Ten Questions that Mr.Cox may have asked
15 May 1984
|"The Government controlled Sri Lanka Daily News of the 16th of April 1984,
reported that Mr. Cox, a British Member of Parliament and his wife, who were on their way
to spend the Easter vacation with their son in Hongkong, had 'thought that this would be a
good opportunity to see what was happening in Sri Lanka.' They stayed in Sri Lanka 'for a
crowded week of travel and meetings with President Jayawardene, a number of Ministers and
Members of Parliament'.
Mr.Cox declared: 'It is only when you walk among the people
that you realise the truth. I saw a smiling people going about their daily duties in the
fullest confidence. I saw children playing wherever I went. In predominantly Tamil areas
where I went, the evidence of normalcy was the same.' We are reminded of the visits of
foreign dignitaries to Hitler's Germany during the early 1930s - they too saw smiling
people everywhere and they too were persuaded that the Jews were safe in Hitler's hands..."
Mr.Tom Cox is a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. He is also a member of the
Labour Party. On both counts, his views merit attention. The Government controlled Sri
Lanka Daily News of the 16th of April 1984, reported that Mr. Cox and his wife, who were
on their way to spend the Easter vacation with their son in Hongkong, had 'thought that
this would be a good opportunity to see what was happening in Sri Lanka.' Mr.Cox, again to
quote the Daily News, stayed in Sri Lanka 'for a crowded week of travel and meetings with
President Jayawardene, a number of Ministers and Members of Parliament'. Mr.Cox had
apparently come to see for himself. He declared:
'It is only when you walk among the people that you realise the truth. I saw a
smiling people going about their daily duties in the fullest confidence. I saw children
playing wherever I went. In predominantly Tamil areas where I went, the evidence of
normalcy was the same.'
We are reminded of the visits of foreign dignitaries to Hitler's Germany during the
early 1930s - they too saw smiling people everywhere and they too were persuaded that the
Jews were safe in Hitler's hands. Many of them were taken on conducted tours of ghettoes
which were set up 'for the benefit of the Jews' where the Jews lived in peace and joy -
and where, surprisingly, as it were, 'children were playing.'
Some were even granted interviews with Hitler and were impressed by his charm and
his intelligence. Others were secretly thrilled at the attention that they had received -
it was not altogether unpleasant to walk in the corridors of power.
In more recent times we have had tours conducted by the racist regime in South Africa
to persuade opinion makers in the United Kingdom that the blacks were being looked after,
in a fatherly sort of way in Nambibia and elsewhere, that this was in the interests of the
blacks themselves and that perhaps at some time in a convenient and distant future, the
blacks may even be treated as humans and accorded human rights.
But, then a conducted tour is sometimes a convenient way of seeing things for oneself
in a foreign land inhabited by a people who speak a foreign tongue, specially when time is
short, and when one has made a stop over, on the way, to Hongkong.
Mr.Cox sought to 'realise truth' by walking amongst the people of Sri Lanka. To use his
own words, 'it is only when you walk amongst the people that you realise the truth'. There
are ofcourse about 15 million people in Sri Lanka and Mr.Cox must have been compelled to
be selective. He stated that he did not go to the North of Sri Lanka. He declared:
"No, I did not go to North Sri Lanka. But the situation there, being created by
the terrorists, is I am sure, similar to what has been going on in Northern Ireland for
several years. Mr.Cox added complacently:
"It has been necessary for Britain to deploy thousands of armed troops there to
control the activities of terrorists. It was to be hoped such action would not be
necessary in Sri Lanka."
Great Britain has failed to find an answer to the continuing violence in Northern
Ireland for the past several years, and it would seem that Mr.Cox looked forward with a
certain cheerful equanimity to a similar situation developing in Northern Sri Lanka.
But, more seriously, Mr.Cox appeared to be content to look merely at the surface of
things. He missed the point of the Northern Ireland analogy. The presence of the British
army in Northern Ireland is a reflection of the links that the British people have with
the Protestant settlers in Ireland. It is not dissimilar to the links which the Tamils of
Tamil Nadu have for their brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka.
The Protestant minority in Ireland sought union with Great Britain as a way of
protecting themselves against a Catholic majority. It was this which led to the partition
of Ireland and the coming into being of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland. The day is not far when the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka, in the face of a
continuing oppression by a Sinhala majority will exercise their right of self
determination and seek to join the Tamils of Tamil Nadu to whom they are bound by a common
language, a common culture and a common religion.
