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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam   > Tamil Eelam - a De Facto State > On De Facto States, De Jure States & Recognition

Tamil Eelam - a De Facto State

On De Facto States, De Jure States & Recognition

S.V. Kirubaharan
General Secretary, Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR)

22 May 2008

[see also Diplomatic Recognition for Tamil  Eelam State - Sachi Sri Kantha, 26 September 2006 and Tamils have a De Jure State - Karen Parker, 7 April 2007]

World Wars, I and II (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) propelled the need and sowed the seeds for a world body, the United Nations (UN). But before the formation of the UN, soon after World War I, the League of Nations was established under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) was also created as an affiliated organisation of the League of Nations (League).

By the mid-1930s, after some years of existence, it became evident that the League was unable to exert pressure to halt the rise of fascism and Nazism in Italy and Germany. In 1935 when Italy attacked Ethiopia with mustard gas, the League could neither stop nor penalise Italy. With the beginning of World War II the League ceased to function, but existed officially until the United Nations started its formal functions in 1945.

Prior to the formation of the League and the UN, however, there were three international institutions established to coordinate affairs connected to international politics and communication.

On May 17, 1865 the International Telegraph Union (ITU), was founded in Paris and established its headquarters in Bern, Switzerland in 1868. The Universal Postal Union (UPU) – International Postal Union, was established in 1874 with its headquarters in Bern, to coordinate and exchange mail globally by sea and air. Even though these organisations were established long before the birth of League of Nations and UN, they have both been incorporated today into the wider UN system and remain as specialised agencies.

Then in 1889, two Parliamentarians from the United Kingdom and France established the ‘Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) as an international organisation to deal with multilateral political affairs of Parliaments of sovereign states. The IPU consists of Members of Parliaments from around the world and still remains, with its unique identity, supporting the task of the United Nations.

Birth of United Nations

Immediately after the catastrophic damage inflicted on world peace and security by World War II, today’s super-powers or the permanent members of the UN accelerated their initiatives and established the United Nations in October 1945. At the same time, the UN Charter, which could be considered as a set of possible guidelines to maintain law and order among the member states, came into force, initially with 51 states. By the time it started its actual business in 1948, it had been endorsed by 58 states.

In 1949, after very long and exhausting discussions in the UN, Israel was granted membership. During that period, among the UN member states, there were only a few statesthat belong to the current, ‘Organisation of Islamic Conference’ (OIC): Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Indonesia. The OIC was established only on September 25, 1969, upon a decision in a summit that took place in Morocco.

Sri Lanka’s application for UN membership vetoed by USSR

By 1955, the number of UN member states had increased to 76, of which Sri Lanka (Ceylon) was one. It is to be noted Ceylon’s application for UN membership was vetoed four times by the USSR – August 18, 1948, December 15, 1948, September 13, 1949 and December 13, 1955. During that period, this was the highest number of vetoes used against an independent state, seeking UN membership. The USSR used the veto ostensibly because of the Ceylon-British defence agreement, under which Britain had control of the Airport and the Naval base in Trincomalee in Ceylon. Therefore, the USSR insisted that Ceylon was not an independent nation state. However, Ceylon was granted membership as part of a ‘package deal,’ on December 14, 1955.

Comment  by tamilnation.org  Mr. Kirubaharan is right to point out that the eventual admission of Ceylon to the UN was the result of a 'package' deal between the then 'super powers'. On 14 December 1955, together with Sri Lanka,  15 other states also gained admission. They were - Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Jordan, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Nepal, Portugal, Romania, Spain. Some of these states belonged to the Soviet Bloc and the others to the 'Western' Bloc. The 'package deal' for UN entry reflected the political horse dealing in the international arena  at that time and had little to do with principle or with the ostensible reason given by the Soviet Union for its veto. At the time of the package deal in December 1955, the strongly West leaning Sir John Kotelawala was in power in Ceylon and the Ceylon-British Defence Agreement was still in force The left leaning S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike came to power at the General Elections in Ceylon in April 1956 and at his  request, a few months later,  the United Kingdom gave up its bases in Ceylon. By that time UK was involved in its own Suez debacle and had begun to realise that Brittania was no longer in a position to rule the waves. Interestingly, UK initially moved its naval base from Trincomalee to Mauritius.   Today the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean are being sought after by the US, India and China.

Confusion over Chinese membership

In 1945, China had been one of the key countries which had established the United Nations. At that time the ‘Chinese Revolution’ was at the peak of success or in the final stage. Endorsement by the Chinese to the UN Charter was obviously by the Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) regime which was known as the Republic of China – ROC. It is well known that this regime was later overthrown by the People’s Liberation Army, under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung, in October 1949. The defeated Chiang Kai-Shek, his supporters and a section of the National Army moved from the mainland PRC, into the island of Taiwan and proclaimed the island as Republic of China – ROC.

Since the victory of the Chinese Revolution, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has maintained a policy that the ROC is part of the PRC. Both China(s) refused to recognise each other. There are 24 states which have official diplomatic relationship with the ROC – Belize, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Burkina Faso, Gambia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Swaziland, Vatican City, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. The PRC does not maintain any diplomatic relationship with countries which have recognised the ROC. Bhutan has no diplomatic relations with either China(s), but in 1971 voted in favour of the PRC’s entry into the UN.

On November 23, 1971 the ROC was replaced by the PRC in the UN Security Council, granting ‘veto’ power to the PRC. However, the UN offered the ROC the possibility of remaining in the UN as a member in the General Assembly. Then ROC President Chiang Kai-shek refused to accept the offer, saying that the ROC would not remain in the UN, if the PRC was allowed membership. Since 1991 the ROC’s application for full membership and its request for non-member observer status with the UN have been consistently denied. However,  the ROC continues to be an economically viable state in South East Asia. Due to significant economic growth of the ROC, today it has become one of the Four Asian Tigers/East Asian Tigers. The others are – Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea.

