|About Ron Ridenour|
TAMIL NATION IN SRI LANKA
Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka
First edition November 2011
© Ron Ridenour;
© chapters 2-4, Ron Ridenour and Pranjali Bandhu
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“To keep the mind away from all sins, to consider the welfare of all as virtue, to purify one’s heart, is the teaching of the Buddha.” (Dhammapada)
“While this Sangha (community of Buddhist monks) . . . has democracy, it has neither (a) special country nor nation nor caste. To such a society which has no country, nation, or caste, every human being is the same. . . Those who fight against the Tamils are not Buddhists.” (Naravila Dhammaratana)
Foreword by T.G. Jacob
1. Cuba/ALBA Let Down Sri Lanka Tamils
2. Tamil Eelam: Historical Antecedents
3. Equal Rights or Self-Determination
4. The Struggle for Tamil Eelam
5. Who are the Terrorists?
6. Post-War Internment Hell
7. Tamil Eelam in the Diaspora
8. UN Expert Panel on War Crimes in Sri Lanka
1. Misguided Solidarity
2.Defamation of My Character
Amarantha Visalakshi and Natarajan, members of the Latin American Friendship Association in Tamil Nadu, got me going on this writing project, a path that was necessary for solidarity but also agonizing to realise. Pranjali Bandhu from South Asia Study Centre, The Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, has edited the work and also co-authored chapter two and made additions in chapters three and four. T.G. Jacob, Director of South Asia Study Centre, has written the Foreword. A marvellous artist, C.L. Baiju, did the cover.
I also appreciate WikiLeaks for its exposes of Sri Lankan atrocities. Thanks to its founder Julian Assange, who is undergoing repression orchestrated by the governments of the US and Sweden; and to another hero of our times, Bradley Manning, who sits in a US torture chamber accused of providing the world with vital information about the incalculable systematic crimes committed by US governments against many peoples in the world and crimes perpetrated by many other brutal governments as well.
The military defeat of the Tamil guerrilla army in what is called Eelam War-IV and the herding of large numbers of Tamil people in concentration camps to prevent any renewed guerrilla activity has given rise to a general belief all over the world that the long civil war for a separate country is once and for all decimated decisively. The settling of chauvinistic sections of the Sinhalese people in the traditional Tamil areas is aimed at permanently changing the demographic composition of these areas; it is a strategic step towards obliterating the Tamil issue which is actually centuries old. What we are witnessing now is the implementation of a fascist programme as the solution to deep rooted ethnic, national issues. Like any fascist programme the ultimate success of this specific one is also extremely doubtful in the long run. The expression ‘long run’ too is relative when viewed as a historical trajectory. At least this is what history teaches us.
A defeat of the sort that happened in Sri Lanka is no doubt a traumatic experience for the people concerned. At the same time we have to keep in mind that defeats of this nature are not at all improbable. Justice of the cause by itself has never guaranteed success. In any political fight for national liberation success also crucially depends on the correctness of the strategy and tactics of the fight, though justice of the cause is a precondition. The histories of liberation struggles unambiguously tell us that only a combination of the three can result in success. This is by no means a pedantic assertion, it is a historic lesson. It is also a historic truth that defeats are never absolute. On the other hand, there is any number of examples in world history of defeats being turned into victories. The histories of the national liberations struggles of China, Vietnam and Cuba are classic illustrations of this truism.
There is little doubt that the Tamils in Sri Lanka, the Diaspora of Sri Lankan Tamils and their well wishers across the world will be seriously introspecting on what led to the latest defeat and how to overcome the possibility of such defeats in the future. Any such introspection is bound to be painful, but it is of utmost necessity. This is especially so in the present context when almost the entire world, as represented by the governments, is characterizing the Tamil fighters as ‘terrorists’ distinct from the political status of being fighters for national liberation. Politically, the label of terrorists can be quite damaging to the actual cause. The Sinhala chauvinist government in Colombo could take maximum advantage of this labelling as is clearly shown by the impressive line-up of support by powerful governments in the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. No less than seven governments ranging from India, China, Israel and the USA actively aided the Sinhalese government to crush the Tamil guerrillas. The political justification advanced was that it was a fight against ‘terrorism.’ We know very well that such justifications can be manufactured because illustrations of such manufacturing are galore in the contemporary world.
The misinformation concerning the Tamil issue in Lanka is such that even countries like Cuba and Venezuela, along with other ALBA countries in South America endorsed these manufactured justifications. The position of a country like China is understandable because she is very clearly driven by narrow national chauvinistic capitalist/imperialist interests. But what can be the possible reasons for countries like Cuba and Venezuela, who are hailed by sections of the progressive world as harbingers of ‘twenty-first century socialism,’ to endorse the genocidal actions of an out-rightly anti-people regime? Of course, ignorance of the reality is no excuse in this world of ours. That leaves perspective lacunae on important questions concerning national liberation of oppressed peoples as a possible valid reason. Compulsions of international diplomacy due to the nature of economic relations with China can also be an important reason. In this case, the ‘model’ of ‘twenty- first century socialism’ comes in for serious questioning.
As everybody knows there are many streams of leftist policies in the sub-continent with different ideological moorings. But they can be broadly divided into parliamentary and non parliamentary streams, which again can be qualified on the basis of the approach to armed struggle. Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka have a fairly long history of both these streams of communist movements. The approach of the Leftist groups/parties in the region towards the struggle for self-determination of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is, to say the least, devoid of their own proclaimed concepts of the Leninist and Maoist theories of self-determiantion of oppressed peoples. What we see in the case of Sri Lanka is the abject surrented to majoritarian: Sinhalese chauvinism by the different shades of Communists there. This surrender was mainly dictated by the exigencies of parliamentary politics. In India, the parliamentary Left is probably the most vociferous advocate of the ‘unity and integrity’ of multinational India, which makes it illogical to expect them to support the struggle for a separate Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. Their opposition to the armed struggle for a separate Eelam is rooted in the make-believe theorectical construct of viewing any assertion of ethnic and national identity as an ‘imperialist conspiracy’ to further deepend and broaden imperialist exploitation. This approach is very much in tune with their anti-communist approach to the nationality question in general.
Ironically, the practising Maoists in the sub-continent also did not approach the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka as something that is worth creatively interacting with. They may have been viewing the militarism of sections of Tamil nationalists in Lanka with grudging admiration, but there were no serious efforts to generate a common political, ideological platform, which could discuss questions concerning national liberation movements. This self-satisfied approach is nothing very astounding because in their own areas of operation and organisations there are almost no serious debates and discussions concerning such vital questions. Dogmatism is the accepted methodology and ideological stalemate is a natural offshoot of such theoretical sterility. If they are incapable of ideological dynamism in their own struggles it is futile to expect them to creatively interact with other national liberation movements or struggles.
It may be naïve to look at the question of the Tamil nation in Sri Lanka divorced from the global political and economic background. Most basically, we are witnessing a period of aggressive imperialist globalization propelled by the systemic crisis of global capital, which is showing no signs of resolution. This systemic crisis is one of the production and reproduction of capital, the character of which has undergone significant changes since the Second World War. The crisis of global capital has assumed a near permanent character having similarities as well as dissimilarities to the inter World Wars period. Any national liberation struggle has to take into account this crucial characteristic of the contemporary world. Apart from basing on the ground level realities in specific given national formations the strategy and tactics of the fight for national liberation simply cannot afford to discount the intrinsically objective anti-imperialist character of any national liberation struggle. In fact, this is what makes the political programme of a liberation struggle vitally important.
Looking back at the recent past of the Tamil nation question in Sri Lanka, rather at the period from 1948 onwards, there is no doubt that the question is a national question, and on this broad level the fight for sovereignty is very much a national liberation struggle. The longer history of the evolution of the Tamil national question with its historical vicissitudes is dealt with in the text of the book itself, something that is of great value to serious students of the national question, particularly the Tamil question. Our objective in this short note is limited to point at a few specificities that emerged at the later stage of this struggle after it attained an armed confrontationist character. These specificities possibly impacted on the outcome of the latest phase of fight for the Tamil nation directly and indirectly.
There are two denominations of Tamils in Sri Lanka: the Sri Lankan Tamils and the so-called Indian Tamils (also called Up-Country or Hill Tamils). Both these sections have Tamil as their mother tongue, but they are divided among themselves on many other counts. The fight for the Tamil nation was predominantly confined to the Sri Lankan Tamils whose history on the island is very ancient, while the history of the section of people called Indian Tamils in the island is only five to six generations old. This is not the only dividing point though it is a serious one. The Indian Tamils are the descendants of the indentured workers taken by the British colonial government to work under sub human conditions in the tea plantations opened up by the colonial planters in the central hilly region. They were the erstwhile untouchables from the Tamil land in mainland India. These Dalit workers played a very significant role in the development of the plantation economy of the island, which means that their contribution to the economy as a whole is not at all negligible. In fact, their contribution is very important.
The colonial policy in Sri Lanka, like in any other colonies, was also based on the policy of divide and rule. The division between the majority population, the Sinhalese, and the Sri Lankan Tamils was incessantly sought to be exploited by the colonialists to serve their goal of domination over the entire island. And they were successful to a large extent in the sense that both the Tamil and Sinhala leaderships failed to overcome this serious social division. Moreover, the indentured labour, by no means a small number, could be kept isolated both from the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils. Towards the fag end of colonialism organizations could develop among this section but there was no unity between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the Indian Tamils. This lack of unity had much to do with the widely prevalent caste system under which the upper castes among the Sri Lankan Tamils looked down upon the Tamil Dalit plantation workers and kept them at a distance. After political independence they were rendered a stateless people and they continued to be so for quite some time. The political leaderships of both the Sri Lankan Tamils and the majoritarian Sinhalese vehemently opposed the granting of equal citizenship rights to these millions. Their position was that these Tamils are Indians and they should go back to India. Some of the first anti Tamil riots were against these people. Except for some inconsequential attempts by the Fourth International affiliated Marxists there were no serious attempts from any side to integrate these people into the political process as active agents.
The point at issue here is that there were no attempts from the side of the Sri Lankan Tamils to unite with their working class brethren in the plantations, actually and potentially a crucial component of the Sri Lankan economy. From the point of view of a genuine national liberation movement of Tamils this was a strategic mistake. It is sheer irony that, even after it became absolutely obvious that Sinhalese chauvinism had been established as the reactionary ruling ideology, there were no attempts to rectify this grievous error. Adding to this distortion of the national struggle of the Tamils there was also the backward looking approach to other minorities like the Muslims, mainly of Indian origin, who at one point of time were forcibly uprooted by the Tamil militants from their habitats in the north and east of the island. A national struggle ought to forge the broadest possible front; isolationist programmes can be suicidal. It is hard to say that the Tamil militant leadership paid serious attention to this cardinal aspect of their national struggle.
The Sri Lankan government had proved their bloodthirsty character even as early as 1971 when a widespread rural youth and working class rebellion occurred there. This rebellion was crushed through an annihilation campaign with the active aid of China, India, Pakistan, the US and a number of European countries. It was the Sinhalese youth and working class who were the target of this bloody extermination campaign and the toll of this and the subsequent one in 1988-89 was no less than what is recorded in the anti-Tamil riots and wars. There is an important lesson from this part of Sri Lankan history: Dubbing all the Sinhalese as reactionaries and chauvinists is ahistorical; it closes broader and multiple possibilities of destabilizing the enemy. A national liberation struggle simply cannot afford such luxuries. All the possible utilizations of all the contradictions enmeshing the enemy ought to be aimed at, but this can happen only if there is comprehensive programmatic clarity on the issue at hand. Of course, an independent Tamil nation is recognized as the principal slogan, but such a slogan cannot and could not hold on in a vacuum divorced from the other major contradictions in the bigger collective.
Sri Lanka is a neo-colonial entity and in South Asia it is a country with enormous economic and military strategic importance. A very significant part of global shipping is facilitated by this island, an important reason why the big powers of the world would never willingly let it go from their clutches. The emerging power of Asia—China—is digging in there in a big way and the other big boss of the region, India, would certainly not like to be left in the lurch. These two powers of Asia are competitively involved in Lanka apart from other global capitalist/imperialist powers. For India, there is an important additional internal compulsion to prevent the emergence of any independent or even autonomous Tamil entity in Lanka. The Tamil national question in India is certain to become live, if there an independent Tamil nation in Lanka. After all, the geographical distance is only a few kilometres and the historical and contemporary linkages are strong. Tamil ‘separatism’ may be dormant in India now, but it is not necessary that it will always remain so. The history of Indian involvement in Sri Lanka is self-revealing as a series of expansionist manoeuvres.
Initially, Delhi tried to convert the Tamil militant groups into its monkey’s paws by organizing military training for them in Tamil Nadu. There is nothing very imaginative or innovative in this ‘love’ for the suffering Tamils in Lanka. It was only a repeat performance of what India tried in East Bengal. The idea was clearly to heavily infiltrate and control the Tamil militant groups and subsequently consolidate strategic control over the northern and eastern parts of the island. This expansionist scheme was seen through by the politically more advanced militants, who dispensed with Indian benevolence and launched guerrilla war on their own. It was when the initial scheme suffered such a setback that India found a way into the island by manipulating an invitation from the Colombo government to militarily aid the suppression of Tamil guerrillas and pacify the Tamil dominated areas.
The LTTE fought the more than hundred thousand strong Indian army and did not give up an inch. The humiliating withdrawal of the Indian army was ably facilitated also by the widespread protests by the Sinhalese people, who also saw through the Indian game plan. The atrocities committed by the Indian army in Lanka were no less, if not worse, than those committed by the Sinhalese army and it was these that resulted in the assassination of the Indian prime minister in Tamil Nadu by LTTE guerrillas.
The Indian adventurism was a fiasco on all counts. India was the first country to outlaw the Tamil militants as ‘terrorists,’ a reaction partly to hide its misadventure and save face. Not only did India outlaw the Tigers, but it viciously went on a global campaign to get them outlawed by other countries. Subsequently, India became a key partner in the war against the Tamils. If anyone expects India to become the ‘saviour’ of Tamils in Lanka it is ridiculous because her stake in not allowing a separate Tamil nation on the island is directly political and hence much more serious. A clear understanding of this situation is vital for the reorganization of the movement for a Tamil nation. The Diaspora and their well wishers can lose sight of this only at the peril of the fundamental cause itself.
Various explanations are currently being offered to explain the total defeat of the LTTE armed forces. Most of them hold the overwhelming superiority of the state forces to be responsible for the inevitability of the outcome. But this cannot be accepted even as a military explanation. The fact that the LTTE could survive the earlier military onslaughts and establish an alternative government in a limited area shows that the defeat cannot be fully explained by the superiority of the state forces. The transition from mobile guerrilla war to positional war was untenable as is shown by the nature of the final stage of the war. The lessons of the guerrilla war waged under the leadership of Mao and the Vietnamese experience seem to have been lost on the leadership of the LTTE. It was a classic case of encirclement and extermination from which the guerrillas could not break out and shift the theatre of war to different, newer areas. In such a scenario the relationship between the people and the combatants is of paramount importance. What was the character of the relations between the guerrillas and the people is something that has to be freshly looked into. Experience on the global level proves all too clearly that one-sided emphasis on military capability or attaining military capability can easily slide into militarism, which will not be able to sustain for a length of time. Flexibility in strategy and tactics is very important for sustaining a fight of weaker forces against stronger forces and that is where wholly depending on military solutions can easily backfire. There is every reason to believe that this is what happened in the case of the fight waged by LTTE.
Analyzing a civil war is a very complex task and it is going to take much more time and effort to fully unravel what has recently happened in Sri Lanka. The present isolation of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is on a global scale and it is ideological as well as political. It is in this backdrop that Ron Ridenour’s book is of great relevance. Many more studies seriously looking at the Tamil question in Sri Lanka are bound to come and let us hope that this book exerts its due role in stimulating them.
South Asia Study Centre, Ooty August, 2011
What moved me to action for our collective right to basic necessities for our very existence were the initial humanitarian measures taken by revolutionary leaders in Cuba, especially against racism and an economic system fostering poverty. I had begun to sense, and then learned, that the economic system of capitalism promulgated by the political system known as ‘bourgeois democracy,’ i.e., freedom of press for those with the riches to own them, is anathema to human ethics and even to the instinct of species survival.
Of all the struggles against the system of profiteering wrought with war, I have most followed Cuba’s. Besides solidarity work for its revolution from where I have lived in the United States and Europe, I worked for government media centres in Cuba for eight years. For decades, Cuba stood firmly on the side of the oppressed. In recent years, however, its foreign policy has been foggy; but I knew nothing of its role on the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) until May 26, 2009, when I received a mail from Amarantha Visalakshi, representing the Latin American Friendship Association (LAFA), in Tamil Nadu, India. Over a period of 25 years Visalakshi has been translating writings about Latin American struggles, especially in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia, and she has written some herself.
“We are sending this mail to you since you are a long-time admirer and critic of the Cuban revolution,” wrote this person unknown to me. What followed was an agonizing protest:
“It is a great shock for the people of Tamil Nadu to find that Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, among other countries, have supported the Sri Lanka Government in annihilating the Tamil population in the Island nation…
“How could Raul Castro, Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales from the land of Martí, Sandino and Bolivar favour the crushing of a Liberation Movement?
“We here in Tamil Nadu celebrated the 80th birthday of Comrade Fidel by releasing eight books on Cuba’s achievements in various fields…
“We are struck dumb and rendered disheartened and disillusioned by this act by those countries of Latin America on which we have pinned our hopes for the future.”
I immediately checked out what Amarantha was referring to and came across the discussion in the UNHRC about how to praise Sri Lanka and condemn the recently defeated LTTE (Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam). Not one country stood beside the oppressed and repressed Tamil civilians, at least there were no such references during the two-day resolution discussion on the HRC’s website.
Returning from several months in Cuba in March 2009, I wrote articles about its 50 years in struggle. Some of my writings aimed to be constructively critical of the leadership’s continued lack of turning over real power and control over production relations to the working class and the general population. A collection of writings on Cuba, including these, was recently printed in Tamil by this publisher, under the title: “Cuba: A Revolution in Action.”
It is not easy to criticize comrades, especially a State that has done so much to improve the lives of its people and educate and cure millions of people throughout the ‘Third World,’ moreover a State and a people under constant attack by the voracious, unfriendly neighbour to the north. Because I think and write with a critical mind, I have been attacked by other solidarity activists for near betrayal. But a real betrayal of what Cuba’s revolution stands for would be to remain silent at its failure to act in solidarity with an oppressed people, which has always been its motto. On the wall before my writing apparatus is the photograph of a Cuban billboard:
“Ser Internacionalista Es Saldar Nuestra Propia Deuda con la Humanidad.” Fidel’s words in English are: “To be internationalist is to settle our debt with humanity.”
As an internationalist I had to study this horrendous matter of Sri Lanka and the Tamils, about which I knew nothing. I have not been to Sri Lanka and this is an acknowledged handicap. It took some time and was painful learning. 100,000 deaths caused by the years of fighting, and 300,000 Tamils interned in concentration camps under atrocious conditions. Having failed with non-violence to convince the Sinhalese majority to treat them equally, even decently, Tamils were forced to pick up arms. At first, the Tigers hailed Che. In time, they dropped internationalist principles and engaged in internecine warfare. Still, the Tamil people have every right and need to exist in peace and equality, and this is possible only if they have their own nation state. That, at least, is what I could conclude from my research.
Watching from afar how the Rajapaksa regime was repressing Tamils, and hypocritically purporting to be socialists and allies of Cuba and other ALBA leaders, I am compelled to add my voice against this injustice as well as to criticize those brother nations for not acting fraternally in this matter.
Some articles that I wrote on these issues and which were distributed widely in the political internet world in November 2009 are reproduced in this book in a revised and updated form as chapters. Chapter one concerns the dubious role of Cuba-ALBA with relation to Sri Lanka. The next five chapters attempt to put the conflict in a historical and contemporary context.
To understand why Tamils want their own nation one must know the history of both peoples and their interrelationships. I did not become an expert, merely an analytic chronicler. The second chapter goes into the ancient and colonial history of the island as a background to the question at hand: the right and necessity for Tamil nationhood. The third and fourth chapters take on the last half-century since independence and portray the sordid picture of Sinhalese reactionary treatment, amounting to genocide, of the Sri Lanka Tamil population, and discrimination against the ‘Indian’ Tamils, primarily plantation labourers originally indentured by the British. The fifth outlines how various and diverse States have sided with the Sri Lankan government’s discrimination and war crimes, and how some of them foment their own terrorism while scrambling for greater riches. The sixth gives a glimpse of the post-war hell.
Tamils in the Diaspora form the subject of Chapter 7. The lying machinations of successive Sri Lankan governments of all dominant political parties, and many former Leftists, who demonize Tamil efforts abroad to aid their kinsmen at home, are countered by hundreds of grass roots groups in a score of countries where Tamils have fled for their lives. I concentrate on threcent actions to create international representation for a Tamil homeland and to assist the people there in dire need.
Chapter 8 is on the “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.” This report is a summary of the 214-page document that surprisingly portrays what actually occurred during the last months of the war. It was hoped that the Human Rights Council’s 17th session, May 30-June 17, 2011, would do something about the recommendations. It did not.
After the war’s close, Tamil refugees were caught in the international crossfire. A humanitarian Canadian group, HART, sought to help some refugees, whom Australia had rejected. They wished to ask the Venezuelan government to give them asylum. In this effort, HART also wanted to help a progressive government and leader of ALBA understand how the Tamils are treated and why they feel the need for a separate State, something that many progressive nations are wary about. This is so because in some regions of Venezuela and Bolivia there are efforts by wealthy corporations and their politicians to secede, not for equal rights, but simply to rake in more wealth. Another reason why progressives (and mostly Marxists) oppose separatism is the historic understanding that opposition to oppression and exploitation especially by foreign powers is often weakened when an ethnic people break away from one nation to form a second.
With HART’s presence in Venezuela, a well-known figure in Left-wing politics, Eva Golinger, a lawyer and writer, wrote an opinion piece in Venezuela government media (May 15, 2010) attacking Canadian HART for being in the service of both the Tigers and the Yankees. When I read this, I was appalled at her lack of knowledge and her misguided sense of international solidarity. My response to her and others on the Left, who have been bamboozled by the Sri Lankan government, forms the content of “Misguided Solidarity” in the appendix.
Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Cuba, Tamara Kunanayakam, rushed to Venezuela to “set the record straight.” Her trip to counter a “pro-Tamil Tiger build up in Venezuela” was so reported in Sri Lankan media. She was interviewed by the Venezuelan government newspaper, Correo del Orinoco, and it ran in the ALBA online website patriagrande.com on June 11, 2010. This interview is reproduced in Appendix 2. In it she mentioned me several times in the context of supporting both the Tigers and the Yankees. I was livid.
Just the year before, I had spent three months in Venezuela and was interviewed by several government or pro-government media, including a TV program hosted by Vanessa Davis, who is also the chief editor of Correo del Orinoco. I spoke in favour of President Chávez’ position that the FARC guerrillas in Colombia were not terrorists, but legitimate liberationists. I was an activist with a group seeking to abolish the anti-liberationist ‘terrorist law’ in Denmark, and we had materially aided both FARC and PFLP.1 Now, Venezuela government media were giving uncritical space to an enemy of liberation, and I was being portrayed as an enemy of socialism, even an ally of US imperialism!
I dashed off mails to Davis and patriagrande. I asked for a rebuttal. I was met with the best weapon against honest debate, silence. After three mails without any reply, I wrote a response, which is also given here in Appendix 2. It was published in English and Spanish on several websites. But aporrea, a progressive Venezuela Spanish language website, took it off its screen within hours of publication. A rumour was circulating that I belonged to the CIA. Outraged, I sent a letter to Venezuela’s Embassy in Denmark, which sent it on to the Foreign Ministry. Still I am met by silence, painfully so.
It is worth noting that just a month following this Sri Lankan intervention in Venezuela’s foreign affairs, the widest read Zionist daily in Israel, Yedioth Ahronoth, ran a lengthy interview with Sri Lanka’s ambassador there, Donald Perera. He was military chief-of-staff during the final offensive against the LTTE.2
As a war commander, he spoke proudly of having “a great relationship
with your military industries and with Israel Aerospace industries.”
He said, “For years Israel has aided our war on terror through
the exchange of information and the sale of military technology and
equipment.” He spoke of Israel as “a country I consider
a partner in the war against terror,” thus coupling terrorism
with the Palestinians’ struggle for their homeland and the simple
right to exist. Then he offered military advice for insurgency elimination:
“In case the other side shows it is not interested in a compromise, (Israel) must move on to the military phase with full force. (The government) will have to explain to the citizens that (Israel) is headed for a long and difficult struggle that will exact a heavy price, but at the end of this struggle the country’s situation will be much better.”
War criminal par excellence, Perera supported Israel’s illegal and bloodthirsty attack on the Gaza-bound Turkish ship on May 31, 2010, during which it murdered at least nine solidarity activists. He said, “I can understand that Israel had to protect itself.” Against unarmed civilians bearing material necessities for an occupied, besieged people?
Before the end of the war, Tamils in their traditional northern and eastern homeland were able to live in relative security, protected basically by a well-armed LTTE. But since their defeat the government has ruthlessly moved in to take over, establishing Sinhalese settlements and changing the demography à la Israel. Buddhist temples sprout up; names of roads and villages change from Tamil to the Sinhala language. Sinhalese businessmen stream into Tamil areas and employ some as manual labourers while Sinhalese fill the ‘white man’s’ roles. Large tracts of the Tamil North and East are under occupation by the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) army.
Some 40,000 Tamils in the North and East were slaughtered by the armed forces just in the last week weeks of the war. 280,000 Tamils who escaped the slaughter were locked up in concentration camps. Under intense international pressure most of the interned were finally released, but returned to empty plots of ground or to occupied homes making them internally displaced persons (IDPs).3 The government had waylaid resettling most interned for 18 months. Their conditions are the opposite of the “promotion and protection of human rights.” Hundreds died for lack of food, water, and basic health care.
On February 18, 2011, an AP dispatch from Geneva reported that 18,000 civilians were still imprisoned in ‘welfare camps.’ Some 5,000 suspected ex-combatants were also held, according to UN official Neil Buhne. In May, that many Tamils were still interned. At least 100,000 of those released had no homes to return to. UN and other aid workers and the few journalists allowed inside the former Tamil homeland speak of seeing extreme poverty and hunger, little or no electricity and irrigation for Tamils, and many torn from their homes. Graves of killed Tamils are bulldozed over. Tourist hotels are to be built on top of them. The army takes over houses or builds new ones for between 30,000-50,000 military-police occupiers.
The army has increased its ranks by one-third following its war victory.
It is so proud of how it wiped out vast numbers of combatants and civilians
that it announced a three-day international forum beginning on May 31,
2011, to show just how it was done.
The United States is the world’s greatest (biggest and most prolific) terrorist state, which supports other terrorist states such as Israel and Middle Eastern oligarchies and dictatorships. While it chronically lies to the public about its actions and true intentions, it must communicate some of the truth amongst its own so that the leadership can assess what postures and actions to take. We don’t get well informed in this world of ‘free press,’ and hence the beauty and importance of WikiLeaks. It is so useful for real freedom of information that the US government is seeking to murder its leader and shut down the entire muckraking operation. Meanwhile it incarcerates a young soldier, Bradley Manning, in torturous psychological conditions for months on end without trial on the grounds that he is the key source to revealing secret US military and political documents that show extensive US torture, its lies for oil wars, and their officials’ assessments of foreign government leaders.
Among the many US documents and cables concerning its wars and relations with governments is one dated January 15, 2010, written by US ambassador in Sri Lanka, Patricia Butenis, to her superiors. In her report, she acknowledged that Rajapaksa family leaders of government, and its opposition leader, stood behind war crimes. The WikiLeaks release, December 1, 2010, coincided with a scheduled visit by President Rajapaksa to speak at the prestigious Oxford Union. As his large entourage of politicians and militarists gathered in a luxurious London hotel, he was informed that the event had been cancelled due to protests and ‘security concerns.’ One minor victory!
The historian professor, A. Velupillai, wrote that Thiruvalluvar, in his didactic philosophical classical Tamil work, Thirukkural, kept clear of the “external trappings of different religions.”4 Wise of him to do so, since adopting religious beliefs guided by institutional employees often leads to fanaticism and aggressions against humans believing in other doctrines, or in none whatsoever. Religious warring crusades, empire building, pogroms, genocide—all have we humans witnessed in the name of God/Allah and even Buddha.
1. FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army):
Inspired by the Cuban revolution and Marxism-Leninism, it was formed
in 1964 to protect peasants being attacked by Colombia’s army.
It has been fighting government repression and oppression since, although
from 1984 to 1990 it negotiated a ceasefire with the government and
participated in elections in the UP (Patriotic Union). But rich drug
traffickers and their hired paramilitary groups killed up to 4000 members,
including two presidential candidates and scores of their elected politicians.
The government did not intervene. In 1991, they resumed guerrilla warfare.
FARC has had between 1,000 and 20,000 fighters, and held up to one-third
of the territory of Colombia, mainly in south-eastern jungles and mountains.
They allow farmers to grow cocoa leaves, and take taxes on produce and
trade. They say they do not fabricate cocaine and they admit recruiting
children from 15 years. Several capitalist governments consider them
PFLP (The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) was formed in 1967 following Israel’s Six-Day War in June. It is the only secular organisation in the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), and second in size to Fatah. It is Marxist-Leninist in orientation and seeks a democratic, secular and socialist state for all within a one-state solution to the conflict. It runs in elections—winning between 4-5% of the vote—and has some hundreds (up to 3000) guerrillas as well. It currently considers both the Fatah-led and Hamas-led governments as illegal since there have been no elections since 2006. Several capitalist governments consider them to be terrorists. They have not committed suicide bombings or hijackings since the mid-1970s.
2. See http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3923309,00.html.
3. Brian Senewiratne: “Why National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka Is Not Possible.” Available online.
4. A. Velupillai, “A Brief History of Tamil People”available at http://tamilelibrary.org/teli/tamil.html.
According to Albert Schweitzer’s evaluation of this book of the Sangam era (300 BCE-300 CE) comprising 1330 verses, it represents “a synthesis of much of the best in Indian thought up to that time with a positive approach to life.” Mahatma Gandhi evaluated it so highly that he said it was worth learning Tamil, if only to be able to read this work in the language it was written.
