Sri Lanka: Justifying the Right of Tamils’ Self-Rule

February 15, 2019 Asia , HUMAN RIGHTS , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

Reuters photo



Kumarathasan Rasingam



History proves Tamils’ homeland [North and East of Sri Lanka]


The Kingdom of Jaffna included a vast region. Its boundary said that the Jaffna Kingdom was not confined to the Jaffna Peninsula. It had included the following areas, namely Valikamam, Vadamarachi, Thenmarachi, Islands and the parts of Vanni from Mannar to Trincomalee (Perera,S.G.trans, 1930, p.51). The Ariyasakkaravatties, made their administration by having Nallur as the capital city of Jaffna Kingdom during their period. During the period of Singayaarian I (Jeyasingayaarin,Vijeyakoolankai Sakkaravatti) Nallur was declared the capital of Jaffna.


Seventy years have passed since Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, gained Independence from Britain on February 4th 1948. The Island nation has been under colonial bondage for a very long period. Portuguese rule came first in 1505, followed by Dutch rule in 1658. Finally came British rule in 1796 that lasted until 1948. It was the British who unified the Island under a single administration in 1833.


Sir Hugh Cleghorn, British Colonial Secretary’s words on June 1799 ring true that there were two different nations from a very ancient period: “Two different nations, from a very ancient period, have divided between them the possession of the island: the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior in its southern and western parts from the river Wallouwe to Chilaw, and the Malabars [Tamils] who possesses the Northern and Eastern districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners.”


Looking closely at historical maps before the demographic changes, and since the Colebrook Cameron Commission in 1933 and later since independence in 1948, it is crystal clear that the Tamil Nation possessed a clearly defined continuous territory comprising the Northeran and Eastern Provinces of the island, had its own kingdom and was sovereign. History also has it etched that the Jaffna Kingdom existed for 403 years. The Jaffna Kingdom existed with Nallur as its capital from 1215 AD to 1619 AD. The Portuguese landed in Ceylon [Sri Lanka] in 1505 and took 115 years to conquer the Jaffna Kingdom. The Dutch ruled from 1658 to 1795 followed by the British from 1795 to 1948. The Jaffna Kingdom functioned as an autonomous entity, although at different times the territory of the Tamil Kingdom [now called Tamil Eelam] came under foreign rule, it never lost its Tamil identity and its borders remained intact until 1833.


Sir John Foster. QC: “the Tamils are a community of over two million who flourished under the British, but have suffered discrimination since they have now lost confidence in their treatment by the Sinhalese majority, and are calling for a restoration of their separate national status, which they had for many centuries before the British came.”



Sri Lankan Constitution and Amendments


The social contract among people is enshrined in the Constitution which clearly spells out that the prosperity of a nation depends on the self-determination of the people, political, economical or sociological. In Sri Lanka Tamils are denied this aspect of the basic tenets of the social contact. The country cannot prosper if people are subjected to constitutional discrimination and subjugation.


The hidden agenda to kill off the Tamil Nation under the guise of integration propagated by the Buddhist clergy and Extremist Sinhalese leaders to make Sri Lanka a Buddhist Sinhalese state clearly shows and proves the attacks on Hindus, Christians and Muslims since independence.


1 – Absence of effective provisions in the Constitution protecting the fundamental rights of minorities;


2 – The grant of the foremost place to Buddhism and imposing on the State a constitutional duty to protect and foster Buddhism. This very clearly shows the Sinhala Buddhist nature of the State;


3 – Denial of equal opportunities of employment to Tamils in Government service and Government corporations;


4 – Arbitrary arrests and detentions under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA};


5 – Presence of massive military in the North and East even after the end of the war almost ten years ago [May 2009]. The ratio of the presence of the military to civilians is one soldier for every five civilians;


6 – The large discrepancy between what the Sri Lankan is telling the International Community it is doing on accountability and rule of law initiatives and what is actually taking place on the ground;


7 – The absence of answers for the families of the disappeared who are on the streets demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. Their non-violent protest has reached more than 650 days;


8 – The absence of necessary measures for genuine reconciliation by the Sri Lankan Government’s failure to return private lands, abolish the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and the promise to release political prisoners still languishing in jail without charge;


9 – The occupation of civilian lands and the Army’s involvement in civilian activities such as running shops, farms, hotels and even pre-schools for Tamil children.



The real sinister motive of and real agenda of the Sri Lankan Government is to complete the process of liquidation of Tamils/Muslims/Christians through the process of assimilation which has been in progress since 1948, immediately after independence from the British. This is also the aim of the Buddhist Clergy, Maha Sanga and extremist Buddhist – to make Sri Lanka a Buddhist Sinhalese country.


