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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of  Struggle for Tamil Eelam > United States & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > A Response to US Ambassador Wills, from Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, Jaffna

United States & the struggle for Tamil Eelam

A Response to US Ambassador Wills
from Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies
100 Rasavinthoddam Road, Jaffna, Eelam
6 April 2001

[see also: (1) Annotated text of ' Observations on Sri Lanka's Conflict' - E. Ashley Wills, United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka; (2) An Open Letter to the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka  by S.Sivanayagam, formerly Editor Saturday Review and (3) US and us by Pathma Naban]



His Excellency the Ambassador for the United States of America,
Colombo,
Sri Lanka.

Your Excellency,

This letter refers to your press release delivered at the Jaffna Public Library on March 7th.

First of all, we would like to express our utter disappointment over it. Your speech absolutely misrepresents the nature of the Tamil people’s quest for Eelam, undermining the legitimacy of the quest and ignoring the complexity of its historical background.

It was badly timed as it condemned the LTTE at a time when the LTTE were expressing their goodwill to work towards a negotiated settlement to the conflict by extending their unilateral declaration of cease-fire and co-operating with the Norwegian peace efforts. We were also disappointed that those invited to the talk were not given time to raise questions at the same formal forum. All in all, you gave the impression of echoing the voice of the Sri Lankan Government.

Though there are many points in your speech that we would like to controvert, we shall confine ourselves to the more salient points.

Let us take your statement, “...we reject the idea of an independent Tamil state carved out of Sri Lankan territory.”

This statement fails to take into account the complex history of the island. To make this point clear, let us use the former name of the island “Ceylon”. Both peoples, the Sinhalese and the Tamils, have shared the island of Ceylon for centuries in the form of separate, sovereign kingdoms. The struggle of the Tamil people for Eelam is only a struggle to regain its own territory and sovereignty, not a claim for any part of Sri Lankan territory. It was only in 1833, thirty-one years after the island was ceded to the British by the Treaty of Amiens, that the Tamil Kingdom was merged by them with the rest of the island to form one administrative unit for reasons of administrative facility. Until then it had been treated as a separate political units even by the Portuguese, the first of the Western colonial powers, and later by the Dutch. 

Here are two important documentary evidences of the western colonial authorities. The letter written in June 1799 by Sir Hugh Cleghorn, Secretary to the first Governor of British Ceylon, to the British Government states:

“ Two different nations from a very ancient period have divided between them the possession of the Island. First the Sinhalese, inhabiting the interior of the country in its Southern and Western parts, from the river Wallouve to that of Chilaw, and secondly the Malabars (Tamils) who possess the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners.”

The second, an official document, is the map of Ceylon attached to the Treaty of Amiens. This map, called the Arrow Smith map of Ceylon, clearly shows the distinct territories of the Sinhalese and the Tamils. (Annex.1)

We submit that colonisation was a violation of sovereignty and the merger of 1833 was a violation of territorial integrity of the separate kingdoms.

It is argued by some that Tamils have no right of claim over any part of the island since the Sinhalese were the first to colonise it. Regrettably, these historians have not weaned themselves of myths and legends. They need to make their study more scientific by testing it against recent archaeological research. Interestingly, such research over the last three decades has established that the prehistoric people of the island were of the same ethnicity as the people of South India (Tamil) and their Iron Age megalithic culture dates back to - not later than - 900 BC according to the C14 dating. This precedes by centuries the Vijaya legend, which is alleged to mark the beginnings of the Sinhalese as a distinct nation, and establishes the original inhabitants of the island as Tamils. This is also corroborated by some Sinhala historians who contend that Sinhalsition is a religio-cultural colonisation rather than migration from North India.

It is clear, therefore, that we have been for centuries a sovereign nation, living in a distinct territory, with a language and culture of our own.

Hence it is not the case that we are an upstart minority community in a multi-racial country suddenly claiming a part of it. If one talks of “carving out”, it should be about the carving by the British, of one Government of Ceylon out of different independent nations, regardless of their will. (There is another kind of carving out that will be explained below). The quest for Eelam therefore is not a quest for any part of Sri Lankan (Sinhala) territory, but a regaining of Tamil territory. We may add that this quest for Eelam has been necessitated by the burgeoning anti-Tamil Sinhala chauvinism, as we shall presently see. 


