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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Right to Self Determination - Tamil Eelam > Struggle for Justice - LTTE
A Struggle for Justice
For the last two decades Sri Lanka has been a cauldron of political violence. The racial antagonism that surfaced between the Tamil and Sinhala nations since the independence of the island has evolved into a full-fledged armed conflict. The parties in the conflict are the Sri Lankan state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Both the parties command standing armies and are embroiled in a bloody war.
The consequences of the war are devastating. The Tamil civilians face the brunt of the conflict because the war is waged in the Tamil homeland. Already 50,000 Tamils have perished and hundreds of thousands have either fled the country or internally displaced. Yet the war continues with unabating ferocity destroying life and property with every passing day.
The Sri Lanka government attempts to present the complexity of the problem with simplistic logic. The magnitude of the conflict is reduced to a simple phenomenon of terrorism. In the perspective of the Sinhala Government, the LTTE is a small band of bloodthirsty terrorists bent on anarchism. The answer to the problem on the government's side is also simplistic. The elimination of the LTTE by sustained war, it is argued, will automatically resolve the Tamil conflict.
A well orchestrated international propaganda campaign has been launched by Sri Lanka to convince the world community that the Tamil struggle is nothing other than a spectre of terrorism. Playing on the sensibilities and anxieties of Western nations about global terrorism, Sri Lanka has been propagating a view that she is also victim of a similar phenomenon. Under the guidance of a machiavellian Tamil minister, Sri Lankan diplomatic missions abroad have been working overtime in transposing an internal inter-racial conflict into a global terror.
This disinformation campaign is intended to discredit the Tamil armed struggle and to seek sympathy and support for a massive war effort in the Tamil homeland. In the diplomatic language of Sri Lanka, this war is an exercise for peace and has noble intentions of "liberating Tamils from the scourge of terrorism". Such false propaganda has created a great deal of confusion and misconception in the international political and diplomatic arena about the Tamil struggle in general and the armed struggle in particular. Further more, the ongoing violence and counter-violence that characterise the Tamil conflict have given rise to various misrepresentations about the aims and objectives of the Tamil armed freedom movement.
This political document attempts to clarify some of the misconceptions surrounding the armed struggle of the Tamils. While examining the historical conditions that gave rise to the armed resistance movement, we argue that the Tamils reserve the right to armed defence against the military repression and genocide. Countering Sri Lanka's false propaganda that the Tamil struggle is a mode of terrorism, we explain that armed campaign is a form of legitimate political struggle for self-determination. In brief the document sets out the position of the Tamils based on their quest for political independence and self-government.
WHY DID THE TAMILS TAKE UP ARMS?
The birth and growth of the armed resistance movement should be analysed within the historical development of the Tamil struggle for self-determination. The Tamil struggle for self-determination has an evolutionary history of nearly a half of century. It is a history characterised by state repression and resistance by the Tamils. The political struggles in the early periods were peaceful, democratic and non-violent but later assumed the form of armed resistance as the military repression of the state intensified into genocidal proportions.
Sinhala state repression against the Tamils began to manifest in concrete forms following the independence of the island in 1948 when the British colonial masters transferred the state's power to the Sinhala dominated parliamentary system. By discriminatory legislation and by other measures, successive Sinhala majority governments unleashed a systematic form of oppression that deprived the Tamils of their linguistic, educational and employment rights. Gradually and systematically the thrust of state oppression affected the sphere of economic and social life of the Tamils. In the meantime, the state aided aggressive colonisation in the Tamil areas not only deprived them of their rights over their historical lands but also altered the ethnic composition of the population rendering the Tamils a minority in certain traditional Tamil regions. The features of Sinhala state oppression clearly indicated a devious plan calculated to destroy the national identity of the Tamil people.
