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INTERNATIONAL FRAME &
THE STRUGGLE for Tamil Eelam

Commonwealth & the Tamil Struggle

Appeal to Commonwealth Heads of Government
by International Federation of Tamils

20 October 1997

The International Federation of Tamils headquartered in Switzerland appealed on 20 October 1997, to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Edinburgh to give urgent attention to the Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam armed conflict which during the past two decades has caused much suffering and more than 70,000 deaths.


Text of Appeal

Your Excellency,

Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam Armed Conflict

The International Federation of Tamils (with constituent membership in many commonwealth countries including Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, India, and South Africa) appeals to you and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at Edinburgh to give your urgent attention to the Sri Lanka - Tamil Eelam armed conflict which during the past two decades has caused much suffering and more than 70,000 deaths.

2. On 9 April this year, at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a record number of 53 non governmental organisations, concerned with ending the Sri Lanka-Tamil Eelam war, called for the withdrawal of Sri Lanka's occupying forces from the Tamil homeland and for the recognition of 'the right of the Tamil people to choose their own political and national status'.

3. We urge the Commonwealth Heads of Government to extend their influential support to the call made by these non governmental organisations at the UN Commission on Human Rights.

4. Such support will fall within the 1991 Harare Commonwealth declaration, which reaffirmed the commitment of the member states to the 'individual's inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives' and their opposition to 'all forms of racial oppression'.

Reality of democracy in the island of Sri Lanka

5. In the island of Sri Lanka, the reality of the so called 'free and democratic political processes' was that no Tamil was ever elected to predominantly Sinhala electorate and no Tamil was ever elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate. Majority rule within the confines of an unitary state and the constraints of a third world economy served to perpetuate the oppressive rule of the Tamil people by a permanent Sinhala majority.

6. It was a permanent Sinhala rule, which through a series of legislative and administrative acts, ranging from disenfranchisement, and standardisation of University admissions, to discriminatory language and employment policies, and state sponsored colonisation of the homeland of the Tamil people, sought to consolidate its hegemony over the Tamil people.

7. These legislative and administrative acts were reinforced from time to time with physical attacks on the Tamil people, in 1956, in 1958, in 1961 and again in 1977, with intent to terrorise and intimidate them into submission.

8. The gross, consistent, and continuing violations of the rights of the Tamil people, by the Sri Lankan government and its agencies during the past several decades, include grave breaches of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Genocide Convention, and the Geneva Conventions relating to the humanitarian law of armed conflict. Sri Lanka's state terrorism has been well documented by several human rights organisations and independent observers as well as by eye witnesses.

9. It was this political reality which impelled 21 non governmental organisations to declare to the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities on 9 August 1995:

"During the past twelve years, the UN Commission on Human Rights and the Sub Commission have heard hundreds of statements expressing grave concern at the situation prevailing in the island of Sri Lanka. The record shows that it was the oppressive actions of successive Sri Lanka governments from as early as 1956 and in 1958, and again in 1961 and again with increasing frequency from 1972 to 1977 and culminating in the genocidal attacks of 1983 that resulted in the rise of the lawful armed resistance of the Tamil people."

10. Today, the Sri Lanka government has built up a massive 120,000 member armed force constituted almost exclusively of Sinhalese, and under Sinhala command and has allocated more than 20% of Sri Lanka's gross national product to its armed forces so that the genocidal attack on the Tamil people may continue.

Two peoples in the island

11. The further political reality is that there are two peoples in the island of Sri Lanka, the Tamil people and the Sinhala people. They speak two different languages, by and large profess different religions and occupy separate geographical areas. Each people trace their history to different origins. The two peoples were brought within the confines of one state for the first time in 1833 under British rule. The Tamil national identity is solidly rooted in the past, and has been consolidated by the struggle of the Tamil people to free themselves from Sinhala rule.

12. Fifteen non governmental organisations concluded in February 1993 at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva:

"... despite the sustained attacks of Sinhala dominated governments over a period of several decades, the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland in the North and East of the island has remained. The Tamil population in the North and East, who have lived for many centuries within relatively well defined geographical boundaries, share an ancient heritage, a vibrant culture, and a living language which traces its origins to more than 2500 years ago.

A social group, which shares objective elements such as a common language and which has acquired a subjective consciousness of togetherness, by its life within a relatively well defined territory, and its struggle against alien domination, clearly constitutes a 'people' with the right to self determination.

... there is an urgent need for the international community to recognise that the Tamil population in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka are such a 'people' with the right to freely choose their political status. It is our view that such recognition will prepare the ground for the resolution of a conflict which has taken such a heavy toll in human lives and suffering during the past several years."

Lawful armed resistance - not terrorism

13. The attempts made to stigmatise the Tamil struggle for freedom, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as 'terrorism' are but thinly veiled efforts to strike at that which the oppressor recognises only too well as the fundamental strength of the Tamil struggle - its moral legitimacy.

14. The cyanide capsule in the hands of the Liberation Tigers is not the expression of the simple minded willingness of a suicide to die. The liberation fighter values his life. But his willingness to give up that which he values so highly is but a measure of a fierce determination that cries out: 'I will not lose my freedom except with my life.'

15. It is this determination and this cry which has found an answering response in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people living in Tamil Eelam as well as the Tamil diaspora. And to say that is not to 'romanticise' the armed resistance of the Tamil people, nor to ignore the suffering that the Tamil people have undergone and continue to undergo in the defence of their homeland - it is to point out the bed rock on which Tamil resistance is built.

16. Some of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting at Edinburgh, having been called 'terrorists' themselves, during the days of their struggle for freedom, will recognise the attempt to categorise the Liberation Tigers as a 'terrorist' organisation for what it is - an attempt to taint the moral legitimacy of the Tamil struggle for freedom and in this way, further alien Sinhala rule of the Tamil homeland.

17. The words of an Indian nationalist, some ninety years ago in 1907, during India's struggle for freedom are not without relevance today:

'It is the common habit of established governments and especially those which are themselves oppressors, to brand all violent methods in subject peoples and communities as criminal and wicked. When you have disarmed your slaves and legalised the infliction of bonds, stripes, and death on any one of them who may dare to speak or act against you, it is natural and convenient to try and lay a moral as well as a legal ban on any attempt to answer violence by violence... But no nation yet has listened to the cant of the oppressor when itself put to the test, and the general conscience of humanity approves the refusal..."

Appeal to conscience

18. We appeal to you and the conscience of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at Edinburgh to reject the cant of the oppressor intent on legitimising his oppression and instead, extend open and public support for the views expressed by the 53 non governmental organisations at the UN Commission on Human Rights in April this year and call

1. for the withdrawal of Sri Lanka's occupying forces from the Tamil homeland; and

2. for the recognition of the right of the Tamil people to choose their own political and national status.

19. Peace and stability will not come to the island of Sri Lanka, by encouraging the rule of one people by another. Neither will it come by turning a blind eye to the continuing genocidal attack by Sri Lanka on the Tamil people. It is legitimisation and recognition that will pave the way for negotiation on an equal footing - and the resolution of an armed conflict which has taken an increasingly heavy toll in human lives and suffering during the past fifteen years and more.

Yours sincerely,
Coordinating Secretary,

International Federation of Tamils

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