Democracy may mean acceding to the rule of the majority,but democracy also means governments by discussion andpersuasion. It is the belief that the minority of today maybecome the majority of tomorrow that ensures the stabilityof a functioning democracy. The practice of democracy inSri Lanka within the confines of a unitary state served toperpetuate the oppressive rule of a permanent Sinhalamajority. It was a permanent Sinhala majority, which through a series oflegislative and administrative acts, ranging fromdisenfranchisement, and standardisation of University admissions,to discriminatory language and employment policies, and statesponsored colonisation of the homelands of the Tamil people,sough to establish its hegemony over people of Tamil Eelam. These legislative and administrative acts were reinforced fromtime to time with physical attacks on the Tamil people with intentto terrorise and intimidate them into submission.Order now
It was a courseof conduct which led eventually to rise of Tamil militancy in themid 1970s with, initially, sporadic acts of violence. The militancywas met with wide ranging retaliatory attacks on increasinglylarge sections of the Tamil people with intent, once again tosubjugate them. In the late 1970s large numbers of Tamil youthswere detained without trial and tortured under emergencyregulations and later under the Prevention of Terrorism Actwhich has been described by the International Commission ofJurists as a ‘blot on the statute book of any civilised country’. In1980s and thereafter, there were random killings of Tamils bythe state security forces and Tamil hostages were taken by thestate when ‘suspects’ were not found.
The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsreads: “Whereas it is essential if man is not compelled as alast resort to rebellion against tyranny andoppression, that human rights should be protectedby the rule of law. “The rise of the armed struggle of the Tamil people constituted theTamil rebellion against a continuing Sinhala oppression over aperiod of several decades. The gross consistent and continuingviolations of the human rights of the Tamil people have been welldocumented by innumerable reports of human rightsorganisations as well as of independent observers of the SriLankan scene. Walter Schwarz commented in the Minority Rights GroupReport on Tamils of Sri Lanka, 1983”. .
. The makings of an embattled freedom movementnow seem assembled: martyrs, prisoners and apitiful mass of refugees. Talk of ‘Biafra’ which hadsounded misplaced in 1975, seemed less unreal afew years later. . .
As this report goes to press inSeptember 1983, the general outlook for humanrights in Sri Lanka is not promising. The presentconflict has transcended the special considerationof minority rights and has reached the point wherethe basic human rights of the Tamil community – therights to life and property, freedom of speech andself expression and freedom from arbitrary arresthave in fact and in law been subject to gross andcontinued violations. The two communities aremow polarised and continued repression coupledwith economic stagnation can only producestronger demands from the embattled minority,which unless there is a change in direction by thecentral government, will result in a strongerSinhalese backlash and the possibility of outrightcivil war”. David Selbourne remarked in July 1984: “The crimes committed by the Sri Lankan stateagainst the Tamil minority – against its physicalsecurity, citizenship rights, and politicalrepresentation -are of growing gravity. .
Reportafter report by impartial bodies – By AmnestyInternational, By the International Commission ofjurists, By parliamentary delegates from the Westby journalists and scholars – have set out clearly thescale of growing degeneration of the political andphysical well being of the Tamil minority in SriLanka. . . Their cause represents the very essence ofthe cause of human rights and justice; and to denyit, debases and reduces us all”.
A Working Group chaired by Goran Backstrand, of the SwedishRed Cross at the Second Consultation on Ethnic Violence,Development and Human Rights, Netherlands, in February 1985concluded:”There was a general consensus that within SriLanka today, the Tamils do not have the protectionof the rule of law, that the Sri Lankan governmentpresents itself as a democracy in crisis, and thatneither the government, nor its friends abroad,appreciate the serious inroads on democracy whichhave been made by the legislative, administrative,and military measures which are being taken. Theextreme measures which are currently beingadopted by the government inevitably provokeextreme reactions from the other side. . . The normallife of the (Tamil) population of the North has beenseriously affected. People either have greatdifficulty or find it completely impossible to continuewith their employment and there is a severeshortage of food and basic necessities Many Tamilsare daily fleeing across the Palk Straits to SouthernIndia.
The continuing colonisation of Tamil areaswith Sinhalese settlers is exacerbating thesituation. . . and the country is on the brink of civilwar. “Senator A.
L. Missen, Chairman, Australian Parliamentary Groupof Amnesty International, expressed his growing concern inMarch 1986:”Some 6000 Tamils have been killed altogether inthe last few years. . . These events are notaccidental. It can be seen that they are the result ofa deliberate policy on the part of the Sri Lankangovernment.
