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Home > Human Rights & the Tamil Nation > Reports by Senator Alan Missen, 1984/85 > Struggle for Tamil Eelam
Reports by Senator Alan Missen,
Chairman, Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International
On Human Rights Developments during the Winter, June - August 1984
Update Delivered to the Emergency Committee on Sri Lanka formed under the auspices of SIFEC, 30 June 1985
On Human Rights Developments during the Winter , June - August 1984
"This Report is intended for general distribution to members of the Parliamentary Group and other members of the Australian Parliament concerned with human rights matters.
General. During the Recess I had the opportunity of taking up various issues of concern to the Group, both in Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom, and of consulting with other human rights bodies in those countries. You will recall my letter, oh the eve of the Recess, asking MPs and Senators to takc every opportunity, on their overseas visits, to promote human rights and to make enquiries of local authorities concerning the situation of prisoners of conscience, etc., in those countries. As we are aware, Michael Hodgman exercised the initiative of visiting refugee camps in Papua New Guinea and his personal report gives us first hand knowledge of the serious situation confronting the Melanesian refugees from West Irian. I hope that other Senators and MP's will be able to report to the Group, concerning similar approaches.
Sri Lanka. During a three day visit to Colombo and Kandy, I had some opportunity of meeting government representatives and private organizations and discussed the continual serious communal situation in Sri Lanka. I met and lunched with the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr.Tyronne Fernando and the Minister for Local Development, and a number of their officials. They expressed a confident view that the security situation was under control and that negotiations between the Singalese majority and the Tamil minority would continue. I had reason to doubt such assertions. The negotiations between Singalese and Tamil representatives have proceeded very slowly since the communal violence of July 1983 and appeared to be now stalled.
I also had discussions with Dr Neelan Tiruchelvam, an able lawyer and representative of the Tamil United Liberation Front in the Parliament (the Tamil Opposition has now withdrawn from the Parliament) and also with Father Paul Casperz, a Jesuit priest in Kandy. He is the President of the Movement for International Justice and Equity, which appears to be the only organization, in the south, now endeavouring to effect a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
It was reliably put to me that the situation is complicated by the fact that the Singalese majority (approximately 80%) are a majority with a minority complex. Facing them across a narrow strait, are 40-50 million Tamil Nadu people of India who give some support to Tamil sections. On the other hand the Sri Lankan Tamils are a minority with a majority complex for the same reason, and expect support from these Indian compatriots. Many of the smaller Indian Tamil groups (mainly plantation workers) were denied Sri Lankan citizenship and many have been forcibly repatriated to India.
Sri Lanka is suffering from communal disasters which have broken out frequently and it is clear the Government is embarrassed by it in its foreign relations. Trade and tourism have languished and the economic condition of the Tamils is bad. Language discrimination is prevalent and communal differences are now exploited even at a school level.
I was reminded very much of the situation in Zimbabwe where we now see a majority government turning to violent activities and thereby jeopardizing the economic success of that young nation.
The Sri Lankan Government must be persuaded to compromise by granting devolution of power in Tamil areas on a generous basis.
While Australian trade and contacts have tended to dwindle in recent years, I believe the Australian Government could play a useful role. We are respected there and I believe the Foreign Minister, Mr Hayden, should pay an early visit and try to pressure the Sri Lankan Government into realistic and early compromise.
While the first anniversary of the July 1983 riots passed without the feared disaster, the situation is most tense and constant violent incidents are occurring. The army appears to be weak and given to unstable and violent reactions to provocation. The deaths and destruction of cities in recent days appears to confirm the fears expressed to me at the time of my visit.
I ascertained from Sri Lankan officials that most of the persons alleged to be responsible for the deaths and destruction of Tamil property in 1983 had not yet been brought to trial. I obtained figures that some 500 or more were to be tried but court delays have meant that none had yet been tried. I urged a speeding up so that justice could be seen to be done.
I left Sri Lanka most concerned that the terrible breaches of human rights of 1983 could well, be repeated. Sri Lanka managed to stave off a United Nations investigation of the July 1983 violence by promises that have not been kept and other democratic nations should bring pressure to avoid the further outbreaks of communal hatreds that threaten and that will lead to further destruction of human rights. A number of documents made available to me by the Sri Lankan Government and by Tamil Groups in London, are available for your inspection…."