If Mr.Cox had visited the North of Sri Lanka he may have learnt that the large majority
of the people of North and East in the island of Sri Lanka are Tamils in the same way as
the large majority of the people of Northern Ireland are Protestants. If Mr.Cox had
'walked amongst the people' in the North of the island, he may even have 'realised the
truth' that a few miles of water cannot separate a people who share a common language, a
common culture, a common religion and a common heritage.
But, unfortunately, for his quest 'to realise truth', Mr.Cox 'did not walk amongst the
people' of the North of Sri Lanka. It may be that the Sri Lankan government did not
believe that the Tamil areas were of sufficient tourist interest to be part of a conducted
tour, although it is not without relevance that one of Mr.Cox's colleagues, Mr.Jeremy
Corobin did find it both necessary and possible to visit the North. But then, Mr.Corobin
was perhaps, not on a conducted tour.
Be that as it may, although Mr.Cox did not go to the North, he did 'walk amongst the
people' in the South. Mr.Cox saw people going about 'their daily duties in the fullest
confidence'. But it does not appear that Mr.Cox considered it necessary or useful to speak
to those Tamils who survived the attack by Government
organised goon squads in July and August 1983 when hundreds of Tamils in Colombo and
in the South were killed, some were burnt alive, and thousands were rendered homeless.
If he had, Mr.Cox may have acquired some understanding 'of what was happening in Sri
Lanka' beyond that of a tourist on a conducted tour. He may have acquired some
understanding of that which is set out in the report of the International Commission of
Jurists dated March 1984:
"During the communal violence in the summer of 1983 many lives were lost, but so
far no one seems to have been able to say exactly how many, and estimates vary widely up
to around 400 or even more. It is probable that all of them were Tamils, but again no one
seems to be sure...
In the course of my mission, I met several survivors of these events, both Tamil and
Sinhalese, who gave me their own accounts as eye witnesses, and many more such accounts
have been published in the press, both in Sri Lanka and abroad. But the greatest mystery
surrounds the question of how these events in fact started. One thing is quite clear; they
did not start spontaneously.
On the morning of the 24th July, many people apparently went about their ordinary
business in Colombo, with no forebodings and no expectations of anything untoward. And
then suddenly, the streets were full of goondas, Tamil houses and shops were on fire,
Tamil possessions were being destroyed, and Tamils were being killed."
It would seem that Mr.Cox was not taken to the right people and so believed that the
Tamils in Colombo, who were subjected to this planned assault in July and August 1983,
were a few months later 'going about their daily duties in the fullest confidence'.
And Mr.Cox made his statement at a time when the Sri Lankan army was continuing to
murder Tamils in their traditional homeland in the North and East of Sri Lanka and
President Jayawardene in a magazine interview reported on the 16th of April 1984,(on the
same day as the Daily News reported the interview with Mr.Cox) declared:
"If India invades us, then that is the end of the Tamils in the country. Now, we
have only guerilla warfare in the North. Suppose it starts in Colombo... are you going to
stop the slaughter of Tamils in Colombo'
But to Mr.Cox, 'in the predominantly Tamil areas I visited, the evidence of normalcy
was the same.' Mr. Cox saw a 'smiling people'. They must have thought that President
Jayawardene was joking.
But apart from 'walking amongst the people' in order that he may 'realise the truth',
Mr.Cox presumably looked around at the dwellings and factories in and around Colombo. If
he had he would have seen rows upon rows of charred and deserted buildings which remain
today as grim reminders of the murder and arson of July and August 1983 and in this way
Mr.Cox may have furthered his understanding 'of what was happening in Sri Lanka.'
But then again, in the same way as he was not taken to the right people, he was,
perhaps, not taken to the right places. It would not be surprising if burnt down buildings
did not form part of the itinerary of a tour conducted by a government which had itself
been accused of arson and murder.
Mr.Cox may have been able to check the facts recounted by Ian Ward in the Daily
Telegraph on the 6th of August 1983:
"...News of the extent of the violence directed at the centre of Nuwara Eliya by
Sinhala mobs was somehow contained by the town remoteness...But no point in Colombo or the
surrounding suburbs matches the mess...Whole blocks have been reduced to charred rubble.
Only a handful of provision shops belonging to Sinhala traders remained...Remarkably only
sixteen people died in the inferno."
If he had checked with Ian Ward, Mr. Cox may have been able to persuade the government
to include Nuwara Eliya in the itinerary of the conducted tour. Nuwara Eliya after all is
not in the North. It is where the tea comes from and it is a prime tourist resort worthy
of inclusion in any conducted tour. There was, ofcourse, the limitation of time and there
is so much that one can squeeze into a short stay of one week.