From the status of “nation” to the status of “minority”

At the time of de-colonisation the British dealt another blow to the Tamils. They reduced us to the status of a “minority community” from that of a “nation”, by failing to restore to us our territory and nationhood. All that the Soulbury constitution - the Independence constitution - did was to enshrine Article 29, in the hope of safeguarding the rights of the “minorities”. It provided that:

“No ...law shall... make persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable or; ...confer on persons or any community or religion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities or religions.”

But before long, Lord Soulbury regretted it all. For in the wake of independence, the Sinhala Government disenfranchised the Tamils of the central highlands. As a result, the Tamils’ voting power in the legislature was reduced from 33 % at independence to 20%. Thus the Sinhala people enabled themselves to obtain more than a two-third majority in the parliament, depriving the Tamils of effective opposition to adverse Sinhala policies.

In order to get rid of Article 29, which placed a constitutional limit on government, the Sinhala political parties sought from the people, in the 1970 general elections, a mandate to do away with the dominion polity, to sever links with Britain and to establish the Republic of Sri Lanka. Only 4.8% of the voters in the northern province and 23% in the eastern province (including those of the Sinhala colonies) voted in favour. In other words, it was rejected by 86% of the voters in these provinces. Subsequently, when a new constitution was adopted in 1972 by a Constituent Assembly, composed of the sitting parliament acting outside the framework of the Soulbury constitution, the Tamil parties boycotted the Assembly because of its racially discriminatory stance. They did not participate in the 1978 constitution either.

Before we proceed with listing further discriminatory measures by the state, we need to advert to an important truth. Tamil leaders have argued that the polity of the Dominion of Ceylon was a conditional polity. Article 29, as held by the Privy Council, was an entrenched article making the constitution sovereign, not the parliament. The leader of the Sinhalese, Rt. Hon. D.S. Senanayake, gave a solemn assurance that the Article safeguarding the equal treatment of all communities would be duly respected.

The elimination of this article from the 1972 constitution, the rejection by the Tamils of the mandate sought by the Sinhala political parties in the 1970 general elections and the non-participation by the Tamil parties in the passing of the constitutions - all this negates legal validity to the Republic of Sri Lanka over Tamil territory. The Sinhala nation has no right of sovereignty over the Tamil section of the island. When links with Britain were severed, sovereignty reverted to the Tamil nation, which retains the right to opt out of the polity. 

We are therefore entitled to the right of self-determination enunciated in Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, even to the point of opting to be a separate sovereign nation. We retain this sovereignty regardless of de-colonisation by the British and any subsequent events. We have certainly not lost it to the Sinhala nation either by conquest or consent. 

It stands to reason, then, that to regard the Tamil people as a ‘minority community would be a category mistake, and would vitiate any analysis of or solution for the conflict in terms of “majority - minority”. The conflict is between two nations, where equality is not determined by numerical strength.

Sinhala Electorates carved out of Tamil Territory.

This is the other form of “carving out” taking place in the island.

Devious methods have been employed by the state to reduce the Tamils further into a minority. One of them is state-aided colonisation of Tamil territory with Sinhalese people. This has taken various forms: carving out Sinhala electorates within Tamil territory, annexing colonised land to Sinhala provinces, expansion of village schemes, regularisation of unauthorised occupation of state lands.

In a just democracy all this would be innocuous. But in a racially discriminatory majority rule, these have had disastrous consequences. The Tamils are reduced further to a minority within their own homeland. Their representation in parliament is also likely to be reduced. They are robbed of their land. The contiguity of their territory is disrupted and they are deprived of the security of their territorial haven in times of anti-Tamil pogroms.

Would you, who reject the idea of an independent Tamil state, approve of the above “carving out” in the context of a racially oppressive majority rule? 

The LTTE

Let us now turn to your statement, “... we regard the LTTE as a terrorist organisation.”