As the Sinhala state oppression and discrimination unfolded in its ugly forms threatening the national identity, the Tamil parliamentary political leadership responded with mass political agitations. Adopting Gandhi's concept of "ahimsa" the Tamil leadership organised non-violent campaigns demanding justice and fair play from Sinhala rulers. In the early sixties, the "satyagraha" (peaceful picketing) campaigns attracted huge masses of people in massive demonstrations symbolising a national uprising against the state.
The Sinhala Government reacted with military violence and terror brutally crushing the non -violent peaceful campaigns of the Tamils. Instead of looking into the genuine grievances of an aggrieved people, Colombo Governments adopted a harsh policy of military repression. Such high-handed tactics of terror made the people realise the futility of the non-violent campaigns. They realised that a repressive racist state adopting the methods of brutal violence attached no respect to the moral and spiritual values underlying non-violent struggles.
The Tamil people became frustrated and lost hope in both the parliamentary system which functioned under the tyranny of the majority and the non- violent struggles which were systematically crushed by the tyranny of the military. In desperation, the Tamil leadership sought political negotiations to resolve the conflict. Sinhala leaders entered into agreements but soon abrogated the pacts when Sinhala chauvinistic forces opposed reconciliation with the Tamils.
The event climaxed the state oppression against the Tamils was the new Republican constitution of 1972 which was a blatant attempt to legalise and institutionalise Sinhala chauvinism at the cost of alienating the Tamil nation from unitary constitutional politics. This event brought about radical transformation in the nature and structure of the Tamil political struggle. It was during this specific historical juncture the armed resistance movement gave birth on the Tamil soil with the determination to fight for political independence from alien domination.
The armed struggle emerged as a historical development of the Tamil struggle in response to the determined efforts of the Sinhala Government to subjugate the Tamils. The Tamils took up arms when they were presented with no alternative other than to defend themselves against a savage form of genocidal oppression, when peaceful forms of democratic political agitations were violently repressed, when constitutional paths and parliamentary doors were effectively closed, when Sinhala ruling elites callously rejected the demands for justice and equality. Therefore, the Tamil armed struggle for political independence and self-government is the historical product of decades of racist oppression and injustice.
ARMED STRUGGLE FOR SELF-DETERMINATION
With the formation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1972 by its present leader Mr.Velupillai Pirabaharan, the mode of the Tamil political struggle underwent a radical change. For the first time in the political history of the Tamils an armed guerrilla movement emerged to fight for the political rights of the Tamil nation and to confront the state's violence with armed resistance. With the birth and growth of the Tamil Tigers, the armed struggle became effectively institutionalised as the political struggle of the Tamil people.
LTTE's armed struggle is based on a clearly defined political programme. This political project aims at securing the right to self-determination of the Tamil people. The right to self-determination is the cardinal principle upon which the Tamil struggle for political independence is based. The LTTE is committed to the position that the Tamils constitute themselves as a people or a nation and have a homeland, the historically constituted habitation of the Tamils, a well defined contiguous territory embracing the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
Since the Tamils have a homeland, a distinct language and culture, a unique economic life and a lengthy history extending to over three thousand years, they possess all the characteristics of a nation or a people. As a people they have the inalienable right to self-determination. This right entailed the freedom of a people to determine their own political status. The LTTE holds the view that the Tamil people had invoked the right to self-determination at the 1977 general elections and opted to fight for political independence and statehood. The national liberation project of the LTTE is based on the people's mandate for self-determination.
The LTTE's objective in fighting for political independence of the Tamil nation is not an arbitrary decision on the part of the organisation but rather the expression and articulation of the collective will and aspiration of the Tamil people. Decades of alien domination and oppression prompted the Tamil people to exercise their right to self-determination through a democratic process. This right to self-determination is a basic universal human right recognised by the international community.
The International Covenants of the UN charter enunciates the principle of self-determination in the following term -
In the general elections of 1977 which assumed the character of a referendum on the question of self-determination, the Tamil nation chose to determine their political status by seceding and establishing its sovereignty in its homeland.