Sri Lanka is today a State with two nations and the Tamil nation therein seeks its right of self-determination. The Tamil problem is not an internal affair. Any attempt therefore to regard the Tamil question as an internal affair of the State of Sri Lanka would amount to an evasion of recognizing the political and social realities in the country. There is little doubt that the situation, fraught with many dangers, is gradually getting out of hand and is one for which there are unfortunately many parallels. From all accounts, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are beginning to despair of obtaining their rights through discussion, compromise, and peaceful means; tensions and frustrations are beginning to crystallise around issues which sooner or later are likely to lead to a point of no return where they will be forced take drastic disobedience action, like the Sathiyagraga non-violent initiated by late S.J.V. Chelvanayagam disrupting functions of Government Secretariats in the North and East.


On Genocide ’58 – Senator S.Nadesan Q.C. [Speech delivered during the course of the debate on the State of Emergency in the Second Senate on June 4th, 1958]

“..The Tamils are the pawns in a political game. It does not matter to anybody how we suffer, how we feel, so long as in this game one Sinhala party is the victor and the other Sinhala party is the vanquished. That is all. That is why I ask you not to make us pawns in your game…. Every Tamil man, woman and child is willing to go…We do not want language rights from you. Please have Sinhalese only. We only want the right to live in our areas. We want the right to be able to walk the streets without being molested. Those are the rights we want. We will look after our language… The elementary duty of a Government is to afford protection to its subjects, and the duty of the citizens is to be loyal to that Government. The moment that Government fails to afford that protection, it forfeits its right to that loyalty and affection. This Government has forfeited that right.”



Excerpts from Tarzie Vittachi: Emergency 1958 [Pogrom against the Tamils in 1958]


“What are we left with (in 1958)? A nation in ruins, some grim lessons which we cannot afford to forget and a momentous question: Have the Sinhalese and Tamils reached the parting of ways?”


The United Nations has demonstrated itself in Sri Lanka as an organization which makes decisions that are often more political than in the interests of the people it ostensibly serves.



Why former UN High Commissioner for Human rights – His Excellency Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussain has called for the formation of a hybrid special court.


“The levels of mistrust in State authorities and institutions by broad segments of Sri Lankan society should not be underestimated,” the High Commissioner said. “It is for this reason that the establishment of a hybrid special court, integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators, is so essential. A purely domestic court procedure will have no chance of overcoming widespread and justifiable suspicions fuelled by decades of violations, malpractice and broken promises.”


“After so many years of unbridled human rights violations and institutionalized impunity, the wounds of victims on both sides have festered and deepened,” he continued. “Unless fundamentally addressed, their continued suffering will further polarize and become an obstacle to reconciliation, and – worse – may sow the seeds for further conflict.”



What happed to these 146.679 civilians – needs answers?


According to records of the Sri Lankan Government Agent offices of Mullaiththeevu and Kilinochchi districts, the population of Vanni was 429,059 in October 2008. The total number of people who got into SL government control after the war was 282,380, according to a UN update of 10 July 2009. Due clarification should be made regarding what happened to 146,679 people, which is the discrepancy between the number of people who came to government controlled areas between October 2008 May 2009 and the population reported to be in Vanni in early October 2008, said the Catholic Bishop of Mannaar, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu Joseph in his submission to the LLRC.





The study carried out by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group [HRDAG] and the International Truth and Justice Project [ITJP] based its report on a compiled list of victims. The list identified about 503 people who surrendered and had been forcefully disappeared between May 17 and 19, 2009. The disappeared include an elderly Catholic Priest Father Francis Joseph, LTTE cadres and civilians, who all surrendered to Sri Lankan troops at Mullivaikal.


The findings show one of the single largest forcible disappearance events in Sri Lanka, which has a long history of abductions and violence against Tamils. “These people disappeared not in the fog of war, but after being taken into custody by the Sri Lankan Army and the government of Sri Lanka” the study commented. The families of the disappeared have been protesting on the streets for two years day and night in rain and hot sun demanding the whereabouts of their loved ones.



Prevention Of Terrorism Act [PTA]


Under this law, the victims can be held for any amount of time according to the whims and fancies of the government, victims are not allowed to even meet lawyers, [and] there is no chance of meeting family members. The war ended 10 years ago and there is no terrorism in the country now, but the government wants to keep the PTA and military in the north to suppress the people.