The ROC is a good example of the fact that UN membership is not a pre-requisite for the existence and economic vibrancy of a state.

Recognition of new and de-facto states

After exactly 10 years, the number of UN member states had increased to 117 and by 1974 it had risen to 138, including the admission of Bangladesh, Grenada and Guinea-Bissau.

On August 25, 1972 an initiative by the USSR and India for UN membership of Bangladesh was vetoed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Bangladesh was eventually granted membership three years after its independence. The world press never failed to highlight the hypocrisy of the PRC – “How could a country (PRC) which itself had been kept out of the UN for a long time, deny the right of admission to another independence state?”

Today with the entry of Eritrea, Timor-Leste/East-Timor and Montenegro the number of states in the UN  has increased to 192 states, including new states from USSR and Eastern Europe.

When we consider examples of recognition of other new states and de-facto states, we see that the state of Israel does not have official relations with nearly 30 UN member states; Cyprus is not recognised by Turkey; North and South Korean have not recognised each other and Palestinian independence in 1988 was not recognised by some countries.

In the meantime – Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) – Western Saharan/Polisario declared independence on February 27, 1976 – 266,000 km²/102,703 sq miles) from Morocco and formed a government in exile in Algeria.

Western Sahara’s independence was recognised by more than 45 UN member states and since 1984, the country has been granted full membership in the regional body, the African Union (AU), formerly known as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). As a consequence, Morocco left the AU, and is no more a member of that body.

When analysing further realities of the emerging independence of new states and de-facto states, more examples abound. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (Turkish Cypriots) declared independence in 1983. It is recognised by the UN member state Turkey and since 1979 has been granted observer status with the OIC.

There are a few other de-facto states waiting for recognition – the Republic of South Assetia (November 28, 1991 – 3,900 km²/1,506 sq miles) and the Republic of Abhazia (July 23, 1992 – 8,432 km²/3,256 sq miles) in Georgia and Nagorno Karabakh (January 6, 1992 – 11,458.38 km²/4,424.10 sq miles) in the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Republic of Somaliland asserted its independence (May 18, 1991 – 176,210 km²/68,035 sq miles) without any international recognition but it has political relationships with many Western countries including with the AU and the EU. Not to be forgotten is the fact that the Transnistria Maldovan Republic in the Republic of Moldeva declared independence (July 1992 - 4,163 km²/1,607 sq miles) and so is yet another case. It is needless to say that many of these were branded as terrorists and terrorism by the concerned states.

It is clear that the existence, recognition and independence of viable states do not depend necessarily on membership in the UN. The most recent example of independence is that of Kosovo, which declared independence from a UN member state, Serbia. It is to be noted that Kosovo’s independence was recognised by three permanent members of the UN Security Council and by many other Western countries, signalling more hope and encouragement to people who are struggling for freedom on the basis of their right to self-determination, an important legal principle supported by the UN Charter and as such, articulated in the first article of the two major covenants of the UN – the ICCPR and ICESCR and many other human rights instruments.

Encouragement to other de-facto states

De-facto states in various countries, waiting for recognition by UN member states, like Kosovo and the economically viable states like ROC, encourage other de-facto states to be more positive about their independence, recognition, stability and cooperation with states of their choice. UN membership is not an exclusive factor for independence, as has been seen. As far as countries in Europe are concerned, ‘The land of the Alps,’ Switzerland is another good example regarding the question of UN membership. Switzerland chose to become a member of the UN only in 2002. During the same period newly born Timor-Leste/East-Timor also became a member. Until then Switzerland had remained only as an Observer in the UN.

De-facto state in Sri Lanka?

The many de-facto states of the world are also a reminder that the LTTE’s de-facto claim also could be met someday by the UN, if the Sri Lankan Governments continue to perpetrate human rights violations. If declared, it is that the Governments of Sri Lanka wittingly or unwittingly have played a role in it. Continuous human rights abuse and violations are contributory factors for the UN to consider declaring a de-facto state. Whether the governments of Sri Lanka will give into this,  is a question to which there is no immediate answer.

Comment  by tamilnation.org  Here, we are contrained to say that we differ from Mr.Kirubaharan. Past experience, whether it be Ceylon's delayed UN admission in 1955, or Bangladesh's delayed admission three years after it had gained independence, or China's long wait for UN entry, or the present failure of Kosova to gain UN entry, show that recognition of new states by other states is determined by real politick and not by human rights. Human rights is simply  a cover that governments use to mask the real politick dictates that govern their action. And in the case of Sri Lanka we may need to pay attention to the international dimension of the struggle for Tamil Eelam.  Apart from anything else, the roll call of friendly dictators is educative. We are reminded of  the famous words of  US President Franklin D. Roosevelt "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." It is not a question of whether  the political leader of a particular country is 'a son of a bitch' but whether 'he is our' son of a bitch. 

Roll Call  of Friendly Dictators...

Sani Abacha


P W Botha
South Africa

"Papa Doc" Duvalier Haiti

King Hassan II


Mobuto Sese Seko Zaire


Park,  South Korea

Augusto Pinochet Chile

Pol Pot

Efrain Rios Guatemala

King Fahd
Saudi Arabia

Shah Pahlevi

Somoza Nicaragua

Saddam Hussein

General Suharto

  Dominican Republic

Somoza with
US President Franklin D Roosevelt



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