Update Report by Senator Alan Missen - Delivered to the Emergency Committee on Sri Lanka formed under the auspices of SIFEC, at Rome, 30th June 1985
Following my visit to Sri Lanka in June 1984 as Chairman of the Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International (and the report then presented), I decided to spend three days in Sri Lanka on the way to the meeting of the Emergency Committee on Sri Lanka in Rome. I also added to it one day for talks in Madras with leaders of the TULF (Tamil party) now in exile. In this assessment I assume awareness of the contents of an excellent background paper presented by the Secretary-General, Martin Ennals, to the meeting.
The immediate interest is in talks between the warring parties to be held shortly in Bhutan - coinciding with the present cease-fire or "cessation of hostilities" - which have been arranged by the initiative of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister.
It should be stressed that there have been a number of deaths on both sides since the coming into place of the cease-fire: These may have been reported in the outside press but they have only partly been reported in the Sri Lanka press. Evidence indicates that some such incidents were caused by Sri Lankan military forces in the Eastern area (an area of particular difficulty) and that some other attacks are apparently attributable to Tamil groups that are not among the major bodies that will be in the negotiations at Bhutan. The lessening of tension and restoration of transport between North and South coming into force at the moment following the cease-fire, adds to the incentive for a peaceful solution.
While there is a perceptible easing of violence and some signs of moderation on both sides, I do not regard the short three months' cease-fire as encouraging. There is considerable cynicism on the part of Tamils that the cease-fire might mainly be used by the Sri Lankan Government as a device for obtaining war supplies from the United States of America, Pakistan and South Africa to resume the aim of a military solution. A gesture, like the release of Mrs. Bandaranaike from the loss of her civic rights, and the full involvement of the Bandaranaike section in the Bhutan Conference would do a lot, in my opinion, to show the genuineness of the Government in its commitment to securing Sinhala support for a full settlement.
There is exhaustion on both sides, but the action of the President and his advisers in proclaiming an end of violence by the end of the year, in claiming success (and thereby keeping his Sinhalese Opposition, the Bandaranaikes, out of the action and uninformed), and the constant threat of immigration on a substantial scale by Sinhalese in Tamil areas do not look good omens for success.
We must work on the basis that the cease-fire is a short opportunity to be seized, that pressure must be brought to bear and that, if it fails, the subsequent position will be considerably worse and cynicism and extreme forces may well take over.
People interviewed during the visit:
o Australian High Commissioner Bob Cotton, who arranged many interviews at short notice.
o Neelan Tiruchelvem , remaining ex-MP (Tamil), lawyer and spokesman for TULF in Colombo.
o Chief Justice Sharvananda, a Tamil, recently appointed Chief Justice.
o Anura Bandaranaike, leader of the SLFP Opposition, Mrs. Bandaranaike still being out of the country at the moment, and still dispossessed of civil rights.
o Luncheon guests arranged by the Australian High Commissioner including Canadian High Commissioner, Apostolic Delegate Monsignor Di Paulo, newspaper men, etc. Later interviews were arranged with Mr.Desmond Fernando, the President of the Human Rights Movement of Sri Lanka, and Frank Jayasinghe, the Executive-Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, and Foreign Minister Hameed.
o In Madras I saw Mr.A.Amirthalingam, leader of the TULF, and important members of the TULF - Mr.Chandrahasan, Mr.Chellin, and Mr. Thangathurai, who recently came seeking refuge, MP for Trincomalee District.
I also had the opportunity of speaking briefly with the Australian Foreign Minister, Bill Hayden, before leaving Australia and, in more detail, with his staff about his recent visit to Sri Lanka. I .also had the opportunity of talking to many Australian aid organizations on the subject.
I shall not refer, in this report, to specific proposals made by individuals, for obvious reasons, but will raise matters that 1 consider were responsibly put forward in discussion of a possible settlement and the part which this Committee could play in its achievement.
General Statement of Attitudes (Based upon the interviews)
Many present day irrelevancies cloud this debate: Who settled Sri Lanka first? Whether there were independent Tamil Kingdoms in the first place? A great deal of recrimination takes place over the progress of ethnic relations since Independence. None of the political parties is seen to have a good record of consistency, and politics, played by one faction shaping Sinhala opinion over the others, has led to the failure of successive election promises. The intransigence of the Buddhist clergy and the Tamil rebels in recent years has worsened the situation, giving excuses for retaliation leading to the undermining of moderate leadership on both sides.