CUBA – ALBA LET DOWN SRI LANKA TAMILS
“Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are our enemies… Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers,” President Fidel Castro.1
“The revolutionary (is) the ideological motor force of the
revolution…if he forgets his proletarian internationalism, the
revolution which he leads will cease to be an inspiring force and he
will sink into a comfortable lethargy, which imperialism, our irreconcilable
enemy, will utilize well. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but
it is also a revolutionary necessity. So we educate our people,”
Che Guevara wrote.2
I think that the governments of Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua let down the entire Tamil population in the ‘Democratic Socialist Republic’ of Sri Lanka, and betrayed ‘proletarian internationalism’ and the ‘exploited’ by extending unconditional support to Sri Lanka’s racist government. Cuba did so—along with the Bolivian and Nicaraguan governments and members of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America)—on May 27, 2009, when signing a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution praising the government of Sri Lanka for “the promotion and protection of human rights,” while condemning for terrorism only the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam, which had fought the government in a civil war since 1983 until their defeat on May 19, 2009.
Since advocating for and signing the unbalanced HRC resolution, I have found no text or evidence that these progressive-revolutionary-socialist governments of ALBA have criticized Sri Lanka for routinely practicing brutality and neglecting the basic life necessities of illegally interned Tamil people after its latest war against them. The conduct of Sinhalese-led governments towards Tamils ever since Sri Lanka’s independence from Great Britain, in 1947-8, has always been one of mistreatment and inequality, even genocide.
While ALBA leader Venezuela is not a member of that council, President Hugo Chávez followed suit by applauding Sri Lanka’s victory.3 I hope that these revolutionary leaders will undo that damage by coming to the aid of those still interned and all 2.5 million survivors of this horrible carnage, and condemn Sri Lanka for its beastly and racist conduct. Tamils’ national rights must also be recognized, especially by governments representing other indigenous and once enslaved peoples.
In this chapter I present the case that Sri Lanka’s governments practice genocide. I also speculate about why the four ALBA countries involved in this matter could have decided to ignore this reality, why they disallowed an investigation into the assertion, and why they support such a cruel, chauvinistic regime.
Human Rights Council Resolution S-11/1
Upon the end of the war of the Sri Lankan state against the Tamil people, 17 countries on the 47-member Human Rights Council called for an extraordinary session about the situation in Sri Lanka. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, spoke for an “independent and credible international investigation” into the reports of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law on both sides of the civil war.
“For its part, the Government reportedly used heavy artillery on the densely populated conflict zone, despite assurances that it would take precautions to protect civilians”…and the “reported shelling of a hospital clinic on several occasions…”
“These people are in desperate need of food, water, medical help and other forms of basic assistance…there have already been outbreaks of contagious diseases.”
“The images of terrified and emaciated women, men and children fleeing the battle zone…must spur us into action.”
Pillay’s professional, compassionate and balanced proposal was not tabled or even discussed. Instead 17 members—mostly EU countries and Canada, but also Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and Chile—proposed only that an investigation into these charges of human rights abuse be pursued by the Sri Lankan government itself, that is, the government should investigate its own brutality; hardly anything radical or effective. This and the call for “rapid and unhindered access” for humanitarian aid from the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross were the only significant difference from another resolution proposed by the majority, mostly Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries. Chile was the only NAM member to vote against the majority, which wanted no investigation at all. And the “rapid and unhindered access” for humanitarian aid was reduced to: “provide access as may be appropriate,” thereby giving Sri Lanka’s government the power to use food/water/medicine as a weapon against the enemy—the Tamil people—and not the now defeated LTTE.
Sri Lanka was present at the HRC sessions as an observer. It had been a member from 2006 to 2008 when it lost re-election as one of the six Asian state members. Poignantly overlooked by most NAM members assembled a year later was the fact that it had been severely criticized by Tamils around the world and by internationally respected Nobel Peace Prize winners, Desmond Tutu and Adolfo Perez Esquivel. When opposing its seat on the Human Rights Council in May 2008, Tutu said:
“The systematic abuses by Sri Lanka government forces are among the most serious imaginable. Torture and extrajudicial killings are widespread (as are) kidnappings of its own people.”
A year later, the HRC majority unfastidiously praised Sri Lanka for continuing “to uphold its human rights obligations and the norms of international human rights law.” To my dismay the key promoter of the majority resolution was Cuba, the homeland of my heart, where I had lived and worked for the government for eight years.
The Cuban ambassador to the Council, Juan Antonio Fernández Palacios—who also spoke on behalf of the NAM—praised Sri Lanka’s governments over the years, and ‘congratulated’ it on ‘putting an end’ to the armed conflict. A key sentence is: “Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to fight terrorism and separatism within its undisputed borders must be respected.” Cuba also acted as a special advocate for Sri Lanka as an ‘interlocutor,’ in addition to Egypt, India and Pakistan. The resolution about Sri Lanka was actually its own draft, which Cuba tabled.4
Just before the vote, the Bolivian HRC ambassador, Ms Angélica Navarro Llames, made it clear she was perturbed by the manner in which many of the 17 countries had presented their resolution and for insisting upon a special meeting just a week before the scheduled one. She objected to ‘neocolonialist attitudes.’ The Bolivian then spoke of LTTE terrorism used against the people and the government, and defended its right to fight for its sovereignty.
Resolution S-11/1 was adopted by the majority (29 members for, 12 against, 6 abstentions). Here are pertinent excerpts:
“Reaffirming the respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and its sovereign rights to protect its citizens and combat terrorism,
“Condemning all attacks that the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) launched on the civilian population and its practice of using civilians as human shields…
“Welcoming the conclusion of hostilities and the liberation by the Government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE against their will as hostages, as well as the efforts by the Government to ensure safety and security for all Sri Lankans and bringing permanent peace to the country…
“Emphasizing that after the conclusion of hostilities, the priority in terms of human rights remains the provision of the necessary assistance to ensure relief and rehabilitation of persons affected by the conflict, including internally displaced persons, as well as the reconstruction of the country’s economy and infrastructure,
“Encouraged by the provision of basic humanitarian assistance, in particular, safe drinking water, sanitation, food, and medical and health care services to the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) by the Government of Sri Lanka with the assistance of the United Nations agencies…
“1. Commends the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the Internally Displaced Persons;
“2. Welcomes the continued commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of all human rights and encourages it to continue to uphold its human rights obligations and the norms of international human rights law; ...
“5. Acknowledges the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to provide access as may be appropriate to international humanitarian agencies in order to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population affected by the conflict, in particular IDPs…”
In favour: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay, Zambia.
Against: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Abstaining: Argentina, Gabon, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea, Ukraine.”5
I will show in the following chapters how points 1, 2 and 5 cited here have never corresponded to the reality. Sri Lanka has not respected Tamil lives or rights nor has it provided them their “urgent needs.”
Terrorism and Genocide
Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was first dubbed a terrorist
organisation by India, in 1992. Ironically, it wasn’t until 1998
that Sri Lanka’s government also characterized them that way,
and it did so only after the US did, in 1997. On May 30, 2006, the EU
placed LTTE on its terrorist list and banned the organisation. It made
it a terrorist crime to economically or militarily aid LTTE and it froze
all LTTE bank and financial assets in Europe. The EU appeared to be
even-handed by calling upon the Sri Lankan government to end its “culture
of impunity” and to “curb violence” in its areas of
control. At the time of LTTE’s defeat, 32 countries had defined
them as terrorists.
After studying LTTE’s activities in Sri Lanka I find it difficult to state that it is a decidedly terrorist organisation, that is, one which seeks to terrorise civilians. After reading many accounts of atrocities, such as killing hundreds of civilian Sinhalese in their homes, on buses and trains, I conclude that this organisation that once proclaimed itself to be a Marxist revolutionary one did resort to terrorist methods.
At the same time, it must not be forgotten, or acceded to, that according
to the world’s greatest state terrorist, the United States of
America, any liberation movement, which it does not agree with, is ‘terrorist,’
and therefore illegitimate. Other terrorists, such as the government
of the separatist state of Kosovo, are no longer considered terrorist
although its drug-smuggling paramilitary organisation had been so described
even by the US. Superpowers support or oppose autonomy-independence
when it suits their interests. This is also the case with Ireland, Basques
in Spain, and Palestinians. Furthermore, the US systematically practices
terrorism in its permanent war—invading or ‘intervening’
militarily in 66 countries, a total of 159 times since the Second World
We must lament the unacceptable methods the LTTE applied against many people, and do so without ignoring the history of why and how it was born. Nor must we reject out-of-hand the basic rights and needs of the Tamil people. Their plight must not be abandoned, especially by governments and organisations grounded in anti-imperialism and fighting for equality amongst peoples.
Sri Lanka’s history since its independence is one of conducting genocide against the Tamils. Genocide is defined by the UN, and Sri Lanka ratified its promise to adhere to it on October 12, 1950. The Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted on December 9, 1948, and entered into force on January 12, 1951, states:7
Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as:
(a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Destroying “in whole or in part” an ethnic group is certainly
what Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese governments, as well as a section of
its Buddhist monks and their top leaders, have been doing to the Tamils
for six decades. I shall be adducing evidence for this. In fact, there
is so much evidence that even a former US Assistant Deputy Attorney
General in the Reagan Administration filed a 12-count indictment against
Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and Army Commander,
Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, for “perpetrating genocide against Tamil
The suit was filed by Bruce Fein in February 2009 in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California.8 The case could be filed in the US because G. Rajapaksa is a naturalized citizen and Fonseka holds a resident green card. They are charged with responsibility for “3,750 alleged extrajudicial killings, with 10,000 suffering bodily injury and more than 1.3 million displacements,” which, according to Fein, “far exceed displacements in Kosovo which led to genocide counts before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.”
Fein noted that G. Rajapaksa said in a BBC interview: “If you are not fighting the Tamil Tigers you are a terrorist and we’ll kill you.” The attorney represents Tamils against Genocide (TAG). He believes that G. Rajapaksa would be “the best witness of the genocide.”
Why did ALBA vote as it did?
I ask the three ALBA governments that voted for the above mentioned resolution to take Sri Lanka’s government to account on the serious charge of practicing genocide against the Tamil people. At the very least, ALBA should be able to see that hundreds of thousands of displaced persons are brutally treated, and that routine discrimination and abuse have been the Tamils’ plight at the hands of Sinhalese. This contradicts ALBA’s ideology of equal rights for all: in language, in religion, in the economy, in all aspects of life. In fact, the very new constitution of Bolivia recognizes the country to be a pluri-nation, in which all the languages and religions of all the peoples are recognized equally. The same is the case in Venezuela with its new constitution.
How can it then be that these people’s governments have fallen in the arms of such an oppressive, racist government? Possible reasons are:
1. Separatism! It is ironic and ideologically insupportable that anti-imperialist progressive and revolutionary leaders in Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia—mainly dark-skinned peoples, and many of them, especially in Bolivia, aborigines long abused by many whites and creoles—side with the Sinhalese chauvinist elite in Sri Lanka. Perhaps they have not studied the sordid history of Sri Lanka. But more certain it is that they do not support separatism or dual nationhood within one country. Cuba especially has, from its revolutionary start, argued for unity. What Cuba and the others fail to realise or acknowledge is that the Tamil people had tried for decades to achieve equal rights with the Sinhalese, many of whom assert adherence to Marxism, yet to no avail. Most Sinhalese do not wish to unify equally with the other ethnic group. Once peaceful means are exhausted, armed struggle is the only means to achieve liberation, as was the case with Cuba and other Latin American guerrilla movements.
In the case of Sri Lanka and separatism, ALBA governments could be prompted to side with it because of, in part, the role of China! The desire of many Tibetan Buddhists and Muslim Uighurs of East Turkistan for independence from Chinese colonisation is an impelling factor for China’s position of upholding national unity and integrity, and may be it views the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka from the same perspective. Ironically, in this case China sides with Buddhists against Hindus, Christians and Muslims!
Bolivia and Venezuela, too, are pressed by separatist demands; but these demands come from a rich class of whites and creoles, which has no historic ethnic homeland, and not from any nationality.
2. Geo-politics! Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-dominated governments have been supported militarily and economically by many states, some of which are sometimes antagonistic to one another. Some leftist governments and leftist organisations often operate on the notion that the enemy of my enemy is a friend. If this is how some socialist-communist revolutionaries view China and Iran—both totalitarian regimes—in relation to US-Europe-Canada-Australia-Japan imperialism, when it comes to Sri Lanka they are mistaken. Surely there are economic and geo-political interests on the part of China and Iran in investing and trading with countries in development, including Sri Lanka but also Cuba and in all Latin America. Fortunately, most Latin Americans and the majority of their governments have ceased jumping when a US president or general barks, and they are combining in regional alliances and seeking foreign investments and aid from non-traditional partners.
So, now that China and Iran have begun to extend their interests in Sri Lanka and commend it without any questions regarding its brutal treatment of Tamils, many leftists and progressive governments could think in a black and white geo-political manner. For the sake of their own propaganda image, the US-EU states question Sri Lanka for possible abuses of human rights against Tamils. Ah, no one with experience or knowledge about the duplicity of the Empire and its allies could side with them, so one must back the other side.
But China is no longer socialist; rather, its economy is based mainly on government-sponsored private enterprise with extreme exploitation of labour: no union protection, long work hours, low wages, child labour, and no say on the job or with regard to national and international policies. The working class no longer even has access to full education and health care without paying on a capitalist basis. In fact, workers in most capitalist countries in Europe have better access to health care than do workers in China. Millionaire capitalists now sit on leadership bodies of the so-called Communist Party and make important decisions over the heads of workers and the population at large. China is interested mainly in accumulating capital in the grand old raw capitalist style. China’s economy is intricately interdependent upon US’ capitalism and therewith its imperialist wars.
China owns 7% of the US in the sense that this is what the US owes it for bailing out its foreign debt of $14.32 trillion (as of May 23, 2011).9 China has $1.1 trillion of that (26% of debt owned by foreigners); the second largest debtor is Japan with $882 billion (20%), and long behind in third place is the UK with $272 billion or 6% of total foreign holdings. The foreign debt in 2000 was just over $3 trillion. Since then the US has gone deeper in debt due to funding several wars and bailing out many of the largest multinational corporations, banks and insurance companies.
Furthermore, China is constantly at great advantage over the United States in trade. US trade deficit with China in the first three months of 2011 was already $60 billion. Last year, the total deficit was $273 billion. The previous six years, the deficit in China’s favour was at least $200 billion annually. If China were truly socialist or communist, it could pull the plug and the US economy would collapse. But these biggest of powers need one another while they also compete especially over oil and other raw materials.
Iran is run on the basis of fundamentalist religious fanaticism. Its economy is basically capitalist too. Its working class, just as the working class in China, is not a decision-maker. Iran is also a warring partner with US imperialism in its illegal war against Iraq, whose troops are a key factor in the violence against millions of Iraqis. Iran supports its co-religious Muslims in the Quisling government under US domination.
Is it possible that the developing countries, which back Sri Lanka’s government against the Tamil population, do so out of economic reasons? China and Iran provide needed investments and technology and, therefore, one must not criticize. Is that possible and, if so, is it ethical? Is it consistent with our humanitarian principles and socialist ideology? Cannot one be a trading partner without cowing down politically?
Another issue is secularism. The ALBA countries and all truly socialist oriented governments are not and cannot be theocracies! How can secular nation states and organisations consider the Sri Lanka state ‘democratic socialist’ when it declares a religion, and only one, as THE national and official religion? Secularism is the only common ground by which all can be united.
In conclusion, I agree with progressive Tamils in the Tamil Nadu State of India, who have for decades supported Cuba and the new ALBA formation. The Latin American Friendship Association there has held many solidarity activities for these countries, and published scores of books by Latin American authors, including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Upon learning of the HRC resolution, they were appalled and put the question:
“Why do these countries wish to wipe out the Tamils from the Sri Lankan soil where they rightfully belong? What are the sources of information for these Latin American countries to decide against the Tamils and in favour of the racist Sri Lankan government in the UN Human Rights Council?...More than any other time we feel the absence of Che Guevara, the true internationalist, who laid down his life for the oppressed people of the world.”
On this question, I also concur with Australia’s largest left-wing organisation, the Democratic Socialist Perspective:10
“We need to undertake work to help convince the revolutionary governments of Latin America, including Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, to cease support for the Sri Lankan government, and to recognize the national rights of the Tamil people. There is a long-run danger if revolutionary governments, for whatever reason, fail to support genuine movements for national self-determination in Third World countries, and endorse repressive regimes on the basis of a bogus ‘anti-imperialism’…”11
1. As told by Fidel to writer-photographer Lee Lockwood. See his book “Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel,” N.Y.: Macmillan, 1967.
2. “Socialism and Man,” Marcha, Uruguay, March 12, 1965.
3. “Hugo Chávez Praises President Rajapaksa’s Leadership in Defeating LTTE, Sri Lanka Daily News, Sep. 4, 2009. In this piece, published by a pro-government newspaper, there is not one original quotation by Hugo Chávez, who spoke with Rajapaksa when they were in Libya. In it the anonymous writer only paraphrases what Chávez is asserted to have said. An example: Chávez apparently said that the defeat of LTTE terrorism “is a glowing example to other countries beset with the same problem.” Chávez allegedly praised Rajapaksa for his leadership.
4. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11specialsession/S-11-1-Final-E.doc; http://portal.ohchr.org/portal/page/portal/HRCExtranet/11thSpecialSession; http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/270638,un-resolution-commends-sri-lanka-on-human-rights-summary.html.
6. See http://www.ronridenour.com/articles/2006/0815-rr.htm.
7. http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/convention/text.htm. Although the US signed the 1948 Convention, it did not accede to it until November, 1988. As of 2008, 140 nation states have acceded.
9. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt for foreign debt and for trade deficit see http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html.
10. The Democratic Socialist Perspective merged into the Socialist Alliance in January 2010. It publishes the Green Left Weekly and runs the website www.greenleft.org.au.
TAMIL EELAM: HISTORICAL ANTECEDENTS
Sri Lanka—formerly called Ceylon in English during the British colonial period, and Serendib in Arabic1 (the word gave rise to the English word serendipity)—is commonly referred to as the “pearl of the Orient” due to its beauty and wealth of natural resources, flora and fauna. Today, it is a land torn apart by hatred: by racist government policies, ethnic cleansing, and a terror war that ended in 2009, but was continued in the form of the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Tamil people in the North, and then upon their release by military occupation. A key reason for this brutal hatred is the dispute over whether a minority of its people, the Tamils, should have equal rights with the majority Sinhalese; if this is denied (and it will be shown it is) do they have the right to their own autonomous territory?
The relationship between the Sinhalas and the Tamils has been a changing one over the ages. In this chapter we shall try to capture some essential elements of their interrelations starting with the ancient history of the island, and covering the pre-colonial and colonial periods.
Archaeologists date the first humans in Sri Lanka, which had been connected to the Indian subcontinent up to about 7000 years ago, to some 34,000 years back. Scientists call them Balangoda people from the name of the location where artefacts were found. Sri Lanka’s first human settlers were the peoples of the Proto-Australoid and Dravidian ethnic groups. The hunting-gathering groups of Veddahs, the Nagas (already practising rice cultivation through irrigation engineering), the Devas and the Rakshasas were some of the aboriginal groups known to have been inhabitants of the island and having their own kingdoms before the arrival of Indo-Aryans from northern India.2
In 543 BCE or thereabouts a group of 700 people came to Lanka together with King Vijaya, who had been expelled from the kingdom of Sinhapura in North India. They fought wars with the original inhabitants and pushed them into the interior as well as entered into assimilatory alliances with them establishing settlements with the help of their knowledge of irrigation. Legend has it that Vijaya aligned himself with an aboriginal yakshi (actually Veddah) princess named Kuveni, married her and with her assistance became the king of the country. Later it seems he drove Kuveni away and married a princess from Madurai and made her his queen. His followers also married high caste maidens from the Pandyan kingdom of South India.3
Dravidians are believed to have come from the Mediterranean region with some mixing with Armenoids on the way towards the East. The affinity of their language with Ural-Altaic language groups is probably due to contact with these people in the course of their migration. Some linguists link up the proto Dravidian language family with the ancient now extinct Elamite language. The Elamites had set up a large kingdom in the third millennium BCE in south western Iran and they had also developed a script that is close to the Sumerian. Before the advent of the Aryans a vast area with a pre-Aryan population had extended from South Iran through Afghanistan to Baluchistan. The proto Dravidians are believed to be the founders of the Indus Valley civilization and they travelled further down to South India including the island of Lanka between 2000 and 1500 BCE. When they came to these parts they encountered and mixed to some extent with the Negritos and Proto-Australoids, who were the earliest settlers here.4
Migrations from northern India to Lanka happened in waves over a period of time with different clans and tribes coming and settling in the different parts of the island and expanding slowly inwards along the river banks. Warrior nobility (the Kshatriyas) played a role in this conquest and settlement, but trader castes also followed because of the attraction of the fabulous natural riches of Lanka—precious stones, gold, silver and pearls that were already items of trade with Rome and Greece in the West and with Asian countries as Persia, Armenia and China too. Rama’s advent into Lanka to recover abducted Sita probably paved the way for Indo-Aryan kings and traders to come and settle down here.5
The present-day Sinhala people and their language are a product of this fusion of Pali and other Indo-European prakrit (vernacular Indic languages, not Sanskrit) speaking tribes and clans with the aboriginal ethnic groups of the island. Pali was a prakrit that developed in Sindh, Gujarat and Bengal areas about 3000 years ago. Buddhism was introduced to the island by Mahinda and Sanghamitra in the 3rd century BCE, who as tradition has it were the children of King Ashoka. For many centuries Buddhism (and Jainism) had a strong presence in South India including the island of Lanka. There were Christian converts in South India and Lanka also due to the influence of the apostle Thomas and Syrian traders who came to these parts in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE.
Rather than the forests, hills and valleys of the central part or the wet rich southwestern parts the Sinhalas initially inhabited the large flat arid plains north of Dambulla. Their domain extended to Puttalam on the West, to Kalkuda northwest of Batticaloa on the east, northward to Point Pedro in the Jaffna peninsula and northwest to Talaimannar. This country was called Pihiti by them and the construction of a most elaborate irrigation system helped support a considerable population. Between 161 BCE and 993 CE the Sinhala kingdom with its capital at Anuradhapura extended its control to the whole of Lanka.
Kings of South India were similarly interested in this beautiful and richly endowed island and fought many a battle to establish their own rule. They in any case considered this island to be part of Tamilakam (the ancient name for the Tamil country). The first recorded battles took place in the third and second centuries BCE. The early Chola king Elala ruled from Anuradhapura from 205 BCE to 161 BCE. He became renowned even among the Sinhalese (as recorded in the Buddhist chronicle Mahavamsa) as a very just king.
Production was carried out on a caste basis, but the commonly practised Buddhist religion, which was also the state religion, helped in mitigating the depth of these divisions. Cultivator and service artisan castes were there as well as the scavenger chandala caste. The nobility owned slaves who worked for them in the fields and homes. This agrarian civilisation grew rice, millets, sugarcane, sesame and cotton and made the kings prosperous through the grain tax, water dues and trade in surplus grain and spices. A lot of fertile land was donated to Buddhist viharas (monasteries) by the Sinhala kings and other wealthy individuals. The farmers of the viharas were the most prosperous because the monks demanded moderate rentals due to their low personal maintenance costs. The monks also provided other services such as education and medicine to the masses.
These kings spent a lot of resources as well on patronising Buddhist art and sculpture and in sending expeditions abroad to East Asia for spreading the Theravada school of Buddhism that became the pre-eminent branch of Buddhism in Lanka.6 Protecting and spreading the message of the Buddha was perceived as an important task of Sinhala kings in view of Buddhism’s (and Jainism’s) slow decline in South India during this period, sometimes violently enforced, and the ascendancy of the Hindu religions of Saivism and Vaishnavism in the Tamil land and their increasing patronage by the Tamil rulers who turned away from Buddhism and Jainism.7
Buddhism and Jainism were the great protest movements in the non-Vedic (early Hindu) tradition that arose in the 6th century BCE against the hierarchical caste system that was beginning to be then consolidated in the Indian subcontinent. Both were atheistic in orientation and emphasized right conduct, i.e., ethics and morals, the primary principle being that of non-violence or non-injury to any life-form. Non-possessiveness, detachment and an ascetic way of life were held forth as ideals. Jain and Buddhist philosophies made considerable contributions in the fields of art and architecture, languages and literature, astronomy, logic and mathematics in the Tamil land also.
Kings from South India who ruled for intermittent periods of time in Lanka built Hindu temples, but they also patronised the Buddhist viharas. Sometimes they themselves were already followers of Buddhism or converted to it. The presence of South Indian merchants is well attested to in Sri Lanka since ancient times, so also is the interaction between Sinhala and South Indian Buddhists (from the Tamil country and Kerala), who most often were exponents of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism.8
Throughout the early period there were incursions and interventions in Sinhala politics from South Indian dynasties, chief among them the Pandyas, Pallavas and Cholas. Sinhala chieftains too were drawn into the dynastic conflicts of these Tamil monarchs. There were retaliatory raids into South India along with alliances often cemented through intermarriages. Migrant Tamil mercenary soldiers were extensively used by Sinhala kings in their battles of succession. Mannavamma, a Sinhalese royal fugitive, was installed on the throne in 684 BCE with the support of the Pallavas.
Between 993 and 1070 CE the Cholas established their rule over the entire island. Sinhalese powers re-established themselves subsequently, but from the 13th century onwards they started migrating towards the south, south west and to the central mountainous part. The northern and subsequently the eastern parts were slowly taken over first by a Kalinga king from north India and then by the Arya Chakravartis, a south Indian dynasty, who established the kingdom of Jaffnapatnam as independent of mainland South India. It met with simultaneous confrontations with the Vijayanagar Empire, established in 1336 in Vijayanagara, southern India, and a rebounding Kotte Kingdom from southern Sri Lanka. This led to the kingdom becoming a vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire for a while as well as briefly losing its independence under the Kotte kingdom from 1450 to 1467.
An independent Jaffna kingdom was re-established with the disintegration of the Kotte kingdom and the fragmentation of the Vijayanagar Empire. However, it maintained very close commercial and political relationships with the Thanjavur Nayakar kingdom in southern India as well as with the Kandyan kingdom and segments of the Kotte kingdom. This period saw the building of Hindu temples and a flourishing of literature, both in Tamil and Sanskrit. There are traces of the destruction of Buddhist viharas in the North and their replacement by Saivite temples. Revenue was derived from pearl and elephant exports and from land.
Once the Sinhalese shifted from their earlier geographical terrain they had to find new methods of livelihood and corresponding sources of revenue in the regions they now inhabited. The earlier hydraulic civilisation established in the north underwent decline because of the neglect of the irrigation systems as this region now acted as a largely depopulated buffer zone between the Tamil and Sinhala kingdoms. With the change of geographical terrain the mode of production also underwent some changes. Rice production declined due to the terrain now occupied. Farming on the hillsides was mainly subsistence oriented. Since the new areas of settlement were rich in spices such as cinnamon and pepper, like in the Malabar Coast of South India, trade in these became the main source of revenue. Spices trade was a royal monopoly and kings entered into contracts with foreign merchants, mainly Arabs. They fixed the prices and derived the revenue.
This change-over to a semi-feudal mercantile society was not very beneficial for the Sinhala masses. In lieu of grain tax the king now introduced a service tax on the people. Artisan activity also underwent a decline. New Buddhist monasteries were established in the new settlement areas, but they did not have the stature of the earlier ones. The influence of Hinduism increased and there was a greater inflow of Brahmans and merchants (Chettiyars) from South India. The northern area became predominantly Tamil, though prior to the establishment of the Jaffna kingdom the two main ethnic groups had lived interspersed. Right from the beginning of its known history people of various caste groups had been migrating to this island from South India, that is, from present day Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra.
The Jaffna kingdom was a Hindu kingdom with occupations organised on a caste basis with the Vellalas as the main landholding caste. Tamil literary culture fostered by the Jaffna kings and the general culture and language of the Eelam (Lanka) Tamils developed its own individuality in relation to the mainland Tamil country. The two main nationalities on this island thus developed their own territory and culture which had links to but also independent traits from the mainland Indian subcontinent. Among themselves along with the language and cultural-religious differences they shared syncretic features as well.
Sri Lanka occupied a strategic position in East West trade and Western maritime powers seeking to wrest trade hegemony from the Arabs fought with each other to attain control not only over the Indian subcontinent but also this richly endowed island. When the first Europeans, Portuguese traders, landed in Sri Lanka, in 1505, they encountered three native kingdoms: two Sinhalese kingdoms at Kottai and Kandy, and that of the Tamils in Jaffna peninsula. They built forts on the coasts and wrested trade concessions from the kings by taking advantage of the disharmony between various kingdoms. Through their fire power they eventually seized power militarily from the Kottai kingdom. Despite their superior weaponry, it took them decades to defeat the kingdoms at Jaffna and Kandy. Resistance remained throughout Portuguese occupation, although they succeeded in converting a fairly high proportion of the Sinhalese population in the south-western coastal strip to Catholicism.9
In 1658, Dutch invaders arrived. The Dutch United East India Company sided with the Kandy resistance to defeat the Portuguese. But when the native people realised that the Dutch sought total control, the Kandyans organised guerrilla warfare. In 1766, the Dutch gained sovereignty over the entire coastline, but not over the entire island where some Tamils and Sinhalese remained independent.
It was the Dutch who first created spice gardens for commercial purposes in their colonies. The cinnamon of Ceylon10 was specially prized; but cloves, cardamom, pepper, nutmeg, mace and ginger too which grow here had been processed and exported on a large scale from the earliest of times. During the 16th through to the 18th centuries, spices from Sri Lanka were the main trade over which many long and costly wars were fought—the so-called Cinnamon Wars. In 1795, the British landed and defeated the Dutch within a year. But it took them a generation to defeat resisting Sinhalese and Tamils. In 1811, they defeated Bandara Vanniyan and his guerrilla resisters in the Tamil Vanni territory. In 1815, they conquered the Kandyan kingdom by fomenting a revolt of the aristocracy against the monarch and thus established control over the whole island.
During this entire period of attempted colonisation by West European countries the various kings, whether Tamil or Sinhalese, sought and gave each other assistance. They also sought and were given help by South Indian kings. At the same time, they had their rivalries and these could be exploited by the European colonisers to finally subjugate them and conquer the entire island. “Sri Lanka as British-ruled Ceylon was subjected to a classic divide-and-rule,” wrote John Pilger.11
Religion too was used by the British to dominate and pacify the local people. Protestant missionaries worked among the people by establishing schools. Yet most of the indigenous people held on to their beliefs in either Buddhism or Hinduism. Islam had been introduced by Arab traders much before the advent of the European colonialists. The British rulers patronised the Christian churches and the Buddhist monasteries lost state support. Additionally, there were impositions on the monks, which they resented and found unacceptable. In fact, the initial rebellions against British rule were all aided and abetted by the Buddhist priests.12 Both Sinhala and Tamil chiefs participated in these rebellions that were brutally suppressed.
