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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
 
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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

Democracy, Sri Lankan Style, 1985

Nadesan Satyendra
15 May 1985

"Sri Lanka is an open, working, multiparty democracy. Citizens elect their president, members of parliament, and local government officials by universal adult suffrage. All laws including acts extending the state of emergency, must be approved by the Parliament... The Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary, and lawyers and judges are held in high esteem." (U.S. State Department's Annual Human Rights Report to Congress released February 1985)

"....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.'" - Senator A.L.Missen, Chairman, Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International, Australian Senate Hansard, 13 March 1986

Contents


The 1977 election pledge that was not honoured...

It was with the departure of the British that the organic growth of nations gathered momentum in the Indian region. In Sri Lanka, the growth of a separate Tamil national identity was accelerated by the practice of 'democracy' within the confines of an unitary constitution - a 'democracy' which resulted in rule by a permanent Sinhala majority. It was a Sri Lankan 'democracy' which failed to structure a constitutional frame within which both the Sinhala people and the Tamil people may share power fairly and equitably.

At the general elections in 1977, President Jayawardene's United National Party, polled around 50% of the votes, and secured five sixths of the seats in Parliament on the basis of an electoral process where the 'first past the post' was the winner in each constituency. Many Tamils resident amongst the Sinhala people in the South of Sri Lanka voted for the United National Party on the basis of its election manifesto which declared:

  • "The United National Party accepts the position that there are numerous problems confronting the Tamil speaking people. The lack of a solution to their problems has made the Tamil speaking people support even a movement for the creation of a separate state. In the interest of a national integration and unity so necessary for the economic development of the whole country, the Party feels such problems should be solved without loss of time. The party when it comes to power will take all possible steps to remedy their grievances in such field as (1) Education (2) Colonisation (3) Use of Tamil Language (4) Employment in Public and Semi-Public Corporations. We shall summon an All-Party Conference as stated earlier and implement its decisions."

But President Jayawardene failed to honour the pledge that his party had given and the All-Party Conference was not summoned.


Instead, a constitution which concentrated power in an executive President...

Instead, the Constitution was amended so that in future, elections would be on the basis of proportional representation and that members of Parliament would be elected from a slate presented by registered political parties at the general election. It was contended that in the case of such proportional representation, it was appropriate that where a member is expelled or resigns from his political party, he should automatically lose his seat, and the Constitution made provision accordingly. The Constitution further provided that the vacancy shall be filled, not by a bye election but by nomination by the party to which such member belonged. These provisions were however extended retrospectively to members of the Parliament elected in 1977 as well but subject however to a refinement - the decision to expel shall be taken by Parliament itself.

In the result, since 1978, in Sri Lanka's 'democracy', where a member of Parliament belonging to the opposition crossed the floor, President Jayawardene's ruling party ensured that such member retained his seat. But where a member of the ruling party was expelled, President Jayawardene's majority in Parliament ensured that such member lost his seat and that the vacancy was filled by a person nominated by the ruling party i.e. by President Jayawardene. It was a Sri Lankan style 'democracy' which ensured the tight hold of the President on the members of Parliament. It was a 'democracy' where members of Parliament of the ruling party depended for their survival, not on the people, but on the President.


A 'democracy' where the executive President secured undated letters of resignation from members of the legislature...

It was a hold which President Jayawardene further strengthened in 1982 by obtaining undated letters of resignations from all members of Parliament of the ruling party including Ministers. He cheerfully admitted in an interview reported in the Sri Lankan Daily, the Island, on the 5th of February 1984: 'Yes, I have heard that some people call it my atomic bomb'.

Urmilla Phadinis, Associate Professor of International Relations, at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, commented in July 1984:

"...In view of the President being also the chief of the UNP, (United National Party), the ruling party MPs have had little leeway in effect for autonomy and independence within the legislature. The very fact that soon after the preponed Presidential election in October 1982...the President had undated letters of resignation of all his party MPs, reflected the untrammelled powers at his disposal for a 'made to order' Parliament.

