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Home > Tamil Eelam Struggle for FreedomInternational Frame & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United Kingdom >  International Federation of Tamils to United Kingdom Prime Minister, Rt.Hon. John Major

united kingdom
& the Struggle for Tamil Eelam

International Federation of Tamils to
Rt.Hon. John Major, United Kingdom Prime Minister

24 July 1993

Rt.Hon John Major
Prime Minister,
Downing Street,
London W1

Rt.Hon Prime Minister,

Remembering the July ’83 violence against
the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka

On this Tenth Anniversary of the July ’83 genocidal attack on the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka, we write to seek your support for the call made by 15 non governmental human rights organisations, in February this year, for international recognition of the Tamil right to self determination.

Ten years ago, the International Commission of Jurists condemned the July ’83 violence against the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka and said:

"The evidence points clearly to the conclusion that the violence of the Sinhala rioters on the Tamils amounted to acts of genocide.’’

In March 1984, the late Paul Sieghart Q.C , Chairman of British Justice commented, after a mission to Sri Lanka:

"( The July ’83 violence) was not a spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred among the Sinhala people - nor was it, as has been suggested in some quarters, a popular response to the killing of 13 soldiers in an ambush by Tamil Tigers on the previous day, which was not even reported in the newspapers until after the riots began. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with a concerted plan, conceived and organised well in advance. But who were the planners?..."

In the United Kingdom in July 1984, on the first anniversary of the July ’83 genocidal attack, David Alton MP, Paddy Ashdown MP, Norman Atkinson MP, Tony Banks MP, Prof John Barret, Kevin Barron MP, Alan Beith MP, Tony Benn MP, Gerry Berningham M.P., Prof Tom Bottomore, Sydney Bidwell MP, Malcolm Bruce MP, Dale Campbell-Savours MP, Dennis Canavan MP, Alex Carlile MP, Tom Clarke MP, Bob Clay MP, Anne Clwyd MP, Harry Cohan MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Ron Davis MP, Eric Deakins MP, Alf Dubs MP, Professor Michael Dummet, Derek Fatchett MP, Mark Fisher MP, Martin Flannery MP, Roy Hattersley MP, Michael Foot MP, Simon W.H. Hughes MP, Lord Jenkins, Russel Johnston MP, Sir David Lane, Robert Kilroy Silk MP, Archy Kirkwood MP, Ted Knight, Terry Lewis MP, Bob Litherland MP, Ken Livingstone, Tony Lloyd MP, Eddie Loyden MP, Max Madden MP, Joan Maynard MP, Willie McKelvy MP, Bill Michie MP, Dr.Paul Noone, Bob Parry MP, Alan Roberts MP, Ernie Roberts MP, Allan Rogers MP, Aubrey Rose, Ernie Ross MP, Steven Ross MP, Clare Short MP, Dennis Skinner MP, Prof Peter Townsend, Jim Wallace MP, Gareth Wardell MP, Dafydd Wigley MP and many others, called for an international commission of inquiry into the July 1983 violence against the Tamils, and declared in the Guardian:

"(In July 1983)...(Tamils) were beaten, hacked and burnt to death in a frenzy of racial hatred ... Their houses and businesses were selectively looted and destroyed. The Sri Lankan government has admitted that the violence was pre planned and well organised and that even sections of the security forces joined in the attack against the Tamils. 53 Tamil detainees held in a maximum security prison were brutally killed on July 25th and July 27th. Yet to date no impartial inquiry into these violent attacks has taken place... Amnesty International (AI) and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have also reported on a number of cases of torture and death in custody of persons detained incommunicado for periods upto 18 months under the Sri Lankan Prevention of Terrorism Act. ‘No legislation conferring remotely comparable powers is in force in any other free democracy... such a provision is an ugly blot on the statute book of any civilised country’(ICJ). The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution has virtually disenfranchised the country’s 3 million Tamils by reason of the ban imposed on their political parties. This Amendment according to the ICJ, ‘constitutes a clear violation by Sri Lanka of its obligations in international law’... We are of the opinion:

* that an impartial international commission should be set up to inquire into the violence against the Tamils in July 1983 including the killing of 53 Tamil detainees held in custody by the government...

*that the Prevention of Terrorism Act should be repealed...

* that the use of torture and incommunicado detention in violation of Sri Lanka’s obligations under International Covenants should be discontinued...

* that the Sri Lankan government should repeal the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution and take meaningful steps to arrive at a political solution... by the granting of the legitimate rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka."

