Home » Breaking News » Who Is Going To Protect The Lives Of Tamils In Sri Lanka? By Kumarathasan Rasingam

Who Is Going To Protect The Lives Of Tamils In Sri Lanka? By Kumarathasan Rasingam

The Easter Sunday serial bomb blasts in the Churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa took away the lives of 253, most of the affected victims are Tamil Christians because it was targeted during the Mass in Tamil Language in the three Churches.

Even though the Sri Lankan Governments Police high ups were well informed in advance by the Indian Intelligence no one took this matter seriously, the Government ignored it perhaps intentionally because it knows the victims are going to be Tamil Christians. Now the President is blaming the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister is blaming the President and the leader of the opposition is blaming both.

Now the police and military are given more powers under Emergency Law, the alien Sinhalese Police and military will do havoc to the Tamils in the North and East and will terrorize the Tamils and may take revenge against the protesters who protested against the military who are occupying their lands. The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and newly implemented Emergency Laws, impunity to the Armed forces will give a free hand to terrorise the victimised Tamils who are protesting and agitating for justice and accountability. The arrest of the leader and the secretary to the University Students Union in Jaffna is going to make the situation worse in the North of Sri Lanka.

It is to be noted that the Tamil youths in the North took arms after peaceful talks, non-violent protests, and adding fuel to the fire the Standardization in education Law IN 1971 where Tamils students denied admission to universities. In addition, the burning down of the Jaffna Public Library in 1981, which was one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the 20th century. At that time of its destruction the library was one of the biggest library in Asia containing 97,000 books and rare manuscripts.
The state sponsored pogroms against the Tamils in July 1983 [BLACK JULY] where Tamils were targeted and all over the island and their properties looted and burnt.

The Government of Sri Lanka will definitely delay the implementation of the UNHRC Resolutions citing this as an excuse leaving the victims of war with growing pain and frustration.

The Sri Lankan government’s refusal to negotiate seriously with Tamil leaders or otherwise address legitimate Tamil and Muslim grievances is increasing ethnic tensions and damaging prospects for lasting peace. The administration, led by the United National Party has refused to honour agreements with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), broken promises to world leaders and not implemented constitutional provisions for minimal devolution of power to Tamil-speaking areas of the north and east. Militarisation and discriminatory economic development in Tamil and Muslim areas are breeding anger and increasing pressure on moderate Tamil leaders.

The de facto military occupation of the Northern Province and biased economic development policies appear designed to undermine Tamils’ ability to claim the north and east as their homeland. For many Tamils, this confirms their long-held belief that it was only the LTTE’s guns that placed their concerns and need for power sharing on the political agenda. In the face of the government’s resistance to a fair and negotiated settlement, TNA leaders have come under increasing pressure from their constituencies to adopt more confrontational language and tactics. Growing demands for the right to self-determination for the Tamil nation and hints that separatist goals have not been permanently abandoned have, in turn, provoked harsh reactions and expressions of distrust from Sinhala leaders.

The Tamil struggle for rights and freedom is likely to succeed only when the broader national struggle for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law, including the de-politicisation of the judiciary and the police.

The Bandaranaike–Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957, and later the Dudley Senanayake–Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965 intended to resolve the festering inter-ethnic disputes between the constituent Peoples of the country through legislation that recognized and preserved the linguistic and cultural identity of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. However, under pressure from an extremist fringe within the Sinhala community, the first of these agreements was abrogated while respective Prime Ministers did not implement the second.

In 1972, a new Constitution that formally sanctioned policies targeting the Tamil speaking people was promulgated. This Constitution entrenched the unitary character of the state, conferred on Buddhism the foremost place in the Republic, and gave constitutional primacy to the Sinhala language. This was enacted without the consent or participation of the Tamil people. The 1972 Constitution also dispensed with the salient minority safeguards found in section 29(2) of the ‘Soulbury Constitution’. In fact, the Privy Council, the apex court until 1971, described the minority safeguards in section 29(2) as representing “the solemn balance of rights between the citizens of Ceylon, the fundamental conditions on which inter se they accepted the Constitution: and these are therefore unalterable under the Constitution.”[Lord Pearce, Bribery Commissioner v. Ranasinghe (1964) 66 NLR 73, at 78].

The repeal of this historic compact, the very basis on which the constituent Peoples of Ceylon accepted the ‘Soulbury Constitution’, which in turn led to independence, heaped scorn on legitimate Tamil aspirations. The 1978 Constitution followed in the footsteps of the 1972 Constitution and entrenched the foremost place given to Buddhism, continued to give primacy to the Sinhala language, and by entrenching the unitary character of the State, excluded the Tamils from the democratic exercise of political power. A disturbing feature of Sri Lanka’s post-independence history was that of organized violence in the form of racial pogroms being periodically unleashed on the Tamil People in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1981 and 1983. These attacks were a direct response to the articulation of their political aspirations by the Tamil people…The consistent democratic verdicts of the Tamil people since 1956, expressing their political aspiration for substantial self-rule in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, were denied under the above two constitutions. This factor, together with the discriminatory policies pursued under these two constitutions, particularly in education, employment and economic opportunities, the state-aided Sinhala settlements in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and the anti-Tamil racial pogroms gave birth to armed resistance by Tamil youth.

