all towns are one, all men our kin.
|Home||Whats New||Trans State Nation||One World||Unfolding Consciousness||Comments||Search|
United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam
A Written Memorandum Submitted by The Action Group Of Tamils in the United States to US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Sri Lanka
14 November 1995
The Action Group Of Tamils in the United States (AGOTUS) are deeply hurt by the position of the United States Government with respect to the armed conflict in the island of Sri Lanka and wishes to submit the following to the Asia & Pacific Affairs Sub-Committee Hearings on Sri Lanka, held on November 14, 1995.
The conflict between the Sinhala people and the Tamil people inhabiting the island of Sri Lanka is well documented (1). The two peoples (Sinhalese and Tamils), who had fought each other for territorial rights from prehistoric times, were brought under one state bureaucracy for the first time in 1833 during the British colonial rule. In 1948, when the British departed, they left the island of Sri Lanka as a unitary state.
Under this arrangement, the Sinhalese, who were numerically larger than the Tamils, acquired a permanent majority (through universal franchise) and used this power to discriminate against and impose permanent majority rule on, the Tamil people (2). The attempts by the Tamil people, to resist state sponsored discrimination and to seek change by "working within the system" were met by periodic Sinhala terrorism, often directly sponsored by the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government of the day.
In 1976, having pursued 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 called Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), met at a convention and passed the following resolution -
"The convention resolves that the restoration and the reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular and socialist state of Tamil Eelam, based on the right of self determination inherent to every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil nation of this country." - Vaddukoddai Resolution (1976)
The TULF sought and received a mandate from the electorates in the Tamil homeland at the 1977 elections, to work towards a separate state for the Tamils. But they were unable to secure statehood for the Tamils, either as an independent state or even as federal unit within a united Sri Lanka.
It was the failure of these efforts and the continued oppression of the Tamil people by a permanent Sinhala majority which eventually led to the rise of the lawful armed resistance of the Tamil. It was an armed resistance movement in which, over time the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) achieved pre-eminence through military superiority and popular support of the Tamil people.
1994/95 Peace Talks
The newly elected President, Her Excellency Chandrika Kumaratunga engaged in negotiations with the LTTE for four months, which broke down on April 19, 1995, for reasons outlined in the Tamil Infonet publication 3 attached. Again the true intent of the so called `peace process' was revealed by President Kumaratunga herself in an interview reported in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times on 20 August 1995:
"I have studied and acquired considerable knowledge on guerrilla warfare when I was a student in Paris, and we knew how they would behave. We conducted talks on the basis that the LTTE would not agree to any peaceful settlement and lay down arms"
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.
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.
There is widespread starvation, preventable diseases and preventable deaths as a result of this military push in the densely populated Jaffna peninsula. Attempts by international organizations, including the UN, to provide relief, in the form of medical personnel, medicine and food has been refused by the Sri Lanka government.
Sri Lanka's Justification at UN
President Kumaratunga has sought to justify the invasion of the Tamil homeland by claiming at the United Nations General Assembly in October that "an armed group which claims to represent the Tamil minority has been engaged in violent acts against successive popularly elected governments preventing them from ensuring peace and justice for all in our land."
But, the undeniable fact is that it was the oppressive rule and state sponsored terrorism of successive, so called `popularly elected' Sinhala governments that led to the rise of lawful Tamil armed resistance - and that too after decades of non violent protest by Tamil Parliamentarians had failed to secure justice. To claim that the `violent acts' of that lawful armed resistance against state sponsored terrorism, somehow `prevented' `successive popularly elected governments' from `ensuring peace and justice for all' is to prevaricate and deny the underlying causes of the conflict.
Again the people who President Kumaratunga chooses to describe as `the Tamil minority' are in fact the `majority' in their own homeland in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka - and have been so for several centuries.
Sinhala chauvinism and President Kumaratunga are at one in refusing to admit to the existence of the Tamil people as a `people'. President Kumaratunga obfuscates because she knows that 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 choose their own political status - and Sinhala chauvinism refuses to deal with the Tamil people, as a people with that right.
The Policy of the United States Government
We are gravely concerned that the US has consistently refrained from condemning the innumerable terrorist actions of the Sri Lankan armed forces and para military units during the past several years and in particular during the past few months at a time when President Kumaratunga's government has intensified its genocidal attack on the Tamil people. The bombing of the Navaly Church in July and the bombing of the Nagar Koil School in September, under cover of a Press Censorship are cases in point.
Of a total of over 60,000 deaths in the war, over 95 percent of the victims have been Tamil civilians, killed by the government's armed forces [Army, Navy, Air Force, the Police (4) and Home Guards (5)]
The United States House of Representatives passed a resolution (HR 181) on September 18, 1995, where it characterized Sri Lanka as a
"vibrant democracy whose government is committed to political pluralism, ... and a respect for human rights."
This resolution was introduced during intensified bombing and shelling of Tamil civilians, and just weeks after the bombing of Navaly Church where refugees were asked to take shelter that resulted in 134 women, children and babies died. It was passed in the House of Representatives when there were large scale arbitrary arrests of Tamils in Colombo, some of whose bodies showed up floating in lakes with evidence of torture.
It was passed, though a month earlier on 9 August 1995, twenty one 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'.
A week after the passage of this resolution a school playground was bombed resulting in 32 death and over 160 injured, with 10 children having to have amputation of their limbs (2 of them double amputation).