In March 1986, Senator A.L.Missen, then Chairman of the Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International declared in the Australian Senate:

"Some 6000 Tamils have been killed altogether in the last few years...These events are not accidental. It can be seen that they are the result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Sri Lankan government...Democracy in Sri Lanka does not exist in any real sense. The democracy of Sri Lanka has been described in the following terms, terms which are a fair and accurate description:

‘The reluctance to hold general elections, the muzzling of the opposition press, the continued reliance on extraordinary powers unknown to a free democracy, arbitrary detention without access to lawyers or relations, torture of detainees on a systematic basis, the intimidation of the judiciary by the executive, the disenfranchisement of the opposition, an executive President who holds undated letters of resignation from members of the legislature, an elected President who publicly declares his lack of care for the lives or opinion of a section of his electorate, and the continued subjugation of the Tamil people by a permanent Sinhala majority, within the confines of an unitary constitutional frame, constitute the reality of ‘democracy’, Sri Lankan style.’"

Today, ten years after the July ’83 genocidal attack, no inquiry, leave alone an impartial one, has been held into the admittedly planned violence against the Tamil people. The Prevention of Terrorism Act remains an ugly blot on Sri Lanka’s statute book and the Sixth Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution continues in force, unrepealed.

The gross consistent and continuing violations of the rights of the Tamil people, by the Sri Lankan government and its agencies, have been well documented by innumerable reports of human rights organisations and independent observers of the Sri Lankan scene and we send you herewith a publication which brings together extracts from some of these reports. The record shows:

that the attack on the human rights of the Tamil people commenced more than forty years ago;

that the attack was initially resisted by the Tamil people by non violent means together with a parliamentary campaign for a federal constitution;

that this non violent resistance was met with planned Sinhala violence directed to subjugate the Tamil people to the will of a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of an unitary state;

that the armed resistance of the Tamil people arose as a defence against decades of oppressive rule by an alien Sinhala majority;

that international law recognises that the armed resistance of the Tamil people is lawful and just;

that Sri Lanka has committed systematic violations of the humanitarian law of armed conflict in its effort to quell the armed resistance of the Tamil people;

that Sri Lanka’s sustained attack on the Tamil people amounts to genocide;

that international law recognises the combatant status of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who today lead the struggle of the Tamil people for national self determination ;

that the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland continues to be defended by the Tamil people against the planned and determined attacks of the Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka government; and

that Sri Lanka’s continued refusal to recognise the claim of the Tamil people to the right to self determination constitutes a continuing breach by Sri Lanka of a peremptory norm of international law.

Here, may we add that the alleged sporadic violations of the humanitarian law of armed conflict by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, though not to be condoned, cannot take away from the legitimacy of the armed struggle that it leads. Moreover due to the asymmetric nature of such armed conflicts, the government controls the state machinery and all that goes with it, including the administration of justice, whereas the other party to the armed conflict is significantly worse off in terms of material resources at its command. We note that in a statement in 1992, the International Secretariat of the LTTE has reiterated the commitment of the LTTE to securing the rule of law in the Tamil homeland and declared:

‘‘ In so far as the alleged violations of human rights in areas within the control of the LTTE are concerned, we would like to point out, at the outset, that whilst it is true that the LTTE is in control of territory in the Northeast, the extent and nature of that control is not the same in all parts of the Northeast.’’

‘‘ In some areas, the control exercised by the LTTE is not exclusive and in certain areas, control changes from day to night - and sometimes from day to day. Further, even in those areas within the control of the LTTE, the character of the control exercised by a guerilla organisation, which is in the process of establishing an administrative structure, cannot be equated to the control exercised in a well established state structure, such as Sri Lankan state, in areas within the latter’s control.’’

‘‘The reality on the ground is that the lawful armed struggle of the Tamil people is taking place under conditions of unbelievable hardship. On the one hand the Sri Lanka Army seeks to occupy the Tamil homeland by launching offensive operations and planned massacres of civilians, which has assumed genocidal proportions. The Air Force continues with its indiscriminate bombardment.

On the other hand, an economic blockade has been imposed to secure military ends. Again, emergency regulations which prohibit the transport of ‘soya based food, sweets and confectionery’ to LTTE controlled areas on the ground that such items are ‘capable of being used in a manner harmful to national security’ have been stringently enforced. The conclusion is inescapable that the Sri Lanka Government is engaged in a determined effort to starve out the Tamil people and bend them to its will.’’

‘‘Well armed Sinhala settlers have been brought into border areas and housed in fortified settlements. Sinhala and Muslim ‘Home Guards’ have been trained and armed by the Government and function as a para military force. The attacks by the LTTE on these para military forces and armed settlers are then sometimes falsely described as attacks on ‘civilians’. Some Tamil groups are actively engaged along with the Government forces and have been sent to infiltrate the areas within LTTE control and gather intelligence and it has become necessary to apprehend such spies.’’