The European invaders were only interested in the riches they could steal. They changed the peasant based localised, largely self-sufficient and diversified agricultural economy into a commercialised export-oriented one based on monocultures. Under a Wastelands ordinance,13 the British expropriated the common lands of the peasantry—which included forest lands—reducing them to penury. Speculators and entrepreneurs from England purchased this expropriated land at nominal rates from the colonial state. Much of the forest land so purchased from the colonial government was converted initially into coffee plantations. When the coffee economy collapsed in the 1870s due to a leaf disease tea followed. As this was a more capital intensive crop, individual estate owners were supplanted by large consolidated companies based either in London (sterling firms) or in Colombo (rupee firms). The dispossessed Kandyan peasantry was not employed on the coffee/tea plantations. Despite all the pressure exerted by the colonial state the villagers refused to abandon their traditional subsistence holdings and become wage-workers in the nightmarish conditions that prevailed on these new estates.
The British, therefore, had to draw on the reserve army of labour in India, which had been created through their land tax and deindustrialisation policies. An infamous system of contract labour was established, which transported hundreds of thousands of 'coolies' as virtual slave labour from southern India into Sri Lanka for work on the estates. These labourers died in tens of thousands both on the journey itself as well as on the plantations. It is estimated that 70,000 Tamils from Tamil Nadu died en route in the 1840s. Indian Tamils’ history parallels that of Africans forced into slavery and brought to the Americas. Over a million Tamils came from India to work not only the plantations; they also helped build the roads, railways and other structures throughout the island required to transport primary produce, labour, and military personnel and hardware.
Other plantation crops were cinchona, sugar cane, and cotton. Rubber cultivation was introduced in the foothills and coconut plantations in the coastal region near Colombo. But in the case of the coconut and rubber plantations many low country Sinhalese were inducted as workers, while others formed the nucleus of the urban working class that developed in Colombo and other ports of the island. Sri Lanka’s tea became famous under the labels ‘Lipton’ and ‘Brooke Bond’ and Ceylon became known as the ‘tea and spices garden’ of England. It was a typical colony importing manufactured goods and exporting primary commodities.
Some Sinhalese peasants became semi-proletarians and could be used in rioting against Indian Tamils when they protested against their living conditions or, after independence, when they were scapegoats for what was viewed as ‘Indian interference.’ Men and women worked 12 hours or more every day on the plantations. They were considered lower caste, untouchables. Their residences were ‘coolie lines,’ which housed several families in rows, each family living in one room without kitchen or lavatories, with no running water. Hygiene was terrible and continued to be so long after independence. It was the super exploitation of the labour of this class that largely contributed to the fortunes made by Britishers and was used to finance welfare services benefiting mainly Sinhala masses starting in the 1940s and continuing in the post-independence period.
Sri Lanka Tamils were mainly landowners (belonging to the Vellala caste group), using the services of castes collectively known as Panchamar (Tamil for group of five). The Panchamar consisted of the Nalavar and Pallar (agricultural workers and toddy tappers), Parayar (drum beaters and agricultural workers),Vannar (laundrymen) and Ambattar (barbers). Others such as the Karaiyar (fishermen) existed outside the agriculture-based caste system. Koviars were temple workers and agricultural workers not treated as Dalits (untouchables, outcastes). The caste of temple priests known as Iyers was held in high esteem. The oppressed castes were not allowed entry and worship in the Hindu temples. The dowry system14 had contributed to fragmenting the landholdings, and the British did not do anything to develop irrigation based agriculture and industries based on the agrarian produce and fishing in the indigenous Tamil inhabited regions. Instead, they offered the landholding castes the possibility of an English education through their fee-charging missionary schools.
Many Vellalas became educated and held posts in the British administration; some in urban Colombo became teachers, professors, lawyers and small shopkeepers. Because attending such schools entailed conversion most Sinhala Buddhists tended to keep off. At the same time due to the colonial neglect of Buddhist schools and universities the education of the Sinhalas became a casualty.
A native bourgeoisie drawn from the upper castes/classes had its belated origin in the accumulation of capital through government service prerequisites and salaries, and through the farming of arrack and toddy rents, and grew to some extent as a class when they started exporting plumbago and opened up rubber and coconut estates. North Indian traders such as Bohra merchants were active in the export-import trade.
A hierarchy of ‘races,’ classes and castes was thus perpetrated among native ethnic groups and new arrivals. In the mid-1800s, English and German scholars adopted an ideology of superiority, first based on language and then on race. The English viewed Sinhalese as cousins in the larger Aryan family. Brits (and Germans) were the ‘superior’ white Aryans; the Sinhalese lesser Indo-Aryans, and Tamils were the colonised proletariat, the ‘black inferior race.’ This fitted in nicely with the Sinhalese elite notion of superiority, based on their book of history and mythology, Mahavamsa,15 which anchored the Sinhala nationality in the Buddhist religion.
In the 1870s, a German scholar, Max Mueller, writing about language origins, especially Indo-Aryan, first coined the term ‘Aryan race’—something he later regretted.16 In the context of Sri Lanka especially it was a fallacy to perceive Sinhalese as Indo-Aryans and Tamils as Dravidians, where a great deal of intermixing of the two groups has happened since ancient times. Even in India it is not really possible to speak of the two groups as completely separate groups of people. A Dravidian-Aryan divide in Sri Lanka as in India functioned advertently or inadvertently as one of the divisive ploys of the British. Europeans took it for granted that Greek and Latin were superior languages, and they saw affinities with Sanskrit, to which Sinhalese is related. Given this identity, it was easier for the colonialists to drive a wedge deeper between the indigenous peoples.
Movements under Colonialism
Opposition to British rule was almost simultaneous to their establishing their rule over the entire island in 1815. Resenting the foreign yoke the Kandyans rose in revolt in 1817-18, 1827, 1834 and 1843. The rebellion of 1848 in Matale was directed against oppressive British taxes and had good participation of the affected Kandyan peasantry.17 Suppression of these revolts was brutal and highly destructive of the peasant economy.
For some of the time that Britain ruled the island different colonial governors partially recognized equality of the native peoples while often playing one against the other. In 1833, the British mandated the administrative unification of the country while incorporating the different native administrative structures that had existed earlier. A new legislative council set up in the same year was based on communal and not territorial representation; it was composed of three Europeans and one representative each from the Sinhalese, the Ceylon Tamils and the Burghers—an Euro-Asian minority—Creole descendants of European colonialists, who had been converted to Protestantism. Up to 1889 the Sinhala representative was always a Catholic. The Tamil labourers brought from India had no voice nor did the community of Arab Muslims.
Ironically, it was protestant missionaries who contributed greatly to the development of political awareness among Tamils in the North and East, and led to a revival of the Hindu faith as a reaction against Christian domination. We find many examples of this in modern history, such as the increasing interest among Arabs in practising strict Islamic customs, including separate gender rules, as a reaction to the invasions and occupations of Western imperialism in the Middle-East. Something similar is occurring in Palestine in response to the apartheid enforced by Zionist Jews.
Led by revivalist Arumuga Navalar in the mid-1800s, Tamils in the North and East built their own schools, temples, associations and presses. Literacy was used to spread Hinduism (its Saivite variant) and its principles. Tamils published their own literature and newspapers to counter the ideology-religion of the missionaries. While taking to the learning of the English language in the missionary schools they did not neglect their own language and religion. Tamil nationality consciousness developed further during this period. The elite upper caste Tamils thought confidently of themselves as a community, lending legitimacy to their later assertion of the necessity to be treated equally with the Sinhalese under a self-rule dispensation or be granted—or take—their own autonomy as Eelam Tamils.
Throughout the colonial period the elements of democracy within the community, i.e., social reform with regard to the caste system and women’s unequal status were not given the attention they deserved, though agitations of the Panchamar against human rights violations had begun in the 1920s. As a contrast, the Periyar-led Dravidian movement of the colonial period in Tamil Nadu had emphasized these aspects apart from proclaiming atheism rather than the Hindu or any other religion. In addition, the oppressed castes there had also formed their own organisations to pursue the goal of equality.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Ceylonisation
of the Ceylon Civil Service was demanded by Burghers, Tamils and Sinhalese
men of middle class background alike. Their nationalism encompassed
not only their own specific identity but extended to the whole island
of Lanka. These same forces eventually fostered the movement for constitutional
devolution from the 1900s onwards.18
Britain’s vacillating ruling strategy throughout their 150 years of domination led to sporadic episodes of violence between Sinhalese and Tamils and clashes between Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims. More often than not, it was Buddhists led by monks who first attacked ethnic peoples who held other faiths because they were being marginalized by the British rulers. The British often held the police on the sidelines.
A Buddhist revivalist movement was launched in the early 1900s by Anagarika Dharmapala,19 who also started a temperance movement against the alcohol promotion policy of the British government that had introduced taverns in almost every village and had become a big business. Eagerly taking up European race theories Dharmapala preached that Sinhalese—the Lion Race—is a superior people descended from pure Aryan stock. "No nation in the world has had a more brilliant history than ourselves. There exists no race on Earth today that has had more triumphant records than the Sinhalese," he wrote, even though his claims were based solely on myths and legends. His exhortations brought about a fanatical Sinhala-Buddhist national consciousness that began to turn against non-Buddhists in general, and against non-Sinhalese in particular.20
This Buddhist revival, in fact, illustrated the birth of a new breed of chauvinistic Sinhala nationalism rather than a religion or a way of life. It was argued that it was the way to make people feel about their language, customs and their history. It was both against the alien British and the Arabs hitherto tolerated in their midst. The latter too began to be looked upon as aliens to be subdued, in order to assert the supremacy of the Buddhist people on the island. Anagarika Dharmapala also explicitly stated that Lanka belongs exclusively to the Buddhist Sinhalese and for the Tamils there is South India.
Because existing ethnic and religious differences and privileges were usually encouraged by both the Empire and by local elites, the most adamant and popular being land-owning Buddhist clergy, tensions mounted and the first communal riot occurred in mid-1915 when a Buddhist pageant passing a mosque was assaulted. Muslims were pitted against Sinhalese. In the course of this riot many Christian churches too were burnt down. Fearing open rebellion, the Brits let their police and army loose and thousands were killed, mainly Sinhalese. Prominent leaders were jailed, including some who would become labour and government leaders.21
The Ceylon National Congress was formed in 1919. During World War-I the forces of nationalism in Ceylon gathered momentum, propelled largely by the civil disturbances of 1915 in the aftermath of the anti-Muslim riot and their subsequent political repercussions. British arrests of prominent Sinhalese leaders during what was at first a minor communal riot provoked widespread opposition. Leaders of all communities, feeling the need for a common platform from which to voice a nationalist viewpoint within the framework of the British Raj, came together to form the Ceylon National Congress. This was a united organisation of Sinhalese and Tamil elites. In a series of proposals for constitutional reforms to ensure greater political power for them, the Congress called for an elected majority in the legislature, which was not to be on a communal but territorial basis, and for control of the budget, among other demands.
Representation on a territorial basis was opposed by Tamil members as it would automatically relegate them to being a minority within the government. A compromise formula was arrived at, but realising that the Sinhala politicians were determined to dominate through territorial representation P. Arunachalam, who was the founder and president of the Ceylon National Congress, withdrew from it and founded the Ceylon Tamil League. He then sang the tune of safeguarding Tamil interests and a distinct nationhood. In an address to the League, he said:
"The League was brought into existence by a political necessity. But politics is not the raison d'etre of its existence. Its aim is much higher. The committee and those responsible for the League consider that our aims should be to keep alive and propagate the Tamil ideals, which have through ages, and in the past, made the Tamils what they are. We should keep alive and propagate those ideals throughout Ceylon and promote the union and solidarity of what we have been proud to call 'Tamil Eelam.' We desire to preserve our individuality as a people, to make ourselves worthy of our inheritance.”22
In 1921, the colonialists altered the legislative council so that Sinhalese acquired 13 seats to three for the Tamils. From here on out, Tamils could never win on any issue if the decision was based on majority rule alone, so they developed a communal consciousness as a permanent minority.
Workers had begun to organise, and in 1922 the first union was formed, the Ceylon Labour Union, led by A.E. Goonesinhe, one of the prominent native leaders jailed in 1915. The biggest strikes were those of transport workers, of the rail and street car workers. In fact, as early as 1912 there was an important rail workers’ strike. In the 1920s-30s workers struck at the harbours, railways, coal sheds, and government factories. In 1928, the All Ceylon Labour Union Congress was formed. In 1935, it changed its name to Ceylon Trade Union Congress (TUC) with about 15-20,000 workers as its members. The Labour Party was formed the following year as its political wing.
Due to the pressure of the working class movement, the British changed the rules again, in 1931, by incorporating the notion of universal franchise—one man one vote including all castes. Elite Lankan Tamil political leaders like Ponnambalam Ramanathan opposed this progressive measure, seeking to maintain the hegemony of the upper classes and castes. The Sinhala leadership, too, did not want this because it feared that its electoral base would be diluted by a large influx of Indian Tamil votes. They argued that as Kandyan peasants had been driven from their traditional lands in order to create the plantations those injustices would be compounded, if the Indian workers were legitimized through voting rights. At the same time they were willing to agree to that part of the rule allowing them, as the majority, to have a decisive say over the minority Tamils. The issue of representative power-sharing, and not the structure of government, was used by collaborationist nationalists of both communities to create an escalating inter-ethnic rivalry, which has been the dominant trend since then.
In the 1930s, and especially during World War-II, however, Sinhalese and Tamil leaders spoke out for independence. Various left-wing parties and coalitions arose, and some conservative groupings as well. The Sinhala Maha Sabha was formed in the mid-1930s to promote Sinhala community interests.23 In 1935, the Trotskyist LSSP (Lanka Sama Samaja Party) was formed out of the Colombo based Youth Leagues that had come up in the late 1920s. The demand for outright independence was a cornerstone of its policy. It was a militant opposition to bourgeois politics and supported equality of all Lankans including plantation workers despite their Indian Tamil origin. It also demanded the replacement of English as the official language by Sinhala and Tamil.
There were huge strikes on the tea plantations in 1939-40, followed by urban workers’ strikes in 1941-2. The LSSP spread ideas of revolutionary socialism. The Communist Party of Ceylon (Moscow oriented) was formed in 1943 by pro-Soviet members of the LSSP, who had expelled them due to their change of stance to the Second World War once Germany attacked the Soviet Union. The CPC was less militant and popular. It led the Ceylon Trade Union Federation of several thousand workers.24
At the time of the Great Depression Goonesinha laid the blame for the unemployment among the Sinhalas at the door of the Indian Tamils and demanded their deportation. Malpractices by Nattukottai Chettiyars, an immigrant South Indian trading cum banking and money-lending community, added to the anti-Indian sentiment in the 1930s. There was an agitation to send back Malayalee harbour workers, government servants and even sanitary workers from India. There was also a campaign to boycott Indian retail shops and Jaffna cigars. Malayali plantation workers were attacked by Sinhalese and most fled back to Kerala. Sinhalese and Eelam Tamils could often unite in struggles for better conditions under British rule, but other peoples with origins in India were viewed by many Sinhalese as ‘fifth columnists.’ As the estate Tamils belonged largely to the Adi Dravida oppressed castes they were also looked down upon by the Vellalas among Lankan Tamils. Epithets such as Kallatoni (illegal immigrant) and Thottakattan (barbarian from the tea estate) were used to describe them. These phenomena would lead to splits among the various peoples after independence. In this situation of worsening sentiments against Indians, particularly the Indian Tamil plantation workers, the Ceylon Indian Congress was formed in 1939 on the advice of Gandhi and Nehru.25
Tamils struggled to have their language placed on equal terms with Sinhalese and replace English as the official language. Some Sinhalese leaders agreed but many did not. In 1939, a Tamil Congress leader, G.G. Ponnambalam, spoke against the common Sinhalese notion, based on the Mahavamsa, that their language should be the only official language and Buddhism the only official religion. Some of his remarks regarding the Mahavamsa and the Sinhalas were derogatory in nature.26 Provoked by the speech Sinhalese mobs bashed and killed many Tamils. This time the British stopped the riots, but the roots to the upcoming 26-year long civil war had been laid.
An upswing of class struggle in the rural areas coincided with the onset of the Second World War. The LSSP did not follow the path of class collaboration with the British unlike some other communist parties internationally. It denounced the military build-up in Ceylon during the War and mobilised the people against the British. There were both strikes and anti-Tamil riots on the tea estates. The LSSP was ruthlessly suppressed, its leaders driven underground or fled to India, where they formed the BLPI together with Indian and Burmese communists affiliated to the Fourth International.27 In 1943, Goonesinha was elected Mayor of Colombo, the first Ceylonese to obtain this post and he took a cabinet seat in the government formed after the 1947 election. His creation, the TUC, went from militancy to opposing most strikes and it encouraged the racial agitation against Indian workers.28 British and Sinhalese capitalists profiteered from rubber sales on the international market during the War, which added to the Ceylon government treasury.
In 1946, the faculty at the Vidyalankara monastery approved without dissent a resolution declaring that monks should become politically active, that monks should become kings! These ultra-nationalist monks formed the Lanka Eksath Bhiksu Mandalaya, the United Bhikkhu (Bhiksus or Bhikkhus are Buddhist male monks, Bhikkhunis being the nuns) Organisation of Sri Lanka. The seeds of a highly politicized Sinhalese Buddhism were sown.29
Once the Second World War ended, the weakened rulers of the British Empire were forced to discontinue direct political rule in India by the persistent and courageous civil disobedience mass movement led by Mahatma Gandhi30 and a large number of highly militant worker strikes and peasant agitations. They realised the time had come to give in to so many native peoples struggling for political sovereignty. They had been preparing for this process in Ceylon too. Post-War power was transferred to a Ceylonese oligarchy that had been preparing for this in its own way. Ceylon was given dominion status in 1948.
Thus, by the time the British left the country we can see that both divisive and collaborative tendencies had become established among the Sri Lankan people.
1. The English and Arabic words and possibly the Portuguese Ceilão too are derived from the Sanskrit Simhaladvipa (Island of the Sinhalese). Serendib is also related by some to the Tamil word Serentivu which referred to the Sera/Chera country (present-day Kerala largely). The Sinhalese name for the island country is Laka, the Pali name is Lanka, and the Tamil name is Ilam or Ilankai. In fact, the name Lanka, which means island, is derived from the Tamil name for it, that is, Ilankai. Sri is an honorific indicating respect and reverence and the current name Sri Lanka was adopted in 1972, when a new constitution was formulated rescinding its earlier dominion status and designating it as a republic within the British Commonwealth.
2. Multiple sources have been consulted to try and get as authentic a picture of ancient Sri Lanka as possible. Unless otherwise mentioned the main sources used are relevant entries in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and an assortment of articles on www.wikipedia.org.
3. V. Suryanarayan: Diversities and Linkages in Sri Lanka, The Hindu, 6.6.2001
4. See R.S. Sharma: Looking for the Aryans. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, Cameos in History and Culture series 1, 1995, pp. 68-70.
5. There are variant views that do not regard today’s Sri Lanka as the Lanka of Ramayanan. Some hold it to be another island south west of Sri Lanka; some say it was an island in a then existent lake along the Vindhya mountain ranges in Central India.
6. Theravad is the preferred name in the south of India for Hinayana (Little tradition/vehicle) as distinguished from Mahayana (Great tradition/vehicle), which are the two great Buddhist schools. This division happened 140 years after Buddha’s death. The term Theravad means the Way of the Elders. This school stood for the tradition of the elders at the 3rd council after the death of the Buddha called by King Ashoka at Pataliputra (Patna) about 250 BCE. The Buddhist canon was codified by this council. Theravadins maintain that the ideal Buddhist is the Arhat, the accomplished ascetic, who wins Nirvana (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) through his own efforts. It maintains that Arhats and the laymen have different roles to play.
7. Saivism and Vaishnavism are Hindu religions that are not anti-caste in orientation. They were successful in converting large numbers in the Tamil land between the 3rd and 8th centuries of the Common Era because it seems that by this time many Jain and Buddhist monks had become corrupt through too close a proximity with state power and had begun to neglect their basic role of serving the people. See, for example, S.N. Nagarajan: Eastern Marxism and other Essays, Odyssey, 2008, p. 83.
8. The Mahayana school of thought was more fluid and less rigidly orthodox and arose in areas where Buddhists were no longer controlling the state. It focussed on Boddhisatvas (Buddhas-to-be). Boddhisatva is the ideal Buddhist who postpones his own enjoyment of Nirvana to win salvation for all sentient creatures. Having crossed the stream of suffering he would ferry others across. His aim is not merely to attain the wisdom of the Theravadin Arhat, but to practise compassion and selflessness—charity, morality, forbearance, striving, meditation and wisdom.
9. For our account of Ceylon under colonialism we have also consulted Fred Halliday’s article, “The Ceylonese Insurrection.” In: Robin Blackburn (ed.): “Explosion in a Subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ceylon,” Penguin Books in association with New Left Review, 1975.
10. So strong is the connection between Cinnamon and Sri Lanka that its botanical name – Cinnamomum Zeylanicum – is derived from the island’s British name, Ceylon.
11. John Pilger, “Distant Voices, Desperate Lives,” New Statesman, May 13, 2009.
12. J. Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire: Buddhism in India and Sri Lanka. Chetana Publications, 1975 (c. 1895), pp. 105-06.
13. The Wastelands Act 1840 and its amendment in 1879 appropriated the common property resources from its holders such as ‘villages’ and ‘families’ and chena (shifting cultivation) holders by vesting large tracts of forests and other land in the state. Prior to the British colonial rule, the forest had belonged to the local king, but social tenures, access and local control of forest resources for grazing of animals, collection of firewood and doing chenas were recognized. This act ignored and eroded the local social institutions and the status of titles held according to ancient custom or traditional tenures and together with other land and forest related legislation enacted by the British led to a severe degradation of the ecosystems and fragmentation of forest resources. (http://www.fao.org/docrep/007/AD678E08.htm).
14. Dowry being money, property or material goods that a bride’s family gives to the bridegroom or his family at the time of an arranged marriage, which is usually within one’s own caste, it can lead to indebtedness and greater poverty among those not very well off or poor. In an agricultural society it can lead to loss of land and other resources as cattle and the resultant unemployment or underemployment releases labour for incorporation in the rural or urban economy.
15. The Mahavamsa (Genealogy of the Great/Great Chronicle) gives a historical (biased, not always accurate or complete) account of the Theravada Buddhist sect in Sri Lanka. It also briefly recounts the history of Buddhism in India. It was compiled to record the good deeds of the kings who were patrons of the Mahavihara temple in Anuradhapura, built by the first Sinhala king converting to Theravada Buddhism, Devamampiya Tissa. Buddhist monks of the Mahavihara maintained chronicles of Lanka’s history in Sinhala, starting from the 3rd century BCE. These annals were combined and compiled into a single document written in Pali in the 5th century CE by the Buddhist monk Mahathera Mahanama.
16. See “Understanding the Aryan Theory.” by Marisa Angell, a US-American Jew, in: “Culture and Politics of Identity in Sri Lanka,” edited by Mithran Tiruchelvam and Dattathreya C.S., published by International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1998.
17. J. Barthelemy Saint-Hilaire, op. cit.
18. Michael Roberts: Sinhala-ness and Sinhala Nationalism. From: A History of Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka: Recollection, Reinterpretation and Reconciliation. Marga Monograph Series on Ethnic Reconciliation. Marga Institute. Sri Lanka, 2001.
19. Anagarikas are lay preachers who wear yellow robes, take a vow of celibacy and withdraw from most of the commitments of lay life.
20. See online article by J.L. Devananda: “A Response (Part 1): ‘Mahavamsa Mentality;’ Can the charge of ‘Racism’ leveled against the chronicle be sustained?” Also see Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne: “Right of Self-determination of Ilankai Tamils.” http://www.nssp.info/InDepth/SelfDetermination.html.
21. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riots_in_Sri_Lanka. Such an incident would not have happened in earlier times when the Buddhists would automatically stop the drumming while passing a mosque.
22. K.T. Rajasingham: The Ceylon National Congress and its Intrigues. Asia Times online co. 2001.
23. Great Assembly, a network of rural Sinhalese elites (Buddhist monks, ayurvedic physicians, schoolmasters) defending their culture, language and Buddhism, which maintained castes unlike in other lands where Buddhism was practised. See “Review of a history of oppression: The Tamils of Sri Lanka” by Danielle Sabai, International Viewpoint Online, June 2011.
24. Sources used are S. Sivanayagam’s “Sri Lanka: Witness to History - A Journalist’s Memoirs,” UK, 2005; several articles in Wikipedia; and Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India: “The Marxist Movement in Ceylon,” in The New International, Feb. 1947.
25. See http://www.lankalibrary.com/pol/thondaman.htm.
26. See Dr. Jane Russell, "Communal Politics of Sri Lanka in the Donoughmore Era, 1927-1947. Tissara Publishers, Colombo, 1982. Also see http://pactlk/november-1948 and http://www.jaffnahistory.com/The_First_Sinhala_Tamil_Riot.html.
27. Cf. Halliday, op. cit., p. 162.
28. As a result of these riots there was a major decrease in the Indian origin rural working class population in Ceylon. It came down from 15.2% in 1931 to 11.7% of the total population in 1946. Today, after two sets of repatriation back to India, it is 5.5% of the population. This last figure is according to the 1981 Census because the 1991 Census could not be undertaken due to the prevailing the political conditions. And the 2001 Census data is incomplete with regard to those areas in the North and East that were under the control of militant Tamil groups. Many Indian Tamils also migrated to Lankan Tamil majority areas due the hostility against them in Sinhala majority areas and they would often register themselves as Lankan Tamils.
29. See J.L. Devananda, op. cit. It should be noted that Sri Lanka is not only the sole Buddhist country to have an extant caste system. Since colonial times and perhaps as a result of the colonisers favouring the upper castes its monks are now divided into caste based sects; they have become business oriented, are politically active and also ideologically divided.
30. The fact that the pre- and post-‘Independence’ Days were marked by horrendous people to people communal violence elicited the following remark from M.K. Gandhi: He had blindly thought that the Indian fight was non-violent. But the events that had taken place lately had opened his eyes to the fact that theirs was passive resistance of the weak. If Indians had really been bravely non-violent, they could never have indulged in the acts of which they were guilty. (“Delhi Diary: Prayer Speeches from 10.09.1947-30.1.1948” Published by Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1948, p. 280).
EQUAL RIGHTS OR SELF-DETERMINATION
“At independence, in 1948, the new political elite, in its rush for power, cultivated ethnic support in a society whose real imperative should have been the eradication of poverty. Language became the spark,” journalist-documentary filmmaker John Pilger recently wrote.1
Transfer of Power
Even before the defeat of the Axis powers, Britain prepared to decolonize Ceylon. In 1943, the colonial Secretary of State stated that a Constitution would be drafted with all parties involved. A condition would be that, “The Parliament of Ceylon shall not make any law rendering persons of any community or religion liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities are not made liable...” (See Article 29 of the Soulbury Commission.)2
Britain established the Soulbury Commission in 1944. The leading Sinhalese politician was Don Stephen (D.S.) Senanayake—a conservative, who founded the rightist pro-independence and pro-capitalist United National Party (UNP) in 1946 by amalgamating the Ceylon National Congress and the Sinhala Maha Sabha. D.S. Senanayake became known as the “Father of Sri Lanka.” Also involved was the future head of a new party, the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party), Solomon West Ridgeway Dias (SWRD) Bandaranaike and Junius Richard Jayewardene, soon to be finance minister and later prime minister and president.
D.S. Senanayake convinced a leading Tamil politician, G.G. Ponnambalam—who had founded the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC), in 1944—to partake in independence negotiations. Ponnambalam proposed a measure that would have given the majority Sinhalese 50% of decision-making and all the other ethnic groups would have the remainder. Although Lord Soulbury and Sinhalese leaders rejected this, he accepted a minister post in the forthcoming UNP government. D.S. Senanayake also got the support of another Tamil elitist, Arunachalam Mahadeva, who became his Home Affairs minister.
While elite Tamils, as individuals and leaders of local-national bourgeois-oriented organisations—Ceylon National Congress, Sinhala Maha Sabha and the Muslim League—went along with the formation of the transition, ordinary people had no say in their country’s independence. It was all being done over their heads, and primarily in the interests of their exploiters, both national and foreign. The British Empire was not so much crumbling economically, but rather not being able to rule in the old way it was changing political strategy—from colonialism to neo-colonialism (economic imperialism). This strategy required the trappings of democracy limited to bourgeois democracy and was aimed at preventing more radical tendencies, which represented real working class interests, and the Soviet Union from challenging the rule of capitalism.
The Soulbury Constitution allowed the British Crown to consider Ceylon as a dominion. It was only much later in 1972 after many a struggle that a new Constitution changed this status. Until then, the UK retained powers in defence and external affairs, and British firms continued ownership of the bigger plantations. An important and partially progressive provision of the Soulbury Commission (Constitution) was that any bill which evoked “serious opposition by any racial or religious community and which, in the opinion of the Governor-General is likely to involve oppression or serious injustice to any community, must be reserved by the Governor-General.”3
Commission voting in the third reading of the “Free Lanka” bill was supported by all the Muslim members and by most Tamil and Sinhalese groups. The vote was “in many ways a vote of confidence by all communities…and the minorities were as anxious as the majority for self-government.”4
Senanayake’s speech in proposing the motion of acceptance made reference to the minorities and said:
“...throughout this period the Ministers had in view one objective only, the attainment of maximum freedom. Accusations of Sinhalese domination have been bandied about. We can afford to ignore them for it must be plain to every one that what we sought was not Sinhalese domination, but Ceylonese domination. We devised a scheme that gave heavy weightage to the minorities; we deliberately protected them against discriminatory legislation. We vested important powers in the Governor-General... We decided upon an Independent Public Service Commission so as to give assurance that there should be no communalism in the Public Service. I do not normally speak as a Sinhalese, and I do not think that the Leader of this Council ought to think of himself as a Sinhalese representative, but for once I should like to speak as a Sinhalese and assert with all the force at my command that the interests of one community are the interests of all. We are one of another, whatever race or creed.”5
Two months later, on November 8, Senanayake spoke to assure all ethnic groups and asked them to place their faith in him and the Sinhalese majority rule.
“On behalf of the Congress (Ceylon National Congress) and on my own behalf I give the minority communities the sincere assurance that no harm need they fear at our hands in a free Lanka.”
The first national election was held from August 23-September 30, 1947, even before dominion status was granted. 1,887,364 people voted for 95 MPs (members of parliament). There were seven parties and many independents.6 The results were:
UNP with 39.8% (42 MPs)
LSSP 10.8% (10)
BLPI 6% (5)
ACTC 4.4% (7)
CIC 3.8% (6)
CPC 3.7% (3)
Labour 1.4% (1)
The election results showed that the Marxist-Trotskyist Left parties
like the LSSP and the BLPI had strong bases among both Sinhalese and
Tamil proletarian and petty bourgeois classes and they performed better
than the racist Labour Party of Goonesinha in the elections by winning
a combined vote of 21%.