Mr. Cox must have been aware of the dangers of drawing simplistic conclusions from a
'walkabout' and he must therefore have been happy to have had the opportunity of 'meetings
with President Jayawardene, a number of Ministers and Members of Parliament' as such
meetings would have enabled him to form a balanced picture of the Sri Lankan scene. Mr.Cox
was not reticent about his meetings with President Jayawardene although he was perhaps, a
trifle on the defensive. He declared:
'The discussions I had with President Jayawardene are no secret. He told me of his
deep concern at the events in Sri Lanka during the last few months, and of his
responsibilities towards the people who live in this country.'
Mr.Cox then added:
'I endorse all President Jayawardene has said and I have no doubt that those at
Westminister will be similarly inclined.'
We do not know whether President Jayawardene reiterated to Mr.Cox that which he had
told Ian Ward of the Daily Telegraph on the 11th July 1983:
"I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people... now we cannot think of
them, not about their lives or their opinion... the more you put pressure in the north,
the happier the Sinhala people will be here... Really if I starve the Tamils out, the
Sinhala people will be happy."
If he had, presumably Mr.Cox would not have endorsed 'all that President Jayawardene'
had said. He may have even asked President Jayawardene whether 'his responsibilities
towards the people who live in this country' included the Tamil people as well - unless
ofcourse Mr.Cox felt that this may have offended the susceptibilities of a kind and
Again we do not know whether President Jayawardene reiterated that which he had
declared many years ago in June 1957:
"The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years,
jealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to
save their birthright... I will lead the campaign."
If he had, Mr.Cox may have found it difficult to endorse a statement which smacked of a
racist 'fight without giving any quarter'. Again, Mr.Cox, in his search for truth, may
have, inquired from President Jayawardene, whether he was today engaged in an undeclared
war against the Tamil people - in a fight without giving any quarter. But then again, it
may be that Mr.Cox may not have wished to offend the susceptibilities of a kind and
It was unfortunate that Mr.Cox's visit was a casual stop over, as it were, on the way
to Hongkong. If it had been planned, he may have taken the trouble to be briefed about Sri
Lanka and the happenings there during the past several years. He may have even read the
report of the International Commission of Jurists in 1981 which stated:
"The tension between the ethnic communities creates an extremely dangerous
situation in Sri Lanka which may escalate into major violence in Island and negate all
efforts to develop the Island economically... As a minimum, the Tamils are entitled to
protection of their physical security within Sri Lanka. This protection can no longer be
taken for granted...
The long term solution to the ethnic conflict in the interests of the entire population
can only be achieved on the basis of respect for the rule of law and relevant human rights
It is regrettable that certain government and United National Party actions such as
the actions and remarks of certain government and party members, the actions of security
forces, the stripping of the civic rights of Mrs.Bandaranaike, the Parliamentary vote of
no confidence in the Leader of Tamil United Liberation Front as well as the adoption of
the Terrorism Act have undermined respect for the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka "
If Mr.Cox had read the report he may then have inquired from President Jayawardene
about the circumstances that led to a Parliamentary vote of no confidence on the Leader of
the Opposition particularly because that would have been of some considerable interest to
'those at Westminister'.
Mr.Cox may then have been in a position to ascertain whether the International
Commission of Jurists was right in its assessment that the Sri Lankan government had
undermined respect for the rule of law. It was unfortunate that Mr.Cox was not adequately
briefed before his conducted tour.
If he had been briefed he may have learnt of the comments of Orville H.Schell, former
President of the New York City Bar Association, current Chairman of the Americas Watch
Committee, and Head of the Amnesty International 1982 fact finding mission to Sri Lanka in
the New York Times on the 24th of August 1983:
"...The Government (of Sri Lanka) has repeatedly denied that its security forces
violate fundamental rights. However, as head of an Amnesty International fact finding
mission in January 1982, I received first hand evidence that incommunicado detention under
the Prevention of Terrorism Act was widespread and that the army and the police regularly
tortured political suspects and carried out political killings in June 1981, similar to
those recently confirmed by President Jayawardene.
I believe that recent killings by security authorities follow a pattern previously
set...The government must bear full responsibility for these breaches of the right to life
and other violations of human rights, especially in light of the wide powers that in
recent years it has given the security forces."
If Mr.Cox had seen the comments of Amnesty International, we feel certain that he
would have persuaded President Jayawardene that acts of 'terrorism' in the North are not
the cause but are the result of the failure of successive Sinhala governments to treat the
Tamils of Sri Lanka fairly and equally and that state terrorism was not the answer to the
Tamil national question.
