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Home > Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom > International Frame & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United Kingdom > International Federation of Tamils to British Prime Minister, 18 November 1995
International Federation of Tamils
18 November 1995
An Appeal for Justice and Humanity
We thank you for the recent concerns that your Government has expressed and the interest that you have taken in the ongoing conflict in the island of Sri Lanka. We are particularly encouraged by the statement made by your Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs, on 6 November that the United Kingdom continues "to believe that a lasting solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka can be achieved only through a sustainable political settlement, reached through peaceful negotiation."
We are also mindful that as long ago as 9 August 1993, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office writing, on your behalf, to the Secretary of the International Federation of Tamils, declared:
However, the unfortunate political reality is that during the past several years, the Sri Lanka government has consistently rejected third party involvement to help bring about a negotiated political settlement between the two parties to the armed conflict in the island.
Two months ago on 18 September 1995, the United States Congress in Resolution HR181, stated "its willingness in principle to see the United States lend its good offices to help resolve the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, if so desired by all parties to the conflict." This overture was rejected by Sri Lanka and President Kumaratunga in a recent statement declared : "We have our own conflict resolution specialists."
Again, the Australian Foreign Ministry declared on 6 October 1995:
We recognise that the strategy of the Sri Lanka government is to wage war against the armed resistance of the Tamil people, at whatever cost in Tamil civilian casualties; annihilate Tamil resistance, proclaiming all the while that it is necessary to 'weaken' it; and in this way create the frame for Sri Lanka to impose its own 'political solution' on the Tamil people, so that majority Sinhala rule may be perpetuated in a 'more acceptable form' with the help of sundry 'pacified and pliant' Tamil groups in Colombo who are dependent on the patronage of the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government for their political survival. We also recognise that whilst Sri Lanka is engaged in this effort, it will see no 'obvious role' for third party involvement - except, of course, as silent bystanders who do not impede Sri Lanka's continued genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people.
UN Secretary General calls for humanitarian aid for 400,000 Tamils
We do not use the word 'genocide' lightly. The recent intensified attacks by the Sri Lanka armed forces in the densely populated Jaffna peninsula have resulted in upto 400,000 Tamils being displaced from their homes and living in appalling conditions which threaten starvation and disease.
Here, we seek your open and public support for the appeal made by the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, on 4 November 1995 for urgent humanitarian aid for up to 400,000 Tamil refugees fleeing their homes as Sri Lanka government troops invade the Jaffna peninsula. Dr Boutros-Ghali has said that humanitarian aid on a significant scale was needed to minimise the suffering of the Tamil people.
We may mention in this connection that on 18 November thousands of Tamils and supporters of the Tamil cause participated in a demonstration in London urging support for the appeal made by the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. On the same day thousands more participated in similar demonstrations in Canada and France as well. A week earlier, thousands more demonstrated in Switzerland and in other parts of Europe.
Though Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga has sought to justify the invasion of the Tamil homeland as a war to 'liberate' the Tamil people from the Liberation Tigers, the fact is that the Tamil people have fled in their thousands from their would be 'liberators', leaving behind them their homes and hard earned belongings.
Further, though President Chandrika Kumaratunga has claimed that the Sri Lanka security services have endeavoured to minimise civilian casualties, the undeniable fact is that the invading Sinhala army has indiscriminately bombed and shelled the Tamil homeland; that hundreds of Tamil civilians had been killed and thousands maimed; that houses had been flattened and farmland destroyed; and that the economic blockade imposed by Sri Lanka had prevented food and urgently needed medical supplies reaching the peninsula.
On 1 November, the Government's own representative in the peninsula urged the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry to stop bombing civilians and refugees in Jaffna and has told President Kumaratunga that civilians in refugee camps were being killed by aerial raids and appealed for safe areas to be set up.
Thousands of people have fled Jaffna with the spread of disease causing concern among relief agencies. Relief workers have said that the few hospitals in the peninsula are dangerously low on anaesthetics for surgery and several drugs essential to stopping the spread of diseases and treating war casualties. Without clean water and proper latrines, an epidemic could hit in a matter of days and the world probably wouldn't see it happen.