The Ceylon Citizenship Bill
“We are one of another, whatever race or creed,” the ‘Father’ of the new independent State had sworn. It looked good for all ethnic and religious groups, but then the deceit became evident with the new Citizenship Act.
Less than a week after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu, Nathuram Godse, a super-nationalist zealot, in the aftermath of an unprecedented communal holocaust that set in after the Partition of India under British aegis, the new government introduced the Ceylon Citizenship Bill before Parliament, on February 4, 1948. The outward purpose was to provide means of obtaining citizenship, but its real purpose, soon to become clear, was to discriminate against the Indian Tamils by denying them citizenship. The Ceylon Citizenship Act no. 18, August 20, 1948, denied citizenship and thus voting rights to 11.7% of the population. One million Tamils of Indian origin living for generations in Ceylon were rendered stateless overnight. And many Sri Lanka Tamil political parties shamelessly voted with the Sinhalese parties to ensure this.
Although the All Ceylon Tamil Congress opposed the bill, it had joined with the UNP and thus went along with splitting the people and the working class. This provoked half of its members to form the Federal Party, led by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. The following year, the Indian and Pakistani Residents Act, no. 3, disenfranchised nearly all those Tamils who had come as indentured labourers from India. Their seven MPs were kicked out of parliament and there were no Indian Tamils in the 1952 parliament elections. Not until 1988 did the Sri Lanka government grant citizenship to those stateless persons, who hadn’t applied for Indian citizenship. In 2003, 168,141 descendents of Indian Tamils were allowed citizenship, but several hundreds of thousands had been driven back to India from their new homeland.
Post-Independence Economic Conditions
Ambalvaner (A) Sivanandan, a Tamil writer and Marxist intellectual, was forced to flee Sri Lanka after the pogrom of 1958, and settled in England. As director of UK’s Institute of Race Relations, he gave a speech, July 13, 2009, entitled, “Ethnic Cleansing in Sri Lanka.” I quote from it to show how Ceylon’s independence was a tragic venture from the start.7
“Ceylon got its independence in 1948 on the back of the Indian nationalist struggle. Hence it did not go through the process of nation building that a nationalist struggle involves. Instead, it was regarded as a model colony—with an English-educated elite, universal suffrage, and an elected assembly—deserving of self-government.
These however turned out to be the trappings of capitalist democracy super-imposed on a feudal infrastructure…It is a disorganic capitalism that produces disorganic development and a malformed democracy.”
D.S. Senanayake’s economy was based on foreign and Sinhalese bourgeois interests. He himself was a plutocratic landowner whose fortunes were derived from the graphite mines on his inherited estates. The comprador bourgeois section to which he belonged perceived clearly the threat from the Left with its strong mass base. This class now took over the ‘divide and rule’ tactics of their imperialist masters to keep themselves in power and wealth. Senanayake allowed the resettlement of 250,000 Sinhalese in the East, which caused the dislocation of many Tamils. The new colonisation wiped out entire villages. Sinhalese settlers took over 30% of Tamil lands and homes—à la Israel in Palestine.8
On March 22, 1952, the PM died in a horse accident. The British Governor-General Lord Soulbury still held certain powers as the appointment of PMs in such cases. He appointed Senanayake’s son Dudley Shelton, who then held elections in June, which he won.
Having destroyed a self-sufficient subsistence economy through their cash crop plantations exporting mainly to Euro-US countries the colonial government had to import rice from Burma for internal consumption. During the Second World War rice imports from Burma got cut off. It introduced a rationing system whereby the price of imported rice was subsidised, while simultaneously guaranteeing prices for domestic paddy producers. Under the new government, Finance Minister Jayewardene cut rice subsidies and raised its price to double; he also raised sugar prices and rail and postal charges. Free school meals were also stopped. He did this in a situation when world rice prices had skyrocketed because of the Korean War and the subsidies were ostensibly becoming ‘unsustainable.’9
On August 12, workers called a hartal: general strike, the closure of local establishments and demonstrations. In clashes with police, ten people were killed. But the hartal, which was Ceylon’s first mass political action, was so effective that the PM resigned, turning over the post to John Lionel Kotelawela, his cousin and his father’s nephew. Kotelawela had been in both PM’s cabinet and previously was a military officer. He expanded Sri Lanka’s foreign relations, especially with Asian countries. The United National Party, which ruled for the first decade, became popularly known as the Uncle-Nephew Party because the regime was run by a family clique whose corrupt nepotism had few parallels in the world.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike would take over from the first family. Coming from an elite Sinhalese-Anglican Christian family, he had studied at Oxford and later qualified as a barrister. Back in Lanka, he converted to Buddhism, which could be used as a popular instrument to become active in politics. He joined the Ceylon National Congress and served on the British established State Council of Ceylon from 1931 to 1947. Touring his land as a politician, he could sense how Sinhalese culture-language-religion (most Sinhalese were Buddhists) could be his ticket to power. In 1934-6, Bandaranaike founded the Sinhala Maha Sabha and used it as a faction within the UNP when it was formed on the eve of independence.
Although Bandaranaike was a distant relative of the Senanayake family, he was not close enough to expect to win state power. In 1951, he left the UNP to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which rested on the Kandyan sector of the propertied classes. It was supported by paddy landowners and the petty bourgeoisie and rural people rather than the UNP financial base of comprador capitalists. By the time of the April 1956 elections—the most critical turning point after Sri Lanka’s independence—the LSSP had split three times as is wont by Trotskyist groups the world over. One key group, the VLSSP joined with the SLFP, on a pseudo-socialistic platform, to form the People’s United Front (MEP or Mahajana Eksath Peramuna) coalition. Another small purportedly Marxist group, Sinhala Language Front (SBP), led by W. Dahanayake, was also a part of this coalition.
The Sinhala Only Campaign
With no radical changes envisaged in the plantation based export-oriented economy, and with no plan for an agrarian reform to mitigate the situation of rising unemployment, the Sinhala elite could only further stoke Sinhala chauvinism.
Bandaranaike’s key electioneering slogan was ‘Sinhala Only’ and was meant to replace English as the official language, while downplaying the Tamil language. This appealed to various sectors of Sinhalese. Many had come to resent Tamils for their privileges gained under British colonialism. More Lankan Tamils had availed of English education and held 50-60% of administrative posts in the whole of Ceylon by the time of Independence yet representing, perhaps, 15% of the population. They also had comfortable jobs as bank clerks, shopkeepers, school teachers. Most Sinhalese were peasants with little land or formed the major part of the urban proletariat.
The SLFP was supported by a party newly created by Buddhist monks—the United Front of Bhikkhus (Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna)—that was explicitly formed to make Sinhalese the national language and Buddhism the national religion. About 1200 yellow-robed bhikkhus campaigned mainly in conservative rural areas in mini-Volkswagen buses flying the Buddhist flag.
The SLFP won 51 of the 95 seats with 39.5% of the votes. One faction of the LSSP, which campaigned for parity of status for both Sinhala and Tamil, came in second place with 14 seats. One of two Tamil parties, the Federal Party or ITAK (Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi) took 10 seats. A dwindling economy cost the UNP dearly and it won only eight seats. The Communist Party of Ceylon, which also called for parity, took three seats and the small ACTC won one.
Ironically, the more economically conservative UNP party did not support ‘Sinhala Only’ at first but soon changed its position. Not wholly unexpectedly, the two Tamil parties campaigned to keep English as the official language.
As the first order of business the Sinhala Only Act was introduced. It mandated Sinhala as “the sole official language,” which was spoken by 70% of the population, and laid the basis for Buddhism to become the sole official religion.
Supporters of the law saw it as an attempt by a community that had just gained independence to distance itself from its colonial masters, while its opponents viewed it as an attempt by the linguistic majority to oppress and assert dominance on minorities. The Act symbolizes the post-independence bid of the majority Sinhalese to assert their identity on Sri Lanka as a nation state. For Tamils, it became a symbol of minority oppression and a justification for them to demand a separate nation state in time.
LSSP leader, Colvin R. de Silva, described the logic of this Act as: “two languages, one nation; one language, two nations.” This understanding, however, did not prevent the man from betraying his own wisdom just a dozen years later when he led the rest of the LSSP into the United Front coalition with the same party promoting ethnic divisions. And, in 1972, Prime Minister (and soon to be the first President—ceremonial at the time) Sirimavo Bandaranaike chose him as Minister of Constitutional Affairs to draw up a new constitution that took away more rights from the minorities and established Buddhism as the state religion.
The Gal Oya Riots
Tamils protested the discriminatory law by using Gandhian tactics of non-violent sit-ins in front of the parliament building. On June 5, 1956, the day the Sinhala Only Act was introduced as the sole official language, about 200 leading Tamil figures, including politicians, were attacked by government-backed Sinhalese mobs. The Sinhalese ‘social revolution’ began by shedding blood. This was the first of many subsequent riots to target the minority Sri Lankan Tamils.
The attacks in Colombo inspired the newly settled indignant Sinhalese colonialists in the Eastern province by the Gal Oya river valley to riot for several days beginning on June 11. Sinhalese employees of the Gal Oya settlement board commandeered government vehicles, dynamite and weapons and massacred minority Tamils, both Sri Lankan and ‘Indian.’ It is estimated that over 150 people lost their lives due to the violence. Many Tamils were burnt alive, mutilated with knives, sometimes decapitated. Although initially inactive, the police and the army eventually decided to re-take control of the situation and brought the riots under control. The message was clear: not only are Tamils to be treated as second-class citizens, they are not allowed to protest, not even peacefully.10
The bill was passed by a vote of 66 to 29 on June 15, as the riots continued where D.S. Senanayake had resettled Sinhalese. From the outset of Bandaranaike’s government, he was trapped by his own ethnic and religious chauvinism. Even his progressive policies—taking a neutralist stand in foreign affairs and not automatically siding with the UK, India or the US; terminating the Defence Pact with the British and removing British air bases and the naval station at Trincomalee; nationalising the Colombo Port Authority and the Omnibus Company—could not compensate for his reactionary Sinhala chauvinist policies internally, which led to another riot and then his murder. He was the one who passed the Public Security Act in 1959, specifically designed to crush strikes and demonstrations, and liberally used by both the SLPF and the UNP in the years to come.
A. Sivanandan described the Bandaranaike dilemma in his novel, “When Memory Dies” thus: “But Banda…was both socialist and communalist, (his government) nationalised the buses and communalized the nation.”
Tamils were disheartened by the drastic discriminatory measures being taken by the government and the brutality unleashed by so many ordinary Sinhalese, and more so by the fact that they were led by ‘pacifist’ Buddhist monks. At the Federal Party convention in August, delegates established four principal points: 1. A new constitution with federal principles for one or two Tamil states with wide autonomous powers; 2. Parity of both languages nationwide; 3. Repeal of the abrogation of citizenship for ‘Indian’ Tamils; 4. Cessation of colonisation land schemes.
The Federal Party gave the government one year to accomplish these demands, or they would start a nationwide satyagraha (massive non-violent resistance with work stoppages and closing of shops and institutions like in India pioneered by M.K. Gandhi).
The B-C Pact
The growing discord between the two ethnic groups did not bode well for the government or for the economy. Hoping to avoid more bloodshed and prevent an economic catastrophe, PM Bandaranaike was willing to negotiate with the Federal Party. In April 1957, he led a delegation in talks with Chelvanayakam and his delegation, which became known as the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam (B-C) Pact.11
While Tamils did not achieve federalism the government agreed to regional councils in the North and East with substantial autonomous powers. There would be direct election of regional councillors. Councils would have powers of local taxation and borrowing, the right to establish land cooperatives and development of fisheries, housing and utilities, road construction, social services, education and health care facilities.
The Tamil cousins, the ‘Indian’ Tamils, were not granted citizenship rights, but the PM said he would ‘consider’ this. Nevertheless, the B-C Pact, signed on July 26, 1957, was viewed by many as historic, a first between the two nationalities.
The ACTC was not content and continued to press for an autonomous Tamil state, but its power was negligible. Bandaranaike probably did not expect Sinhalese opposition to be as strong as it became. Members of the Buddhist clergy were adamantly against any compromise as a sell-out. The UNP saw this issue as THE issue which could bring it back into political power; so the former finance minister, J.R. Jayewardene, now heading the party, called for demonstrations in October against the Pact.
Tensions mounted between the extremist Sinhalese, the compromising government, and Tamils. The Buddhist PM appealed to the nation to adopt the Middle Way, Gautama Buddha’s doctrine of seeking moderation as the path to liberation. Nevertheless, Sinhalese Buddhists monks demanded special privileges for Buddhism and the Sinhalese language for Ceylon. On April 9, 1958, 100 monks from the United Front of Bhikkhus and 300 other Sinhalese besieged the official residence of Bandaranaike demanding that he abandon the agreement. He listened to them. He saw the handwriting on the wall and a few days later publicly tore up the Pact.
Tamil leaders had acted in good faith, had scaled down their ultimate wishes and were abandoned by populism. Dismayed yet determined to struggle for justice they launched non-violent actions, the beginning of a satyagraha. Federal Party convention delegates were attacked and beaten, and the violence led by saffron robed monks spread despite the fact that they had achieved their objective of stopping the Pact. But keeping Tamils “in their place” required murdering them too, if they objected to being kept in place.
From May 22 to 27, some 58 separate riots occurred across country. The violence was gruesome. A Sinhalese mob ripped open a pregnant Tamil woman’s belly and let the foetus and her bleed to death. Once again Tamils were mutilated and decapitated. Many Tamil boys were stripped, bound and burnt alive. Many Tamil women were raped and some killed afterwards. Mobs used knives, swords, elephant guns, shotguns, dynamite and torches.12 This violent hatred recalled that of southern whites in the USA lynching and burning black people alive. Some Sinhalese who gave fleeing Tamils refuge were also murdered. Tamils in a couple of eastern towns retaliated by killing a few Sinhalese.
Many Sinhalese were motivated to kill Tamils because monks were exhorting them with vague allegations that their temples were in some sort of danger from Tamils, who were exercising inordinate influence over the PM. While this was a lie, many could not discern it as such since “priests don’t lie.” Many Sinhalese laymen joined in beside their monks swinging forth in peace-symbolic saffron sarongs bashing their brothers’ heads with clubs and long knives.
The government did nothing until May 27 when they sent in troops to stop rioting and then declared a State of Emergency. It also banned the Federal Party. Still some Sinhalese continued rioting until into the first week of June. Between 300 and 500 people were murdered, nearly all were Tamils.
Once the pogrom had been controlled, the MEP coalition was in turmoil. Both right and left factions sought to find an escape valve. On September 3, 1958, the Sinhalese-led parliament, pressed by the violence, the Tamil parties and the pro-Moscow and Trotskyist Sinhalese parties, passed a Special Provisions Amendment to the Sinhala Only Act (called “Sinhala Only, Tamil Also”) restoring Tamil as a co-official language in education and administration in their areas of the North and East.
Bandaranaike had complied with nearly everything the Buddhist monks, especially his UFB supporters, wished for: Sinhalese as the sole language with Buddhism as the official religion; making two Buddhist institutions national universities with bhikkhu instructors becoming well paid professors without university examinations. But this wasn’t enough.
Some Buddhists were enraged that the Sinhalese PM Bandaranaike had tried to compromise with Tamils. He succumbed to his own racist policies being shot dead by a fellow racist, bhikkhu Talduwe Somarama, an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner. During a government investigation and through Somarama’s trial it became evident that he had been put up to the murderous task by his superior, Mapitigama Buddharakkitha (MP), the wealthy chief monk of the Kelaniya Raja Mahavihara temple. Sinhalese Buddhists believe that the Buddha himself had hallowed this temple on a visit to the island. Buddharakkitha was a member of the SLFP and a personal supporter of SWRD. MP was ostensibly motivated to order his assassination because he was disappointed with the PM’s willingness to accommodate some Tamil issues. He was also upset that Bandaranaike had not granted him a shipping contract for one of his businesses. Somarama was hung in 1962 shortly after converting to Chrisitanity. MP died in prison.
In his speech, “Ethnic Cleansing in Sri Lanka,” A. Sivanandan said:
“Bandaranaike vacillated and a monk shot him dead. The chickens had come home to roost. From then on the pattern of Tamil subjugation was set: racist legislations followed by Tamil resistance, followed by conciliatory government gestures, followed by Opposition rejectionism, followed by anti-Tamil riots instigated by Buddhist priests and politicians, escalating Tamil resistance, and so on—except that the mode of resistance varied and intensified with each tightening of the ethnic-cleansing screw and led to armed struggle and civil war.”
Tough Widow Takes Over
The discrimination didn’t stop at language and religion. After Bandaranaike’s death, Wijeyananda Dahanayake, minister of education and leader of the House, took over as caretaker prime minister. But the party was shaken by the murder and a pointing finger accused even high officials in the UNP for being involved in the conspiracy. There were several minister shifts. Then the parliament was dissolved and a new election was held on March 19, 1960.
The UNP maintained a slight advantage with 50 seats to SLFP’s 46. The Federal Party came in third with 15 seats. The UNP selected Dudley Senanayake once again as PM but he was toppled when the entire opposition—SLFP, LSSP, CPC and the FP—combined their votes against the UNP. Another election was called for July 21.
In May, SLFP leadership was handed to Bandaranaike’s 44-year old widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Sympathy for her husband helped give the widow a majority of votes. The SLFP picked up 29 seats for a total of 75 and the UNP fell way behind with 30. As leader of the party, Mrs. B (as Sirimavo Bandaranaike was known) was appointed PM. However, she was not a member of parliament, which is required in order to be a prime minister, and so she was appointed to the Senate on August 2.
S. Bandaranaike was now the world’s first woman Prime Minister. She displayed a greater single-minded ruthlessness than had her husband. In A. Sivanandan’s speech, he described her reign thus:
“If Mr. Bandaranaike had cut out the mother tongue of the Tamils, it was left to Mrs. Bandaranaike to bring the Tamils down to their knees by using the language provision to remove and exclude Tamils from the police, the army, the courts and government service generally, further colonising traditionally Tamil areas of the north-east with Sinhalese from the South, repatriating the already disenfranchised Indian Tamil workers and, more crucially, requiring Tamil students to score higher marks than their Sinhalese counterparts to enter university on the grounds that Tamils should not continue to be over-represented in higher education and the professions (formalised in her second term ‘standardisation’ policy” of 1973) …(she) cut the ground from under the feet of Tamil youth.”
On January 1, 1961, the Sinhalese Only law took full effect with extra discriminatory measures against Tamils. She also refused to negotiate with Tamil leaders. Again Tamils went into the streets to protest non-violently. Tamils also refused to cooperate with the teaching of Sinhala in the schools in the two provinces where they were still the majority. Once again, Chelvanayakam led hundreds of volunteers committed to non-violence in a sit-in in front of Jaffna’s provincial administrative building on February 20. Police trampled on their bodies injuring many, including five Tamil MPs.12
Tamils were not deflected from their satyagraha; it continued in Jaffna and spread to Colombo. Muslims joined in as did some Sinhalese LSSP activists. Tamil men were joined by scores of women as well. The eminent British philosopher Bertrand Russell was among 5-6000 solidarity supporters who conducted a sit-in at the entrance of the Defence Minister in London.
After ten days of growing non-violent actions, the government sent in armed troops to parade with fixed bayonets through the streets of Jaffna and Batticaloa in the East. Crowds of demonstrators grew and the government called back the troops two days later. A hartal was called and trains were stopped by people lying down on railway tracks.
After a month of constant and various protests, S. Bandaranaike sent a minister to hold informal talks with Tamil leaders, which broke down. The FP widened its civil disobedience by issuing symbolic stamps and envelopes as an alternative ‘postal service;’ bus passengers refused to buy tickets. On April 17, a State of Emergency was proclaimed, media censorship imposed, the Federal Party banned and its parliamentarians jailed. Army soldiers beat sit-inners with rifle butts. Jaffna was occupied by the military, a curfew was imposed and soldiers shot scores of people killing many. Despite the greatest unity among Tamil parties and civic groups, and with some Sinhalese leftist and Muslim support in massive collective passive resistance, the movement ended without any gains.
Tamil leadership, with Chelvanayakam as the popular head, had hoped that moral coercion in the manner of Gandhi would have persuaded the government to make some concessions—but to no avail. Many Tamils began to feel that they had been better treated by the British Empire than under Sinhalese colonialisation. But the new SLFP government would brook no ‘disloyalty.’ It took over two major newspapers that had been critical. Three thousand denominational schools, mainly Catholic, were taken over by the government to favour Sinhalese Buddhist supremacy.
S. Bandaranaike distanced her government from the UK and USA by bringing Sri Lanka into the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), as one of the original members, in 1961. The originators—India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Tito and Ghana’s Nkrumah—sought support for each other’s sovereignty without aligning politically with either super-power bloc at that time. The purpose of the organisation as stated in the Havana Declaration of 1979 is to ensure "the national independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of non-aligned countries" in their "struggle against imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, and all forms of foreign aggression,” and is “against great power and bloc politics.”13
While the SLFP had trappings of socialist policies, including various nationalisations, it is important to stress, especially with leftist governments such as ALBA in Latin America and their supporters throughout the world, that the Tamils’ history in Sri Lanka is one of constant and widespread discrimination. They are, in fact, subject to a policy of genocide as defined by the United Nations in its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, Dec. 9, 1948 (see chapter 1). Article III of this Convention makes a) Genocide; b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; d) Attempt to commit genocide; and e) Complicity in genocide liable to punishment. Article IV says that persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.
The treatment of Tamils by this government and consecutive ones justifies the ‘status’ of genocide as defined in these articles. To this day, however, no government in the United Nations has wished to seek an indictment against Sri Lanka’s governments. Tamils have no political power and no state to represent them.
During the rest of S. Bandaranaike’s term, emerging unscathed from an abortive coup planned by some Christian military officers and police officials, she nationalised UK and US oil company properties and mediated, in her capacity with NAM, between China and India over a territorial dispute. She also convinced India to take about half the ‘Indian’ Tamils, about half a million, in a repatriation scheme (the Sirimavo-Sastri Pact of Oct. 30, 1964). 300,000 were permitted to stay in Ceylon and gradually achieve citizenship, which only happened for half of that number many years later. The fate of the balance 150,000 was to be determined by subsequent negotiations between the two countries.
While the SLFP declared itself as socialist, it was not Marxist or revolutionary, but rather national chauvinist, and reformist in its social welfare orientation. It canalised the frustration of the Sinhalese impoverished rural masses along chauvinist lines without fully solving their problems. It also had the support of Sinhala businessmen and merchants, who switched support between it and the UNP, depending on who was in power, expecting and getting the same pay-offs. In this sense, the SLFP became the alternate party of the Sinhala bourgeoisie.14
During the early 1960s there was a great deal of working class unrest. In 1962, there were demonstrations and strikes by dock and transportation workers and others. But the Sinhala Left leaders were becoming too enamoured with parliamentary politics and increasingly nationalist rather than revolutionary. In the 1960 elections the Left parties lost half their voters, having been outflanked by the socialist rhetoric of the SLFP. A faction of the LSSP (VLSSP) had already joined with the SLFP to form the MEP coalition. In 1963, a broad trade union front hammered out a common programme of 21 demands—economic and anti-capitalist. But the SLFP government was able to co-opt some LSSP leaders by giving a few concessions. In 1964, LSSP leader Dr. N.M. Perera invited the rest of the party in a new coalition with the SLFP called the United Left Front. This caused the Fourth International to expel the party from its ranks.
Bandaranaike would have the CPC with the coalition—she was buttering up to both the Soviet Union and China—and it was willing, but it was placed on the sideline, for the time, because several ruling party members opposed the CPC being part of the government since it was a pro-Soviet party and this would clash with the SLFP’s increasingly pro-China approach.
Before Mrs. B’s first term was completed, she formed a coalition government on June 11, 1964, with 12 SLFP members of cabinet and three LSSP ministers, the first time that Trotskyists held posts in any government cabinet. But some SLFP members were not happy with this. In addition, during the PM’s address to parliament on 3rd December, opposition moved an amendment to her speech declaring, “The people have no confidence in the Government as it has miserably failed to solve such pressing problems as unemployment and the high cost of living.” Eighteen SLFP MPs sided with the opposition in a vote of confidence which she lost, 74 to 73. Parliament was dissolved and new elections were held on March 22, 1965.
The UNP campaigned on solid capitalist free market economics and pro-US/UK foreign policies. They were supported by sections of the Buddhist clergy for the first time, charging that Mrs. B was capitulating to communism and they feared the same fate as what the Chinese were doing to Buddhist Tibet. This was an absurd viewpoint given that the SLFP was entrenched in Buddhist religious chauvinism. But the mobilisation of hundreds of monks parading in their saffron sarongs through the streets of Colombo had a strong psychological affect on many Sinhalese voters. According to various analysts, it was this non-issue that toppled her government and brought back the UNP to power with Dudley Senanayake as PM for the third time.
The Dudley-Chelva Pact
While the UNP doubled its strength to 66 seats (the SLFP won 41), it did not have a clear majority to rule so it buttered up the Tamils in their Federal Party, which won 14 seats, coming in third. To the chagrin of more radical Tamils, especially youth, the old-timers in the FP preferred to compromise Tamil demands and play the role of ‘kingmaker.’ They sat down with Senanayake and negotiated what became known as the Dudley-Chelva Pact, very similar to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact. It would allow Tamil to be the official administrative and court language in the North and the East. It would also establish district councils with substantial powers in local affairs.
Just three days after the elections, Chelvanayakam announced that his party would support the UNP government and that would bring a majority under PM Senanayake rule. Two smaller groupings (MEP and SLFSP) concurred to back the UNP. The FP could have held cabinet offices but declined, while the SLFSP and MEP were included in the cabinet. The future PM and president, J.R. Jayewardene, became the powerful Minister of State.
The new capitalist government markedly changed foreign relations direction. It paid compensation to oil companies for the previous nationalisation. The US and Germany resumed economic aid. There was greater privatisation in the domestic economy. The extremist-revanchist Buddhists won a demand to have their holiday, the ‘Poya Day,’ take the place of Sunday as the national holiday. And when the time came for the Special Provision Act of 1958 to be enacted (agreed upon under Bandaranaike but never enacted), which granted language concessions to Tamils as had just been negotiated in the Dudley-Chelva Pact, violence broke out yet again with Buddhist monks in the lead.
Three thousand monks and their followers marched outside parliament breaking prohibitory orders. The demonstrators turned into a mob stoning buses and cars, shops and Tamils. Police opened fire, an unusual occurrence when Sinhalese engage in rioting, and one monk was killed. A state of emergency with a curfew was enacted and the army called in.
On January 11, 1966, the new regulations were approved in the House, 96 to 53, and then in the Senate, 18 to 7. But they were never enforced, not to this day.
For the first and only time a Prime Minister was invited to address the Federal Party’s annual convention. In his address, in June 1966, PM Dudley Senanayake pledged that there would be no language or religious discrimination and that Tamils would not suffer. Then on September 9, Senanayake was invited to Jaffna by both Tamil parties, FP and ACTC. An enthusiastic crowd of 100,000 awaited him at the railroad station.
It was the conservative capitalist government that took a greater step towards embracing partial equality with a minority ethnic group than the allegedly left and socialist SLFP government and its even more leftist, in theory, Marxist coalition partners did. It was these forces—whose ideology promise equality and justice for humanity with a vision of abolishing exploitation, classes and castes—that opposed the enactment of the democratically approved Special Provision Act. Furthermore, it was the SLFP’s first PM that had originated this compromise.
“The Dudley Senanayake government was placed on the defensive precisely because the Federal Party decided to join it! A virulent campaign by the opposition was unleashed accusing the UNP of a sell-out to the Tamils, a campaign in which surprisingly the Communists and the LSSP too joined,”
wrote S. Sivanayagam.
In addition to the Marxists’ and socialist left’s racist reactions, the UNP government was now confronted with the anti-communist Buddhist clergy. In June, 1968, the PM delivered a White Paper to the parliament concerning the district councils, among other things. A few FP leaders were unhappy with it because the councils were granted little independence from the central government; the ‘leftist’ opposition disagreed with it entirely for its attempt at some parity. The Opposition, led by Mrs. B, tore up the White Paper and walked out of parliament. Once outside, a bonfire was made of the White Paper.
Implementing the language and district council provisions was stalled. Tamil youth grew impatient and pressed their elders in the Federal Party to quit the government alliance, which they did at the end of 1968. Having lost FP support, the PM announced he was abandoning the district council initiative. In this context, the SLFP again reached out to the CPC and it joined with the LSSP in a broader coalition—the United Front.
The two major Marxist parties had abandoned their principles and dropped any demands for parity between Sinhalese and Tamils and equal rights with citizenship for the Malaiyaha (hill country) Tamils. The chauvinist and racist Buddhist clergy was the clear victor now that it heralded over both coalitions with the UNP and SLFP in the centre of the two poles. Politics and ethics in Sri Lanka show that Karl Marx had a good point when he said that religion could function as the opiate of the people!
Emergence of the JanathaVimukthi Peramuna
During the 1960s Ceylon’s neo-colonial political and economic structures were starting to come under critical pressure. Her export income was shrinking, foreign debt growing and unemployment escalating. Ninety percent of all export earnings was from the three primary products of tea, rubber and coconut. Throughout the 1960s income generated by these exports fell steadily. At the same time, essential consumer goods such as food items and fertilisers were imported, also machinery and other manufactured goods. Import prices rose continuously and Ceylon came to have a growing foreign exchange deficit. From LKR 95 million in 1957 it grew to LKR 744 million in 1969. Under the given conditions, foreign loans were needed for investment in costly public works and financing the foreign trade deficit. Consequently, debt servicing too was required and correspondingly direct foreign political control through the IMF and other imperialist agencies increased.15
The May 27, 1970 parliament elections brought the SLFP, with its new United Front (UF), back into power. With the SLFP gaining 90 seats, the LSSP 19 and the CPC 6, the UF took 115 of the 151 seats. The UNP seats count fell to 17. The two Tamil parties received 16—the FP with 13 and the ACTC with three.
On swearing-in day for Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s second term as PM, some of her ecstatic supporters celebrated by burning the offices and library of the Associated Newspapers (also known as Lake House), which had supported the UNP and printed newspapers in all three languages used in Sri Lanka: Sinhala, Tamil and English. Rioters killed a police inspector.