He may have urged President Jayawardene (to use the words of an Amnesty International
report date lined 18th June 1984) "to prevent deliberate killings of civilians by the
country's armed forces and to restrict the wide powers of arrest under the current
If Mr.Cox had been properly briefed he may have agreed with the comment of Mr.Paul
Sieghart, Chairman, Justice, British Section of the International Commission of Jurists
that 'if terrorism is to be contained or eliminated, the legitimate expectations of the
Tamil community must be met.'
He may have even used the opportunity of his meetings with President Jayawardene and
his Ministers to raise some basic questions which may have furthered his under standing
beyond that which he had gained after a ''walkabout' among some of the people of Sri
Lanka. He may have asked President Jayawardene -
|1. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the
1981 International Commission of Jurists Report:
"Policies concerning the use
of Sinhala, inter alia, have seriously lessened the opportunities of Tamils for government
employment. The government should adopt a system for recruitment for government service
which provides equal opportunities for all persons regardless of ethnic origin."
- and repeal the Sinhala Only Act and adopt a system of recruitment which provides
equal opportunity for Tamils?
2. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1981 Report of the
International Commission of Jurists:
"The government should give renewed attention to Tamil concern over government
sponsored colonisation schemes which bring large numbers of Sinhalese into Tamil areas and
thus change the ethnic composition in such areas. This is particularly important in view
of the insecurity of Tamils due to communal violence against them in areas where they are
in a minority."
and the 1979 Minority Rights Group Report:
"In 1978 Tamil spokesmen complained that the momentum of colonisation was greater
than ever. They referred in particular to the Mahaveli Diversion project, supported by the
World Bank, in the Eastern Province, under which Sinhalese families were being brought in
from the South. They pointed out that the Maduruoya Scheme in the Eastern Province, backed
by Canadian assistance, was having the same effect."
- and stop State aided colonisation of Tamil areas in the island of Sri Lanka?
3. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1981 International Commission
of Jurists Report:
"The Government should re examine its policies on university admissions with a
view to basing admission on merit rather than on racial grounds. Tamil and Sinhalese young
people alike will then have equal rights to university education on the basis of capacity
rather than on race. One of the major points of tension among many Tamil youth has been
the implicit racial quota under present university admission policies which has barred
many competent youths from pursuing higher education."
- and secure that University admissions are based on merit rather than on an
implicit ethnic considerations?
4. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will give effect to article 1 of the
International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights:
"All peoples have the right of self determination. By virtue of that right they
freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and
And the 1981 International Commission of Jurists Report:
"The Tamils could be considered to be a 'people'. They have a distinct language,
culture, a separate religious identity from the majority population, and to an extent, a
defined territory.... 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 to self determination. Self determination does
not necessarily mean separation.... What is essential is that the political status of the
'people' should be freely determined by the 'people' themselves
- and recognise that the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka constitute a nation of
people and deal with them on that basis?
5. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1981 International Commission
of Jurists Report:
"The South African Terrorism Act has been called 'a piece of legislation which
must shock the conscience of a lawyer.' Many of the provisions of the Sri Lankan
Prevention of Terrorism Act are equally contrary to accepted principles of the Rule of
and the 1984 International Commission of Jurists Report:
"These provisions (in the Prevention of Terrorism Act) are quite extraordinarily
wide. No legislation conferring even remotely comparable powers is in force in any other
free democracy operating under the Rule of Law, however troubled it may be by politically
motivated violence. Indeed there is only one known precedent for the power to impose
restriction orders under section 11 of the Sri Lankan P.T.A., and that - as Professor
Leary rightly pointed out in her Report - is the comparable legislation currently in force
in South Africa... such a provision is an ugly blot on the statute book of any civilised
- and repeal the Sri Lanka Prevention of Terrorism Act?
6. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1984 International Commission
of Jurists Report:
"The freedom to express political opinions, to seek to persuade others of their
merits, to seek to have them represented in Parliament, and thereafter to seek to persuade
Parliament to give effect to them, are all fundamental democracy itself. Those are
precisely the freedoms which Article 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and
Political Rights recognises and guarantees - and in respect of advocacy for the
establishment of an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka, those which the Sixth Amendment
(to the Sri Lankan Constitution) is designed to outlaw.
It therefore appears to me plain that this enactment constitutes a clear violation by
Sri Lanka of its obligations in international law under the Covenant."...Support for
a separate Tamil State is a consequence of the perception by the Tamil community of
discrimination against them, reinforced by extravagant counter measures against terrorism.
But to out law that support, even if it is expressed peacefully and within the framework
of an open democratic system, plays directly into the hands of the terrorists.