This was particularly so due to (the provisions) ...of the new constitution under which, in the event of resignation (or expulsion) of an MP, his party has the right to nominate his successor...(also) about half the government MPs are Ministers of one sort or another, i.e. cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, ministers without portfolio, project ministers and district ministers...Under such a situation (with the over arching powers of the President to hire and fire any MP), Parliament despite its so called sovereign powers, has become an appendage of the executive..." (Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Urmilla Phadinis, Gandhi Peace Foundation, July 1984)


A 'democracy' where general elections were postponed in 1982 for a period of six years...

The life of the 1977 Parliament was due to come to an end in July 1983 and it would have then become necessary to hold a general election on the basis of proportional representation. But, President Jayawardene was clearly not unmindful, to use the words of the U.S. State Department Annual Human Rights Report of 1984, that ' in all but one general election, the party in power had been defeated'.

Again, on the basis of proportional representation, his five sixths majority in Parliament was clearly threatened. The two thirds majority that was required to amend the constitution may not have been forthcoming and the totalitarian control that the ruling party had acquired may have been eroded.

So, in 1982, President Jayawardene, broke with a long standing democratic tradition and sought to extend the life of Parliament by resort to a referendum. This was a Sri Lanka 'democracy', which sought to foist on the people for an additional six years, members of Parliament who had been elected in 1977 for a six year period. And this was to be done, not by seeking a mandate from each constituency but by a general, island wide referendum.

A simple majority in the referendum would secure for President Jayawardene's party a continued five sixths majority in Parliament. The intention was clear. The ruling party's commitment to democracy did not extend to facing a general election. The referendum was intended to secure the perpetuation of the party's control of the legislature by other means .


By resort to a referendum which was neither 'free nor fair'...

As to the conduct of the referendum which was held on the 22nd of December 1982, the International Commission of Jurists Report of June 1983 stated:

"The Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka has published a critique of the referendum questioning whether it was in fact fair and free. This analysis, released in January 1983, in summary, alleges that there were serious defects both prior to the poll and on polling day. The Movement also draws attention to some statistical analyses in selected electoral districts that would appear, prima facie, to raise some grave questions as to the accuracy of the count returned from these districts...the Civil Rights Movement instances the following five factors as militating against the peoples freedom of choice -

(1) the continuance throughout the campaign of a state of emergency

(2) the banning of two important opposition newspapers and the sealing of selected presses under emergency regulations. Leaflets advocating a 'No' vote were seized and the publication of an appeal by Srima Bandaranaike, leader of the main opposition Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was prevented

(3) detention under emergency regulations of a number of SLFP organisers, raid on SLFP headquarters and the seizure of party documents including membership registers

(4) detention, short term arrests or repeated interrogations of opposition organisers, and

(5) the blatant disregard of the law relating to the display of posters. There were massive displays of the 'Lamp' (ie Yes vote') posters and symbols all over the island throughout the campaign, including just outside police stations, whereas section 50 of the Referendum Law permitted such displays only at meeting places on the day of the meeting... The Civil Rights Movement reported events which concerned it relating to polling day, under the following heads: (1) illegal symbol display (2) intimidation of voters and prevention of access to polling stations (3) intimidation and harassment of polling elsewhere (4) intimidation of polling officers (5) impersonation."

"The matters detailed in these criticisms would be such as to cause serious concern as to the fairness of the polling...The author shares the concern expressed by the Secretary General of the International Commission of Jurists about the desirability of the use of a referendum to extend the term of parliament and also is deeply concerned as to whether the referendum, in fact, was conducted freely or fairly and could be taken as representing an expression of opinion of the people of Sri Lanka." (Ethnic and Communal Violence: The Independence of the Judiciary: Protection of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka - Fragile Freedoms? - Report of an ICJ Mission to Sri Lanka in June 1983 - Timothy J.Moore)


Comments of a Dutch working group and Lawasia Human Rights...

A Dutch Working Group commented in December 1983:

"..the reason given for the referendum was the 'discovery' by the President of a threat to his life and a plot to overthrow the government, by a group of 'naxalites' - a group within the main opposition party, the SLFP. These persons were taken into custody and a state of emergency was declared. The referendum was then held, with a state of emergency prevailing; with the main organisers of the opposition party behind bars; and the Presidents main opponent, Mrs.Bandaranaike prevented from taking part (because she had been deprived of her civic rights).