The Tamil parliamentary political party, the TULF, which obtained a clear mandate from the people and pledged to fight for the creation of an independent state "either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle" betrayed the cause of the Tamils. But the LTTE, endorsing the national aspiration and the will of the Tamil people determined to carry on the struggle for self-determination.
Sri Lanka has consistently denied the right to self-determination of the Tamils and refused to recognise the Tamils as a people. Reducing the Tamils to the category of a minority group and promoting the concepts of multi-ethnicity and pluralism, it has out rightly rejected the Tamil claim of nationhood and homeland. By constitutional amendment Sri Lanka has prohibited the Tamil demand for self-determination as unlawful. Furthermore, it has unleashed a full-fledged war against the Tamils to suppress their struggle for political independence. It has condemned and accused the LTTE of communalism, separatism and terrorism for engaging in an armed struggle to assert the right of the Tamils to freely choose their political destiny.
Against the background of a powerful Sri Lankan diplomatic lobby reinforced by misrepresentation of facts and falsehood, the Tamils have been making every effort in the international arena to seek legitimacy for the claim of self-determination and the right to armed defence against genocidal oppression. The international campaign for the recognition and realisation of the Tamil right to self-determination was raised at the United Nations Human Rights Commission. International NGO's sympathetic to the Tamil cause have been pleading with the UN Commission to recognise the legitimate claim of the Tamil people for self-determination.
A joint statement by several international NGO's at the 49th session of the UN Human Right Commission held on February 1993 under the theme "The right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation" called for the recognition of Tamils as a people with the right to self-determination. The joint statement observed that,
This joint statement, by the international NGO's with UN consultative status, calling for the recognition of the north-eastern region of Sri Lanka as the Tamil homeland and the Tamils as a people with the right to self-determination, was a significant development in the campaign to win international support for the Tamil liberation struggle.
Though, so far, the UN Commission on Human Rights has not taken any serious action with regard to the Tamil national question, it has been under constant pressure over the last decade to initiate steps to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils within the framework of human rights and the right to self-determination. Every year, as the situation in the Tamil homeland becomes more grave and dangerous with the aggravation of the war of aggression and occupation unleashed against the Tamils by Sri Lanka, the Tamil claim is gaining momentum in this UN forum.
Originally the principal of self-determination was applied specifically to people under colonial domination fighting a liberation struggle for political independence and statehood. In contemporary historical times the principle has broader application that includes people facing various modes of oppression. Particularly it applies to people oppressed by racist regimes or subjected to alien domination or foreign occupation. Alien domination entails subjugation of one nation by another nation.
The Tamil people are oppressed by the Sinhala racist state. They are subjected to military domination and occupation by the alien Sinhala nation. It is a well documented fact that Sinhala Governments have been making determined effort by the use of military force to subjugate and assimilate the Tamil people within the Sinhala dominated state. This is a clear case of alien domination and subjugation. Therefore, the Tamils satisfy the necessary conditions in international law to exercise their right to self-determination. On the basis of their entitlement to exercise self-determination, they have the right to armed struggle. In other words, the armed struggle of the Tamils is a legitimate political struggle in international law.
LTTE AS A FREEDOM MOVEMENT
In defence of the inalienable rights of the Tamil people, the LTTE has been fighting an armed struggle against the alien domination of the Sinhala state. As an organisation committed to the principle of self-determination and engaged in a politico-military struggle over a lengthy period, the LTTE has earned the status of a national liberation movement. Having emerged in the early seventies and having struggled for over two decades to win the political rights of the Tamil people, the LTTE enjoys widespread popular support in Tamil Eelam and among the international Tamil community. It is an undeniable fact that the LTTE 's liberation struggle to assert the right to self-determination of the Tamil people has been instrumental for the internationalisation of the Tamil national problem.