-and repeal the 6th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Consitution because the Amendment
violates Sri Lanka's obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Poltical
7. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1983 International Commission
of Jurists Report:
"...the Government's lack of respect for the rule of law was evident in three
cases in which a mantle of protection was thrown over officials who had exceeded or abused
their powers. In the first case two soldiers who had been arrested and remanded in
connection with the shooting of a lame Tamil youth were released by the Magistrate on the
instructions of the Attorney General.
In the other two cases, the Government promoted police officers against whom the
Supreme Court had passed strictures for exceeding their authority. This was justified by
the Government on the grounds that the police must be able to do their duty without fear
of the consequences of adverse court decisions... In face of this it is not surprising
that the police and army increasingly take the law into their hands."
and the 1984 International Commission of Jurists Report:
"The President freely conceded that he had personally ordered the promotion of the
two police officers, and the payment out of public funds of the damages and costs. This he
said had been necessary to maintain police morale....
The conclusion is inescapable that he was deliberately seeking to teach the Judges a
lesson, in order to make them more pliable to the Executive's wishes. If that is so, these
were grossly improper acts; but for the immunity from all suit which the President enjoys
under the Constitution, they might well have been criminal offences.
- and agree that Sri Lanka President J.R.Jayawardene acted illegally in securing the
promotion of police officers found guilty by the Supreme Court?
8. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1981 International Commission
of Jurists Report:
"A primary concern of the government should be the physical security of the
minority Tamil population and the avoidance of future communal violence so frequently
directed against Tamils in the past... In this regard the government should pursue a
vigorous policy of investigation and prosecution of police officers responsible for the
burning of many areas in Jaffna in May/June 1981.
And the comments of the Head of the 1982 Amnesty International Mission to Sri Lanka:
"It is regrettable that the government did not institute an independent
investigation to establish responsibility for these killings (in May/June 1981) and take
measures against those responsible. Instead, one police officer involved was promoted and
emergency legislation was introduced facilitating further killings.
- and agree that an independent and impartial inquiry should be held into the
incidents of murder and arson in Tamil areas in May/June 1981 including the burning of the
Jaffna Public Library?
9. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1981International Commission
of Jurists Report:
"The government should lead a major national and international effort to rebuild
and develop the Jaffna Public Library destroyed by arson by police in June 1981. Such an
effort would evidence the respect the government for the cultural rights of the Tamils,
help to remedy a serious injustice done to the Tamil community and contribute to restoring
Tamil confidence in the government."
- and reinstate the Jaffna Public Library destroyed by arson by the Sri Lanka Police
10. Whether the Government of Sri Lanka will act on the 1984 International
Commission of Jurists Report:
"But what I find most extraordinary is that to this day there has been no attempt
to find out the truth through an official, public and impartial inquiry, when the
situation in the country cries out for nothing less.... So long as no such inquiry is
appointed in Sri Lanka, rumours will continue to circulate, suspicion will point to many
individuals and groups who cannot all be guilty, divisions between communities can only be
exacerbated, and the Government's task in preserving order, peace and harmony can only be
made more difficult."
and on the undertaking given by its representative before the United Nations
Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in August
"The Sri Lankan authorities .... would leave no stone unturned to bring to justice
all those responsible for killings, violence and acts of destruction no matter who they
were and regardless of their status, ideology or political alignments. There would be no
- and agree that an independent and impartial inquiry should be held into the
allegation against the Sri Lanka government that it engaged in a conspiracy to commit
murder and arson in July and August 1983?
We repeat - it is unfortunate that Mr.Cox was not briefed about the events in Sri Lanka
before his short one week stopover, on his way to see his son in Hongkong. If he had been
properly briefed he may not have so readily concluded that the British media had
exaggerated the events in Sri Lanka.
He may have been more cautious in endorsing the statements of a President who had
deprived his chief Sinhala opponent of her civic rights and who had effectively
disenfranchised the Tamil electorate by an amendment to the Constitution - an amendment
which the International Commission of Jurists has declared to be a violation of Sri
Lanka's obligations under the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.
The Sri Lankan Daily News stated that Mr.Cox had two messages. One was to the
British media and that was that they had got the wrong picture of the Sri Lankan ethnic
conflict. Mr.Cox failed to see that a conducted tour is not the best way of getting the
The other message was that 'terrorism' must be stamped out. Here, Mr.Cox
appears to be content to look at the symptoms of the problem - he chooses to refrain from
examining the causes.
If he had, he may have advised President Jayawardene that state terrorism was
not the answer to the Tamil national question.
He may have even reminded President Jayawardene of the words of United States Supreme
Court Justice Brandeis in 1928:
"Our Government is the potent omnipresent teacher... For good or ill it teaches
the whole people by example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a law breaker
it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it