. . Democracy in Sri Lanka does notexist in any real sense. The democracy of Sri Lankahas been described in the following terms, termswhich are a fair and accurate description: ‘Thereluctance to hold general elections, the muzzling ofthe opposition press, the continued reliance onextraordinary powers unknown to a freedemocracy, arbitrary detention without access tolawyers or relations, torture of detainees on asystematic basis , the intimidation of the judiciary bythe executive, the disenfranchisement of theopposition, an executive President who holdsundated letters of resignation from members of thelegislature, an elected President who publiclydeclares his lack of care for the lives or opinion of asection of his electorate, and the continuedsubjugation of the Tamil people by a permanentSinhala majority, within the confines of an unitaryconstitutional frame, constitute the reality of’democracy’, Sri Lankan style. “The reports speak for themselves and that which emerges is achilling pattern of a forty year genocide attack on the Tamilpeople intended to subjugate them within an unitary SinhalaBuddhist state. Karen Parker of the Non Governmental Human RightsOrganisation, International Educational Development put itsuccinctly at the 42nd Sessions of UN Sub Commission on theProtection of Minorities.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights statesthat all persons, including members of minoritygroups, have the right to the full realisation of theirhuman rights and to an international order in whichtheir rights can be realised. The Sri Lanka situation has shown that for the pastforty years, the Sinhala controlled government hasbeen unwilling and unable to promote and protectthe human rights of the Tamil population, and theTamil population has accordingly lost all confidencein any present or future willingness or ability of theSinhala majority to do so. Are people in thissituation required to settle for less than their fullrights. Can the international community impose on apeople a forced marriage they no longer want andin which they can clearly demonstrate they havebeen Abused?.
. . We consider that in the case of SriLanka, 40 years is clearly enough for any group towait for their human rights. “The inhabitants of the Northeast of the island of Sri Lankaconstitute a ‘people’ and are thereby entitled to the right of selfdetermination. Since it has been recognised that the exercise ofthis right is not designed to dominate others but rather to escapedomination by others, the international community, through theGeneral Assembly Resolutions on Friendly Relations AmongStates (Resolution 2625) and on Definition of Aggression (act 7)and 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva convention of1949 (Act 1 C4), declared that as a last resort armed strugglecan be used as a method of exercising the right of selfdetermination.
The Sri Lankan governments use of force indenying the Tamil’s right to self determination is in violation ofArticles 1 (2), 1 (3), 2 (4) and 56 of the United Nations Charter. The Tamil people have been subjected to brutal and crudepersonal psychological and institutional violence by the Sri Lankagovernment and its agencies. The Sri Lanka Government hasbuilt up a massive 70,000 member armed force constitutedexclusively of Sinhalese and allocated immense funds for itssupport. The Tamils have resorted to arms to defend themselvesand the war being waged by the Liberation Tigers is a defensivewar.
Unlike the measures adopted by the Sri Lankangovernment, this struggle is not aimed at domination; instead itserves to protect the sovereign identity of the Tamil people. The armed struggle of the Tamil people is both just and lawfulbecause the rule of law for the Tamil people had ceased to exist;because the Government of Sri Lanka had become a racistgovernment; and because the oppressed people of that racistgovernment were compelled to resort to arms to defendthemselves against that oppression. Based on reason and international law and coupled with theabsence of any internal or external machinery to realise the Tamilright to self determination, the Tamils resistance evolved frompeaceful agitation to armed struggle. As Professor Reisman ofthe Yale Law School states, “insistence on non violence anddeference to all established in a .
. . system with many injusticescan be tantamount to confirmation and reinforcement of theseinjustices. In some circumstances violence may be the lastappeal. .
of a group. . for some measure of human dignity. The international community’s recognition of a “People’s” right todefend themselves and to use force to secure their legitimatepolitical objectives is reinforced by the contemporary politicaldiscourse.
The formation of armed forces by the Ukraine,Moldavia; Georgia and Armenia and the European Community’sPeace plan for Yugoslavia’s current crisis are all proof of theabove mentioned proposition. The legitimacy of the armed conflict of the people of Tamil Eelamwas afforded open international recognition when the combatantsin the armed conflict, participated in talks with a speciallyappointed Minister of the government of Sri Lanka at meetingsconvened by the Indian Government at Thimphu in 1985. It wasa legitimacy which was reinforced in February 1987, by theUnited Nations Commission on Human Right when it adopted aresolution on Sri Lanka in which the armed conflict wasdiscussed in terms of humanitarian law. Again, it was a legitimacywhich the Indo Sri Lankan Agreement signed by the PrimeMinister of India and the President of Sri Lanka in July 1987,recognised when it described the Tamil militant movement as’combatants’ in an armed conflict. Finally, in 1989/90, theLiberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam engaged in direct talks with thegovernment of Sri Lanka and were accorded recognition ascombatants. The statement made on behalf of the joint Front of TamilLiberation Organisations at the Thimphu Talks in 1985 serves tounderline the just and lawful nature of the struggle of the Tamilpeople:”We are a liberation movement which wascompelled to resort to the force of arms because allforce of reason had failed to convince thesuccessive Sri Lankan government in the past.
Further under conditions of national oppression andthe intensification of state terrorism and genocideagainst our people, the demand for a separate statebecome the only logical expression of theoppressed Tamil people. Our armed struggle is themanifestation of that logical expression.”The future of that lawful armed struggle clearly falls to bedetermined in the context of the security of the Tamil people andtheir right to self determination and these are matters forresolution across a negotiating table, not in vacuum.