Mrs. B’s cabinet of 21 ministers was comprised of 17 from the SLFP, one from the CPC and three from the LSSP. She appointed the ‘Trotskyist’ Colvin de Silva as Minister of Constitutional Affairs. The United Front had run, in part, on the platform of a new republican constitution and to scrap the Soulbury Commission inspired constitution. The UF government would also nationalise the British owned plantations, introduce land reforms for peasants, decrease the prices of medicines and increase rice subsidies. Banks would also be nationalised. But not all promises were fulfilled. That would have required a revolutionary restructuring of the Ceylonese economy to make it self-reliant and self-sufficient in essential commodities by doing away with the monoculture plantations and diversifying agricultural production. For that exploitative and unequal class-caste-gender not to speak of inter-ethnic relations would have to be changed.
In fact, the regime quickly succumbed to the pressures of the international monetary agencies, especially the IMF. Unable to break totally with these financial arms of imperialist countries, it capitulated and accepted their ‘advice’ regarding austerity measures. ‘Trotskyist’ Finance Minister, N.M. Perera, signed yet another Letter of Intent with the IMF for a stand-by loan (without making the conditions public) and cut the rice subsidy and raised the price of rationed rice!
Tea export earnings produced largely by the labour of Tamils had formed the financial basis for the welfare programmes in health and education availed of largely by the Sinhalese masses. The collapse of the export economy forced the government to cut back on welfare services by instituting charges for hitherto free services. It also led to increased unemployment and underemployment in the plantation sector. This situation could have been utilized to unite Tamil and Sinhala masses on the ground level, but this did not happen.
The new government extended diplomatic relations with the European and Asian Communist Party led governments and recognized national liberation movements such as the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam. It would suspend recognition of Israel but continued utilizing its military support behind officialdom. And it continued military ties with India, the US and the UK.
The ‘socialist’ SLFP and their ‘Marxist’ partners who held state power were directing foreign policy in favour of ‘communist’ led governments. But while instituting social reforms, the welfare programs were carried out within a dependent capitalist economic structure, and this annoyed a new anti-imperialist and nationalist ‘left’ political party—the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) or People’s Liberation Front. It had been founded in 1965 as a split from the pro-Chinese Communist Party under the leadership of Rohana Wijeweera, who had studied at the Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow.
Its key difference with the already existing Left parties was that for it there was no independent national bourgeoisie in Lanka, where it formed a bloc with the imperialists. Both the pro-Moscow and pro-China communist parties considered the Bandaranaike clan to be a progressive national bourgeoisie to be supported in its fight against imperialism.
In a neo-colonial system like Ceylon it is characteristic of the national bourgeois class to form, in the final analysis, a united front with the imperialists. In a neo-colony the capitalist system is maintained to cater for the needs of the imperialists. Therefore it follows that the national bourgeois class, by protecting capitalism in Ceylon, is in fact supporting imperialism. In the short run the national bourgeoisie leans on the oppressed classes in order to gain political power. But in the long run they get support and sustenance from the capitalists and imperialists....It is not possible to fight imperialism through a parliament which was set up by the imperialists. But the national bourgeoisie of this country is not prepared to wage extra-parliamentary struggles against the imperialists. (“The SLFP – the Agent of the National Bourgeoisie,” Vimukthi, no. 7, 20 December, 1970.)
Secondly, the JVP argued that there were three basic revolutionary forces in Ceylon: the urban proletariat, the plantation proletariat and the non-plantation peasantry. The urban proletariat, though having a long history of organisation and struggle, was being controlled by a reformist leadership which had allied itself with the coalition government. The disillusioned urban proletariat was struggling and seeking an alternative revolutionary party.
In the JVP’s view, the Tamil plantation proletariat had fallen victim to the chauvinism of the SLFP and its allies, and had become immured in a defensive communalism of its own. Under these circumstances, it considered the peasantry in the non-plantation sector to be the ‘main force’ of the revolution. These peasants were becoming landless by the gradual development of capitalist forces in the countryside. In the 1960s thirty percent of the peasantry was landless and working as sharecroppers. Successful capitalist farmers were able to expand by buying land from indebted peasants and hiring those they had expropriated. Land reform was urgently required.
In 1958, Philip Gunawardene, leader of the VLSSP and Agriculture Minister in the 1956 MEP government, had introduced the Paddy Lands Act, which was meant to safeguard the rights of tenants. Cultivation committees were set up to carry out this Act. Instead landlords conducted large-scale eviction of tenants. Law enforcement by governmental authorities was not forthcoming and the cultivation committees came under the control of rich peasants. The same happened with cooperatives that were set up. They either went bankrupt or were controlled by bureaucrats and rich peasants.
In the view of the JVP, only socialism could liberate the peasants in the various zones of the country. Collectivisation of agriculture and socialisation of industry were the need of the hour. Cadre concentrated on politicizing mainly the Sinhala peasants. Political classes concentrated on: the greatness of the Sinhala past and the Buddhist kings; the economic crisis and the colonial formation of the tea economy; Indian expansionism through the tea plantations; the history of the Left in Ceylon and the failure of parliamentarism; the Sinhalese road to revolution—attacks on police stations and then popular insurrection.
Despite its Sinhala nationalist perspective it did plan to undertake political work among the Tamil peasants in the North and the East. And it established contact with the Young Socialist Front, which was a new group of Tamil revolutionaries that had emerged among the plantation workers in a struggle against the communal pro-capitalist unions of Thondaman and Aziz (Ceylon Workers Congress and the Ceylon Democratic Congress).
The JVP’s ideas regarding Indian expansionism were derived from the Chinese Communist Party, and argued that the Indian capitalists aimed at economic and political domination over their smaller neighbours.
In his speech to the Ceylon criminal Justice Commission on 2nd Nov. 1973, Rohana Wijeweera said:
“In our class we discussed how this (Indian expansionism) affected our country. We explained the class needs of the powerful Borah capitalists in this country; ....the racist politics they engage in for the purpose of keeping the estate workers of Indian origin separate from the rest of the working class and under their own heel. We stated that the capitalist class had misled the estate workers of Indian origin and trapped them, and we determined to rescue these workers from the ideological grip of the capitalists.... The many efforts we made to build cadres among comrades of the national minorities were fruitless.”
The party’s understanding of ‘Indian expansionism’ included traditional ethnic, religious and cultural ties between Tamil Nadu in South India and the Tamil-dominated North in Sri Lanka. The Palk Strait separates the two nations by only a few kilometres. But the JVP wasn’t satisfied with Mrs. B’s plan to limit India’s influence by reducing the import of Tamil literature from Tamil Nadu. Nor did the JVP consider her economic policies any more than state monopoly capitalism. The nationalised British plantations, for example, were still based on an export economy that benefited capitalists in Britain as well as in Sri Lanka.
Some JVP members were secretly training in guerrilla warfare, and robberies were conducted against post offices, shops and a few banks. Recruitment grew. By 1971, the JVP claimed to have 10,000 members, many of them unemployed rural youth but it also appealed to many educated students who sympathized with Vietnam in its people’s resistance to US imperialist invasion. In the late 1960s, the JVP led massive solidarity demonstrations with Vietnam.
With a pseudo-socialist government in power, the JVP demanded it abolish capitalism and ties with India and other imperialist governments. They said they would support the government if it did implement the nationalisations and land reforms—which were delayed—and introduced a “true socialist economy.” Seeing their demands ignored, they started manufacturing tens of thousands of hand bombs. There was a demonstration outside the US embassy on March 6, 1971 by the Mao Youth Front. The anti-US Prime Minister had to apologize to the US government, and she now feared that this rebellious ‘Guevarist movement,’ as the United Front called the JVP, presented a serious threat and could control some rural areas.
At first Mrs. B had tolerated this radical left but fearing its agitation amongst poor rural Sinhalese that included threatening to take state power by extra-parliamentary means, she declared a state of emergency on March 17. The military was given sweeping powers, the media was placed under censorship, and the death penalty was authorised for many crimes other than murder. Suspected JVP members were arbitrarily jailed, including its leader, and some killed. Many thousands hid in jungles and hilly country.
On April 5, 1971, with their leader in jail, the revolutionary party launched an insurrection, speaking of it as “an exercise of self-defence against continuous capitalist state suppression.” It inspired many ordinary people, who felt betrayed by phoney rulers—no matter what they call themselves—who, once having obtained their votes, do not care for them. Their determination in placing their lives on the line shows how much the constant discrimination against the Tamil people did not benefit the majority of Sinhalese and did not alleviate poverty and unemployment.
The JVP hoped for a ‘one day revolution’ and they got off to an astonishing start. Within 24 hours, 93 of the nation’s 273 police stations had been captured by the rebels. Most of the south and west was in JVP’s control. The mostly untrained youth cadre looted shops, which frightened many citizens, and they cut telephone and telegraph lines. But they couldn’t topple the government and military in one day. On April 24, Mrs. B declared publicly that its military was ill-equipped to crush them so she asked India’s PM Indira Gandhi to send military aid. (An earlier message that Mrs. B. had sent to Mrs Gandhi had not arrived because of the cable cuts.)
Within a few weeks, in addition to aid from India, the Lankan state had received military aid from the US, Britain, Australia, Russia, Yugoslavia, Egypt, and Pakistan. China gave economic aid and political approval. All these countries rushed to help because the insurrection took place in an area of strategic significance for the imperialists and at a time of heightened class war and popular struggles in Asia and Africa. It coincided with the ‘Naxalite’ peasant uprisings in different parts of India and with the Bengali resistance to West Pakistani over-lordship in East Pakistan. The US was also facing defeat in South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. In the twelve months after the uprising analogous upsurges in the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius and Madagascar further underscored the instability of imperialist control over this whole region.
The combined military forces were able to put down the widespread insurrection in a month but ‘mopping up’ operations went on until October. The police were especially brutal. When they captured JVPers, they would often torture them before shooting them. Hundreds, even thousands of bodies were burnt—which kept the ‘body count’ down—but hundreds were also thrown into rivers so that the floating cadavers would terrorize people. The figures of deaths during the insurrection vary from the government low of 5,000 to 25,000. Speaking from prison, Wijeweera said 15,000 JVP members and sympathizers had been killed. The self-declared Marxist members of government supported the actions of the military and police.
A Criminal Justice Commission was set up especially to try the 18-20,000 captured insurrectionists and sympathizers, and others simply picked up without having participated. Those who would admit guilt, the vast majority, were given relatively light sentences of two years or more. The hard-core leadership was sentenced to 20 years to life imprisonment. Wijeweera’s life sentence handed down in 1973 was later reduced to 20 years. In 1976, the government lifted the state of emergency and JVP proscription, and it too entered into mainstream parliamentary politics. Wijeweera was released by the UNP government in 1977.
The New Constitution
As the Trotskyist-led select committee of the Constituent Assembly began drawing up the new constitution, the Federal Party submitted a memorandum advocating a federal constitution for Ceylon without splitting it into two separate states. The committee ignored the memorandum.
The new constitution changed the new unitary state’s name to Sri Lanka, affirmed Sinhala as the only official language of the country, reduced Tamil to a language requiring translation, and made Buddhism the official state religion giving it pre-eminence. Previous laws protecting rights of national and religious minorities were abandoned. The Soulbury protective covenant for all minorities was cast aside and dominion status ended.
Even as the political war in the South and West continued taking its brutal toll of lives, the new constitution was approved on May 22, 1972, and the country changed its name to "Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka.”
The nationalisation of plantations began and their redistribution favoured Sinhalese. But redistribution of lands was not limited to the previously British owned export crop plantations. Sinhalese also claimed 5000 acres in the Tamil farmland Nochchikulam as theirs, renaming it Nochchiyagama. The next year, 10,783 Sinhalese families settled in Trincomalee.
The Tamil moderate, compromise-willing political parties finally realised that hegemonic chauvinism had reached a point of total indifference to the interests of their people. They could not reason with any of the Sinhalese-led political parties regardless of ideology, and especially not with the wealthy Buddhist clergy. Asking for a bit of equality, a bit of autonomy in non-violent language and action had only brought them brutal suffering.
The two political parties, Federal Party and All Ceylon Tamil Congress, and even the severely compromised Ceylon Workers Congress, combined into the Tamil United Front (TUF) with the proposal for a federal constitution, short of calling for separatism and a sovereign state. But these forces were tied to parliamentary politics.
The sixties and seventies in the Tamil majority parts of Sri Lanka were also a time of social and political awakening and unrest as part of a worldwide phenomenon. An anti-caste civil rights movement came up strongly and Dalits now made attempts to enter temples as they had earlier campaigned for equality in seating and eating for school children in the 1920s and for entry into teashops in the 1950s. Unemployment and landlessness were making the oppressed castes youth restless. The TUF sought the abolition of caste and untouchability as one of their six demands addressed to Mrs. Bandaranaike for amending the Constitution.
Intermediate and upper caste Tamil youth also felt their way forward was blocked due to the state’s favouring of the majority Sinhalese in the fields of education and government employment. They were becoming disillusioned with the compromise politics of their elders in the Federal Party and now in the Tamil United Front that led nowhere. Some pointed to the Sinhalese youth in the JVP as an example of militancy in the face of frustration over compromises that had not led to an improvement in their lives. It was time for armed action.
Birth of the Tamil Tigers
As the TUF was being formed, some militant Tamil youth formed the “Tamil New Tigers” (TNT), on the same day as the new constitution took force. Velupillai Prabhakaran became their leader at age 17. Already at 16, he had begun to agitate for militancy. He acquired the familiar name ‘Thamby’ meaning younger brother. The TNT chose the tiger as their motif as a symbol of resistance against the Sinhalas whose name derives from the Lion and who use primarily this motif in the national flag of Sri Lanka. The tiger had been the emblem of the Chola Empire of the Tamil land in South India rich in literature, architecture and artisans.
The Tamil New Tigers did not believe in ‘democracy’ as they witnessed it practiced by the Sinhalese political parties and their governments. They demanded a separate state, in order to guarantee all Tamils their intrinsic rights to language, religion, culture and land. After nearly three decades of holding out their hands palms up, some Tamils determined that the only alternative to dying on their knees with nothing achieved was to pick up the gun.
The TNT carried out a few direct actions, including bank robberies and a handful of raids on police stations, mainly to acquire weapons, but there was no guerrilla warfare or much violence by the Tigers and other radical groups coming together in the 1970s, not until 1983.
In January 1974, the fourth World Tamil Research Conference was held in Jaffna, much to the chagrin of the Sinhala government, which had requested that the Conference be held at Colombo. Tamil scholars came from many nations. There was a week of festivities with unprecedented participation of 50,000 people. As a scholar from India was speaking, police entered the crowd swinging clubs. People stampeded to escape the attack and many were crushed to death. Police used tear gas and gunshots killing more.
The TNT, and other groups just formed stepped up their robberies in order to buy arms. When one political thief was surrounded by police, June 5, 1974, he committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide pill, the first of many such suicides using poison. It later became customary for insurrectionists to wear a cyanide pill around their necks. They had instructions to take them rather than be captured, which nearly always meant brutal torture and the possibility of divulging vital information to the enemy.
In revenge for the police murders in January 1974 at the World Tamil Conference, and for his collaboration with the SLFP-led government in general, the Jaffna mayor, Alfred Durayappa, a Tamil, was assassinated by Prabhakaran and three other Tigers on July 27, 1975. That was the first of many political assassinations committed by militant Tamils. Due to the ensuing state repression, the Tigers had to go underground.
Having achieved nothing through collaboration with the UF government, the majority in the TUF decided to work for the establishment of a sovereign Tamil State—in agreement with the Tigers, but by using non-violent means. It changed its name to Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). The Ceylon Workers Congress withdrew from the organisation as it adopted this goal. Its leaders opined that the establishment of a separate state would not help solve the problems of the up-country Tamils, as they lived among the Sinhalese. Some of the CWC base was also comfortable Tamils living in Sinhala-majority southern Colombo.16 This decision did not save them, however, as they became targets of attack in the communal riots of 1977, 1981 and 1983.
In May, 1976, the TULF held its first national convention in Vattukottai under the chairmanship of Chelvanayakam. The Vattukottai Resolution became the foundation for Tamil Eelam, an independent sovereign state (in the North and East) recognising Tamils of Sri Lanka as a nation, in accordance with the right of a people to self-determination and citizenship with full and equal rights as any other people. It would be called the “secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam.”
On May 5, 1976, the TNT renamed themselves as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) under Prabhakaran’s leadership. This group also adopted ‘socialist Eelam’ as a slogan and goal. Members had to vow eternal loyalty to the organisation. Smoking or drinking alcohol, communication with family members not in the LTTE and sex was banned except for married couples.
Throughout the 1970s, Sinhalese mobs clashed—with impunity—not only with Tamils but also Muslim Moors. In 1976, Sinhalese burned 271 houses and 44 shops, and murdered a score of Muslims.
The SLFP was turning more right-wing and its economic policies were alienating many ordinary people of all ethnic groups. Other members of the UF, such as the LSSP, were pressing against these rightist turns, and Mrs. B dismissed it from the government in 1975. Mrs. B also angered many when she extended her term of office for another two years until July 1977. She did so based on the new constitution of 1972, which called for the parliament to continue for five years ‘commencing’ from the date of adoption of the new constitution. Most people saw her extension as a sneaky way of staying in power for power’s sake alone. People were also weary of all the deaths—Sinhalese, Tamils, Tamil Muslims and Moors—during her period as PM.
The conservative UNP campaigned for changes in the new constitution and for a free market economy. It won a landslide victory in the July 1977 elections with J.R. Jayewardene as PM. The voters reacted massively against the SLFP and its UF by giving the UNP 140 out of 168 seats. The SLFP won only eight seats. The LSSP and the CPC were swept out of parliament. But the pro-independence TULF won 6.4% of the popular vote, winning all 14 seats in the Tamil homeland area, and four more seats making it the main opposition party with 18 seats.
Supporters of JRJ attacked SLFP workers and supporters just as Mrs. B’s supporters attacked them when she won an election. And a month later, another pogrom was unleashed against Tamils. Many Sinhalese, including monks and the right-wing extremist ‘Sinhalese Patriots’ were infuriated that the mainstream Tamil parties called for separation and that they became the second largest group of parliamentarians. Ironically, in fact, a separatist Tamil politician sat as the Leader of the Opposition in what Sinhalese considered to be their own parliament. These forces murdered more than 300 Tamils (the government said 100) and there was massive destruction and looting of Tamil property. It seems that when Sinhalese mobsters ran out of Sri Lanka Tamils they turned to the poor up-country estate workers and set their line-rooms ablaze. About 100,000 Tamils, including 50,000 plantation Tamils, were left without residences and property. They fled to the North.
New Constitution of 1978
The UNP had the required two-thirds majority in parliament to amend the 1972 constitution and thus, seven months after election, the UNP passed an amendment that created an all-powerful Executive Presidency with powers to appoint a prime minister. On February 4, 1978, Jayewardene was installed as the first president of the second republic. Two days later, he appointed another UNP leader, Ramasinghe Premadasa, as PM. The name of the country was also changed to Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
The executive president is also the commander-in-chief of the army and head of the cabinet. He can dissolve parliament and has judicial impunity. Given that he could disband parliament, MPs became more subservient to the president. JRJ went so far as to require them to sign undated letters of resignation. The new constitution called for six-year terms for both presidents and parliamentarians, and a unicameral parliament with 196 members—later changed to 225.
Despite the new name, ‘democratic socialist,’ the autocratic capitalist government began deregulating much of what had been government-run enterprises making private enterprise the priority. Jayewardene was the first in South Asia to embrace the neo-liberal economic regime and consequently moved closer to the US bloc. With the change of direction in the government's economic policy since 1977, foreign investment flowed more freely into the private sector in export-oriented and high-technology industries, largely through joint ventures in which majority equity was held by Sri Lankan companies. The first free-trade zone was established in 1978. These zones were exempt from labour regulations and were given tax concessions. The government's policy of deregulation of the investment climate reflected pressure from the IMF, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and its own precarious foreign reserve position.
During JRJ’s dozen years in power, he acquired the nicknames “Yankee Dick” and “Tricky Dick” for his close association with US governments and the “American Way of Life” and personally with Nixon and Reagan. The JRJ period was also characterized by massive and nearly constant violence. “Yankee Dick” sought to be feared just as his namesake. He created the National Union of Workers (Jathika Sevaka Sanagamaya/JSS). It was, however, as Danielle Sabai wrote, “an organisation of hooligans used to intimidate, indeed kill his opponents, break strikes, and attack Tamils.”17
Following the third pogrom against the Tamils, The Boys, as young militants became known, stepped up acts of violence, robberies and attacks on policemen and some political collaborators of mainstream parties; clashes with rival armed group members also became common. The government outlawed the LTTE. The first major shock the government felt from The Boys (and Girls) was when they blew up a civilian aircraft at the Ratmalana Airport, on September 7, 1978. Fortunately, it was exploded by remote control on the ground before the planned departure with 35 passengers. This action was undertaken on the same day that the new constitution was promulgated.
On July 14, 1979, the government ordered the Chief of Staff to eliminate “the menace of terrorism” from the island, especially from the Jaffna district. He was instructed that this must be done by the last day of the year. A state of emergency was ordered in Jaffna the same day. The police and soldiers could kill and dispose of the bodies without an inquest. Thereby, indiscriminate arrests, torture and murder or ‘disappearance’ of Tamil youth was forthcoming as could be expected.
Amnesty International wrote to the president about these atrocities (1980 memorandum as cited in “Witness to History”):
“Various methods of torture have been used by both the police and the army in the period immediately following the emergency declaration, including suspending people upside down by the toes while placing their head with suffocating fumes of burning chillies, prolonged and severe beatings, insertion of pins in the finger tips and the application of broken chillies and biting ants to sensitive parts of the body and threats of execution.”
There were some calm periods in 1980, but the LTTE went underground and continued its anti-state activities.
1. “Distant Voices, Desperate Lives,” The Guardian, May 13, 2009.
6. The LSSP (Ceylon Equalitarian Society Party) Trotskyists comprised of mainly rural Sinhalese workers and some small peasants—it was the second largest party for a time; the BLPI (Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma) was also Trotskyite; CIC, the Ceylon Indian Congress, which soon changed its name to Ceylon Workers’ Congress, represented the Indian Tamils of the Estates Workers Trade Union; CPC, the Communist Party of Ceylon with a pro-Moscow line; Labour Party was fashioned after the Clement Attlee-led British Labour Party. The Marxist parties later colluded with capitalist Sinhalese parties in opposing equality with Tamils. The CPC is now the Communist Party of Sri Lanka and it is part of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance coalition.
7. A. Sivanandan has written many essays and books, including the fact-fiction novel, “When Memory Dies,” and is founding editor of the journal Race and Class.
9. See Fred Halliday, “The Ceylonese Insurrection.” In: Robin Blackburn (ed.): Explosion in a Subcontinent: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ceylon. Penguin Books in Association with New Left Review, 1975. Originally published in NLR 1:69, Sept.-Oct. 1971.
12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1958_riots_in_Ceylon , and “Sri Lanka: Witness to History”.
13. Today, NAM has 118 member nations and 20 others with observer status. NAM represents two-thirds of UN members and 55% of the world’s population. Despite the claim of being opposed to racism and opposed to bloc politics, many decisions taken by it involve geo-politics and sometimes racism, as in its members’ support of Sri Lanka politics of genocide against Tamils.
14. In addition to references cited above, much of the history of the 1940s-2010 is taken from two books by S. Sivanayagam, a Tamil journalist in Sri Lanka, who had to flee Europe after the July 1983 pogrom. See: “The Pen and the Gun: Selected Writings 1977-2001,” U.K., 2001, and “Sri Lanka: Witness to History,” U.K., 2005. Other references include A. Sivanandan’s “When Memory Dies” and articles by him; “Review of a History of Oppression: The Tamils of Sri Lanka” by Danielle Sabai (International Viewpoint Online, June 2011); and scores of other newspaper and Internet articles by Tamils, Sinhalese and other journalists and writers.
15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janatha_Vimukthi_Peramuna and www.jvpsrilanka.com, and http://www.lankalibrary.com/pol/jvp1971.htm. See also Halliday, op. cit.
16. For references to Tamil Eelam and its historical context, see: www.sangam.org/taraki/articles/2006/05-03_Eelam_Ilankai.php?uid=1707; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_United_Liberation_Front. Also see interview with A. Sivanandan entitled, “An Island Tragedy: Buddhist Ethnic Cleansing in Sri Lanka,” in New Left Review, Nov.-Dec. 2009, pp. 79-98.
17. “Review of a History of Oppression: The Tamils of Sri Lanka” by Danielle Sabai, op. cit.
THE STRUGGLE FOR TAMIL EELAM
As many as 40 Tamil groups advocating armed struggle for the liberation of the Tamil people in an independent Tamil Eelam nation were formed between the 1970s and 1980s. Some lasted no more than a few actions but half a dozen became contenders for the creation of a separate power; some defected to the government.1 The more important and larger groups are outlined here due to their significance in the long civil war and internecine warfare linked, in part, to interference from the Indian government.
In 1975, Tamil students studying in London started the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students (EROS). Many of them were from the Eastern province, unlike those who began the LTTE from Jaffna, and they sought alliances with Tamil speaking Muslims.2 EROS established a military training camp in northern Sri Lanka and also with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in one of their training camps in Lebanon. It generously invited Prabhakaran and other LTTE members for training there in late 1976 to early 1977 where, it is believed, the Tiger leader got his first military training. EROS also assisted other groups (TELO and PLOTE described below) in sending cadre for PLO military training. Most members of EROS went into the LTTE in 1990, following devastating internecine warfare.
Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) was formed officially in 1979 by radical students who had begun discussions in the late 1960s. It was inspired by both LTTE and EROS but was less rigid in its ideology and recruiting practices. They were also supported by the Indian government, which would soon become a problem. Two of its leaders were captured when trying to escape to India and murdered in Welikadai prison in 1883.
Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) was one of many splinter groups that emanated from EROS. In the beginning, most of these groups considered themselves to be Marxist, some inspired by Che Guevara as well, who not long before had been murdered in Bolivia in a guerrilla war.
Douglas Devananda was one of half-a-dozen EROS leading members who split to form the EPRLF in 1980. They were more seriously engaged in Marxist ideology and practice. Devananda and offshoots from EPRLF have played significant roles in Tamil regional councils and national politics down to this day. Devananda formed a military wing, People’s Liberation Army, in 1982. They were trained by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
In 1986, the EPRLF split into two factions, one led by Devananda, the other by K. Padmanabha. The next year, the Devananda faction formally split and formed the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) with a breakaway faction of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam led by Paranthan Rajan. These groups were sometimes cooperative, sometimes at war either against each other or against the LTTE.
People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) was also formed in 1980. It was led by Uma Maheswaran (Mukundan), who split from the LTTE due to a rivalry with leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The PLOTE cultivated international connections, including: PFLP, the Tunisian Communist Party, the African National Congress, the El Salvadoran and Nicaragua guerrilla movements and with Turkish, Algerian and other revolutionaries.
Formation of new groups, as well as splits among them, were more often than not caused by disagreements among leaders over personal power; there were political-ideological differences among them too. Moreover, different groups had the allegiance of different castes and had their bases among different sub regions of the North-East. For example, the Karaiyar3 formed a majority among LTTE cadre; the Koviars4 predominated in the TELO. PLOTE tended to be dominated by Vellalas. At some stage, competition over ‘extortion rights,’ a form of turf warfare, also became a cause for internecine battles.
There was also a chasm between the Tamils in the North and many of those in the East, where there was a good proportion of ‘Indian’ Tamils who had come there during the colonial period to work on tobacco and chilli farms. The silence of the northern Tamils at the time of their disenfranchisement in 1948 and the later repatriations from among this section of Tamils had created this gulf. To this was added the superiority notions of the northern Vellalas.5 These differences possibly also played a role in their respective struggle for domination. In this sense, the Tamil national liberation movement led by the LTTE could not succeed in dismantling caste; and it did not pay sufficient attention to sub regional differences and aspirations because unity with the northern Vellalas was felt to be needed for the Tamil nation. Because it did not take up the question of caste annihilation as essential for the establishment of a democratic Tamil Eelam, many Dalits, particularly Christian Dalits, did not wholeheartedly support the separatist movement.6
Burning of the Jaffna Library
On May 31, 1981, the TULF held a rally in Jaffna in the north. An unknown Tamil gunman fired at policemen in the area; one died and three were injured. The dead policeman was a Sinhalese. Dozens of police broke into a liquor store, got themselves drunk and went on a rampage. They destroyed a Hindu temple and smashed religious objects. They burned some houses and cars. They took some Tamils from their homes and killed them. They burned down the TULF offices and the Eelanadu newspaper office and press, as well as some shops.
The next day, police and soldiers were joined by Sinhalese civilians who raged for three days. On the night of June 1, people attacked the historically important Jaffna library and burned its 97,000 volumes of books and irreplaceable historical manuscripts, some made of palm leaves. It later became known that the destruction of this unique Tamil institution in their homeland was masterminded by a handful of government ministers, who were present in Jaffna on the night of the fire.7
The national newspapers did not carry information about the incident and in subsequent parliamentary debates some Sinhalese members reminded Tamil politicians that if Tamils were unhappy in Sri Lanka, they should leave for their homeland in India. UNP member MP W.J.M. Lokubandara brazenly said:
“If there is discrimination in this land which is not their (Tamil) homeland, then why try to stay here? Why not go back home (India), where there would be no discrimination?”8
Violent tempers were not satisfied yet. In August, Sinhalese in the south and central areas rampaged for two weeks against Tamils of Indian origin, killing a dozen or more and setting fire to 200 buildings. Several thousands of estate workers escaped by trudging though snake-infested jungles.
The British journalist Brian Eads, who had been in Sri Lanka at the time, wrote in The Observer, September 20:
“(The rioting) was stimulated, and in some cases organised by members of the ruling UNP, among them intimates of the President. In all, 25 people died, scores of women were raped, and thousands made homeless, losing all their meagre belongings. But the summer madness which served the dual purpose of quietening Tamil calls for Eelam, that is, a separate state, and taking the minds of the Sinhalese electorate off a deepening economic crisis is only one of the blemishes on the face of the island. Since Jayewardene came to power four years ago, a system of what his critics call ‘State Terrorism’ has brought an Ulster-style situation in the Tamil-majority areas of the North and East.”
Black July, 1983
By the summer of 1983, the then small guerrilla army of the LTTE was well settled in most northern and eastern areas. Their first major assault against the state’s military took place at Jaffna peninsula, July 24. The LTTE ambushed a convoy of soldiers passing through land mines and killed 13.
This could have been in response to the many random attacks upon Tamils in various areas. One example is in Trincomalee where, on 10 April 1983, a young Tamil died in police custody after having been held without charge for two weeks. At the judicial inquest into his death, on May 31, the Jaffna magistrate returned a verdict of homicide. Three days later, the government changed the rules permitting the police to bury or cremate bodies without a post mortem or an inquest.