Once the referendum was held, the threat to the government seems to have disappeared as mysteriously as it had emerged. A police inquiry into the alleged conspiracy could come up with no evidence against the accused...The referendum was held in an atmosphere of violence, corrupt practices and intimidation of the opposition unprecedented in Sri Lanka's electoral history.

The Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka has issued a statement documenting serious abuses of power by the ruling party during the referendum. The whole shameful charade calls into question the legitimacy of the UNP's present term of office...It is worth recalling that Hitler too, used the stratagem of referenda, maintained a climate of anti semitism and anti communism reinforced by political thuggery to suspend 'guaranteed civil liberties', to create an awesome dictatorship.." (Memorandum on Human Rights Violations and Ethnic Violence in Sri Lanka: The Netherlands, December 1983)

Patricia Hyndman, Secretary, of the prestigious Lawasia Human Rights Standing Committee commented in March 1985:

"...The referendum to extend the life of the Parliament was held under strictures which severely hampered the opposition campaign. Some opposition politicians were detained under emergency regulations, some had been stripped of their civic rights, some opposition papers were banned and some opposition presses were sealed, while the polling itself was marred by the harassment of electoral officers, candidates and voters..." (Patricia Hyndman: Sri Lanka - Escalating Violence and Erosions of Democracy: Interim Report to Lawasia Human Rights Standing Committee March 1985)


Attack on the judiciary...

The referendum of December 1982 called into serious question the claim of Sri Lanka to be a third world 'democracy'. It was not only the legitimacy of the Sri Lankan parliament that was in issue. The independence of the judiciary was also under attack. Paul Sieghart, Q.C., Chairman of Justice, the British Section of the International Commission of Jurists reported in April 1984:

"During the campaign for the December 1982 referendum to extend the life of Parliament without a general election, a Superintendent of Police seized 20,000 pamphlets of 'Voice of the Clergy' opposing the referendum proposal. A Buddhist monk, the secretary of the organisation concerned, complained to the Supreme Court, under Article 126 of the Constitution, that this act had infringed his fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. On 28th February 1983, the Supreme Court held in his favour, and awarded 10,000 rupees damages against the Superintendent personally, together with costs.

On the 2nd March 1983, the Government announced that the Superintendent would be promoted, and that the state would pay the damages and costs "That history soon repeated itself. On 8th March 1983, a former M.P., together with some others, went to deliver a letter of protest to the American Embassy in Colombo, where she was received courteously... On their way back, some police officers took away their banners...soon after (she) found herself under arrest, thrown to the floor and kicked. She too complained to the Supreme Court under Article 126 about an infringement of her fundamental rights...it (the Supreme Court) found that the arrest was unlawful and directed the Inspector General of Police to conduct further inquiries...

That judgment was delivered on the 8th of June 1983. On the following day, the Acting Inspector General of Police announced the promotion of the sub-inspector who arrested her.. "Two days after that, two of the Judges of the Supreme Court who had heard this case found their private houses surrounded by unruly mobs, shouting obscenities at them...It was a frightening experience, and no policemen was in sight. They tried to telephone the police , but found the lines mysteriously out of order ...and although the mobs arrived in public service buses and the disorders had clearly been organised in a concerted fashion, no one seems to have managed to this day to unearth anyone responsible: apparently, the relevant records of the bus station concerned have somehow been lost."

"Such events are hardly calculated to encourage the judiciary to remain independent, or to enhance public respect for its members, their judgments, or the rule of law...The President freely con ceded that he had personally ordered the promotion of the two police officers (in June 1983), and the payment out of public funds of the damages and costs. This he said had been necessary to maintain police morale...at a time when he found the Supreme Court a hindrance to some of his policies.

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 article 35(1) of the Constitution, they might well have been criminal offences..." (Sri Lanka - A Mounting Tragedy of Errors - Paul Sieghart - International Commission of Justice Report April 1984)

But, in February 1984, the State Department of the United States was content to report:

"...The government (of Sri Lanka) pointed out that any person who claims there have been irregularities or unfair practises in the referendum campaign is free to take his case to the courts, but that no person has done so. Sri Lanka is a multiparty democracy..." (Extract from U.S.State Department's Annual Human Rights Report to Congress released February 1984)

The claim of the government that those dissatisfied with the referendum may have recourse to the Courts, must necessarily ring hollow in the context of that which must now be regarded as President Jayawardene's self confessed attempts ' to teach the Judges a lesson'.