Gerard Peytrignet, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross in the island has said that about half of the 400,000 Tamil refugees are living and sleeping outdoors in heavy monsoon rains. He added: "The rest are holed up in churches, schools and relatives' homes. The refugees have very little food or proper sanitation. Doctors are already seeing cases of dysentery and eye infections, and while cholera hasn't struck yet, the conditions are perfect for a deadly epidemic.. Of course, in this type of situation, anything could happen, quick action is needed."
The attack by the Sri Lanka armed forces has taken place under cover of a press censorship imposed by Sri Lanka on September 21. The press censorship has prevented full details of Sri Lanka's genocidal attacks on the Tamil people from reaching the outside world.
The Canadian Toronto Star reported on 5 November:
The conclusion is inescapable that the Sri Lanka armed forces are acting in accordance with the dictates of their commander in chief President Kumaratunga who said in an interview with an Indian journal on 30 April 1995:
President Kumaratunga's words are at one with the words of her predecessor, President Jayawardene to a British newspaper, a couple of weeks before the 1983 genocide of the Tamil people in Colombo and elsewhere:
In this context, the claim of the Sri Lanka government on 4 November that the exodus of Tamil civilians was somehow 'contrived' to deprive the government of 'the stated rationale for its military action, namely to liberate the people of the peninsula from LTTE control' would be farcical if not for its callous disregard of the unfolding human tragedy in the Tamil homeland, caused by the wanton actions of the Sri Lanka armed forces.
The truth now stands exposed by Paul Watson from the Asian Bureau in a report in the Toronto Star on 5 November that "while Sri Lanka's army fights to crush Tamil rebels, its battling on another front against foreign relief workers trying to care for 400,000 war refugees." He reported:
International humanitarian law
Here, it is a matter of particular concern to us that the UK Government has failed to condemn the Sri Lanka government for its gross violations of the international law relating to non international armed conflicts, even where such violations have been vouched for by independent sources.
For instance, the facts as vouched for by the International Red Cross show that the bombing of Navaly Church, several miles away from the front line of battle cannot be explained away as a 'tragic incident where non combatant Tamil civilians have been killed in (so called) military exchanges.' The Navaly Church was deliberately bombed with at least six bombs. In a Press Release from Geneva dated 11 July 1995, the Red Cross said:
In a report dated 18 August 1995, Marco Altherr, head of the ICRC delegation to Sri Lanka added:
Further, the conduct of the Sri Lanka government subsequent to the Navaly bombing reinforces its culpability. Sri Lanka initially denied knowledge of the bombing. Later, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar blamed the Red Cross for 'not informing the Sri Lanka government before issuing a statement'! Subsequently, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister promised to hold an inquiry. But, later still, President Kumaratunga denied responsibility and with a callous disregard for the victims of the attack, declared that inquiries should be addressed to the Red Cross because it was they who seem to know about the attack.
We have referred to the Navaly bombing in some detail because the failure of Governments with a strong commitment to human rights and humanitarian law, such as the United Kingdom, to openly condemn these crimes against humanity has led Sri Lanka to continue its genocidal attacks with impunity.
Though real politick may sometimes demand a circumspect approach, the price of silence is that more and more Tamil civilian lives are lost day by day. Here, whilst we sincerely welcome the recent donation that the UK Government has made to help finance the activities of the Red Cross in the Tamil homeland, we believe that the UK government can also help save Tamil lives by giving public expression to its concerns about Sri Lanka's genocidal attack on the Tamil homeland.
President Kumaratunga has sought to provide a legitimising facade for her current genocidal attack on the Tamil people by seeking to demonise the lawful armed resistance of the Tamil people to decades of oppressive Sinhala rule as 'terrorism'. More recently, Sri Lanka has used the cover of an island wide press censorship, to manage news of the war to the outside world and plant malicious propaganda concerning alleged attacks by the LTTE on armed Sinhala settlements in the Tamil homeland in the East.
President Kumaratunga also declared at the UN in October: "Concerted international action is essential to combat terrorism and to compel the terrorists to renounce violence and enter the democratic process. Unfortunately, effective action to that end has been frustrated through sterile philosophical debate about the nature of terrorism."