The abandonment of the Tamil idea of a state or provincial authority and the demand, since 1975, for 'Tamil Eelam' or a separate state, which, while economically is just feasible, is clearly unacceptable to Sinhala opinion, and would have enormous ramifications of long borders and general economic cost. It would deprive Tamils of their opportunity for wider service in the Sri Lankan State. Among moderate forces in the community, particularly in the Human Rights Movement, the inter-religious social activity led by Father Caspersz, a Jesuit priest, and the work of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, all create a broad base for sensible living relations between Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Moor and Burgher communities in building a multi-cultural society. Unfortunately, the forces of envy and prejudice have so far proved too strong.
I am already concerned at the real dangers of the President's truculent attitude expressed in his interview given to "The Sun" of the 26th June 1985, which he believes will solve the problem. He is insisting that he will carry his undisclosed terms through the rather unrepresentative Parliament. (It is true that he has in his pocket the "resignation" of each Government MP, but there is real danger that the Opposition may call on the support of strong Buddhist clergy In the country to upset these ideas).
The necessity for a real consensus seems to escape the leadership. The Bandaranaike forces must be joined in the talks and enjoy some of the kudos of any successful outcome.
There is at present some doubt as to whether the proposed settlement will address itself to the real issues: Foreign Minister Hameed claims that matters were 95% solved at the constitutional talks last year. The calling off of these talks is a matter of buck-passing between the parties, but clearly the Sinhala clergy and MPs would not accept the President's earlier proposals.
Talk of devolution must be defined. If the President has in mind only the cosmetic District Development Councils without real financial power or the right to consolidate into Provincial Councils (with the powers of the Indian or Australian States), then this is no solution. It is believed that the Government may go so far, if pushed, to obtain a settlement. This seems to be a view held among Tamil sources. Whether the settlement will be subject to a referendum (which Foreign Minister Hameed doubts) remains to be seen. If it is to be carried by referendum and not subject to abolition by any subsequent governments, then obviously a very good selling job must be undertaken to persuade the Sinhala electorate.
A real settlement requires a substantive change of attitude on both sides, and a restoration of enforceable civil liberties (jointly built in with some of the Australian human rights safeguards recommended by Professor. Weeramantry, the Australian scholar of Sri Lankan origin, who has recently been in Sri Lanka).
Such a settlement must face up to major issues such as control of law and order by Provincial forces, control of immigration, control of land tenure in the hands of Provincial forces. (This is a subject of real disquiet, heightened by threatened settlement of Sinhalese in Tamil lands, and the development of the Mahaweli water scheme without changing the ethnic balance of communal forces in the Eastern Zone). The right to the use of all the national languages, education system, etc., will need to be clarified.
I am constantly reminded of the assessment of the situation made by Father Paul Caspersz to me in Kandy last year. The majority Sinhalese, though an overwhelming majority in numbers, suffer from a minority complex. They have an exaggerated fear of India, particularly of the 50 million Tamil Nadu residents a very few miles away.
They are easily roused by the necessity of preserving their Buddhist Sinhala way of life, are afraid of the Tamils who, after all, have lived side by side with them for over one thousand years yet they see them and describe them as "foreign" Tamils. They see the use of language as a method of achieving equality or superiority in their own land.
On the other hand, the Tamils, particularly the Sri Lankan Tamils as distinct from the more recently arrived Indian Tamils (the estate workers) who hold a very tenuous position, have a majority complex though a small number (less than 13% of the total population. They place too heavy a reliance on India to protect them and Tamil "Tigers" or guerillas see violence as a successful way of attracting world (and Indian) attention. It leads them to advocate Tamil Eelam as a separate state and has led to a decline in the support for moderate Tamil leadership.
The present realism and intervention of India can only help to solve the tension and, one hopes, solve the real problems of living together on one island. Cyprus stands as the other and most impractical solution of a problem of two people cohabiting one small island, backed by military force.
Attitude of Government and Officials
The attempt to keep down the number of industrious Tamils in the Government's service, in law and medicine, etc., and the use of the language (Sinhala) to achieve this has led to a burning resentment by Tamil youth. The system of Sri Lankan democracy leaves much to be desired, with harsh laws, similar to South Africa's, muzzling of the local press and intolerance of minorities (one both sides), a system of Presidential control, the extraordinary one-sided nature of the voting system - the one-sided Parliament made worse by forcing out the Tamil MP's - and the long-extended term of Parliament - all make for an unhealthy form of "democracy". The rise of violence has been consistent and in the last year the number of civilians killed by Tamil guerillas rose to over 250 (from 12 the previous year) showing a constant growth. The failure of the French in Algeria and the USA in Vietnam to defeat guerilla forces - though many times superior in numbers and fire-power-must be a constant lesson as to the folly of a military solution.