A 'democracy' which relied on repressive legislation unknown to 'any other free democracy'...

The intimidation of the judiciary was coupled with an increasing reliance on repressive legislation unknown to any working democracy. The International Commission of Jurists commented:

"These provisions (of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of July 1979) 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 PTA and that is the comparable legislation currently in force in South Africa...Such a provision is an ugly blot on the statute book of any civilised country..." (Sri Lanka - A Mounting Tragedy of Errors - Paul Sieghart - International Commission of Justice Report April 1984)

Lawasia, pointed out that the Sri Lankan government had acted in violation of its obligations under international law:

"...The present government has enacted both permanent preventive detention legislation and temporary emergency legislation...some of the terms and utilisation of which bring Sri Lanka, a signatory to the International Covenant and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, into conflict with her obligations under international law.." (Patricia Hyndman: Sri Lanka - Escalating Violence and Erosions of Democracy: Interim Report to Lawasia Human Rights Standing Committee March 1985)


Arbitrary arrest and detention without access to lawyers or relations...

Arbitrary arrest and detention without trial had become endemic

"...From time to time, opposition parties have been proscribed and some of their members imprisoned. Sometimes those detainees have, for periods, been held incommunicado, without access to either lawyers or relatives, amidst government allegations of the parties complicity in various suspected plots. So far no substantive evidence to substantiate such allegations, and no charges have been laid..." (Patricia Hyndman: Sri Lanka - Escalating Violence and Erosions of Democracy: Interim Report to Lawasia Human Rights Standing Committee March 1985)

Mr.Timothy J.Moore, M.P. from the Australian Section of the International Commission of Jurists reported in June 1983:

"There is no formal notification to the next of kin of a detainee that the person has been taken into detention...Even after the habeas corpus application has been heard, and an order made by the court for access to the detainee by his legal representatives, further obstacles are placed in the way of the legal representatives...Often when the legal representatives attended at the nominated location, they would be informed that the detainee had been moved and that their order for access had no validity with respect to the place of detention..." (Ethnic and Communal Violence: The Independence of the Judiciary: Protection of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka - Fragile Freedoms? - Report of an ICJ Mission to Sri Lanka in June 1983 - Timothy J.Moore)

Amnesty International reported in June 1984:

"Detainees...have been held for long periods, some for more than a year and a half and several for a longtime in solitaryconfinement. They have been held for many months before being brought before a judge. These practises contravene Article 9 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights which state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention ...Minimum safeguards prescribed in the Sri Lanka Prisons Ordinance and in subsidiary legislation are denied to political detainees." (Sri Lanka: Current Human Rights Concerns and Evidence of Extra Judicial Killings - Amnesty International Report, 1 June 1984)


And torture on a 'systematic basis'...

It was almost the universal practise for the military authorities to physically assault and mistreat those persons who were in their custody

"...the author accepts that it is the almost universal practice of the military authorities to physically assault and mistreat these persons who have been in their custody with the principal locations for that assault being the Elephant Pass army camp and the Panagoda army camp in Colombo...the author finds that this treatment is not only in breach of Article 11 of the Sri Lankan Constitution which states that 'no person shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment' but (that it) is also carried out on a systematic basis.

This treatment is also in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sri Lanka is a State Party after having ratified the Covenant. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has not ratified the Optional Protocol to permit individuals, other than other States Party to the Covenant, to complain and proceed against Sri Lanka for breaches of the Covenant." (Ethnic and Communal Violence: The Independence of the Judiciary: Protection of Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka - Fragile Freedoms? - Report of an ICJ Mission to Sri Lanka in June 1983 - Timothy J.Moore)

Mr.Timothy J. Moore's conclusions were supported by the comments of Amnesty International:

"...The testimonies taken by the Amnesty International mission (in January and February 1982), confirm other reports received by the organisation that torture was regularly inflicted in 1981 and at least up until the time of the mission..." (Sri Lanka: Current Human Rights Concerns and Evidence of Extra Judicial Killings - Amnesty International Report, 1 June 1984)


A 'democracy' that was no longer concerned with the lives or opinion of the Tamil people...