International concern that followed from the massive anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, led to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. While this established Provincial Councils and devolved a measure of legislative power to the Provinces, it fell far short of meaningful power-sharing. Nevertheless, it represented an initial minimal step towards devolution of power to the Provinces. A significant provision of the Indo-Lanka Accord – an international treaty – providing for the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces has since been violated for spurious reasons.

Although public officials, members of the judiciary and elected representatives swear or affirm to uphold the Constitution, the Thirteenth Amendment has not been fully implemented. Even the limited provisions relating to the devolution of land and police powers to the Provincial Councils are deliberately violated. Moreover, commitments made both domestically and internationally with regard to a political solution have not been honoured. Similarly, commitments made relating to human rights and accountability have been routinely dishonoured.

Broken Promises on Political Settlement

The Sri Lankan government has for many years promised a power-sharing arrangement to share power equitably with the constituent Peoples of Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa’s Joint Statement with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explicitly contained a number of assurances relating to a promised political solution, one of which was where:

“President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.” [Joint statement by UN Secretary-General, Government of Sri Lanka, 26 May 2009].

The government’s callous disregard for fulfilling its own promises applies equally to the government’s assurances on human rights. In 2006, the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry [CoI] was mandated with the power to investigate a number of grave human rights abuses including the killing of five Tamil students in Trincomalee and the massacre of 17 aid workers in Muttur. On 13 May 2008, Mr. Yasantha Kodagoda, a senior officer of the Attorney General’s Department and a member of the Sri Lankan delegation at the UNHRC made the following assurances to the Council:

“Mr. President, let me assure you that all cases involving human rights violations will continue to be impartially and comprehensively investigated and inquired into by the several agencies entrusted with that task including the CoI, and their findings made public and perpetrators prosecuted in court.” Contrary to the government of Sri Lanka’s assurances to the Council made in 2008, the finding.

The government and the military are also relentlessly engaged in transforming the cultural, linguistic and religious composition of the North and East and forcibly imposing the dominant culture on those areas.This is evident in the destruction of numerous Hindu places of worship, and the proliferation of new Buddhist shrines.

Notwithstanding the assurances made by the government, as representatives of the people who were trapped in the Vanni during the last stages of the war, the TNA repeatedly raised its voice in Parliament and placed on record the fact that atrocities were being committed, as and when they occurred. On one such occasion the leader of the TNA, Mr. R Sampanthan told Parliament:

“There is constant aerial bombing, continuous aerial bombing, sometimes several bombings per day. There is constant artillery fire, all into civilian populated areas. Is this happening in any other part of the world? Are civilian populated areas being bombed aerially and are multi-barrel rocket launchers and heavy artillery being fired into civilian populated areas in any other part of the world? People are being killed in several numbers every day … There is death; there is devastation; there is destruction; our houses are being destroyed. We are losing both our residential and occupational assets. Our farming equipment, our fishing equipment, our livestock, and our plantations have all been destroyed. We have been reduced to a state of penury and destitution.”[Hansard, 21 January 2009].

In the TNA’s analytical response to the LLRC, it was noted that based on the testimony of witnesses who appeared before the LLRC, the estimated number of civilians who were trapped in the Vanni in late 2008 was between 360,000 and 429,000. Thus, given that only 282,380 civilians came out of the Vanni into government-controlled areas, the number of persons unaccounted for remains between 75,000 and 146,000.

Towards the last stages of the war, the Sri Lankan government estimated that the number of civilians trapped in the war zone did not exceed 70,000, and repeatedly assured the world, including the UNHRC, that it was supplying sufficient food and humanitarian supplies to those civilians. Eventually, however, when 282,380 civilians emerged from out of the Vanni area, it was clear that the figure of 70,000 stated by the government was a deliberate underestimation.

The UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka characterized this underestimation as giving rise to credible allegations of the war crime of starvation, which in the light of the widespread and systematic nature of the practice, also gave rise to credible allegations of the crimes against humanity of extermination and persecution. The testimony of Ms. Imelda Sukumar, Mullaitivu Government Agent before the LLRC clearly established that even the government’s own officials were aware that the number of persons trapped in the Vanni exceeded 360,000. The TNA now notes that when the results of the Statistical Handbooks of 2004, 2005 and 2007 – which are published by the Department of Census and Statistics – are collated, the number of those who inhabited the Vanni in the years preceding the war appears to exceed 402,000. All this evidence suggests that the government had every reason to believe and indeed was aware that the number of civilians trapped inside the Vanni was in excess of 350,000, while they cynically claimed that number to be no more than 70,000.