Sri Lanka's often repeated thesis that the Tamil Tigers are a small band of armed rebels engaging in terrorism and are alienated from the people is baseless propaganda. The very fact that the LTTE has a military and political history extending over a period of 25 years provides ample evidence that the organisation enjoys mass support. History has noted that guerrilla movements committed to armed liberation struggles could not have survived without the support and sustenance of the people.
The longevity of its existence, its ability to conduct a consistent and sustained armed struggle against formidable military forces (including the Indian army), its capacity to mobilise and organise popular masses for political action, demonstrate the fact that the LTTE enjoys the status of a national freedom movement with massive popular backing .
The LTTE has a standing army, a national liberation force consisting of several thousands of freedom fighters, a capable and responsible command structure, military training facilities, modern weapon systems, vast territories under its administrative control and has the potential and efficiency to engage the Sri Lanka armed forces in conventional mode of warfare. The LTTE has a political section with social, economic, educational and cultural organisations and civil administrative units and a law and order system.
The structure of the LTTE is complex and multi-faceted and orientated towards conducting an effective armed resistance and political struggle and at the sametime maintaining a well organised administrative system. Furthermore, the LTTE has a massive international network operating in several world capitals.
Sri Lanka has consistently refused to recognise the fact that the LTTE is a liberation movement involved in the freedom struggle of the Tamils. Such a recognition would entail the acceptance of the Tamil struggle as a national liberation struggle. One cannot expect an admission of truth from a racist state which has for decades continued to violate, abuse, and prevent the course of justice to the Tamils; a repressive state that has always used its powerful propaganda machinery to distort, misrepresent and belittle the Tamil freedom movement. In the racist perception of Sri Lanka, the LTTE has always been a terrorist organisation and the liberation war of the Tamils a terrorist war.
Though Sri Lanka has taken such an extremist stand and condemned the LTTE in unholy terms, there has been several occasions when the Sinhala leadership had no choice but enter into a negotiating process with the Tamil Tigers recognising the fact that LTTE is the dominant politico-military force of the Tamils. Sri Lanka entered into negotiations with the LTTE in Thimphu, Delhi, Bangalore, Colombo and more recently in Jaffna . Entering into negotiations with the LTTE entails implicit recognition that the Tamil Tigers constituted a representative organisation of the Tamils. Though this status was accorded to the LTTE during political dialogues it was abruptly negated when the talks broke down and the LTTE was branded as a terrorist organisation. The international community should take note of this rather strange and bizarre attitude of Sri Lanka which can shift its policy to conflicting positions in considering the LTTE as a people's organisation during the times of peace and a terrorist organisation during the times of war.
HIDDEN MOTIVES BEHIND SRI LANKA'S APPROACH
Ever since the violent racial holocaust of 1983, in which thousands of Tamils perished as a consequence of communal massacres, the Tamil struggle assumed international importance.
The international community showed deep concern over the gross violations of human rights by Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the massive influx of Tamil refugees into Western Europe, North America and Australia following the riots compelled the industrialised countries to take serious note about the political developments in the Island. Some of the concerned European nations attempted to relate developmental aid with improvements in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka . But such aid related ' pressures' failed to produce any radical change in the system of state repression .
The present Sri Lankan Government has made a few cosmetic reforms by appointing human rights task force and commissions of inquiry to hoodwink the international community. But the country continues to be governed by Emergency laws, anti-terrorism acts and military and police tyranny. In the South, the Political opposition faces police harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention and assault and other forms of state repression with the aim to stifle the freedom of expression and opinion. In the Northeast, a series of war crimes of grave nature are committed against the Tamils under the camouflage of offensive military operations.
The military occupied areas in the Northeast have turned into massive concentration camps where Tamils are being subjected to arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, rape , torture and murder. There is documentary evidence to substantiate over 500 cases of disappearances in Jaffna.