Again, whilst the US State Department has been strangely silent on the actions of the Sri Lanka government which have resulted in large scale civilian suffering, dismemberment and deaths, it has through its periodic statements, been quick to criticize the actions of the LTTE. The United States Department of State has even sometimes referred to the LTTE as a terrorist organization. However, we are encouraged that more recently, Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphael, appears to have taken a more balanced view:
"Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphael told reporters after meeting senior Sri Lankan officials that Washington was not convinced that the separatist rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could be officially called terrorists Asked whether the United States suspected the LTTE of involvement in drug trafficking, Raphael said: "We don't have any evidence I am aware of." (6)
Interests of the United States
We believe that through these actions the United States government has lost much credibility not only as a neutral observer but also as a country committed to secure justice - and justice is surely the way to lasting peace in the island of Sri Lanka.
We are mindful that real politick may have influenced the responses of the United States government. We are mindful that President Chandrika Kumaratunga, prior to being elected, pledged abrogation of the 1983 Voice of America (VOA) agreement, but has since reneged on this promise, permitting an expanded VOA to continue despite considerable domestic opposition. We are also mindful that similar changes in attitudes have taken place with regard to the Trincomalee port with its oil storage facilities and ability to function as a naval base. We are also mindful of the importance of the role of Sri Lankan Ambassador to the US, Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala as chairman of the UN Nuclear Non-proliferation Conference.
However, we firmly believe that the interests of the United States will not be furthered by supporting the genocidal actions of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government - because, apart from everything else, oppression is not the path to stability, and without stability there will be no climate for economic development. 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.
We believe that it would not have escaped the attention of the United States government that though Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga has sought to justify the attack on the Tamil homeland as a war to `liberate' the Tamil people from the Liberation Tigers, the undeniable 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. The Tamil people are well aware of President Kumaratunga's own views about the `political package' which she seeks to impose on the Tamil people after the `war is won':
"(On the Devolution proposals)The President said that since Policy Planning was a subject for the center, the central government had a hold in every subject a region handled... the President said, even if a Regional Council opposes, the center has the power to go ahead and allocate land for its purposes. The President also moved to allay fears of a North-East merger saying that the government did not have any idea of merging the North with the East."7
It is this `political package' which President Kumaratunga has touted to the international community as a `radical' departure from the past and as a panacea for the island's ills.
We are encouraged therefore that the House Resolution (HR181), (despite serious shortcomings) has also 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."
However, as on several occasions in the past, Sri Lanka was quick to reject the offer of any third party to help resolve the conflict. President Kumaratunga has remarked recently: "We have our own conflict resolution specialists."
We are concerned that some of the US government's publicly stated positions on the war in Sri Lanka (such as what we have witnessed recently) will encourage Sri Lanka to persist in her obdurate stand and will undermine the ability of the US to facilitate an end to a conflict which has taken such a heavy toll in human lives and human suffering and which threatens stability in the region.
Furthermore, whatever may be the dictates of real politick, the failure of the United States to publicly express its condemnation of the gross violations of the humanitarian law of armed conflict by the Sri Lanka authorities, has encouraged Sri Lanka to continue its genocidal attack on the Tamil people with impunity, to ignore the concerns expressed by the United Nations Secretary General for the suffering of 400,000 Tamil refugees in their own homeland, to continue with its press censorship and to refuse access to international relief agencies to help save Tamil lives.
It is our urgent request that the United States government will publicly condemn the genocidal attack launched by the Sri Lankan government on the Tamil people - an attack which has resulted in massive population shift, widespread starvation, disease, dismemberment and death of thousands (including children).
We ask the sub-committee to -
Recommend that Sri Lanka conform to the international law of armed conflict and end its genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people
Encourage the Sri Lankan government to accept the United Nations' call for relief to an estimated 400-600,000 displaced persons who face starvation, disease and death.
Call upon Sri Lanka to recognize the right of the Tamil people to choose their political status and to "negotiate in good faith" with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for a political resolution of the armed conflict in the island of Sri Lanka.
- Amnesty International Reports - 1975 to 1995.
- Indictment Against Sri Lanka, Legal & Human Rights Division, International Secretariat, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam; January 1993.
- Center for Society and Religion, "Race Relations in Sri Lanka", Colombo, 1978
- International Commission of Jurists "Ethnic Conflicts & Violence in Sri Lanka", Geneva
- "SRI LANKA - A Mounting Tragedy of Errors", London, 1984 Minority Rights Group: "Tamils of Sri Lanka", Walter Schwartz, London, 1975
- "Oppression as a Cause of International Violence", Sean MacBride, London, 1975
- de Silva, "Weightage in University Admissions", Modern Ceylon Studies, Vol. 5, 2, 4, July 1972
- Farmer, "Ceylon, a Divided Nation", Oxford, 1963
- Ponnambalam, "Sri Lanka - The National Question & the Tamil Liberation Struggle", London, l983
- Tarzie Vittachi, "Emergency 58 - The Story of Ceylon Race Riots", London, 1958
- Wilson - "The Politics in Sri Lanka l947 - 1973", London 1974 , "Electoral Politics in an Emergent State", London 1975
2 Legislative and Executive actions against the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka
- In 1948, one year after the British left, over a million Tamils were denied citizenship (Ceylon Citizenship Acts of 1948 & 1949).
- In 1956, Sinhalese, the language of the Sinhala people, was made the official language for the entire country.
- In 1958, Tamils who were not proficient in the Sinhalese language were, by law, excluded from employment opportunities.
- In 1971, and thereafter, Tamil children are required to score higher to compete with Sinhalese children for higher education.
- From 1948, state aided colonization schemes were instituted to alter the ethnic composition of the Tamil homelands, to further reduce the political power of the Tamil nation. The percentage of Sinhalese in the Eastern Province, for instance, increased from 9.6% in 1947 to 32% currently (Government statistics).
3 The Failed Peace Process In Sri Lanka. The Reasons
4 Special Task Force (STF) a specially trained police force.
5 A paramilitary group set up by the Sri Lanka government.
6 Reuters Report September 1, 1995.
7 Sri Lanka Sunday Times, 20 August 1995