On 11 July 1983, President Jayawardene spoke about a section of his electorate:

"...I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people now. Now, we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us..." (Daily Telegraph: 11th July 1983)

It was a declaration which was in accord with the statement made by President Jayawardene some 25 years earlier, in 1957, when he was the Leader of the Opposition:

"...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..." (Sri Lanka Tribune: 30th August 1957)

Sri Lanka was a 'democracy' where the elected President was no longer concerned with the lives, leave alone the opinions, of a significant section of his electorate. It was a 'democracy' which was engaged in a racist fight, 'without giving any quarter' - a fight intended to subjugate the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka and bend them to the will of the Sinhala majority.


A 'democracy' where the Tamil electorate was effectively disenfranchised...

In August 1983, the Sri Lankan government rushed through Parliament the 6th Amendment to the Constitution which effectively disenfranchised the Tamil electorate. Paul Sieghart, Q.C., Chairman of Justice commented:

"...The key to its effect is paragraph (1) which runs as follows:- 'No person shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment of a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka'. "Anyone who contravenes that provision becomes liable to the imposition of civic disability for upto 7 years, the forfeiture of his movable and immovable property... the loss of his passport... the right to engage in any trade or profession. In addition if he is a Member of Parliament, he loses his seat"

"The freedom to express political opinions, to seek to persuade others of their merits, to seek to have them represented in Parliament, and thereafter seek Parliament to give effect to them, are all fundamental to democracy itself. These 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 6th Amendment 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"

"...before the 6th Amendment was passed, the Tamil United Liberation Front was the largest opposition party in Parliament, and its effect has therefore been to increase the (ruling) United National Party's majority from the previous 83% to 93%.. Accordingly, the President can now hardly be surprised if his opponents, both within the country and outside, regard the 6th Amendment as nothing more than a piece of political chicanery, designed to move Sri Lanka even further towards a one party State..." (Sri Lanka - A Mounting Tragedy of Errors - Paul Sieghart - International Commission of Justice Report April 1984)


A 'democracy' where the rights to life and freedom of expression have been subject to 'gross and continued violations'...

Sri Lanka was a democracy, in respect of which the independent Minority Rights Group whose sponsors included Lady Butler, Dr.Robert Gardiner, Lord Goodman, Rt.Hon Jo Grimond, Gunmar Myrdal and Dr. Joseph Needham were moved to comment in September 1983:

"...the present conflict has transcended the issue of special consideration of minority rights and has reached the point where the basic human rights of the Tamil community - the rights to life and property, freedom of speech and self expression and freedom from arbitrary arrest have in fact and in law been subject to gross and continued violations..." (Tamils of Sri Lanka: Minority Rights Group Report, Revised 1983 Edition)


Reality of Democracy, Sri Lanka style...

The reluctance to hold general elections, the banning 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, 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.


But to the US State Department Sri Lanka is an 'open, working multi party democracy'...

But in the face of the reports of independent observers such as the International Commission of Jurists and Lawasia, the State Department of the United States continued to assert, in February 1985:

"Sri Lanka is an open, working, multiparty democracy. Citizens elect their president, members of parliament, and local government officials by universal adult suffrage. All laws including acts extending the state of emergency, must be approved by the Parliament... The Constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary, and lawyers and judges are held in high esteem." (U.S. State Department's Annual Human Rights Report to Congress released February 1985)

To Christopher Dobson and Ronald Payne, of the Daily Telegraph "...for whatever its shortcomings, Sri Lanka, a loyal Commonwealth member, is a decent republic where democracy prevails despite the troubles..." (Daily Telegraph: April 9, 1985)

Again, to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 'it is a democracy in Sri Lanka' and 'problems must be solved through democracy'. (Guardian: 13th April 1985)


Geopolitics may have clouded the vision of the US State Department and some of the other defenders of Sri Lanka...

