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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Sub Commission 1983

UN SUB COMMISSION ON PREVENTION
OF DISCRIMINATION AND PROTECTION OF MINORITIES
35TH SESSIONS: AUGUST 1983

"....there were also political currents observable in the alignment of members, though I could not altogether fathom the geo political considerations involved. In the end a very mild resolution was passed calling for information from the Sri Lanka government and recommending that the commission examine the situation at the next meeting in the light of the information available. There was, however, only a bare majority for the resolution (10 for, 8 against and 4 abstaining). It is unfortunate that the United Nations did not take a firm stand at this stage..." Leo Kuper in Prevention of Genocide, 1985

Sub Commission Resolution 1983/16

UN Resolutions on Sri LankaThe Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities,
Deeply concerned about the recent communal violence in Sri Lanka, which cost severe loss of lives and property,
Recalling that Sri Lanka has ratified both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
Recognising that the Government of Sri Lanka has sought to reduce ethnic tension and to foster national harmony,
Noting with concern that despite these efforts the relationship between the ethnic communities seems to have deteriorated,

1.Requests the Secretary General to invite the Government of Sri Lanka to submit information on the recent communal violence in Sri Lanka, including its efforts to investigate the incidents and to promote national harmony, and to submit any information received from the Government of Sri Lanka to the Commission on Human Rights at its fortieth session;

2.Recommends to the Commission on Human rights that it should examine the situation in Sri Lanka in the light of all available information.


Leo Kuper, Professor Emeritius, University of California and who participated at the meeting of the Sub-Commission under the auspices of the International Commission of Jurists writes in his book  "The Prevention of Genocide" published in 1985 by the Yale University Press:

"When in February 1982, I expressed alarm to the Sri Lanka ambassador in Geneva at the threatening nature of the ethnic conflict between the majority Buddhist Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, largely Hindu, the situation seemed to be one of long term risk. 

The background to the conflict was the British decision, in 1833, to bring together the two separate, ancient, and disparate communities of Sinhalese and Tamils into a single colonial unit, thereby establishing the plural society of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), in the administration of which it tended to favour the Tamils. On independence in 1948, the majority Sinhalese proceeded to rectify this past  imbalance and to engage in reverse discrimination. Ethnic relations then began to polarise in familiar pattern, with political affiliation tending to coincide with ethnic division. The government, again in a familiar pattern, responded inadequately to Tamil demands, thereby stimulating claims for self determination in the form of greater regional autonomy and indeed separation (secession).

The operations of a small "terrorist" ("liberation") movement amongst the Tamils added an inflammatory element to an already tense situation, which was punctuated by episodes of communal violence against the Tamils, and the conflict finally escalated in the latter part of July 1983 into a highly destructive conflagration after the murder of 13  (Sinhala) soldiers by Tamil terrorists. In what appeared to be an organised massacre, Sinhalese groups murdered Tamils with great atrocity and burned and looted their businesses and homes.

The government acknowledged 380 deaths in the nine days following the murder of the soldiers, while the leader of the Tamil opposition party gave an estimate of about 2,000 murdered in the two months of ethnic unrest that culminated in the latter part of July. The estimated damage to property may be well over $100,000. And in addition, perhaps as many as 100,000 Tamils were displaced, creating a vast refugee problem and a movement of Tamils to areas of traditional Tamil settlement reminiscent of the relocation of religious groups in Northern Ireland after an extreme outburst of sectarian violence.

By the time that the sub-commission met in August, the government had already restored 'law and order'. But some of the legal and administrative steps taken polarised relations still further. The government was reluctant to acknowledge the communal roots of the violence, initially alleging a foreign conspiracy of subversion by a series of communal riots and later tending to blame the victims for the atrocities inflicted upon them.

Two measures were particularly disturbing. The first was an amendment to the constitution that bans any political party advocating secession of any part of the country. This was clearly directed against the main Tamil opposition party at a time when communal atrocities lent additional justification for separation, as was the case in Nigeria after the massacres of Ibos in the North. The second was an extra ordinary announcement that the state would take over all damaged property, including housing and industrial premises, as a temporary measure in the interests of rapid reconstruction.

The sub-commission was immediately "seized" of the issue, a great change from the old days of evasion and subterfuge. But there were many complex issues in the debate. The Sri Lanka government is held in high esteem by many members of the sub-commission, and it argued against U.N.involvement on the ground that it might disturb present delicate negotiations; it also circulated its own version of events. Then, too, the Indian government had interceded, and discussions were proceeding. But there were also political currents observable in the alignment of members, though I could not altogether fathom the geo political considerations involved.

In the end a very mild resolution was passed calling for information from the Sri Lanka government and recommending that the commission examine the situation at the next meeting in the light of the information available. There was, however, only a bare majority for the resolution (10 for, 8 against and 4 abstaining). It is unfortunate that the United Nations did not take a firm stand at this stage. The Sinhalese army is now engaging in large scale massacres of Tamils and the conflict has escalated, seemingly beyond control...."

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