The government was not truthful about the nature of their operations during the last stages of the war either. In an interview on BBC HARDtalk dated 2 March 2009, Minister Samarasinghe – speaking from Geneva – responded to a question on the justifiability of using heavy weapons. The Minister stated:

“There is absolutely no justification to use heavy weapons and, in fact, about ten days ago, the armed forces took a conscious decision not to use any heavy weapons. We have not been using heavy weapons; we are fighting man-to-man, door-to-door and street-to-street. This is the way that we are going to ensure that terrorism is wiped out because, as you know, the LTTE is now restricted in fact to a very small area of about 48 sq. km. and we cannot use heavy weapons.”

Yet, as even the LLRC acknowledged, heavy weapons were in fact used to fire into the ‘Nofire zones’ during the last stages of the war, up until hostilities ceased in May 2009. As noted at page ii of the Executive Summary of the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka: the government “shelled in spite of its knowledge of the impact, provided by its own intelligence systems and through notification by the United Nations, the ICRC and others. Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by Government shelling.”

The government with cynical indifference to the assurances it gave the international community persisted in military action that resulted in massive civilian casualties. The government is now claiming that a ‘census’ has determined that the number of casualties is close to 8,000. However, the methodology adopted by those involved in carrying out this ‘census’ is deeply suspect. No official census has been carried out in the North and East since 1981. In early 2011, when it came to the TNA’s attention that members of the armed forces together with members of the civil administration were involved in illegally collecting data from families in the Jaffna District, five Members of Parliament representing the TNA petitioned the Supreme Court [SC FR 73/2011] to stop any illegal data collection from taking place. In the Supreme Court, a Deputy Solicitor General representing government officials gave an undertaking to stop such data collection forthwith.

The carrying out of this ‘census’ in direct violation of this undertaking, is not only in contempt of the Supreme Court, but is also illustrative of the breakdown of law and order in the North and East, and the intense militarization of governance in those areas. The circumstances described above also fatally undermine the credibility of the ‘census’process. Furthermore, in the context of the information presented above, the outcome of the purported ‘census’ is highly suspect and questionable.

4.12. The harsh reality that all of Sri Lanka must urgently reckon with, is that the government –which is now struggling to explain away emerging evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity – took deliberate steps to ensure that its conduct of the war would be without witness. On 5 September 2008, just prior to the final assault on the Vanni, the government ordered all NGO and INGO personnel who were not permanent residents of the Vanni to withdraw all their assets and leave the area immediately. Only the International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] – who are committed to maintaining confidentiality – was permitted.

Buddhist Monks’s influence in Sri Lankan politics

Why did hundreds of Buddhist bhikkus demand the Prime Minister in 1958 to tear the conciliatory pact made with the Tamil parliamentarians in 1957? Why did the author have to smuggle the manuscript of the following to the UK and publish it there and why was the book banned in Sri Lanka:

Emergency ’58 – The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots, Tarzi Vittachi(1958): ”When a government, however popular, begins to pander to racial or religious emotionalism merely because it is the loudest of the raucous demands made on it, and then meddles in the administration and enforcement of law and order for the benefit of its favourites or to win the plaudits of a crowd, however hysterical it may be, catastrophe is certain.’’

British scholar wrote

CEYLON: A DIVIDED NATION, B H Farmer(1963): “Since those saddening days of 1958 Ceylon has had its share of trouble. The truth, though unpalatable may be to some, is simply that nobody unacceptable to the present Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism has any chance of constitutional power in contemporary Ceylon.”
International Commission of Jurists says:

Ethnic Conflict and Violence in Sri Lanka – Report of International Commission of Jurists 1981: “The fate of the Tamils in Sri Lanka remains a matter of international concern”.

Sri Lanka: A Mounting Tragedy of Errors, Report by International Commission of Jurists, March 1984: ‘”The impact of the communal violence on the Tamils was shattering. The evidence points clearly to the conclusion that the violence of the Sinhala rioters on the Tamils amounted to Acts of Genocide”.

East-West Centre produce a Monograph

Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Ideology: Implications for Politics and Conflict resolution in Sri Lanka, East-West Centre Policy Studies 40, Neil De Votta(2007): ‘’International human rights monitors must be stationed in Sri Lanka to ensure minorities are protected’’

Minority Rights Group International – report:

”With the end of the conflict between Sri Lankan government forces and the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (in 2009) normality has returned for much of the population of Sri Lanka. But for members of the country’s two main minority groups – Tamils and Muslims – living in the north and east of the country, harsh material conditions, economic marginalisation, and militarism remain prevalent. Drawing on interviews with activists, religious and political leaders, and ordinary people living in these areas of the country, MRG found a picture very much at odds with the official image of peace and prosperity following the end of armed conflict” – No war, no peace: the denial of minority rights and justice in Sri Lanka, Minority Rights Group International, 19 January 2011

Author: TELO Admin