Amnesty International cabled President Jayewardene expressing concern that such a regulation could give rise to grave human rights violations and appealed to him to rescind it. But he did not. On the contrary, on June 3, 1983, the day that the new Emergency Regulation was brought into effect, the attacks on the Tamils in Trincomalee commenced in earnest.
It was after a month of these unprovoked attacks on their people that the LTTE attacked the army convoy. The day after, July 25, began the intensified attacks in what became known as Black July. That night and for weeks Sinhalese rampaged against Tamils, especially in the Colombo area, where some Tamils youths were stripped naked and burned alive in petrol.9
Even political dissidents already jailed were murdered as guards watched. At least 53 prisoners, including key political leaders, were murdered by Sinhalese prisoners at Welikadai prison. Two leaders of the armed movement Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), N. Thangathurai and S. Yogachandran (known as Kuttimani) were brutally tortured and murdered. Kuttimani’s eyes were gouged out and stomped upon under a soldier’s boots.
R. Sampanthan, MP for Trincomalee, described how mobs of Sinhalese went from village to village setting fire to Tamil houses and shops. A particular modus operandi was observed. Heavily armed service personnel would enter a Tamil area and carry out a search alleging that explosives and dangerous weapons were hidden in that area. Invariably nothing would be recovered other than implements that would normally be available in any house. Sometimes, Tamil youths would be arrested on ‘suspicion’ and taken for questioning. They would usually be tortured and often killed.
“Shops, banks, offices and restaurants in the capital’s crowded City Centre and main street being burnt while the police look on. Thousands of houses ransacked and burnt, sometimes with women and children inside. Goon squads battering passengers to death in trains and on station platforms and, without hindrance, publicly burning men and women to death on the streets! Remand prisoners and political detainees in the country’s top prison massacred; the armed forces joining in and sometimes organising this pogrom against members of Sri Lanka’s two minority communities. The nation’s president and top-ranking cabinet members publicly justified the pogrom!”10
Some of the victims were Sinhalese. A few were also murdered because they had harboured fleeing Tamils in their homes. No one in the government ever uttered one word of sympathy for the victims. Sinhalese politicians spoke of the masses seeking revenge because of the soldiers ambushed by the Tigers and killed. In fact, the ambush “was not even reported in the newspapers until the riots began. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with a concerted plan, conceived and organised well in advance.”11
Violence ebbed once India’s PM Indira Gandhi sent her External Affairs minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, to Colombo to seek a stop to the carnage. Sporadic violence continued for a month, however. At the end, two to three thousand Tamils lost their lives. Two-hundred thousand Tamils fled north and one-hundred thousand fled to India. More than 2500 businesses enterprises were damaged or destroyed. So many residences were damaged or destroyed that there were no accurate estimates.
But the President Junius Richard Jayewardene of Sri Lanka was not interested in reconciliation. He told the Daily Telegraph on 11 July, 1983:"Really, if I starve the Tamils, the Sinhala people will be happy.”
Even non-violent advocates of separatism or independence, such as the TULF, were pushed out of the democratic process. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in August 1983, classified all separatist movements as unconstitutional. That meant that all Tamil members of parliament—16 then—lost their seats because they refused to swear an oath against advocating an independent state for Tamils. The pogrom also motivated thousands of Tamil youth to join militant armed groups, especially the LTTE, which became the most disciplined and well organized.
Indian Government ‘Aid’
India, especially the Tamil Nadu province, was flooded with fleeing refugees from the July 1983 pogrom. S.J.V. Chevanayakam’s son, S.C. Chandrahasan, set up refugee relief in Chennai, its capital. He had contacts with both Tamil armed groups and the Indira Gandhi-led government. She wanted to help the Sri Lankan Sinhalese and Tamils find a solution to their differences. It was not just somewhat of a moral issue as well as a practical one of too many people seeking refuge in India. The Indian government wanted to use the situation in its own expansionist political and economic interests. It wanted to utilise the Tamil Eelam issue to pressurise the Sri Lankans into agreeing to comply with these interests.
President J.R. Jayewardene wanted to move out of the orbit of India’s influence and the policy of non-alignment. At that time India was tilting towards and getting the support of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Indira had good relations with Sirimavo Bandaranaike, whom she had assisted during the 1971 JVP uprising and with whom she had also signed the 1974 Pact for a further repatriation of ‘Indian’ Tamils. The whole thrust of Indian policy was aimed at gaining recognition of the so-called legitimate Indian interest in Sri Lanka from the imperialist powers, notably the US bloc, and coercing the Jayewardene regime to accept it.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s intelligence agency, to train and arm Tamil groups, and S.C. Chandrahasan became the liaison. He helped RAW leaders meet with representatives of the five key groups: LTTE, TELO, EROS, PLOTE and EPRLF. It was not easy to convince both PLOTE and LTTE to come together since the first of many fratricidal battles had taken place a year before, on May 19, 1982, when the top leaders of these groups opened fire on one another in Chennai. There were injuries but no deaths. The four involved were jailed until August 5 when they were released on bail. RAW was able to convince them to accept the training and arranged that they would not be jailed again.12
The five groups came from Jaffna with cadre and new recruits between August and September. Several thousands were trained in a camp in Tamil Nadu at Madurai and in northern Uttar Pradesh. To finance their transport on boats, they robbed banks and post offices. PLOTE ran off with millions of rupees stolen from a Kilinochchi bank. The EPRLF robbed several post offices in Jaffna and elsewhere.
Cadre and leaders of four of the groups met in Jaffna in February 1984 to sign a unity pact and form the Eelam National Liberation Front (ENLF). At first, the LTTE stayed away but joined in April 1985. PLOTE, the most ideologically Marxist-Leninist and still stinging from LTTE animosity, did not join. ENLF coordinated some attacks against government positions, effectively obstructing its authority in this important city.
JRJ was adamant about victory. He was purchasing fast boats, aircraft, missiles, rifles and machine guns from whatever country would sell. The USA, Brits, the Zionist Israelis, ‘Communist’ China and Pakistan were fast to deliver.
On July 24, 1984, The Sunday Times, London, wrote:
“Sri Lanka’s President J.R. Jayewardene flies to London this week to seek Mrs. Thatcher’s support for his war against the Tamil Tigers”…“The president has already made an agreement with the Israeli intelligence organisation, Mossad, and has hired a group of mercenaries, veterans of the SAS, to set up an intelligence organisation and a paramilitary force to combat the guerrilla threat.”… “The Mossad help has proved ‘invaluable,’ according to a Sri Lankan security source. Physical conditions in the Jaffna peninsula are identical to those in the Gaza strip.”13
It has been suggested that Buddhist-led Sinhalese masses learned to be less brutal with their Tamil ‘cousins’ once they reflected upon the massive horror they had undergone in the ‘Black July’ pogrom. The reality is, unfortunately, that the government’s army and its para-militarists did the massacring for them henceforth.
The Tigers were also acquiring skill and cynicism. In early 1985, they blew up a Colombo-bound train carrying army personnel resulting in 22 deaths and 25 injured. They forced some military camps to evacuate personnel. Several major police stations were attacked with huge losses. Right after LTTE joined the ENLF, they stormed the Jaffna police station. The military responded by killing civilians at random, a practice both the army and air force would repeat hundreds of times throughout the civil war. In one incident some 50 Tamils were locked inside the Valvettiturai community centre and blasted alive with bombs. In May, they bombed Jaffna three days running indiscriminately killing Tamils, including patients in a hospital. If they couldn’t beat the guerrillas they would murder civilians at will.
The Tigers retaliated by shooting their way into the Buddhist town of Anuradhapura on May 17, in which nearly 150 pilgrims were killed. Next day, Sinhalese sailors boarded a civilian boat with Tamils and killed 50 men, women and children with axes and clubs.
After Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh personal bodyguards, her son, Rajiv Gandhi (R.G.), was sworn in on the waves of an anti-Sikh pogrom to replace her. On June 2, 1985, with increased bloodshed raging between guerrillas and the army, he sought to intervene in reaching a settlement just as had his mother. Although there was no public commitment from JRJ, a ceasefire was announced with the five militant groups yielding to India’s pressure. There was a ‘cessation of hostile activity’ in a four-phase plan.
In July-August 1985, a delegation of Tamil liberation groups was persuaded by the Indian government to meet a Sri Lankan government delegation for negotiations on the Tamil Eelam question in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. The Sri Lankan government delegation proposed draft legislation for devolution of power, but this was rejected by the Tamil delegation. The four armed groups in ENLF along with PLOTE and the TULF parliamentary coalition agreed upon a joint statement of principles. On July 13, 1985, they signed the “The Thimpu Declaration,” which states:
“It is our considered view that any meaningful solution to the Tamil national question must be based on the following four cardinal principles.
1. Recognition of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as a nation.
2. Recognition of the existence of an identified homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.
3. Recognition of the right of self determination of the Tamil nation.
4. Recognition of the right to citizenship and the fundamental rights of all Tamils, who look upon the island as their country.”
They wanted the Sri Lankan government to agree to all these demands to no avail; it was ready to agree, however, to only the last principle. In fact, it was augmenting its army with 10,000 auxiliaries. Public opinion in Jaffna did not see how Tamil militant participation in talks could end in anything, and the people made it clear to their leaders that they did not want to accept anything less than independence.
Even as the ceasefire was in effect, the army massacred 200 civilians in Vavuniya and elsewhere in August. The Tamil delegation walked out of talks in Thimpu on August 17.
The war resumed with soldiers shooting Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils where they prayed, worked and shopped. The Rajiv Gandhi government worked on two fronts to increase its hold over Sri Lanka. On the one hand, it tried to weaken the Tamil Eelam groups and push them into a position where they had to obey the diktat of the Indian state. The situation where a number of contending groups existed had to be eliminated. A leadership subservient to Indian expansionist interests and strong enough to enforce these interests on the Tamil Eelam people had to be forged. The tactics adopted were those of intensifying internecine battles between the different groups by utilising the extreme militaristic sectarianism existing among all of them. The infiltration of these groups by Indian intelligence agents was also used for this purpose. The ensuing bloody fratricide was effectively played up to weaken the Eelam groups as well as to alienate them from the masses in Tamil Eelam and in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu.14
At the same time, the ENLF alliance, which could have been very important, was falling apart. Unknown armed Tamils, most assuredly members of ENLF, killed two Tamil politicians in Jaffna, causing internal dissension. The LTTE decided to pull out in February 1986. In March, TELO was in two factions each fighting the other.
In April, the LTTE launched an all-out assault on TELO cadre, which crushed it as a fighting force (for the time). Estimates of deaths range between 150 and 400, almost all TELO members. The LTTE wanted to eliminate them as they were too pro-India for the Tigers, who obviously knew that India was arming and using them as a counterweight to it. But the manner of murder was chilling for many in the movement. Tigers killed their ‘rivals’ even if they were unarmed and if they had surrendered. TELO’s leader, Sri Sabaratnam was killed a few days after the assault began. Tiger leader, Kittu, who committed this murder, said years later that the massacre was a mistake.
A few TELO cadres who did survive and wished to continue the fight against the Sinhalese government joined with EPRLF and EROS. Having lost TELO, RAW began to build up the EPRLF, which led to the LTTE taking them on. Between November and December 1986, about 100 EPRLF cadres were killed or taken prisoner. Its camps and weapons were seized. But Douglas Devananda escaped unharmed to form yet another group in 1987, the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front, which he later transformed into the Eelam People’s Democratic Party.
After the virtual destruction of TELO and EPRLF, two of the largest of the five most significant guerrilla groups, the Tigers demanded that all others join it or be warned. Most of them did join. The PLOTE feared the same fate and was plagued by internal rifts, which resulted in its main theoretician being murdered. Rather than join the LTTE it withdrew from Jaffna. It was further decimated when a splinter group took credit for the assassination of the top leader, Uma Maheswaran, on July 16, 1989.
Most of the dozens of Tamil groups that took up arms, at one time or another considered themselves Marxists, and many looked up to Che Guevara and Cuba’s revolution as an ideal. I wish to quote from Che Guevara about the use of violence.
“There are always laggards who remain behind but our function
is not to liquidate them, to crush them and force them to bow to an
armed vanguard, but to educate them by leading them forward and getting
them to follow us because of our example, or as Fidel called it ‘moral
Today the ENDLF, EPDP, PLOTE, as well as a reconstituted EPRLF and a rump from the original EROS (and another most important Tamil group formed in 2007, the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal-TMVP, which will be described later) are in the Sinhalese and SLFP dominated government coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance. These former Tamil guerrillas who fought against Sinhalese domination are now direct collaborators with the Sinhalese oppression of their own people in the capacity of paramilitary wings of the government. They also have political branches with members in parliament and they sit on regional councils in traditional Tamil homelands in the North and East as part of the repressive government military occupation. Their leaders have well-paying government posts. Of the original major Tamil Eelam armed groups only a reconstituted TELO is in the Tamil National Alliance with two of TNA’s 14 seats in the current 2010 parliament.
The Indian ‘Peace’ Keeping Force
By January 1987, Jaffna Tamils were basically led by LTTE, which began to levy taxes, issue postage stamps, operate three television stations, and conduct much of the social services. The government relied on bombings more than taking care of the people’s needs. In March, the murder was even more vicious with intensified and indiscriminate aerial bombings. Then the LTTE began using the suicide belt and formed the brave Black Tigers—dedicated guerrillas willing to offer their lives in attacks against government-military targets. Their first attack killed 40 soldiers.
Tamils and Sinhalese were being slaughtered in various parts of the country. India began to fly in relief supplies to Jaffna on June 1. The Indian Air Force dropped 25 tons of aid in Jaffna (Operation Poomalai). Throughout the month India dropped food and other supplies from aircraft and by boats, while the Sri Lanka government pounded the district with bombs. The LTTE attacked the army.
On July 24, Prabhakaran was airlifted from Jaffna and taken to meet PM Rajiv Gandhi. On July 29, R.G. came to Colombo to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord. As the two presidents reviewed an honour guard one of them nearly killed India’s PM. Jayewardene said the guard simply suffered a sun stroke.
Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa was not in favour of the Accord, but he was under pressure from his president, who in his turn was being mentored by the US imperialists. The Accord was put together under the guidance of the US imperialists and it signified the attempts of the US government to firmly secure the Rajiv regime within its orbit. It was expected to resolve the ongoing civil war. Colombo agreed to devolution of power to the Tamil provinces in lieu of independence. This was what both the earlier UNP and SLFP governments had agreed to but never implemented. The Sri Lanka military was to withdraw in exchange for the Tamil rebels’ disarmament. The LTTE had not been made party to the talks, but it reluctantly agreed to surrender arms to the Indian Peace Keeping Force, whose forces grew from a few thousand to 50,000.
One of the reasons the LTTE was unenthusiastic was that the chief administrative officer for the North and East provinces to be merged under the Accord was to be a member of the EPRLF, which the Tigers had just crushed in battle. The LTTE named three alternate candidates for the position, all of whom India rejected. It subsequently refused to hand over its weapons to the IPKF and a war broke out, replacing the one by the Sri Lanka army against the LTTE.
The LTTE launched its first attack on an Indian army rations truck on 8 October, killing five Indian commandos by strapping burning tires around their necks. The Indian Army launched numerous assaults on the LTTE to win control of the Jaffna peninsula. The ruthlessness of this campaign made it extremely unpopular among all Tamils and Sinhalese as well.
The IPKF tried to take over the northern and eastern districts primarily to disarm the LTTE as the accord called for. The Indian Army thought it could contain and disarm what was reported to be about 2000 boys and girls, but the Tigers grew to around 10,000 when most members of the other groups joined them. Those who did not join with the LTTE either fled to India, an estimated 2000, or enlisted in the IPKF to fight the Tigers. In one action, in mid-September the Tigers hunted down revived EPRLF cadre in Batticaloa killing 80 of them.
“10 October 1987 was D-Day when the Indian army went to war with the LTTE, but what in effect turned out to be a war against the Eelam Tamil population,” wrote S. Sivanayagam in “Witness to History.” On that day, the ‘peace-keepers’ bombed the LTTE radio and TV stations, and two newspaper offices. Soon, the Indian troops were attacking schools and civilians. It took the Indian army of about 20,000 men two weeks of fierce fighting to take over Jaffna. It cost them over 1000 dead and wounded. An estimated 100 civilians were killed, including 20 patients, doctors and nurses in the Jaffna hospital. The Indians were approximating the Sinhalese army in its random violence against Tamils. PM Premadasa chided India by accusing the IPKF with committing ‘genocide.’
Once the IPKF held the city formally they couldn’t tell who was a Tiger or a sympathizer and who was not. A shopkeeper said, “The EPRLF have sided with the IPKF and are hunting Tigers. As they cannot find Tigers, they kill civilians who support the Tigers.”16An average of four to five dead bodies were found on roadsides every day, and civilian youths were rounded up and jailed daily. “We are under army occupation. Jaffna today is similar to Rome under army occupation in the Second World War,” said a senior Catholic priest in Jaffna.17
JVP’s Second Uprising
Throughout the 1980s, there was much discontent in other parts of Sri Lanka as well. Radical Sinhalese youths, mainly those organized within the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, wanted a socialist economy and state, albeit of a xenophobic nature. The JVP opposed Indian expansionism and feared that a Tamil Eelam brought about with its help could become India’s fifth column in the Sinhalese nation. Having been basically dormant after its defeat in 1971, but rebuilding itself slowly, it raised its head again once India sent in the IPKF. The JVP sought to overthrow the government and take state power by engaging in an uprising led by its armed wing, the Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (DJV).
This class-nationalist war lasted until November 1989, when top leaders of the JVP were killed. Thereupon, the DVJ leader, Saman Piyasiri Fernando, took over its leadership. Later on, a reconstituted JVP entered into parliamentary politics. It participated in the 1994 parliamentary general election and joined conservative and liberal party coalitions in opposing equal rights for Tamils. In 2004, the JVP joined with the SLFP. When in 2005 the JVP left the government coalition to become an opposition party a breakaway group of ten parliamentarians formed the National Freedom Front, and this is with the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to this day.
The average daily death toll in the war-torn south was 25 a day and on some days the body count went as high as 200. In the end, 60,000 people were killed. Most of them were JVP members and followers but it had killed an unknown number of thousands too. During its second insurrection, the JVP was much more violent, especially against Sinhalese civilians, than in 1971. They killed political leftist rivals, supporters and officials of the UNP government, university professors and students, even some workers who refused its orders to strike and shopkeepers who sold onions imported from India.
The JVP took over much of the south by paralyzing it with strikes, in which they sometimes forced workers to participate, and armed raids on government institutions. It gunned down UNP national chairman, Harsha Abeywardene, in broad daylight while he was driving his car in Colombo, on December 23, 1987. The Sinhalese rebels were audacious enough to attempt the murder of the Sinhalese President and the Prime Minister too. Shortly after the ‘peace accord’ was signed, one of its members, according to the police, was able to enter a room in parliament where the heads of government were meeting with MPs on August 18. He threw two grenades, one of which bounced off a table where the President JRJ and PM Premadasa were sitting. It killed one MP and wounded 15 other MPs and ministers. How the person could get so close and who he was is not publicly known.
The JVP would not hear of peace; in fact it killed Vijaya Kumaratunga, Sri Lanka’s most popular film star, and leader of the only political party working for peace. Earlier an LSSP member, he started the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) hoping to make it a third force between the two major traditional parties and the Tamil parties. He married Mrs. B’s daughter, Chandrika Bandaranaike, future prime minister and president, in 1978. He was shot outside his Colombo home on February 16, 1988, on JVP orders by Lionel Ranasinghe. His crime? The JVP considered him “a puppet of Indian imperialism.”18
Besides murdering Chandrika’s husband, the SLFP was glad the JVP was making it difficult for the UNP to effectively rule much of the country. The SLFP hoped it could win over the weakened UNP in the presidential elections set for December 1988. The UNP government had expelled Mrs B. from parliament on October 16, 1980, and had debarred her from engaging in politics for seven years. She was accused of having used her previous office as PM for “personal and family benefit.” Now she re-entered politics.
The JVP refused to unite with the SLFP, which tried to get its allegiance even after the murder of Vijaya Kumaratunga. Someone even tried to kill Mrs. Bandaranaike, on February 5, 1989. He/she/they tossed three bombs while she was addressing a campaign meeting. It was never learned who was responsible. She had many enemies, from the LTTE to the JVP; even the UNP was capable of murdering her. Blood was shed by and against all these forces.
The SLFP failed to win the December 19, 1988 presidential elections in a close race between Siramavo Bandaranaike and Ramasinghe Premadasa, the latter running on a platform of getting the IPKF to leave. The UNP decided to run its PM instead of the unpopular President Jayewardene now that the IPKF was damned by almost all Sri Lankans and because of the drain on people in the south-central war.
On February 15, 1989, the UNP barely squeaked out a majority in parliamentary elections, obtaining 125 of the 225 seats. The SLFP lost, in part, because no minorities would vote for it. Even though the UNP was also a Sinhala chauvinist party it was perceived by them as the lesser of two evils. It received the backing of the Ceylon Workers Congress and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), influencing the voting of those up-country Tamils who had achieved citizenship rights and the Eastern province Muslims.
A vote boycott bloodily enforced by the JVP was quite effective; only 56% of the electorate took to the polls. Few people were brave enough to vote where the DJV patrolled: in the south 34% voted; in the North Central 35% and in the Uva Province only 30%.
The SLFP won 67 seats. Its former LSSP and CPC partners temporarily joined in a new coalition with the SLMP—the United Socialist Alliance (USA)—and won three seats. The SLMC took four seats. The biggest surprise was that the TULF, once in a coalition with the LTTE, only won 10 seats. It had united with enemies of the LTTE, the TELO, EPRLF and ENDLF. A majority of Tamils backed the EROS which did no campaigning and said that it would not sit in parliament but was contesting only in the name of independence and to see what strength it held among Tamils. The LTTE secretly passed the word to vote for it. EROS won 13 seats and true to its word did not occupy them.
Premadasa demanded that Rajiv Gandhi withdraw India’s troops. The Indian PM did not accede to this demand immediately but was pressurised to begin slow withdrawal in June, when the Sri Lankan government opened up direct talks with the LTTE.19 In December 1989, when Vishwanath Pratap Singh was elected India’s prime minister, the withdrawal picked up and the last troops pulled out on March 24, 1990. About 2,000 Indian soldiers had been killed; 1,500 Tamil rebels were killed and 4,500 were wounded. Estimates of Tamil civilian deaths ranged from three to five thousand.
During the last year of IPKF’s presence in the North, while the LTTE was battling against it (with the help of arms sent by Premadasa), the Sri Lankan government turned its attention to violently suppressing the insurgency in the south-central region. But the army wasn’t as effective as it should have been, in part because of JVP infiltration of its ranks. From August 1989 onward, reprisal killings against the JVP by pro-government thugs became a regular feature. Bodies appeared on roadsides and in rivers. Premadasa called for a three-week ceasefire and a section of JVP cadres surrendered to the armed forces. The government said it had 7,200 JVP members in jail by autumn. JVP’s top leaders Rohana Wijeweera and Upatissa Gamanayake were arrested on November 12, 1989, and on the next day the government announced that both had died in separate incidents. With its leadership and tens of thousands of its forces dead, the JVP gave up the war. The opportunity of building up a revolutionary united struggle of the Sinhala and Tamil Eelam people directed against Indian expansionism, the Sri Lankan state and imperialists of both blocs was once again missed.
India’s army was compelled to leave Sri Lankan soil due to the opposition both by the LTTE and the JVP. Nevertheless, its business sector gained as a result of the Accord. The Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was not just due to geo-political factors of safeguarding its interests in the Indian Ocean region where the island of Sri Lanka lies astride vital oil routes. The terms of the ‘Peace’ accord ensured free flow of Indian goods into Sri Lanka. Between 1990 and 1996 exports from India to Sri Lanka increased by 556%. The Indo-Lanka Bilateral Free Trade Agreement of Dec. 1998 granted full tax exemption for the goods imported from India. Business with Sri Lanka took another leap with a host of Indian compradors and big businesses investing heavily in the island country. India’s investments, which ranked 16th place in 2000, moved up to 4th place by 2005, and she is currently the 2nd biggest investor in Sri Lanka (the largest being Malaysia). The trade balance today heavily favours India. The free trade agreement has benefited the industrial sector in both countries and has been negative for the respective agricultural sectors.20
Those Tamils who had fought on the side of the Indian army and survived fled to Tamil Nadu at the end of the war—about 2000 from TELO, EPRLF and ENDLF. Now it seemed there were but two key men who ruled the country: Velupillai Prabhakaran in Jaffna, and Ranasinghe Premadasa elsewhere.
With the wars in the north and south ended, the LTTE decided for the first time to enter politics through a democratic process. It applied to register the People's Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT), with Mahendrarajah (alias Mahataya), the deputy leader of the LTTE, as the president, and Yogaratnam Yogi as the general secretary. The party applied for the Tiger emblem as its symbol. PFLT was registered by the election commissioner after presidential clearance. It seemed that Premadasa welcomed the LTTE turning into a political party.
“The Tigers were also willing to participate in the Provincial Council elections to prove to the Sinhalese majority as well as the international community that they were the sole and authentic representatives of the Tamils,” wrote K.T. Rajasingham, author of the book, “Sri Lanka: The Untold Story.”22
Following IPKF withdrawal, the LTTE established a de facto state in Jaffna district, which they called Tamil Eelam. For a decade until 1997, a civilian management under its command was organised. They provided a judicial court system, a police force, and social assistance for the poorest as well as health care and education. LTTE ran a bank, a radio station (Voice of Tigers), and a television station. Guerrilla leaders helped organize small cooperative farming units based on traditional methods. The LTTE banned the caste system and officially stopped discrimination against women. But in the absence of systematic land redistribution even to the Panchamars and the complete stopping of practices as dowry equality of castes and women could not be ensured.23 There was order and peace, as long as everyone obeyed the LTTE, and when the Sri Lanka military did not attack.
On April 1, 1990, Prabhakaran made an unusual public appearance with journalists in Jaffna. He praised President Premadasa for his new approach towards the conflict between the national groups, but warned that the Tigers would take up arms again if he tried to suppress the Tamil liberation struggle.
A Premadasa minister, Shaul Hameed, served as liaison trouble shooter between the government and the Tigers. There were possibilities of some autonomy in the northern and eastern regions but under central government control and the LTTE must disarm. Prabhakaran was adamant that there would be no disarming until Tamils had won all their rights.
Premadasa’s defence minister, Ranjan Wijeratne, was head of the hawk faction and made gestures of taking care of the LTTE with military means. The Tigers did not wait to be attacked, they struck first. On June 11 and 12, 1990, they overran six police stations in the eastern district seizing arms and ammunition. Several army camps were also attacked. But they committed a heinous act. The LTTE, under the command of Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (Colonel Karuna Amman) took between 600 and 774 unarmed police officers, who had surrendered under the promise of safe conduct outside LTTE territory, into two jungle areas, tied their hands behind their backs, and shot them.24
Eelam War-II had begun.
A week later, in Chennai, the head of the EPRLF, K. Padmanabha, and 14 others were attacked in an apartment and killed. It was either the LTTE or the Devananda-led EPDP rival group that did this deed. The Sri Lanka government was using the EPDP as well as the remaining PLOTE cadre to assist it against the LTTE. The EPRLF decided to remain neutral and that may be why they were killed.
Between June and December 30, when the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire (not respected by the army), the Tigers were on the offensive and winning significant battles. The air force conducted indiscriminate bombing raids while the army was losing ground. The Jaffna fort was abandoned. Kilinochchi became a ghost town as people fled en masse; some further inside Sri Lanka, and by the tens of thousands to India in boats.
The government’s army was just as cowardly as the air force in its indiscriminate and brutal murders of people, especially civilians. After the June 11 attack on the police station at Kalmunai by the LTTE, the army was able to push its forces out of the eastern city and then it rampaged against civilian Tamils. On June 20, it massacred an estimated 250 people. On June 27, another 75 civilians were rounded up and murdered. Twenty-seven headless bodies were found on the Kamunai beach. According to the University Teachers for Human Rights, 7000 people were murdered in the month of June alone.
The UTHR, based at Jaffna, was not a front for the LTTE. On the contrary, Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, one of its founders, was assassinated by them, according to the UTHR and her sister. While walking home from the University of Jaffna, where she was head of the Anatomy Department, the killer shot her several times in front of her house on September 21, 1989. She had doctored wounded Tigers and was in favour of a Tamil Eelam, but she had recently criticized them for atrocities as well as the IPKF and the Sri Lankan government and army.
On September 26, 1990, three years after LTTE’s chief of propaganda, Rasiah Thileepan, died of a fast without food and water, the Tiger flag was raised over the Jaffna fort in his honour. He had fasted for the release of all political prisoners during the IPKF intervention.
On November 24, about 1,500 Tigers stormed the next major army camp in the north at Mankulam. They killed perhaps as many as 250 soldiers, the rest fled. Having just taken a smaller army camp nearby with 50 soldiers killed, there was no military presence for a 100-kilometre stretch in the north.
In December when the LTTE declared a ceasefire, President Premadasa ordered a week-long suspension of military actions but the army refused to comply. Major General Denzil Kobbekaduwa, the army’s northern commander, met with two leading Buddhist prelates, Palipane Chandananda and Rambukwelle Sobhita. A mutiny was apparently discussed. As part of the anti-President conspiracy, the air force bombed Hindu temples, Christian churches and schools in Jaffna. Reporters in Colombo asked Defence Minister Wijeratne about targeting civilian facilities. He replied: “They must move out and vacate the peninsula if they want to live.” Shortly thereafter, March 2, 1991, his Mercedes Benz exploded with him and three escorts inside. The planted bomb killed them all, as well as 30 others in escort vehicles. General Kobbekaduwa and nine other senior officers died in a landmine explosion, on August 8, 1992.
There was no end to the audaciousness of the Tigers. On May 21, 1991, in an act of revenge over India’s militarist actions, a female LTTE member blew up Rajiv Gandhi in a suicide bomb attack. Fourteen other people died. Themozhi Rajaratnam (alias Dhanu and Gayatri) died as well when igniting her bomb belt. It is alleged that she had been raped by an IPKF soldier.25 India became the first government, even before Sri Lanka, to declare the LTTE a terrorist group.
The army continued murdering Tamils wantonly. On June 13, 1991, they killed 150 civilians in Kokkaddicholai in the east, mainly women and children; beating and hacking some school children. A week later, the LTTE penetrated into the heart of the war machine. A van with 70 kilos of explosives drove into the gate at the Joint Operations Command in Colombo. Several hundred soldiers and civilians were killed; 20 vehicles and 50 houses were damaged or destroyed. On July 10, the LTTE attacked the strategically important army camp at Elephant Pass with mortars and grenades. Eight hundred soldiers were trapped. A rescue mission of 8000 troops managed to break the siege after three weeks of fighting. The army suffered nearly 1000 dead and wounded. The LTTE lost 600 cadres. When Cabinet Minister Thondaman negotiated a ceasefire with the Tigers, it was ‘overruled’ by the Buddhist clergy.