The law is being used to intimidate activists and suppress dissent, not for preventing terrorism;

This law does not contain accountability measures. Normal crimes can be converted to crimes against national security;

That law was suitable only at a time of war, or when the country was faced with a grave threat;

The PTA must be repealed as there is no necessity for it at this period of time.



Sri Lanka never learns


The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution became the result of a hard won struggle against the conservative elements and sectarian mindedness of some sections. One can also see that a similar fate has befallen the 13th Amendment in Sri Lanka, though J.R. Jayewardene was no Lincoln. On devolution of power, liberal school of thought could never create its hegemony in Sri Lanka’s context for reasons hitherto unexcavated properly. President Rajapaksa once said he is even prepared to go beyond the 13th Amendment and bring in 13 plus something. If Sri Lanka’s political leadership thinks that, in future amendments to the Constitution, it can go beyond the 13th Amendment and bring in a more enlightened one, which can truly guarantee the existence of this nation’s democratic character, and also survive in an anarchical world, we need to take such political rhetoric seriously and support them to come into practical existence.


Just as the US abolished slavery and thereby freed labour, today Sri Lanka’s political leadership is endowed with the historical task of ending ethnic conflict and religious animosity. Ethnic politics can only lead this State towards the endless darkness of political doom. The first condition for such an endeavour is to recreate the lost faith in constitutional governance and law. All political parties should end playing ethnic politics as a way to gain power.


It is not the rich or elite who suffer mostly from ethnic and religious violence of this country but the ordinary people, those whose children have to steal coconuts to pay their school fees and are employed in armed forces. Therefore, egotism and myth about the nation should not be allowed to prevail over rationality.


Today, this nation has been subjected to enormous external pressures. Talks about sovereignty are nothing but far cries for such losing character of Sri Lanka’s freedom as a nation to decide its own fate. As a nation devoid of vengeance and hatred we should have faith in “the inherent power of truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity and freedom” as Lincoln did, and exemplified through his political life. (References: Frisch, Morton J. (1953), “Lincoln’s Philosophy of Politics”, Prairie Schooner, Vol. 27, No. 4 (WINTER 1953), pp. 385-388).


In a country that is being widely condemned for impunity and lack of political will to address egregious human rights violations it is highly improbable that public service can work efficiently and impartially without proper accountability mechanisms. Without such mechanisms the efforts outlined above will only serve to strengthen a government that is alleged to be abusive and guilty of serious human rights abuses.


I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion…I want the full menu of human rights” Desmond – NBC, 9 January 1985.



Unilaterally abrogated/dishonored pacts and accord: Several agreements signed between the Tamil leaders and the Sinhala leaders to resolve the political turmoil in the country were unilaterally abrogated by Sri Lanka.


1957 July 26th – S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake.S.J.V. Chelvanayagam Pact. This agreement was based on a quasi-federal system devolving certain powers to the Tamils in the North East province. This pact was torn away due to the violent protests against the pact organized by the Buddhist Clergy. [He was assassinated by a Buddhist Monk – Talduwe Somarama Thero on September 25, 1959].


1965 March 24 – Dudly Senanayake/S.J.V. Chelvanayagam Pact: A political solution to the Tamils in the North and East was torn away due to the violent protests and opposition against the pact by the Buddhist Clergy.


1987 July 29th – Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed in Colombo between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene. The Accord was expected to resolve the Sri Lankan civil war by enabling the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Council Act of 1987. Under this agreement Government of Sri Lanka agreed to devolution of power to the Provinces and merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces as one unit. As this Accord was not implemented in good faith and dilly-dallying tactics by the Government was put on hold. The merger of the provinces of the Tamils historical and traditional homeland was opposed by the Buddhist clergy and a case was filed in the Supreme Court challenging the merger of the Northern & Eastern Provinces. The Supreme Court ruled out that the proclamation issued by the President J.R. Jayawardene were null and void and had no legal effect. The merged North and Eastern Provinces were de-merged on October 16, 2006. Thereafter the Northern Province was directly under the control of Colombo until October 25th after an election in the Northern Province on September 21st 2013. The powers allocated to the Provinces in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord like Police and Land were taken away and is functioning with full powers to the Governor who is a representative of the Government.



The Late Nelson Mandela fought against the apartheid South African racist regime prevailing the minority Whites over the majority Blacks practicing structural discrimination against the Blacks. Whereas Sri Lanka is a genocidal state that seeks the annihilation of the Eelam Tamils through structural genocide.





Kumarathasan Rasingam

Kumarathasan Rasingam

Kumarathasan Rasingam, a Human Rights activist and former President of the Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Organization, migrated to Canada from Sri Lanka in April 2011.

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