Though Sri Lanka is beset by the turbulence of war and civil unrest and the human right situation has worsened, the developmental aid from donor countries continues to pour into the country in a big way and a substantial portion of it is drained by the so-called 'war for peace''. The reluctance to exert aid related pressure by the affluent countries has encouraged Kumaratunga Government to persist on a policy of repression and tyranny.
Impervious to humanitarian concerns and insensitive to the monumental human tragedy caused by the war, some international countries continue to supply lethal weapons to Sri Lanka. The assured supply of unrestricted funds and unrestrained supply of arms have encouraged Sri Lanka to close the doors for peace and to embark on the ruthless policy of military domination against the Tamil people. Nevertheless some foreign nations are concerned over the escalation of the war and the intensification of the Tamil conflict and have proposed negotiated political settlement between the parties in conflict, i.e. Sri Lanka and the LTTE.
Because of the mutual distrust and hostility between the combatants and the continuous failure of direct negotiations some of these countries have volunteered to offer mediation or facilitation. Norway, Sweden, Canada, Switzerland, Australia and Britain have expressed their willingness either to mediate or to facilitate for peace talks between the LTTE and Sri Lanka Government. Though the LTTE leadership has responded positively to offers of international mediation , Sri Lanka has persistently rejected such offers of third party mediation claiming that the Tamil problem is an internal conflict.
Sri Lanka has spurned international mediation for specific reasons. Firstly, the Kumaratunga Government does not want the Tamil national question to be raised in the global arena as an international conflict. Secondly, it does not want the LTTE to be accorded the status of main player in the Tamil struggle or rather the party in conflict. Thirdly, Sri Lanka fears that the Tamil aspiration for autonomy and self-government may receive a sympathetic hearing as a reasonable demand in the civilized political world. Fourthly, Sri Lanka wants to continue with the military option in favour of a peace process because the conquest and domination of the Tamil homeland is a strategy that would appease the passions of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism.
It is true that the armed liberation struggle with the history of more than two decades has created mutual animosity, mistrust and a great deal of misunderstanding between the LTTE and the Sinhala state. This mutual hostility and mistrust have been the causal factors for the continuous break-down of peace talks between both the parties. It is on this basis that the LTTE has realised that future peace negotiations can only be meaningful and constructive if they are held under international mediation.
But Sri Lanka is reluctant to seek international assistance for the reasons we have already outlined. There are other reasons too for Sri Lanka to refuse to negotiate with the Tamil Tigers. For the Sri Lankan ruling elites, the LTTE represents the militant stand of the Tamils ; it symbolises the collective Tamil aspirations for identity, homeland and nationhood. While the other Tamil groups have abandoned the basic principles underlying the Tamil struggle and are prepared to compromise on anything , the LTTE continues to articulate those principles.
Sri Lanka is not prepared even to discuss these issues that form the very basis of the Tamil national conflict. Contrary to Tamil perceptions and aspirations, Sri Lanka has postulated the problem in a different ideological universe situating the Tamils as a minor ethnic group in a multi-ethnic social formation and denying their right to a homeland and national identity. It is precisely because of this approach, the Sinhala regime refuses to enter into any meaningful dialogue with the LTTE, either directly or with the facilitation or mediation of the international community.
The current military campaign is primarily aimed at the political marginalisation to the LTTE. The military occupation and subjugation of the historical homeland of the Tamils, the Sinhala rulers assume, will bring an end to the Tamil aspirations for autonomy and homeland and to the political struggle of the LTTE based on those aspirations.
These are the real intentions behind the current political and military approach of the Kumaratunga Government. But the Sri Lankan propaganda machinery tells a different story to the world, a concocted story that camouflages the hidden agenda; a story of "terrorist threat" and "war for peace"; a fabulous story of "liberating" the Tamils from the "dictatorship" of the LTTE. The international community should not be misled by the misrepresentations made by Sri Lankan propaganda but carefully examine the real story behind the just cause of the Tamil people and their struggle for freedom and dignity.