One Colombo English-language newspaper, the Sunday Times, reported on December 29, 1991, what the powerful monk Madihe Pannaseeha said of this: “Thondaman proposals are an attempt to reduce the majority community in this country to a minority and should be rejected outright with the contempt they deserve.” And so it was to be!
Fierce battles continued off and on for the next two years.
Many forces were angry with Premadasa, including a rival Sinhalese leader Lalith Athulathmudali. He had been a presidential contender when Premadasa won. Premadasa appointed him to two different minister posts, but expelled him from government and the UNP when he led an impeachment motion in 1991, accusing Premadasa of abuse of authority. Premadasa suspended parliament for a month to delay the motion. He overcame it, and Athulathmudali started a new party, the Democratic United National Front.
“When Athulathmudali, a pro-Israeli power broker, challenged Premadasa…(he) openly accused Mossad, the intelligence agency of Israel, of trying to topple him. In his address to the Sri Lankan parliament, Premadasa said:
“…I had Israeli interests section removed. In such a context there is nothing to be surprised about the Mossad rising up against me. Please remember that there are among us traitors who have gone to Israeli universities and lectured there and earned dirty money…” cited by Sachi Sri Kantha, quoting the prime minister in, “The Puzzles in President Premadasa’s Assassination Revisited.”26
On April 23, 1993, Athulathmudali was shot to death as he spoke at an election campaign rally. On October 7, 1997, the commission appointed by then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga concluded that Premadasa and security forces personnel were responsible. Subsequently some security personnel and underworld mobsters were arrested. Three were killed during the prosecution.
Just eight days after Athulathmudali’s assassination, Premadasa was murdered at a May Day rally in Colombo. A suicide belt bomber blew him and ten of his bodyguards and aides to death. The LTTE did not claim responsibility for these two assassinations, but it was so blamed by Sinhalese politicians and the mass media. Israel’s hand was also a possibility.
“When Athulathmudali was assassinated last April, the members of his party immediately accused Premadasa for ordering the killing. The murder of Premadasa could have been a return hit planned and executed by the Mossad which had lost its major card in Sri Lankan politics.”27
The Parliament unanimously elected PM Wijetunga as Premadasa’s
successor. He appointed Ranil Wickremasinghe as PM. Wanting to be elected
by his kinsmen, Wijetunga called for early parliamentary elections on
August 16, 1994.
Eelam War-II raged on. The Tigers effectively attacked military bases and killed and wounded so many thousands of military forces and destroyed so much of Sri Lanka’s military armaments that it looked like the Boys and Girls could win. The war was so horrendous, and the government was losing so much ground, that even a member of one of the most important Sinhalese chauvinist political families campaigned for the presidency on a promise of ending the war, and for a “human face to the open economy.”
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, daughter of SWRD and Mrs. B, had left the country after her husband was murdered. She had earlier left the SLFP to help him with the new SLMP peace party. Chandrika worked in the UK doing economic development research for the UN. She returned to Sri Lanka in 1991 to re-enter politics by rejoining the SLFP. She established a seven-party left-oriented People’s Alliance for parliamentary elections in August 1994, and she ran on the PA ticket for president on November 9. The People’s Alliance included the Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the LSSP, which had been in her mother’s coalition in the 1970s, as well as her husband’s SLMP and a split-off from the JVP—the DVJP (National Liberation People’s Party). Instead of marginalisation politics, she sought rapprochement with Tamils on her terms.
The PA beat the UNP (and its ally the Ceylon Workers Congress) in the parliament election, 105 to 94 seats. The TULF had not regained popularity and took only five seats. An alliance between the remaining and daring members of EROS/PLOTE/TELO acquired three seats. The Sri Lankan Muslim Congress picked up seven seats. The PA lacked an absolute majority and had to rely on the Tamil parties for support on an issue-to-issue basis.
The war continued until presidential elections, which Chandrika Kumaratunga won with a record margin of 62% over 36%. She named her political warrior mother as PM and made conciliatory moves towards the Tamil separatists, suggesting some sort of regional autonomy yet once again. Prabakharan had been open for her gestures during the election campaign and had released 10 policemen in LTTE custody.
When Chandrika was sworn in, November 12, the LTTE declared a ceasefire for one week. Chandrika appointed her uncle, Anuruddha Ratwatte, as Deputy Defence Minister and he continued hostilities although they diminished. During the eight months of the peace process, which was more or less adhered to, the greatest activity was a plethora of letters exchanged between the leaders of both sides and four rounds of talks in Jaffna.
The government lifted the ban on transport for some vital items for the Jaffna district but maintained them on all oils and petrol, fertilisers, cement and iron and some food such as fish. This continued economic boycott affected hundreds of thousands of civilians and irritated the Tigers. But they were willing to meet with the government and three national mediators from Norway, Canada and the Netherlands.
The Indian government chose this moment to press Sri Lanka for the extradition of Prabhakaran for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Possibly, it did not like being left out of the proposed negotiation process to be mediated by some Western countries. The Sri Lanka government was unhappy with this intervention, yet was doing next to nothing to conciliate the Tigers. The ceasefire deadline was approaching with no results. Peace negotiations broke down and the war resumed from April 19, 1995, until the end of 2001, when ceasefire negotiations made more progress than ever before. On the day the formal ceasefire ended, the LTTE once again took the initiative before being attacked and conducted another daring assault. They blew up two Chinese built fast gun boats (one was a gift from China) berthed at the Trincomalee harbour.
Eelam War-III proved to the Sri Lanka government and military, with 230,000 well armed troops, that the LTTE was its equal. With somewhere around 5000 guerrillas—along with a small Sea Tigers boat unit, which made some pirate hits for funds; and even a few light civilian aircraft, the Sky Tigers, which sometimes made damaging raids against the Air Force; and the suicide Black Tigers—the LTTE won many military victories.
The peaceful tones of the Chandrika-led government changed to the hawk tones of its jingoistic army. It purchased more weapons, more military aircraft from the US, Russia, Israel at millions of dollars per aircraft. Within days of the purchase, the LTTE shot down two British Avro bombers. In one, 38 senior military officials on it were killed, including the highest Air Force official in the north.
The Air Force retaliated with more bombings over Jaffna. The LTTE retaliated by attacking a Sinhalese occupation settlement at Kallarawa and massacring almost everyone. May, June, July 1995 one massacre after another. In August, 1995, one year after President Kumaratunga had won the parliamentary election, she offered another political package to end the war. She offered a division of Sri Lanka into eight administrative regions, each with legislative powers and control over land, finance, and law and order. The Tamil homeland would combine into one and Tamil would be the official language there. But it required a national referendum and Tamils doubted that the Buddhist clergy would allow the proposal to win. The TULF saw it as an advance, though.
Sure enough, Buddhist clergy and their party protested loudly as did the ‘Marxist’ reactionary nationalist JVP. This was followed by thugs and secret police abducting Tamils from their homes in several districts, torturing and murdering them. There could be no reconciliation regardless of the intentions of any president.
The Tigers relied on their bravery, their military discipline and skill. They shot down or blew up one military aircraft and naval vessel after another. The military was desperate. They announced another recruitment drive for 40,000 more troops. The air force killed hundreds and hundreds in Jaffna district with their raids. The air force claimed civilians were ‘collateral damage.’ Thousands and thousands of Tamils fled to India and elsewhere.
On January 31, 1996, the LTTE stunned the nation when it bombed the Central Bank in Colombo, which managed most financial business accounts. Material damage was tremendous, as was the loss of 73 lives and injuries to 1,500 people, most of them not military targets. Unable to defeat the Tigers in battle, the army attacked a village in Trincomalee district, Kumarapuram, and hacked and swiped to death with scythes dozens of civilians, including women and children and farm labourers.
On July 18, the LTTE conducted its greatest attack until now, killing 1,360 soldiers, sailors and civilians working for the military at Mullaitivu army base not far from Elephant Pass. Another 100 were killed when trying to rescue them. The Tigers lost 241 cadres, while the army claimed double that number. The LTTE took off with more arms and ammunition than ever before, estimated to be worth 5% of the government’s defence budget for the year.
Both sides were beshrewed. Police, soldiers, sailors grabbed Tamils at random, strangling them on the spot, raping and murdering women and young girls, burning people alive on the streets or trapped inside buildings. The Tigers, defenders of their people, fighters for a free future with a Tamil nation, could not contemplate dialogue methods of responding. They acted out of anger and revenge. They wanted separation at any cost.
On July 24, 1996, LTTE forces bombed a commuter train killing 70 Sinhalese civilians. In 1997, the air force lost 11 planes to the Tigers. During the Eelam War-III, the Tigers destroyed 22 military aircraft, costing about $80 million. They were Russian, Chinese, UK, USA and Israeli planes. The navy lost several boats to the Sky Tigers. The army was determined to take Jaffna. On May 12, it launched a major assault with 20,000 troops, its biggest operation yet. Relentless military shelling and bombing fell on the heads primarily of civilians in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya and Elephant Pass.
In July, the army was hunting for 10,000 deserters. This was after 20,000 other deserters had surrendered on the promise of amnesty. The same month, the Sky Tigers captured a ship, the “Stillus Victoria” flying a Liberian flag, bound for Sri Lanka with 32,400 rounds of 81 mortar bombs. During the eight-month long military drive to recapture Jaffna, nearly 1000 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed by the LTTE chiefly with these bombs.
On October 15, the LTTE bombed central Colombo again. Nevertheless, the Tigers lost/abandoned Jaffna province the same month. While losing 800 sq. km. they gained 2300 sq. km. in Batticaloa district when the army vacated 44 camps. The guerrillas moved about in the jungles and retook Kilinochchi in September 1998. They had controlled this most northern city from 1990 to September 1996 when the army recaptured it. Two years later, the LTTE recaptured it and held what became Tamil Eelam’s capital city until January 2009.
In October 1999, Chandrika called for early presidential elections. In November 1999, the Tigers attacked military installations in the Eastern Province and killed more than 1,000 troops and wounded 1,500, according to The Times of London, November 4. Within the week, Col. Karuna led his LTTE cadre in the takeover of several towns and then held 1,200 sq. km. of territory in the East.
At the last election rally on December 18, Chandrika lost her right eye in a bomb assassination attempt, purportedly executed by the LTTE. On election day, December 21, she beat her UNP opponent, Ranil Wickremasinghe, with 51% of the vote. Chandrika had campaigned for continuing the war against the LTTE, while the UNP candidate reversed the stakes from the previous contest and called for direct peace negotiations. This time, the Buddhist monks were with the SLFP. In the southern provincial elections, the JVP made a comeback running candidates and winning 10 seats on its anti-Tamil Eelam platform.
By the end of the 1990s, both sides had killed tens of thousands of people. Civilians were targeted by both. The Tigers claimed that civilians were targeted only when associated with military installations. But some attacks, such as on the train, were unjustifiable. Furthermore, the LTTE has often murdered other Tamils, who also sought autonomy. In July 1999, Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvan was killed by a suicide bomber. He was an MP representing the TULF and was working on a set of constitutional reforms called a ‘devolution package’ that would have ensured equal rights to all ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. Whether it was again the hand of the LTTE or the Indian RAW, as alleged by some, it certainly put a spoke in the peace process. The JVP, too, was in the forefront of nationwide protests against President Kumaratunga’s new constitution and devolution proposals.
There was no let-up in the war in 2000. Murders on the ground, the air, the sea! On April 21, the LTTE overran the Elephant Pass army camp once again, this time killing over 1000 troops and the rest fled. There had been 17,000 soldiers in this most strategic base. Other significant military bases fell under LTTE attacks.
In August 2000, an ailing Mrs. B resigned from the prime ministry, and she died on the same day as the next parliamentary elections. Up to election time the ruling party was under strong criticism because of the many military defeats and an economic downturn. The October 10, 2000 parliamentary elections resulted without a majority for either of the two coalitions. The People’s Alliance received 45% of the vote for 107 seats. This time the Ceylon Workers Congress switched sides, as did the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, and joined the PA, but in some districts they ran separately. The UNP won 89 seats. The JVP ran alone and took 10 seats. The Tamils’ front, TULF, only picked up five. The LTTE had called a boycott. Both the UNP and SLMC accused the PA of election fraud.
The war continued with periodic unilateral ceasefires called by the LTTE, but ignored by the army. The government convinced the UK to place the LTTE on its terrorist list. Failure to do so, said the foreign minister, would “impose a considerable strain on our relations.” Canada and Australia followed suit, but Europe refused.
On July 24, 2001, the LTTE again stunned the nation and the world when it attacked the only international airport in Sri Lanka and the adjoining military base. They thoroughly surprised the personnel and caused incredible damage, including the destruction or severe damage to 26 aircraft. The destruction amounted to an estimated $350 million and caused a slowdown in the economy. In retaliation, the Sri Lankan air force bombed Jaffna.
On October 10, 2001, parliament dissolved due to defections from the PA. The coalition had a hard time ruling given that it did not have a majority, so early elections were called for December 6. This was the most violent election campaign ever. Sixty people were killed in scores of attacks, 14 on polling day. The air force bombed LTTE-held areas. Tamils could not vote in the East due to an army blockade.
The SLMC had been in the PA but most of its MPs now switched sides to the United National Front as did the Ceylon Workers Congress. The SLMC accused the People’s Alliance of killing seven of its supporters. The Up-Country People’s Front also joined with the UNP-led coalition. The JVP stayed out of the PA although the president had asked it to join. This angered the smaller parties in the alliance and 13 MPs left the People’s Alliance.
With 1,300 recorded incidents of election fraud, the UNF beat the PA anyway with 109 seats. The PA took 77; the JVP increased its seats to 16; the SLMC took 5 where it had campaigned outside the UNF; the EPDP got two and the new Tamil National Alliance took 15 seats. It included the moderate TULF and ACTC as well as the remains of anti-LTTE rebel groups EPRLF (Suresh faction) and TELO.
Chandrika remained president, albeit with a minority in parliament. She was thus weakened until the next presidential elections to be held November 17, 2005. From December 9, 2001 until April 2, 2004, she had strained relations with the UNF-led government with Wickremasinghe as PM. He was more willing to negotiate with the LTTE. He ordered a ceasefire after the LTTE declared one beginning December 24. Guns were silent as the New Year 2002 started.
During two decades of civil war, the LTTE had several times offered
a ceasefire on the condition of negotiations to establish peace and
ethnic equality. With its sensational military victories, the guerrilla
army once again tried. Major national voices and many international
ones were also pressing for a ceasefire. Norway took concrete steps.
Here are some of the key events that took place during 2002:
On January 15, Wickremasinghe ordered an end to the embargo of consumer goods to the North and East. LTTE released 10 POWs. The formal Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was signed on February 22, 2002. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran signed the agreement, alongside mediator Jan Petersen representing Norway’s foreign ministry. Both the governments of India and the US said they welcomed this. Provisions provided for each side to hold on to their ground positions. Neither side was to engage in any offensive military operation or move munitions into the area controlled by the other side.
A chagrined President Chandrika threatened to cancel the Ceasefire Agreement. On February 26, she told The Daily Mirror, “I can stop Ranil Wickremasighe’s agreement with one letter to the Army commander.” She said she’d appoint a committee to study the agreement.
On March 14, with Buddhist clergy protests against the ceasefire in the South, the PM visited Jaffna, the first time in 20 years a government leader had done so. “I want to tell the people here that we are all equals,” he said.
Four key leaders of the LTTE, one of them Col. Karuna, accompanied Prabhakaran in a news conference on April 10. The tough leader told the media that the LTTE was not dropping the issue of Tamil Eelam but would work for self-determination with another solution if the UNF government would accept. He called for a repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the legalisation of his organisation.
Police prevented Buddhist monks from marching to the PM’s office, April 22, for the first time in all these years. The next day, thousands of ‘Marxist’ JVPs marched in Colombo opposing the ceasefire. They vociferously opposed any attempt to have a negotiated political settlement with the LTTE. Any devolution would be a step towards the division of the country, which they characterised as part of a western conspiracy to destabilise, divide and re-conquer their former imperial domains. In effect, they advocated a complete military solution to the conflict. From March 2000 onwards, the JVP initiated a long campaign against the introduction of Norwegian mediators.28
On July 5, ‘Black Tiger’ ceremonies were held throughout the Northern Province to commemorate the first suicide bomb attack 14 years earlier. Captain Miller had driven a truck with explosives into the Nelliady army camp killing 19 soldiers.
During the rest of the year there were demonstrations, mostly without violence, by those for and those against a ceasefire and peace accords. Police sometimes would still arrest and torture a few Tamils. On September 16, the first face-to-face talks between the government and the LTTE in seven years took place. The LTTE dropped a separate state demand and accepted the concept of a homeland and self-determination. That was still more than what the extremist nationalists in the Buddhist clergy and the JVP would accept, and many in the SLFP were also unhappy.
On September 28, a significant exchange of prisoners occurred. One commodore had been held by the LTTE for eight years. But a few days later, a police force and a paramilitary unit killed 13 Tamil civilians in two areas of the North, and the LTTE called for a hartal. The strike paralyzed the entire North and East.
A second round of talks took place in Thailand. One of the LTTE negotiators was Col. Karuna, by then considered the number two leader. On November 25, leaders of 35 governments met in Oslo in a gesture of support for the peace process. On December 5, a peace accord was signed facilitated by Norway. The ceasefire became permanent and both sides agreed to find a political solution based on internal self-determination within a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.
The Ranil Wickremasinghe government’s two-track agenda of peace combined with market reforms was opposed by the JVP. The western powers reinforced JVP’s logic by offering to release generous quantities of development aid funding conditional upon market reforms and progress in the peace process together.29 President Kumaratunga undermined the PM’s authority in October 2003 by declaring a state of emergency once again. In November, 2003, she also suddenly took control of three key ministries.
The LTTE proposed an Interim Self-Government Authority (ISGA) to administer the Tamil homeland, pending final agreement and elections. The ceasefire was monitored by the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). It was staffed by designees from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. The US, UK and other EU countries had observers. Headquarters were established in Colombo, and there were 60 monitors in six district teams and two naval ones. The SLMM monitored violations and mediated between the two parties but could not enforce sanctions. And there were many periodic violations on both sides, some violent, during the coming years.
During the ceasefire, progress was made in the development of agriculture and general infrastructure in the Tamil homeland. Many foreigners were invited to observe and participate in building Tamil Eelam. Impressive first-hand accounts have been written about the progress in many areas: administrative, economic and a social welfare network. While voices friendly to this process praised the advances made, many also questioned the lack of civilian input in the decision-making process.
The LTTE did not emphasize an international political solidarity movement including in the crucial Indian subcontinent, where many nationality based struggles for autonomy and independence are being waged. It did appeal for economic donations, which poured in from Tamils in the Diaspora. The LTTE stopped speaking of Marxism or about building a socialist independent state. It emphasized that it would take up arms again and would win militarily, if Sri Lanka prevented an autonomous Tamil homeland. It endeavoured to construct a social welfare state with cooperative and private enterprises. It was also building a Tamil University where Tamils from the Diaspora would have taught.
The Tigers became so respectable they could openly purchase weaponry from some countries not directly under the thumb of US-EU-Israel or their partial antagonists: China, Iran and Pakistan. A Times Online piece (May 29, 2009) quotes the editor of Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre saying that the LTTE used 11 merchant ships to deliver weapons, many of which they got from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Cyprus, Thailand and Croatia. Even the World Bank recognized the LTTE as governing an unofficial State, according to its representative in Sri Lanka, Peter Harrold, in 2005.
A split within the top ranks of the LTTE occurred in March 2004. This would have disastrous effects on the peace accord and eventually become a major reason why the war was resumed and won by a future SLFP government.
The widely read and LTTE associated TamilNet website reported, March 15, 2004:
“The website run from Batticaloa under the direction of renegade [my emphasis] commander, Mr. Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan (Karuna), which was disabled for several hours after posting a message that apologized to the viewers for carrying messages against LTTE leader V. Pirapaharan, has now become operational. TamilNet is unable to confirm whether it was the work of an outside cracker.”
Rumours flew about claiming that Karuna and Prabhakaran had a falling out over Karuna’s taking from the coffers for personal gain and that he disobeyed orders.
On March 26, the prestigious Asian Times Online website wrote that Karuna had refused Prabhakaran’s order to send 1000 of his fighters from the East to the North, and objected to the intelligence wing in his area of command. Karuna was also upset because his Eastern area had little say in the top command and the people under his rule received less material attention than those in Jaffna. Karuna was immediately expelled.
The Asian Times Online quoted a source in RAW:
“Karuna’s anger and ambition has provided the Lankan army or the intelligence wing an opportunity to strike at the LTTE, however minor the damage might be.”29
The forces under Karuna’s command were divided. Some stayed with him and others remained with the LTTE. A ceasefire monitor, Steen Joergensen, told the Sunday Times (as cited in TamilNet on April 10) that the Karuna faction now ruled the Eastern Province in violation of the CFA (ceasefire agreement), because Tamil paramilitary groups should be disarmed in government-controlled areas which was the case in the East.
But traitor Karuna and the government were cooperating despite the fact that he ordered the cold-blooded murder of about 700 police officers 14 years ago in the same district.
On the other side, the Buddhist monk party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), founded the year before, was whipping up Sinhalese chauvinist anger at what they called ‘appeasement’ to Tamils. In addition, the JVP had been pressuring the Kumaratunga government since late 2003 to use her constitutional prerogatives to dismiss the UNF government, dissolve parliament and call for fresh parliamentary elections. They did this by triggering a wave of strikes. These were directed against the reform agendas of the UNF government pertaining to privatisation, labour law reforms, the IMF inspired fiscal austerity measures implemented in 2002, a fertiliser subsidy cut and a public sector hiring freeze. There was a sudden outbreak of hunger strikes by the JVP unions protesting labour legislation outside the Labour Ministry, and by hospital workers outside the Health Ministry. The JVP farmers union started a hunger strike against the fertiliser subsidy withdrawal. Finally, there was another big railway strike that shut down the railways from 27 January - 9 February 2004. All these strikes converged on Colombo and were brought to a climax in the first week of February, applying concentrated pressure on President Kumaratunga to dismiss the government. The strikes ended as soon as President Kumaratunga agreed to dissolve parliament and call new elections.30
Parliamentary elections were set for April 2, 2004. The UNF was defeated, winning only 80 seats with 38% of the vote. The SLFP’s PA alliance was broadened when the JVP came into it, and the other ‘left-wing’ parties went along. The Communist Party of Sri Lanka and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party signed a memorandum of understanding with the SLFP so that their candidates could take part in parliamentary elections in the new coalition—the United People’s Freedom Alliance. It received 45% of the vote and took 105 seats. They were able to rule because the JHU backed them with its nine seats. The Tamil’s coalition, TNA, took 22 seats; the Up-Country People’s Front got 1 as did the SLMC. President Kumaratunga appointed the previous Labour Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, as her PM. The tone towards the peace process turned sour.
On December 26, 2004, the greatest earthquake-tsunami ever recorded (9.3) hit Southeast Asia. Eleven countries were deeply affected: 230,000 were killed or missing. Sri Lanka was one of the worst-affected zones. About 40,000 people were killed or missing; 1.5 million were displaced from their homes. International aid poured in but did not arrive in the North and East due to Sinhalese political party opposition. The LTTE organized all the aid it could muster for hundreds of thousands in the Tamil homeland. Foreign volunteers and emergency relief organisations praised the LTTE for its effective and caring work. There are many accounts of this.31
Mahinda Rajapaksa was the pro-war candidate of the new coalition. Tamil political parties and many foreign relief groups accused Rajapaksa of diverting tsunami relief funds designated for the Tamil homeland. In this complex reality, those parties most adamant about refusing aid to suffering Tamils and who demanded an end to the ceasefire with the objective of launching an all-out war were those claiming to be either Marxist-Communist-Trotskyist-Maoist or self-proclaimed non-violent Buddhists, alongside the Muslim National Unity Alliance, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, and the Democratic United National Front. In June 2005, the JVP formally left the government coalition in protest that the LTTE got to share foreign aid to rebuild the devastated North and East.
On August 12, another blow to the CFA occurred when the government’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated in Colombo. The sniper was believed to a Tiger, but the LTTE denied they were behind the murder, asserting that whatever damage he had done to them was long ago and they did not wish to damage the ceasefire. Kadirgamar was a Jaffna born Tamil, but his Christian family had soon moved south. He became a lawyer and politician who was adamantly anti-LTTE. He was Sri Lanka’s key lobbyist to get the US and UK to ban them as terrorists.
Mahinda Rajapaksa barely won the presidency on November 19, 2005, with just 50.3% of the vote. He appointed Ratnasiri Wickremanayake as PM. The JVP rejoined the government once Rajapaksa promised to reject federalism and renegotiate the CFA. Armed clashes increased sporadically. Ironically, or was it a calculated move, it was due to the LTTE that Rajapaksa won the elections and turned the tide against the CFA. It had called upon its supporters to boycott the election. Over half a million people in the LTTE controlled areas did not vote as they had in the 2004 parliamentary elections. These votes had gone to the TNA, SLMC and the UNP.
Skirmishes between the LTTE and the Karuna faction increased in the East. There were intermittent ceasefires, but with the government backing Karuna he had enough money and fire power to recruit three to four thousand more cadres. Human Rights groups and media reported that both Tamil armed groups were recruiting children as combatants. In June 2006, combined Sri Lankan army-Karuna forces drove the LTTE out of the Eastern Province. The LTTE was losing patience with the lack of movement in the peace process and the breakdown in the ceasefire. A ‘shadow war’ was underway, one not truly sought by the Tigers. It was forced to fight not only government troops but also three Tamil paramilitary groups—all formerly allies—the Karuna faction, the EPDP and the PLOTE.
In April 2007, Karuna became head of a new paramilitary-political party called Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP). His deputy leader was Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan), a long-time loyal aide who soon sought the top spot. Karuna as a national leader had armed units under him, and Pillaiyan as “supreme military commander” had armed units too. They soon were at logger-heads. The LTTE was doing all it could to assassinate them, especially Karuna. Government liaison agents helped Karuna take a break from the strain by getting him papers so that he could enter the UK, which he did on September 18, 2007. He was eventually arrested for possessing false papers and given nine months in prison. He was released in July 2008. He returned to Sri Lanka and the government protected him in a safe house in Colombo and appointed him as a member of parliament.
In the meantime, the manipulating fox Rajapaksa had appointed Pillaiyan as Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, which he now ruled with an iron hand. In the March 2008 Batticaloa council elections, the Pillaiyan-led TMVP won all nine seats as part of the official government UPFA coalition. The idea of a separate state or even autonomy was long gone for these opportunists. They had personal power and lots of money and guns.
In 2007, the Jathika Hela Urumaya formally joined the hodge-podge UPFA coalition government and was given a ministry post. On April 3, 2008, JHU’s leader gave his reasons for warring against Tamils to the United States government financed Voice of America radio station.
Athurliye Rathana, a Buddhist monk who heads the Jathika Hela Urumaya party in Sri Lanka’s parliament, wants to end the suffering by putting a quick end to the war. Speaking with VOA at a seaside hotel in this former tourist haven, Rathana says he supports the government’s latest military offensive to quash the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
“Any time a militant group is harmful to peaceful people, then government should have the right to exercise constitutional law and order,” Rathana said. And “LTTE is unlawful and so, under our constitutional law, anyone cannot exercise militancy (sic). But (with) the LTTE separatist movement, the government has some duty to control their military activities. I say only one thing: Please do your duty.”
For comments like that, the Sri Lankan media has branded Rathana the ‘war monk,’... but his sentiments are common in Sri Lanka’s majority ethnic Sinhala community.
Rathana is a celebrated figure in this predominantly Buddhist nation, where monks are cherished for their spiritual guidance. The pro-war activism of Rathana and others has spurred as many as 30,000 Sinhalese young men to join the army in the past few months.32
The state in Sri Lanka has since the 1940s been a welfare state providing education and health services and also employment and support to the business sector—all with a pro-Sinhala bias. With the onset of liberalisation policies in the late seventies this role of the state was shrinking. While welfare functions have been increasingly taken over by the domestic and international NGO sector playing an ameliorative role the only part of the state that is growing since the late 1980s is the military. It has become the single largest employer of Sinhala rural youth, accounting for as many as half of all jobs in some areas. By abetting, indeed actively promoting the latter process of militarisation of Sinhala society, the JVP has revealed its social-fascist nature.
JVP’s position on the national question in Sri Lanka has been
a shifting one. From 1975 to 1983, under general-secretary Lionel Bopage,
it adopted the well-established Leninist-Stalinist position on the right
of nations to self-determination and, applying it to the growing Tamil
nationalist movement, accepted regional autonomy as a solution. The
acceptance of self-determination of the Tamil nationality was usually
accompanied by the proviso of it being within a socialist framework
and not a capitalist one. There was a struggle within the politburo
on this issue and an anti-Eelamist line began to prevail. As a result,
Bopage and a considerable section within the party who disagreed with
this new line left. In 1994-95 and again in 1998-1999, while itself
being against devolution of state power, the JVP entered into an electoral
alliance with the NSSP, United Socialist Party and Muslim United Liberation
Front (MULF) under the platform of a ‘New Left Front,’ that
is, with organisations that accepted the Tamil right to self-determination.
But in the months following the disappointing performance of the JVP candidate in the presidential elections of December 1999, it switched back into Sinhala extreme nationalist mode. In August 2000, it completely parted company with the New Left Front and joined up with the Sinhala nationalist camp. Sinhala nationalist elements were present in the JVP right from the beginning, but not in a rabid form, as we have seen in the last chapter while discussing the 1971 insurrection. While slowly transforming itself into an electoral party its nationalism became more extreme and approximates that of the JHU, even while retaining its working class, student and peasant base and carrying out trade union level struggles against economic globalisation. Just as the ‘Old Left’ compromised its principles for the sake of parliamentary expediency so has the JVP. It is no longer interested in overthrowing the bourgeois state by armed struggle but is now seeking gains by being a parliamentary party. From just one parliamentary seat in 1994, it won 10 seats in 2000, 16 in 2001, and 39 in 2004. But the latest parliamentary elections of 2010 showed clear loss of support because it opportunistically helped the implementation of pro-market reforms hurting labour when in government.33
The Ceasefire Agreement was a thorn in the side of the UPFA ruling coalition. Although the government claimed that the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission favoured the Tiger guerrillas, its monitors had lodged 3006 violations committed by the LTTE and only 133 by the government, as of June 30, 2005. From May 2006 onward, to its termination in January 2008, the Monitoring Mission was hampered by worsening hostilities.