Here the relative merits and demerits of the two parties have to be considered, namely, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan State.

At the very outset we have to state that the LTTE is a creation by the State. Let us explain. 

Right form the time of de-colonisation, the Tamil leaders realised the threat to the Tamil nation posed by Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinism. Following the disenfranchisement mentioned earlier, the “Sinhala only” statutory act was passed in 1956, which made Sinhala the [ONLY] official language. This was done despite the warning by certain Sinhalese leaders themselves in the words “Two languages, one nation; one language two nations”. Subsequently this status was enshrined in the 1972 and 1978 constitutions. The special status conferred on Buddhism and the Sinhala language, rendered Tamil an inferior language and the Tamils an inferior people to the Sinhalese. In 1971 and 1972 the standardisation and district quota systems were introduced with regard to admission to the University

These measures severely curtailed the employment opportunities and social mobility of the Tamils.

Meanwhile colonisation was going on with the adverse effects described before. The Tamils asked for power sharing in the form of federalism, and thus, for internal self-determination only. They asked for due recognition to the Tamil language. Pacts were made between government and Tamil leaders to redress the grievances. But these were unilaterally broken by the Sinhala governments under pressure from racist extremism.

The Tamils struggled for their rights through non-violent demonstrations in the Ghandhyan style.

But the language of non-violence was misconstrued by the Sinhala people and governments as weakness. Their response took the form of violence. There were anti-Tamil riots in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1977, 1981 and 1983. Helpless civilians were hacked to death or doused with petrol and set alight. Their belongings were looted, and houses were set on fire. Some of these were pogroms organised by people close to the government. Law and order authorities remained idle or even participated in the mayhem. The 1977 riot was incited by a speech made by no less a person than President J.R. Jeyawardene himself.

State terrorism was unleashed in full strength in 1961 when the armed forces were deployed to the Tamil homeland.

The most horrendous atrocities have been committed by the armed machinery of the state: hundreds of arbitrary arrests, rape, torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances resulting in mass graves, as documented by various NGOs like Amnesty International. Sri Lanka reportedly ranks second in the world for its record on disappearances. The latest spate of this crime was under the present government, in 1996 and 1997.

The reaction of the Tamils to all this violence for nearly twenty-five years is described by the ICJ (International Commission of Jurists) report of 1984 in the following words:

“In many respects, the Tamils’ response to these events, and to the more chronic discrimination to which they feel subjected, has been remarkably restrained. One of the most striking features of the episodes of communal violence, for instance, has been the lack of retaliation by Tamils against the Sinhalese in their midst, with the result that virtually all the victims of each of these occasion have been Tamils.” (p.15)

But how long could the Tamils put up with such violence which amounted to genocide? Radicalisation was the result in the form of separatism and armed struggle.

Regrettably, the wisdom of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was unheeded by the State:

“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind... Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be respected.” (UNDR, Preamble)

Thus LTTE violence came about as a last resort defensive counter-violence to shameful barbarous acts, tyranny and oppression by the State.

State terrorism

The responsibility of the state for violence is not merely indirect in the sense that it is ultimately responsible for the crimes of its armed machinery. Rather, it is directly responsible for them because of its lack of serious will in dealing with the perpetrators and because of the enactment of draconian laws, which have facilitated torture and extra-judicial killings.

One aspect of these laws is of particular relevance to our point. It is the provision that empowers police officers of the rank of Assistant superintendent and above to dispose of bodies without post-mortem examination or inquest, and therefore to dispose of evidence of torture and extra-judicial killing. This provision was introduced by the previous government and tens of thousands of “disappearances” were committed. It was removed in 1990. Similar provisions were reintroduced by the present government even as recently as May 2000.

The point is, that knowing full well the incidence of torture, extra-judicial killings and disappearances, and being well aware of the illegitimacy and dangers of such provisions facilitating these crimes as warned by NGOs like Amnesty International and International Commission of Jurists, the State has not hesitated to enact them. This shows deliberate complicity in the said crimes and renders the State a terrorist-state.

Not democracy, but tyranny of the majority
In your country, the USA, democracy is the institutionalisation of freedom. In Sri Lanka it has become the institutionalisation of state terrorism (against the Tamils).

