Search for Peace:Tamils in New Zealand
An International Conference organised by New Zealand Tamils for
all New Zealanders, Memorial Theatre Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand - 13
Aim of the Conference
The overall aim of the conference was to inform the New Zealand public, the media and
the politicians who Tamils really are. Tamils in New Zealand as well as those in other
parts of the world feel that the aspirations and character of the Tamil people are not
properly understood. Suppression of news and misinformation about the ethnic civil war in
Sri Lanka have led to adverse and inaccurate portrayals of the Tamil people by most media.
Background about Tamils
There were 3.5 million Tamils in Sri Lanka at the last census in 1981, which is about
the current New Zealand population and there are nearly 50 million Tamils in South India,
which exceeds the entire population of Great Britain. Best estimates of the Tamil
population in New Zealand is 3,000-3,500, with over 65% living in the Auckland and
The early political history of the Tamil people in South India and Sri Lanka was
characterised by Tamil kingdoms, until the advent of European colonisation in the 16th
century. Since the end of the British rule in 1948, the oppression and discrimination of
the Tamils in Sri Lanka has led to their struggle for self determination and independence.
In particular, the civil war against the Tamil minorities has gone on for over 13 years
and has reached genocidal proportions. The conference committee noted the following facts
which can be established without any reservations:
The Tamil political movement started in earnest in the 1950s and functioned
democratically through parliament and legal channels. This was in response to many
discriminatory legislations imposed by consecutive Sri Lankan governments in citizenship,
language, lands alienation, jobs and education. This form of governance and Tamil politics
continued from 1950 until 1983.
During this period of political participation by the Tamils, Sinhala mob violence on a
large scale was unleashed on the Tamils, notably in 1956, 1958, 1972, 1977 and 1983
killing thousands of innocent Tamils living outside their traditional homelands. This
period is noted for several aborted agreements arrived after protracted discussions. The
successive Sri Lankan governments first concluded these agreements with Tamil political
parties and later abandoned owing to pressures from radical and religious nationalists,
within the Sinhala majority.
The beginning of the Tamil armed struggle can be traced to 1974. This was initially on
an isolated and sporadic scale and was subsequent to the police attack on a large peaceful
public gathering for the very first International Tamil Research Conference resulting in
the loss of 9 civilian lives. The armed movement operating on a low key with very small
number of adherents gained momentum since 1983.
The recent indiscriminate military action by government forces was an unreported war,
where foreign media and NGOs were kept out of the war zone by the government. This war has
caused the displacement of well over 300,000 Tamil people in their own homelands who are
living under inhumane conditions, with no proper shelter, medication or food. The
Government of Sri Lanka has put the death toll from the civil war in Sri Lanka since 1984
at 50,000. The casualty figures on the civilian non combatant population, including women
and young children, is well over this conservative estimate.
World Conflicts and Minority Sufferings
Since World War II, the ethnic/ religious armed conflicts taking place around the world
have increased in numbers and in severity and are happening over protracted periods.
Perpetuation of the violence is made possible by remoteness of locations, and wars are
localised and atrocities go unreported. The repeating pattern of such conflicts is
characterised by the smaller ethnic groups being the targets of larger groups which happen
to dominate the governments.
The natural advantages of the governments in power to continue with the wars is further
aided by international media indifference or inaccessibility and international political
expediency which enjoy trade and political concessions with the offending governments. The
minorities are driven to take up arms as a last resort against government direct actions
and complicity in violence.
The weight of this mindless suffering on humanity is not confined to these faceless
& voice less people, for this to be forgotten. This suffering is within human
consciousness and will perpetuate itself in ways that are not very obvious and will
continue to manifest disorder and violence.
The extent of suffering the people of Yalppanam (Jaffna) have undergone classifies them
as a suppressed people in the sense of the Geneva Convention on Human Rights. Suppressed
people have a right of self determination.
The Government of Sri Lanka has increased the suffering of this people by the military
conquest of Yalppanam in December 1995 and by using this conquest to establish political
hegemony in Yalppanam and by diluting the devolution package that alienates the Tamils
Given the background to the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, espoused by the well
thought out papers presented by five Scholars at this Conference, this Committee
summarises the appeal to the public, the media and the government of New Zealand and of
other well meaning countries as follows:-
The sufferings of the civilian population brought about by the economic embargo of the
traditional Tamil areas more than 5 years ago should be lifted immediately to bring back
some normalcy' to these regions.
International humanitarian workers and observers including international media must be
admitted to all areas of the country and the application of the humanitarian law and human
rights restored in the whole country.
The two parties to the conflict should be urged to undertake immediately negotiations
in an environment where parity of status of negotiators can be ensured.
A total bilateral cessation of hostilities must be demanded as a matter of urgency.
A just and durable settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka recognising the right
of self determination of the Tamils can be achieved only through the intervention of
members of the international community who have the understanding of the factors
responsible for the conflict and are acceptable to both parties.
The conference committee also urges that all New Zealand Tamil Societies to open links
between Tamils and all sections of the New Zealand Society at large, including Maori,
Pakeha and other ethnic groups, and to support academic research to find ways and means of
resolving the conflict.
Conference Statement Sub-Committee: Professor Peter Schalk, Professor Margaret
Trawick, Dr Jeff Sluka, Dr V Nithiyanandam, Dr Chinniah Ilanko and Dr Ram Sri Ramaratnam
Statement Co-ordinators : Mr Paul Rajeswaran, Mr C Kumara Parathy