It appears that geopolitics may have clouded the vision of the State Department, and the other defenders of the actions of the Sri Lankan government. But, hopefully, they may yet be persuaded that even geopolitical interests are best served by supporting the truth - because, apart from anything else, truth has an awkward way of prevailing in the end. Nothing is gained by encouraging the acts of an oppressor.

On the contrary, that is a policy which can have only one result - it will serve to identify the United States and some Western governments both with the oppressor and the oppression. And, in any event, it would be somewhat naive to assume that the geopolitical interests of the United States and the Western world in the Indian region will be advanced by a policy which served to prop up a Sinhala Government which increasingly depended on repression to survive - a policy which at the same time served to alienate the sentiments of fifty million Tamil people in the Indian region


But not the perception of Councilman Noach Dear...

The words of Councilman Noach Dear, of the Council of the City of New York at the Congressional Hearings in August 1984, help to bring truth and real politik together. His words may also persuade some of his countrymen as well as his cousins across the Atlantic Ocean:

"...Sri Lanka is not the democratic jewel of the Indian Ocean. The systematic exclusion of Tamils from opportunity proves that. Some forms of seemingly democratic activity go on but in their definition, democracy is majority rule, and to hell with anyone else. In our definition, majority rules but also guarantees the rights of minorities, a guarantee that might have made the difference for hundreds of murdered Tamils over the years.

Yes, I believe that innocent Tamils have been murdered with government acting at the very, very least as a not so innocent bystander. Yes, I believe Amnesty International's conclusions that there have been extra judicial killings in Sri Lanka; that the government's anti terrorism laws are brutal, repressive and inherently anti democratic; and yes, I believe that the process of disenfranchising anyone who believes in a potential solution that is not consistent with the majority view is completely anti democratic. ...and, so I come before you today,... and tell you that our country's policy toward Sri Lanka is wrong and to urge you to exert your influence on the administration and the State Department to change their views.

The United States cannot simply write off murder and systematic discrimination as an 'internal matter' when the country happens to be non aligned and is willing to say nice things about our country. We should be putting pressure on President Jayawardene to move to resolve the terrible, terrible divisions within his country...We must let the Sri Lanka government know that we will not tolerate a government that is in any way complicit in the killing of its own citizens.."


Deepening economic crisis...

The fact is that the Sri Lankan government seeks to perpetuate itself in power in the face of a deepening economic crisis which has separated the government from its own Sinhala constituency. The country's external debt rose from Rs.13,000 million in 1977 to a massive Rs.42,000 million in 1982 - an increase of more than 200%. Its terms of trade deteriorated sharply by 64% during the same period.

The purchasing power of its exports saw a marked decline and it became increasingly dependent on foreign aid and support. Again, the government was compelled to introduce harsh expenditure cuts in not only welfare budgets but also in capital projects. Fixed income employees were hardest hit by rising inflation and in 1980 a nationwide strike had resulted in 40,000 employees losing their jobs. It is a government which has signally failed to manage the plantations and the state corporations and it has sought to govern amidst allegations of widespread inefficiency and increasing corruption.


The disturbing question is 'whether President Jayawardene's government can survive if Sri Lanka was a democracy?'...

It is therefore, not altogether surprising that the Sri Lankan government has come to rely more and more on racism to secure its own survival. It has sought to nurture a racist mythology around the latent fear of the Sinhala people of the Tamils of Tamil Nadu - a mythology intended to bridge the ever widening gap between itself and its own Sinhala electorate, a gap which compelled President Jayawardene to postpone the general elections scheduled for 1983.

In Sri Lanka, today, it is democracy that is in crisis. It is in crisis because the Sri Lankan government seeks to hang on to power, by whatever means, and if necessary, by a naked and open appeal to Sinhala chauvinism - a chauvinism which refuses at every turn to recognise the existence of two nations in Sri Lanka and the consequent need to structure a polity where both nations may live together in equality, in freedom and with self respect, a chauvinism which seeks to subjugate the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka and bend them to the will of a permanent Sinhala majority. The disturbing question is whether President Jayawardene's government can survive in any other way - whether it can survive, if Sri Lanka was a democracy.

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