The USA holds that 

“...rule by the majority is not necessarily democratic... In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities - whether ethnic, religious or political... The rights of minorities do not depend upon the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote.” (What is Democracy, USIA 1992, p.5).

These defining characteristics of democracy have all been violated by Sri Lanka from independence.

The USA further holds that among the pillars of democracy are 

“... minority rights, guarantee of basic human rights, free and fair elections, equality before the law, due process of law, constitutional limits on government ....” (Ibid. p.6) and that “inalienable rights include freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and conscience, freedom of assembly and the right to equal protection before the law... constitute the core rights that any democratic government must uphold.” (P.8)

But these are all flouted by Sri Lanka, in respect of the Tamil people, enacting the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations for its oppressive purposes.

We certainly do not approve of any “terrorist” activity by the LTTE. But we do contend that if the LTTE deserves the epithet ‘terrorist’, then it is applicable to the Sri Lankan State several times over. Hence it is that we find you and the international community using double standards, calling the LTTE “terrorist” but not the Sri Lankan State.

Viewed from this relative perspective, what would be your verdict on the LTTE?

When in the 1977 elections the TULF decided to run on the platform of independent Tamil Eelam, the Tamil nation voted en masse for the party. It is the LTTE that has been faithful in the pursuit of this mandate of the Tamil nation. It is the LTTE that has had the courage and determination to stand up to the Sri Lankan state and its triple armed machinery, and even to the might and pressure of super-powers. It is the LTTE that governs itself with strict discipline and austerity. It is the LTTE that does not selfishly seek the enjoyment of political privileges, but solely the freedom of the Tamil nation. All that the LTTE braves expect as reward is the opportunity to lay down their life for the freedom of their people. If not for the LTTE, the Eelam Tamils would have long lost their dignity and identity.

If, therefore, Sri Lanka can be called a democratic state, then the LTTE deserves the title “freedom fighters” and, lately all but one of the Tamil political parties have been declaring that the LTTE should be recognised as the sole spokesman of the Tamil nation.


Your Messages

We now turn to your two messages to the LTTE. The first message is:

“If the LTTE is still fighting for Tamil Eelam, please accept that, that goal cannot be achieved”

This is a message we can’t convey because the message doesn’t carry validity, however dogmatically you might assert it. If Sri Lanka continues to be intransigent, the inevitable result might be the formation of Tamil Eelam. 

Your second message is:

“If the LTTE really cares about the Tamil people and about assuring their rights, giving up violence and negotiating are the way to go.”

But this message is curious as it is misdirected. It should rather read, “If the State really cares about the Tamil people and their rights, giving up violence and negotiating are the way to go”. In fact, if the state had cared for the Tamils, this message would not have been required.


Our Demand

Finally, we want a solution where numerical superiority will not be used as a weapon to oppress us and where, despite unequal numbers, we will be equal as one-to-one to any other nation. Hence it is that we are striving to regain our nationhood.

We do not want to be under a power that keeps robbing us of our dignity through all forms of violations of democratic rights; we want to re-establish our sovereignty.

We do not want to be “aliens” in our own land or always to be on the run like a pack of hunted animals. We want back our land.

Would the USA still hold that this aspiration of the Tamil people is unacceptable?

The upshot of the above considerations is that the Tamils in Ceylon are entitled to the right of self-determination, including the right to opt out of the racially oppressive Republic of Sri Lanka as a separate, independent state, and such a state is essential for the physical and cultural survival of the Tamils.

We conclude with the verdict of the 1981 report of the International Commission of Jurists: 

“The application of the principle of self-determination in concrete cases is difficult. It seems, nevertheless, that a credible argument can be made that the Tamil community in Sri Lanka is entitled for self-determination... What is essential is that the political status of the ‘people’ should be freely determined by the ‘people’ themselves”. (p.71).

We respectfully ask your Excellency to convey a message to your country and the international community: Please respect the right of the Tamil people to “freely determine their political status”.

Thank you.
Yours truly,

Sgd. President & Secretary

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