That Sinhala chauvinism should assert that discussion about the nature of terrorism, is 'sterile' and 'philosophical' is not altogether surprising. The fact is that Sinhala political parties (who had 'entered' the so called 'democratic process') have during the past four decades sponsored and actively encouraged terrorism against the Tamil people.
We agree that concerted international action is essential to combat terrorism. But in Sri Lanka, it was state terrorism that was consolidated and refined as a way of political life by the J.R. Jayawardene government, and later by President Premadasa and President D.B.Wijetunga.
And this continues under President Kumaratunga today so much so that on 9 August 1995, 20 non governmental organisations in a joint statement to the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities expressed their grave concern at the 'impunity with which the Sri Lanka armed forces continue to commit gross and inhumane violations of human rights and humanitarian law' and went on to condemn such actions as being 'intended to terrorise and subjugate the Tamil people'. The Statement added:
Collapse of the Peace Talks
President Kumaratunga has also sought to justify her current military operations by asserting to the international community that it was the withdrawal of the LTTE from the peace talks in April 1995 which led to Sri Lanka's current 'war for peace'. It has even been said in some quarters:
On the question of sincerity and good faith, may we point out Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga's frank admission in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times on 20 August 1995:
Whilst it is significant that President Kumaratunga's Paris education had not extended to a study of the Kissinger negotiations which ended the conflict in Vietnam or for that matter the London negotiations which ended the guerrilla war in Zimbabwe what is more significant was her frank admission that she did not participate in the peace talks in good faith with the object of reaching a 'peaceful settlement' because her Paris studies had convinced her that this was not possible with a guerrilla movement. President Kumaratunga's hidden agenda was exposed by her own appointee as Chairman of the Sri Lanka state television, Rupavahini, Mr.Vasantha Rajah, who wrote with the knowledge of an insider in the Sri Lanka state controlled Sunday Observer on 25 June 1995:
It has also been said that:
Here, the words of Velupillai Pirabaharan, the Leader of the LTTE in a BBC interview on 30 April 1995 are apposite:
The failure of the Sri Lanka government (for a period of six months and more) to address the 'understandable complaints' of the Tamil side served to expose the 'hidden agenda' of a government whose President now admits that she did not engage in the so called 'peace talks' with a view to reaching a peaceful settlement.
The fact is that the so called peace process failed not because of so called LTTE intransigence, but because President Kumaratunga sought to use the talks as a mere 'tactical episode' in her attempt to quell Tamil resistance.
President Kumaratunga's "Devolution Proposals"
President Kumaratunga has also sought to buy the silence of the international community to her genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people by claiming that she has presented 'radical and wide ranging proposals' for constitutional reform. Here we note the recent statement made by your Minister of State for Commonwealth Affairs that:
However, the fact is that the 'political package' that President Kumaratunga announced on 4 August 1995, one month after the launch of the intensified attacks on the Tamil homeland, in July 1995, and one month before President Kumaratunga renewed these attacks in September 1995, bore all the hall marks of a 'mask' to cover her government's military strategy. For one thing, two days before the official unveiling of the 'political package' on 4 August 1995, President Kumaratunga met with the Buddhist High Priests in Kandy and promised that the package will not be finalised until the war against the LTTE is won.
For another, President Kumaratunga exposed the true nature of the proposals which have been touted to the international community as 'wide ranging and radical' and devolving 'significant powers from the central government to regional administrations', in an interview in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times reported on 20 August 1995:
The ex Chief Justice of India, V.R.Krishna Aiyer commented in the Hindu on 6 September 1995 on the failure of the Chandrika proposals to recognise the existence of the Tamil homeland::
Again, predictably even the original devolution package announced by President Kumaratunga on 4 August was further watered down and eventually, the presentation of the draft legislation spelling out the specifics of the 'devolution package' to the Parliamentary Select Committee was also deferred. In addition the main Sinhala opposition party, the United National Party, has withheld expressing its views until the Government presents a draft of its detailed legislation.