‘‘However, despite these conditions of hardship, in several areas the LTTE has succeeded in establishing a stable civil administration.. The rule of law will be secured in the Tamil homeland.The LTTE has taken steps to ensure that the fundamental principles of natural justice are followed in all matters relating to punishment... In 1988, the LTTE pledged to abide by the Geneva Conventions relating to armed conflict, and its Additional Protocols. The LTTE is mindful of its obligations as a combatant in an armed conflict which has won recognition in international law and the LTTE does recognise the importance of acting, at all times, in accordance with the humanitarian law of armed conflict. It has taken care to instruct its cadres accordingly and breaches in this regard are inquired into and suitable punishment meted out.’’

An year ago in February 1992, a Canadian Human Rights Mission led by the Very Rev Dr. Lois Wilson, immediate past President of the World Council of Churches,and including Mr. Pierre Duquette, Legal Counsel to the former Minister of State for Immigration, Gerry Weiner; Ms. Marian Botsford Fraser, member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Centre of International PEN; Ms. Beryl Gaffney, M.P. and Liberal Party critic for Human rights; Dr.Kenneth Kuhn, Executive Director of the Lutheran’s Church Division for Church and Society; Mr.Peter McCreath, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of State for Finance and Privatisation ; Mr. Svend Robinson,M.P., and New Democratic party spokesperson on External Affairs and International Human Rights; and Dr.Stephen Toope, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at the Faculty of Law at the University of McGill with Robin Gibson, Chairperson of the Consultative Committee on Human Rights of the Canadian Council of Churches as Secretary reported, after a visit to Sri Lanka:

‘‘Human rights violations continue to occur in Sri Lanka at an alarming rate... Most distressing was the failure of the government to acknowledge the level of human rights abuses occurring in the country...It was apparent to team members that many Tamils are genuinely grateful for the protection provided to them by the LTTE...’’

Again in August 1992, at the 44th Sessions of the Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities at Geneva, twenty Non Governmental Organisations including the International Commission of Jurists, the American Association of Jurists, and the Arab Organisation for Human Rights declared:

‘The Sub-Commission first adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka in 1984 following extensive testimony regarding communal violence against the Tamils. The Commission on Human Rights has also responded, most notably in its resolution 1987/61 in which it called upon the parties to the conflict to comply with humanitarian norms. The Commission rapporteurs on torture and summary execution as well as the Working Group on Disappearances have also been compelled to address the grave situation in Sri Lanka annually for a number of years. In 1991 the Working group visited Sri Lanka, and in UN Doc. E/CN 4/1992/18/ Add.1 reported truly alarming statistics on disappearances in all parts of the country.’’

‘‘As a result of this evidence, and also in response to compelling evidence of widespread humanitarian law violations, on 27 February 1992 the Commission read out a statement of "serious concern". The statement once again called upon all parties "to respect fully the universally accepted rules of humanitarian law" and urged negotiations "based on the principles of human rights and fundamental freedoms, leading to a durable peace in the north and east of the country."

‘‘Regrettably, the Sri Lankan government has not seriously responded to the many proposals for cease-fire and peace talks, even when presented by other concerned governments. We are disappointed at the recent rejection by the Sri Lankan government of the Canadian Human Rights Mission, composed of members of Parliament, religious leaders, a lawyer and a journalist as a mediating body. This was followed by a failure to respond to an offer by the government of Sweden to mediate.... ’’

More recently, a few months ago, in February 1993, at the 49th Sessions of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, 15 non governmental organisations (NGOs) including Pax Christie International, the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, Centre Europe Tiers Monde, International Educational Development, the International Organisation for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination and the World Confederation of Labour, expressed their deep and grave concern at the continuing armed conflict in the island and declared that

*"any meaningful attempt to resolve the conflict should address its underlying causes and recognise that the armed struggle of the Tamil people for self determination, arose as a response to decades of an ever widening and deepening oppression by a permanent Sinhala majority, within the confines of an unitary Sri Lankan state"; and further that

*"there is an urgent need for the international community to recognise that the Tamil population in the North - East of the island of Sri Lanka are a ‘people’ with the right to freely choose their political status."

We believe that your Government’s open support for the views expressed by these 15 NGOs together with the support of other influential sections of international opinion will pave the way for the resolution of a conflict which has taken an increasingly heavy toll in human lives and suffering during the past ten years and more. On this tenth anniversary of the July ’83 genocidal attack on the Tamil people in the island of Sri Lanka, we seek your support for the call made by 15 non governmental human rights organisations for international recognition of the Tamil right to self determination.

Yours sincerely,

Secretary,

International Federation of Tamils

 
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