The disastrous effect on aid programs (nations are unwilling to provide money when it cannot be spread evenly in Tamil areas), the collapse of tourism, and the bad name gained by Sri Lanka throughout the democratic world are obviously of worry to Sri Lankan authorities. Not sufficient worry for them to reply to or attempt remedies for any of the Reports of Lawasia, International Commission of Jurists, International Amnesty, and the British Parliamentary Human Rights Group, to name a few organizations making serious allegations concerning human rights violations over recent years. Sri Lankan leaders complain bitterly about distortion in the foreign press, but make no attempt to answer allegations or to allow them to be reported in the local media.
The rising tide of violence from an undisciplined army whose excesses are not punished, and whose offending officers have on some occasions been promoted by Government, and from the counter-punching by Tamil extremists makes the prospects of a quick settlement rather remote. International pressure must be brought to bear to create a change of attitude by all parties. Undertakings I was given last year by Foreign Office officials and public servants engaged in human rights that legal delays would be overcome and trials would proceed, have not been honoured. The rule of law is under serious challenge and the Supreme Court plays but a minor part in enforcing constitutional guarantees.
I have discussed with various authorities certain international action that ought to be taken and suggest the present (non-exclusive) conclusions. (Outside the Government, action along these lines is warmly supported by many of my interviewees. In this sense international involvement is desirable, probably crucial to securing realistic solutions during the three months period of cease-fire)
1. UN Commission on Human Rights. Approximately 18 months ago the Sri Lankan delegation turned aside a suggestion of intervention by this Commission by promises, many of which have not been attended to. Further attempts to involve the UN Commission have been unsuccessful.
I believe the SIFEC organization should take every step to see that the events in Sri Lanka are investigated and, more importantly, that a high-powered delegation should go to Sri Lanka, consult all parties, and use the international machinery to secure compliance with the human rights commitments of the Government. The last resolution before the Commission was not seconded. I hope that Australia, as a member of the Commission, will now see the wisdom of pressing for international inquiry and arbitration.
2. The work of International Red Cross and other non-government organizations must be allowed inside Sri Lanka. While thousands are homeless and injured, and 150,000 Sri Lankan citizens have fled abroad, it is inexcusable that International Red Cross is denied entry, particularly in view of recent deaths and burnings in the Eastern Zone where citizens survive in incredible squalor. Other non-government organizations, including aid and Church groups (and particularly Buddhist groups) should be encouraged to enter the country and play their part. Sponsored visits, including a visit by this Committee, should be undertaken and by business and trade union leaders who should investigate the scene.
3. Aid programs. Despite the resistance of aid giving countries to be involved in internal racial matters, the fact is that they are so engaged in Sri Lanka and their aid is assisting the myopic attitude of the Sri Lankan authorities. The world banking group should be encouraged to take a more realistic view of what they are doing. Pressure by India, USA, Japan, and West Germany, all responsible aid givers or powers concerned in the success of Sri Lanka, should use their good offices to intervene.
4. Support for local human rights groups. Members of such groups in other countries should assist organizations in Sri Lanka working for human rights, legal aid, and in ethnic studies. Independent assessment of the extent of the denial of human rights is called for.
5. Peace keeping force. While this offends the susceptibilities of the Sri Lankan government, the raising of an International Force to re-establish law and order and confidence in police obligations may be necessary on a temporary basis. At the very least, the Commitment of India and international bodies to the permanence of the settlement is an essential prerequisite to success.
6. The use of a mediator or mediators should be offered in facilitating moves towards a workable state and a restoration of confidence by all sections of the population.
7. Overseas refugees. Action must be taken to secure the return to their country of most if not all of the 150,000 Tamil Sri Lankan citizens displaced by communal violence. It will require that they be accompanied by Indian or other international persons to secure their return without victimization.
8. The folly of racial violence. Its part in the break-down of a working democracy in Sri Lanka, and the enormous economic cost, must be brought sharply home to the people of Sri Lanka of all backgrounds, and this three months breathing space used by responsible world leaders and world human rights bodies in achieving a lasting solution.
Senator for Victoria
(Chairman - Australian Parliamentary Amnesty Group)
Encs. July, 1985
1.The President Junius R. Jayewardene's rather truculent statement reported in "The Sun" of 26.6.85 is some evidence of this.
2. Evidence of non involvement of International Red Cross is contained in the attached letter from the Australian Red Cross Society dated 20th March 1985.
3. Evidence contained in telex from the Tamil Information Centre, London, dated 16th July1985.