The response of the Liberation Tigers to the so called 'devolution package' was a measured one. LTTE spokesman, Mr.Anton Balasingham addressing a Press Conference in Jaffna on 11 August 1995 said:
The political reality is that the proposals presented by President Kumaratunga far from addressing the 'underlying causes of ethnic conflict and aspirations of the Tamil population' seek, on the contrary, to perpetuate Sinhala rule in a rather more sophisticated manner.
Negotiated political settlement
We respectfully agree with the view often expressed by the international community that a negotiated settlement, is ultimately the only logical course to achieving a durable solution to the conflict.
At the same time, we believe that a meaningful negotiating process should begin with some understanding of the events that led to the rise of the armed resistance of the Tamil people.
The Tamil people for a period of almost thirty years (from 1948 when Sri Lanka obtained independence) endeavoured through Parliamentary means, and working 'within the system' to resist institutionalised discrimination and oppression by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of an unitary state.
But the non violent efforts of the Tamil people were met with state terrorism which started as long ago as in 1956 when Tamil political leaders were assaulted in the precincts of the Sri Lanka parliament and the Sri Lanka police were ordered to look the other way whilst President Chandrika Kumaratunga's father, the late S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike piloted the Sinhala Only Act inside Parliament. State terrorism reared its ugly head again in 1961, when President Chandrika Kumaratunga's mother, Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike ordered the Sinhala Army into Jaffna for the first (but not the last) time to break up a non violent protest by Tamils in front of the Jaffna Kacheri.
In 1976, having exhausted all parliamentary means at their disposal and having failed to stop the efforts of successive Sri Lanka governments to assimilate and subjugate the Tamil people within the confines of a Sinhala dominated unitary Sri Lankan state, all Tamil political parties came under one political umbrella, met at a convention and passed the following resolution -
These political parties sought and received an overwhelming mandate from the electorates in the Tamil homeland at the 1977 elections, for a separate state for the Tamil people. However the response of the Sri Lankan state to the declared will of the Tamil people, was to unleash Sinhala violence on an unprecedented scale against the Tamil people in 1977, and in 1981, culminating in the genocidal attacks of 1983.
The International Commission of Jurists commented in 1984:
The short point that we seek to make is that a peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in the island demands also a recognition that the armed resistance of the Tamil people, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, arose as a response to decades of oppressive rule by a Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka state and that that armed resistance is both lawful and just.
It is not that representatives of two peoples cannot engage in peaceful dialogue and work out structures within which they may associate with one another, in equality and in freedom. They can. But such a dialogue must surely begin with the recognition that there exist in the island two peoples living, in the main, in two different territories - and the further recognition that no one people may rule another.
Fifteen non governmental organisations consisting of the International Organisation for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, International Educational Development, Centre Europe Ties Monde, International Indian Treaty Council, Fedefam, Association paur la Liberte Religiose, Codehuca, World Christian Community, Pax Christie International, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, Movement contra le Racisme, International Association of Educadores for World Peace, International Association against Torture, World Confederation of Labour, and International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, put it well on 8 February 1993 at the UN Commission on Human Rights:
We respectfully commend these views for your consideration and urge that the desire to retain the territorial integrity of existing states should not prevent the international community from recognising, as events in the old Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe have shown, that national identities rooted in language, culture and history have proved to be long enduring and the attempt to suppress such national formations serve only to consolidate resistance to alien rule.
In an increasingly small and interdependent world, concepts of 'sovereignty' and 'territoriality' are themselves undergoing change. Significantly as long ago as 1992, Velupillai Pirabaharan, the leader of the LTTE declared:
In all these circumstances, we appeal to the United Kingdom government, as a matter of urgency, to not only respond positively and with humanity to the call made by the Secretary General of the United Nations for urgent humanitarian aid for hundreds of thousands displaced Tamils but also call upon the Sri Lanka armed forces
1. to withdraw from the occupied territories of the Tamil homeland and end the genocidal attack on the Tamil people; and
2. to recognise the right of the Tamil people to choose their political status in order to pave the way for a peaceful settlement of the conflict.
Executive Committee, International Federation of Tamils