legitimacy of the Tamil struggle for freedom and in this way, further
alien Sinhala rule of the Tamil homeland.
17. The words of an Indian nationalist, some ninety years ago in
1907, during India's struggle for freedom are not without relevance today:
'It is the common habit of established governments and
especially those which are themselves oppressors, to brand all violent
methods in subject peoples and communities as criminal and wicked. When you
have disarmed your slaves and legalised the infliction of bonds, stripes,
and death on any one of them who may dare to speak or act against you, it is
natural and convenient to try and lay a moral as well as a legal ban on any
attempt to answer violence by violence... But no nation yet has listened to
the cant of the oppressor when itself put to the test, and the general
conscience of humanity approves the refusal..."
Appeal to conscience
18. We appeal to you and the conscience of the Commonwealth
Heads of Government meeting at Edinburgh to reject the cant of the oppressor
intent on legitimising his oppression and instead, extend open and public
support for the views expressed by the 53 non governmental organisations at the
UN Commission on Human Rights in April this year and call
1. for the withdrawal of Sri Lanka's occupying forces from the
Tamil homeland; and
2. for the recognition of the right of the Tamil people to
choose their own political and national status.
19. Peace and stability will not come to the island of Sri
Lanka, by encouraging the rule of one people by another. Neither will it come by
turning a blind eye to the
continuing genocidal attack by Sri Lanka on the Tamil people. It is
legitimisation and recognition that will pave the way for
negotiation on an equal footing - and the resolution of an armed conflict
which has taken an increasingly heavy toll in human lives and suffering during
the past fifteen years and more.
International Federation of Tamils