A Sea Tiger boat attack on a navy convoy on May 11, 2006, caused the European Union to place the Tigers on its terrorist list, while appearing to be even-handed by calling upon the Sri Lankan government to end its “culture of impunity” and to “curb violence” in its areas of control. Sweden, Finland and Denmark, as EU states, also considered the Tigers to be terrorists, and the LTTE objected to their membership on the Monitoring Mission. They withdrew leaving only Norway and Iceland with 20 monitors. The reduced Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission disbanded and the path for a full-scale war was clear: Eelam War-IV.
1. http://www.oslovoice.freewebspace.com/shopping_page.html gives one list of these groups. I do not know this source’s reliability.
2. Readers can find out more about these groups on Wikipedia, among other sources. See also http://www.thesundayleader.lk/archive/20011118/issues.html.
3. Traditionally a seafaring (which includes boat building, trading, coastal fishing and naval activities) and warrior caste disempowered and turned fisher people and merchants after the colonial conquest of Lanka. Catholicized Karaiyar made up a significant portion of the police force and navy during British rule. Unlike the Vellalas they could not make it into the colonial civil administration. There is a corresponding caste amongst the Sinhalese on the West Coast by the name of Karave, who participated in the rubber and coconut plantations during the colonial period. A business elite emerged among them as well as a farming and working class. Monks belonging to this caste formed their own Buddhist order in the mid-19th century being barred from ordination by the upper caste Siyama Nikaya. This order subsequently took up the struggle for Sinhala Buddhist rights. They are major supporters of the SLFP and the JVP. Some sociologists have commented that the civil war in Sri Lanka became a vehicle by which the Karave and the Karaiyar sought to marginalize the post-colonial elites, that is the Sinhalese and Tamil upper castes, by taking extremely partisan but opposite views. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karava).
4. Koviars, traditionally temple workers and agriculturists, were an upwardly mobile Tamil caste post-1948. But access to higher education got restricted with the standardisation Act of the Sinhala government in the 1970s, and they joined the militant self-determination movement.
5. Cf. “Genocide to Crush Eelam,” Mass Line, Aug. 1984, vol. 10, no. 11, p. 10.
6. See http://www.srilankabrief.org/2011/05/dynamics-of-caste-politics-in-jaffna.html.
9. http://www.blackjuly83.com/FurtherReading.htm and “Witness to History”.
10. “Horror of a Pogrom: Remembering ‘Black July’ 1983,” The Sunday Leader, July 2010.
12. http://www.sangam.org/articles/view2/?uid=492 and “Witness to History.”
13. A Mossad case officer, Victor Ostrovsky, wrote a book published by St Martin, in 1991, entitled: “By Way of Deception: The Making of a Mossad Officer,” in which he contended that Mossad trained not only Sri Lankan troops but also Tigers as well as Indian security forces.
14. “Indian People Killing Force in Action” by Avinash, Mass Line, Delhi, Nov. 1987, vol. 13, no. 3.
15. Cited by John Gerassi in his “Venceremos: The Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara,” Simon & Schuster, N.Y., 1968.
16. “The Sad, Sad Story of the IPKF,” an article in S. Sivanayagam’s, “The Pen and the Gun: Selected writings 1977-2001,” published by Tamil Information Centre, London, 2001.
18. http://www.ices.lk/publications/esr/articles_jan99/book%20review.Tisaranee.pdf See also S. Sivanayagam’s books, “Witness to History” and “The Pen and the Gun.”
19. See “Sri Lanka: Rough Weather for Indian Expansionism,” Mass Line, Delhi, June-July 1989, p. 5.
20. See “Tamil Eelam Struggle and its Lessons,” People’ Truth, Sep 2009, p. 26 and http://www. Srilankaguardian.or/2010/12/indo-sri-lanka-free-trade-agreement.html
21. The International Crisis Group has published a detailed report on the situation of Sri Lanka’s Muslims in the North-East. Asia Report N°134. 29 May 2007. Available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/134_sri_lanka_s_muslims_caught_in_the_crossfire.pdf. Also see “The clash of ideologies and the continuing tragedy in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts.” UTHR (J), Report no. 7, 8 May, 1991.
23. See among others “Caste Discrimination and Social Justice in Sri Lanka: An Overview” available at http://dalitstudies.org.in/wp/0906.pdf and also: Dalits of Sri Lanka: Caste-Blind Does not Mean Casteless. Published by International Dalit Solidarity Network. Available at http://www.idsn.org/uploads/media/FACTSHEET_SRILANKA.pdf
24. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinayagamoorthy_Muralitharan and http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2011/6/67843.html
25. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rajiv_Gandhi and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thenmozhi_Rajaratnam
26. http://www.sangam.org/2008/05/Premadasa_Assassination.php?uid=2906 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Lalith_Athulathmudali killing.
28. See Rajesh Venugopal: The Politics of Sri Lanka’s Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), November 2008. Available online.
30. See Rajesh Venugopal, op. cit.
33. Rajesh Venugopal, op. cit. and http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/mar2010/sril-m05.shtml.
Who are the terrorists?
Atrocities of the Racist Sri Lankan State
The Geneva Declaration on Terrorism, passed on 29 May, 1987, by the UN General Assembly points out that the main perpetrators of terrorism are governments striving to keep down parts of their populations or other peoples. In this document the main culprits were the United States, Israel, South Africa and the many dictatorships in Latin America.
“State terrorism manifests itself in: 1) police state practices against its own people to dominate through fear by surveillance, disruption of group meetings, control of the news media, beatings, torture, false and mass arrests, false charges and rumours, show trials, killings, summary executions and capital punishments.”
“The terrorism of modern state power and its high technology weaponry exceeds qualitatively by many orders of magnitude the political violence relied upon by groups aspiring to undo oppression and achieve liberation.”
“…peoples who are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination have the right to use force to accomplish their objectives within the framework of international humanitarian law.”1
This document applies to the situation of the Sri Lankan governments since 1983 as well as to the LTTE, and the proportions of the use of violence are as written by the general assembly. The LTTE did, however, after a time, go beyond the framework of international humanitarian law.
One voice regarding terrorism and what lies behind these atrocities appears so credible to me, and so tragic in itself, that I quote him extensively to show that all warring parties in Sri Lanka acted as terrorists. Here are some of the last words of Sri Lankan journalist Manilal Wickrematunge Lasantha, a Sinhalese, who predicted his assassination shortly before it occurred, on January 8, 2009. His newspaper, The Sunday Leader, published his own ‘obituary’ three days later.
“Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty...
“Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy…Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united...
“…we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens...
“The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma (the teachings of Buddha, which lead to enlightenment –R.R.) is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship...
“What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self-respect...
“It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.
“The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century… “Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you...”2
When Lasantha’s dramatic editorial appeared, he had already been murdered on his way to work by four men on motorcycles. The probable conspirator behind the execution was Lasantha’s ‘friend’s’ brother, war secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a naturalized citizen of the USA. In December 2008, he had censored The Sunday Leader from publishing any criticism of his actions. He had earlier threatened the careers and lives of other journalists.3
A week before Lasantha’s murder, G. Rajapaksa’s army captured Kilinochchi, the capital of the de facto Eelam state, on January 2, 2009, after a two-month intensive battle. The LTTE army fled, but not all the civilians had evacuated before the government’s troops entered and butchered scores or hundreds. On August 25, 2009, England’s Channel 4 News broadcast footage showing Sri Lankan forces executing nine Tamils believed to be LTTE combatants stripped naked, bound and blindfolded. One of the military’s soldiers had filmed this atrocity on his mobile telephone. Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (Sinhalese and Tamils) obtained the film and presented it to Channel 4, which showed it after its authenticity was verified by internationally renowned forensic experts. There is more about Channel 4’s coverage in Chapter Eight concerning the United Nations Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka.” Channel 4 premiered its chilling documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” during the 17th session of the Human Rights Council in May-June 2011.
The United States government praised Sri Lanka for its military offensive. The US embassy in Colombo issued this statement: “The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE…”4
Following this crushing defeat, the LTTE was reduced to an area of a few square kilometres. Many thousands of civilians had left their homes to reach so-called No Fire Zones, which the Sri Lankan army began setting up on January 20. Conditions were sub-human for over two-hundred and fifty thousand interned civilians in various camps, and they were forced to remain there for months to two years. Amnesty International—more often than not a reliable observer of international conflicts and one of the few NGOs that does not take money from any government or political party—recently published a report about these camps. Sri Lanka is violating rules established by the United Nations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, applying to displaced persons.5
Here is an excerpt from a civilian inmate:
“Knowing that many civilians were not able to move, the government restarted shelling. They even hit the No Fire Zone so even that small area was not protected…When we heard the supersonic Kfirs (Israeli jets – R.R.) overhead we used to rush to the bunker and hide…That was our life for months, just squatting in bunkers.”
Amnesty stated that the Government of Sri Lanka exacerbated this isolation by restricting access by outsiders to the conflict area. In September 2008, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaska issued a directive ordering all humanitarian and UN agencies to leave the Vanni and remove all equipment and vehicles. This order also applied to journalists and opposition politicians.6
John Pilger described Sri Lanka’s isolation strategy this way:
“The Sri Lankan government has learned an old lesson from, I suspect, a modern master: Israel. In order to conduct a slaughter, you ensure the pornography is unseen, illicit at best. You ban foreigners and their cameras from Tamil towns like Mulliavaikal, which was bombarded recently by the Sri Lankan army, and you lie that the 75 people killed in the hospital were blown up quite wilfully by a Tamil suicide bomber.”7
From 2006-7 onward President Rajapaksa was spending nearly one-quarter ($1.5 billion) of Sri Lanka’s national budget of $7.5 billion (2008 figures) on war. By January 2009, the Sri Lankan military, refortified especially by Israel, Pakistan and China, had recaptured much of the Tamil Homeland. From the end of 2008 to Sri Lanka’s military victory over LTTE, it had indiscriminately bombed Tamil civilians even in the ‘safe zones’ where the government had told them to flee. Many tens of thousands were killed, perhaps as many as 40,000, in just the last two weeks of fighting.
During the 18 months following the formal end of the ceasefire, January 3, 2008, the Sri Lanka military beat back the LTTE from one town after another, perhaps as many as 100 areas. As stated in chapter four, the Karuna faction—turned into the TMVP—took control of the Eastern province with Sri Lankan military assistance. This allowed the Sri Lankan army and air force to concentrate on the north, and it cut back LTTE territory.8
After the fall of Tamil Eelam’s de facto capital, it still took the far superiorly armed and manned army four and a half months to defeat the guerrilla army. There were few close contact battles. The LTTE fighters and civilians in the remaining Homeland area were subject to shelling from the air and by long-distance artillery. Amnesty International reported:
“Eyewitness accounts of the final months of the war painted a grim picture of deprivation of food, water and medical care; fear, injury and loss of life suffered by civilians trapped by the conflict…both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government forces committed violations of international humanitarian law…The LTTE forcibly recruited children as soldiers, used civilians as human shields against the Sri Lankan army’s offensive, and attacked civilians who tried to flee. The Sri Lankan armed forces launched indiscriminate attacks with artillery on areas densely populated by civilians. Hospitals were shelled, resulting in death and injuries among patients and staff.”9
Sri Lanka’s military achieved victory by murdering any Tamil “in its way,” and because of the extensive military force provided to it by many capitalist and so-called socialist states. Here are the major players:
India: Its government has provided weaponry, radar and training to Sri Lanka’s military since 1987. It often hides what aid it gives or sells since so many of its citizens are against Sri Lankas’ brutality against Tamils. After a period of providing little military assistance, it increased its aid at the end of 2008 when the government launched its all-out offensive. As late as April 2009, India sent three fast attack boats and a missile corvette (INS Vinash), part of $500 million in total aid. It has also turned over LTTE fugitives to Sri Lanka. India sees its traditional role as the dominant nation in South Asia being replaced by China’s fast-growing presence, which is another reason for its support to Sri Lanka’s Buddhist government despite the fact that a big chunk of India’s 1.2 billion people practice Hinduism with less than 1% Buddhists.10 On the world plane, India hip hops from one antagonist force to another. There is no clear direction.
The United States of America: It has been arming and financing Sri Lanka for most of the civil war period.11 The Indian Ocean is a vital waterway through which half of the world’s containerized cargo passes. Its waters carry heavy traffic of petroleum products. The US signed a ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Sri Lanka on 5 March, 2007, which provides, along with other things, logistic supplies and refueling facilities. The US already has a Voice of America installation at Trincomalee, which can be used for surveillance. From at least the 1990s, the US has provided military training, financing and weapons sales averaging $1.5 million annually. During the ceasefire, in 2002, this sum went down to $259,999 for military training only.
Bush was especially glad with Sri Lanka’s terrorism, and encouraged Colombo to resume the civil war in 2006, which his government financed with $2.9 million. The Pentagon provided counter-insurgency training, maritime radar, patrols of US warships and aircraft. This was a continuation of ‘Operation Balanced Style’, which uses US Special Forces instructors since 1996. At the end of Bush’s second term, the US was forced to cut back on aid given that it was bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. That, coupled with public opinion critical of state terrorism and systematic discrimination of Tamils, organised by the Diaspora, prompted Congress to make noises about abuses of human rights by not just LTTE but also about the use of children in “paramilitary forces of the Sri Lankan government.” Thousands of Tamils blocked highways in Canada, camped outside British parliament for months, some committed suicide in front of government offices, while Indian Tamils conducted paralysing strikes. Nevertheless, in 2008, $1.45 million in military financing and training was granted to the Sri Lankan government out of $7.4 million in total aid.
The US made noises about a ‘humanitarian crisis’ when the Sri Lankan army was about to finish the war, but it never took affirmative action to bring the war to an end. It’s howling about human rights is only a veiled threat to the Sri Lankan government that it should not do anything prejudicial to its interests, that is, it should keep China at bay.
Israel: It was officially re-awarded diplomatic relations in May 2000 after Sri Lanka had severed them in 1970 in protest at Israel’s continued illegal expansion into Palestinian territory. Nevertheless, Israel continued to operate inside Sri Lanka out of a special interests office set up in the US embassy. Under the table, however, Sri Lanka’s successive regimes embraced Israel’s military advisors, a special commando unit in the police, and Mossad counter-intelligence agents, who sought to drive a wedge between Muslims and Tamils. After the Sri Lankan military defeat at Elephant Pass, it appealed to Israel for military aid. Israel sent 16 of its supersonic Kfir fighter jets, some Dvora fast naval attack craft, and electronic and imagery surveillance equipment, plus advisors and technicians. Israel personnel took part in military attacks on Tamil units, and its pilots flew attack aircraft. Tigers shot down one Kfir. Just before the end of the war, Prime Minister Wickremanayake was in Israel to make bigger deals with Israeli arms supplies.12
UK/EU: In 2005, British arms export rose by 60%, according to John Pilger.13 In 2008, £1.4 million in arms export was approved. France sent patrol boats, and other EU countries continued but reduced military aid. The EU had never been required to offer much aid given that its major allies were so much engaged.
Japan: It had long been Sri Lanka’s greatest economic donor until China overtook that position in 2008-9. Japan has sold technology and offered generous loans, but it has also outright donated millions more every year. In 1997, for instance, it granted $52 million outright but $26 million was in technical cooperation. In 2001, aid was at $310 million. It also paid for the government television station, Rupavahini. While Japan’s aid, sales and loans are not directed at defence, these huge sums allow the Sri Lankan governments to use more of its budget for war.14 This is the case as well with several other Asian countries.
Iran: “We don’t need your money (with all those strings),” a Sri Lanka treasury functionary purportedly told World Bank officials last year.15 The ‘international community’ (US-EU governments) had begun to cut back on aid and even to ask questions about treatment of Tamil civilians, whose cries were being heard from the Diaspora. So, Sri Lanka played one power against another: India against Pakistan and China, US against China, Israel against Iran and Libya, the West against the NAM. In 2008-9, Iran provided $1.9 billion in credit to build an oil refinery, in order to process Sri Lanka’s crude oil, and it donated $450 million for a hydropower project. Iran is US’s most important inside ally with the Quisling Iraq government.
Although the US government claims that Iran’s involvement in Iraq is damaging to US interests (some of its revolutionary guards collaborate with Iraqi groups who sometimes conduct raids against US troops), its overall role in Iraq is allied with the Shiite leadership in the US-imposed and sanctioned government and they fight the native resistance to the US invasion. Iran, of course, is an enemy of Israel, whose military presence is also in the country. Iran gave refuge to many of the Shiite leaders now in government when Iran and Iraq were at war, including the current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Some of the MPs are actually in the Iranian army (13 were as of 2007). Iraq’s leading religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is a native of Iran. Iran needs to have strong influence in Iraq, especially the deeply religious Shiite dominated south, as a buffer for its defence. The two countries are also major trading partners, and Iran supplies lots of military equipment, rockets and bombs. Neither Iran, nor the Iraqi Quisling government nor the USA wants the resistance to the illegal invasion to win and take back their country.16
Pakistan: It came into the Sri Lanka imbroglio in 2008 at the encouragement of China. At the beginning of 2009, it provided $100 million in military assistance loans; it gave Chinese-origin small arms, and offered pilot training for Sri Lanka’s new Chinese aircraft. Pakistan is also an ally of the US in its terror war ‘against’ terror. Its governments are part of the war against Afghanistan, which has spread throughout most of Pakistan and split the population. Here we have a country allied with Cuba and ALBA et al. in NAM, and at the same time it is a partner of the world’s greatest terrorist state.
China: It entered the picture in 2005. China is the world’s no. 2 oil consumer after the United States. China has stepped up efforts to secure sea lanes and transport routes that are vital for its oil supplies. In April 2007, just one month after the US’s ACSA deal with Sri Lanka, China’s Poly Technologies supplied arms worth $36.5 million to Sri Lanka. A $150 million contract was given to China’s Huawei, which has close links with the Chinese intelligence wing MSS, to build a country-wide infrastructure for communications. In 2008, China invested five times over what it did in 2007. Its biggest investment is a vast construction project at Hambantota on the southern coast, which it will use as a re-fuelling and docking station for its navy. “Ever since Sri Lanka agreed to the plan, in March 2007, China has given it all the aid, arms and diplomatic support it needs to defeat the Tigers, without worrying about the West,” wrote The Times (London).17
China acts without asking questions about the treatment and conditions of workers and minorities. In April 2007, Sri Lanka made a deal to buy Chinese ammunition and ordnance for its military. China gave it six F7 jet fighters after a Sky Tiger raid that destroyed ten military aircraft, in 2007. One Chinese fighter was soon shot down by Tigers. China has also given or sold on credit: an anti-submarine warfare vessel, gunboats and landing craft, battle tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and air surveillance radars. In June 2009, after the conclusion of the civil war, it signed a $891 million agreement for the Norochcholai Coal Power project. Chinese companies were granted an Economic Zone for 33 years. Huichen Investments Holdings Limited is to invest $28 million in the next three years in the Mirigama Zone. For the first time a specific area was given to a foreign country. China is making major inroads into Sri Lanka, causing concern in the US-India axis.
In the last few months of the war, Sri Lanka’s military used China’s weapons to systematically bombard what was left of the Tamil Eelam homeland. British media reported that 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed just in the last five days. Yet President Rajapaksa claimed that “not one Tamil civilian was killed by military shelling.18
? ? ?
According to the pro-imperialist The Times (London), “aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony” tell a story of the Sri Lankan’s “fierce barrage” of three weeks constant shelling in a five-kilometer area where 300,000 Tamil civilians were. The Times estimated that about 1,000 civilians were killed each day for three weeks until May 19. With most of the leadership dead, and tens of thousands civilians slaughtered, the LTTE surrendered.
One of The Times’ sources for these figures, and for the fact that responsibility lay with the Sri Lankan military, is the Catholic priest Amalraj, who was there until May 16. At the time of the article, May 29, 2009, he was interned in the militarized Manik Farm camp along with 200,000 others. Even the editor of the pro-imperialist “Armed Forces of the UK” magazine contended that it was not the Tigers who fired upon their own people, but it was the Sri Lankan government which used imprecise air-burst and ground-impact mortars to annihilate anything alive.
The Times piece ended on this sad note: Sri Lanka “was cleared of any wrongdoing by the UN Human Rights Council after winning the backing of countries including China, Egypt, India and Cuba.”18
Why the Tigers Failed
My speculation is a combination of factors. These include what R. Hariharan wrote in the Sri Lanka Daily News on May 18, 2009. The writer maintained that it was the “impact of the defection of Karuna,” his ability as a military commander and the overall regard for him in the Eastern province; and the unyielding determination of the Rajapaksa government to defeat the LTTE at ANY costs.
In this connection, A. Sivanandan in his speech of July 13, 2009, “Ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka,” said it was, to a great deal, the “inside information that (Karuna) and his men provided on guerrilla positions and strategies that helped the government to finally overcome the Tigers.”
R. Hariharan believed that Prabhakaran should have sought to patch up differences with Karuna, in order to avoid alienating him, which led him “into the arms of the Sri Lanka Army for protection.”
I concur with these factors and add two more: Prabhakaran lost several important military strategists, some were killed, some defected. Part of the reason for defection was the authoritarianism in his leadership style. The remaining leadership came to rely on conventional warfare, which it had adopted after the LTTE got well settled in their areas during the four-year ceasefire period. When hostilities resumed in July 2006, the LTTE did not return to their effective strategy of guerrilla warfare, of hit-and-run operations. In the final period, their fighting ability was deeply curtailed by moving slowly with hundreds of thousands of civilians, and they got squeezed into less and less territory.
Finally, I believe that the use of brutality breeds more brutality into an unending spiral. It was the Sinhalese who started the brutality and continued bashing Tamils with impunity, obsessed with a quest for superiority over a minority that they considered superior to them in learning and because of their privileged positions.
In the Sinhala language there is only one word for race/clan/caste and nation.19 And in Buddhism there is no god. Rather than a religion, it is more a philosophy of being with an egalitarian and non-violent social and political philosophy. But in Sri Lanka, for the majority of Sinhalas nation and race/clan/caste—and with that language—seem to have become the supreme element, a surrogate for god. Only in Sri Lanka is the Sinhala language used, and the Sinhalese had strong competition from the minority of Tamils, whose religions and language are different, and are practised in many lands by hundreds of millions of people. This set of circumstances could produce an inferiority complex, undue fear and sense of insecurity amongst a people. To compensate for that, violence can be viewed as a superior weapon—and it usually works in the realist world of politico-economic militarism, until?
Then those who are the victims of violence repeated and repeated and without any succour from other peoples, their governments, or international bodies, such as the so-called United Nations, eventually pick up arms and become brutal in their defence. Anaesthesia to brutality sets in. They kill each other.
7. John Pilger, “Distant Voices, Desperate Lives,” New Statesman, May 13, 2009.
10. This is according to official Census of India estimates. But some Buddhist organisations consider the official figure to be an underestimate and put the figure at 3.5%.
12. http://www.dailymailnews.com/dmsp0204/dm44.html; http://niqnaq.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/wayne- madsen- on-israel-and-sri-lanka/ http://adamite.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/sri-lanka-israels-dirty-secrets/
13. John Pilger, op. cit.
15. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=42075 and http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/sri-lanka-takes-a-step-to-the-east- 20090522-bi83.html
16. See http://www.cfr.org/iran/irans-involvement-iraq/p12521 and http://www.antiimperialista.org/en/node/5263 and several articles at www.globalresearch.ca
18. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article6383449.ece and
19. Cf. A. Sivanandan’s ”When Memory Dies.” Arcadia Books, London, 1997, p. 311. Also see Dr. Vickramabahu Karunarathne, “Right of Self-Determination of Ilankai Tamils at http://www.nssp.info/InDepth/SelfDetermination.html
Post-War Internment Hell
“The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is able to
commit these crimes (referring to the 2009 war atrocities, including
brutal internment of almost 300,000 Tamils –R.R.) actually unveils
the deeply ingrained racist prejudice that is precisely what led to
the marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the
first place. That racism has a long history – of social ostracism,
economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The nature of the decades-long
civil war, which started as a peaceful protest, has its roots in this.”
- Arundhati Roy.1
“This is something similar to what occurred in Gaza or worse, because neither observers nor journalists had access to the war zone,” stated a UN source who asked for anonymity. The army acknowledges that 6,200 soldiers and 22,000 guerrillas died in the last three years of the longest civil war in Asia. The UN affirms that between 80,000 and 100,000 persons died in the conflict,” wrote Elisa Reche of Prensa Marea Socialista.2
“During the war,” Reche continued, “the army had 200,000 troops. Now with peace, 100,000 are being incorporated…A strange peace it is that requires more troops than in actual combat.”
More troops are needed because systematic ethnic cleansing is now the order of the day for the Tamil people. Their Homeland will be obliterated by introducing more Sinhalese settlers. The same strategy, as John Pilger pointed out, that Israel uses against Palestinians.
This is what M.K. Bhadrakumar, an ambassador for India, who served
in Sri Lanka and other countries, wrote about the day after Sri Lanka
“See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces…The Tamils are no more the majority community in these provinces. Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonisation program of the Northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more remain as Tamil provinces…Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the bloody history of the Indian subcontinent.”3
Ethnic cleansing goes hand-in-hand with the policy of imprisoning and mistreating hundreds of thousands of Tamils. For more than a year before its military victory, the Sri Lanka government enticed Tamils, wishing to flee the war zone, into so-called ‘welfare’ centres or villages. Tens of thousands became ‘Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP), and are thus subject to United Nations regulations concerning decent living conditions, food and water, freedom of movement and the right to leave and rejoin families. All these rights and necessities have been denied them.
Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed that no IDP was held against his/her will and all are treated well. However, the few United Nations visitors, who come to observe—there are no official investigators into abuses since the Human Rights Council majority blocked such a possibility—paint quite another picture. When UN’s political chief, Lynn Pascoe, visited camps in September 2009, he said people were not free or well treated…“this kind of closed regime goes directly against the principles under which we work in assisting IDPs all around the world.”4
Rajapaksa told Pascoe another tale about ‘free movement.’ He said that detention was necessary because the army was clearing the area for mines, and it was still looking for guerrillas hiding among civilians. However, as the UN resident coordinator reported, and Amnesty quoted5: “Under international humanitarian law, captured combatants…may be held pending the cessation of hostilities. Once active hostilities have ceased, prisoners-of-war must be released ‘without delay.’”
At that time, July 2009, there were 9,400 individuals with purported links to the LTTE held separately from the rest of the population. Amnesty also reported that the camps are clearly militarized. The 19-member Presidential Task Force established in mid-May “to plan and coordinate resettlement, rehabilitation and development of the Northern Province” was headed by Major General C.A. Chandrasiri, who was also appointed governor of the province. All inmates were enclosed by barbed-wire fences, guarded and brutalized by well-armed soldiers.
“Arrests have been reported from the camps and Sri Lankan human rights defenders have alleged that enforced disappearances have also occurred,” wrote Amnesty.
“Sri Lanka’s history of large-scale enforced disappearances dating back to the 1980s, and the lack of independent monitoring…raises grave concerns that enforced disappearances and other violations of human rights may be occurring…Previous research (shows) that (persons) suspected by the government of being members or supporters of LTTE are at grave risk of extrajudicial execution, enforced disappearance, torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”
“Although the government calls these facilities ‘welfare villages,’ they are effectively detention camps….”Amnesty also reported that not only were people not free to move as they wish, women and girls were raped by soldiers, and people lived in sewage, disease-infested conditions, with little food and water and medical attention. They died in droves because of these imposed conditions.
Women and children were especially mistreated, which was the subject that James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, complained about to Sri Lankan authorities, who then expelled him from the country. Elder described the “unimaginable suffering” of children caught in the fighting, including babies he had seen with shrapnel wounds.6
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the US’s choice for this post, had refrained from criticizing Sri Lanka’s government, levelling his critique only at the LTTE for carrying out atrocities. But when he briefly visited one camp less than a week after the end of the war, he told CNN after visiting Manik Farm, the most presentable of Sri Lanka’s squalid and dangerous internment camps for Tamils civilians: “I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scene I have seen…I sympathize fully with all of the displaced persons.” The UN chief also promised international action regarding the heavy shelling of civilian populations during the recent fighting.7
Out of the 280,000 IDPs after the end of the war (there were nearly half a million over a year’s period), only between 15,000 and 40,000 had been released by November 1, 2009. Half of them, perhaps, had been ransomed. The Sunday Times wrote about “human trafficking at the internment camps.” Relatives were made to pay camp authorities in order to secure their release.8
Exiles in their Homeland
Internally Displaced Persons who were ‘fortunate’ enough to be returned to their homes or at least their homeland in either the North or the East were confronted with subjugation by cruel Sinhalese soldiers in alliance with former Tamil compatriots turned hooligans for the genocidal government.
Already in May 2007, when the ceasefire was formally in effect, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party, led by Douglas Devanda, and the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, led by Karuna, controlled several areas previously held by the LTTE in cahoots with the Sri Lankan army. The then United States ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Black, cabled his superiors about forced prostitution, sex trafficking and alcohol smuggling using children. This inhuman treatment, constituting war crimes according to Black himself, was conducted under the direction of Tamil paramilitary leaders and with the consent of the government. Devanda was then Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare, of all posts, in the Rajapaksa government.
Thanks to the miraculous WikiLeaks, the world can now know about these crimes. The cable was released in December 2010. Here are excerpts:9
#In Jaffna, the EPDP was running prostitution rings for soldiers, forcing women to have sex with five to ten soldiers a night. (Paragraph 18 of the cable)
#The EPDP took Tamil children (their own people) and sold them abroad into slavery and prostitution. It used its networks in India and Malaysia.
#Preying on widows in Jaffna, EPDP cadres seduced women with children, especially girls, with the promise of economic protection. (Paragraph 17)
#The EPDP operated “in concert” with the Sri Lankan army (in the cases of) extrajudicial killings, forced prostitution and child trafficking. (Paragraph 15)
#In the East, TMVP operated prostitution rings for the military out of government-run refugee camps, and forced mothers to give up their children for trafficking. (Paragraph 11)
#The government “allows Karuna’s cadres to recruit children forcibly from within IDP camps in the East.” (Paragraph 11)
#Forced abortions were performed on Tamil women suspected of cooperating with the LTTE. (Paragraph 15)
#The EPDP operates an illicit alcohol smuggling ring using children as ‘mules.’ (Paragraph 18)
The cable says that Black and the embassy’s chief political officer (who is always CIA) “have met repeatedly” with the president, foreign minister, defence secretary and other top leaders to demand that the paramilitaries are “reined in” (paragraph 19). To no avail! And to this day, the US government has not publicly denounced the Sri Lankan government for this and many more war crimes. But then the US government is in no position to sound superior given its long list of war crimes against many peoples in the world, starting with the indigenous peoples in the America it occupies.
Not only did the Rajapaksa government not listen to the pretentious United States government, it rewarded their treacherous ally. “Karuna joins cabinet” read the March 10, 2009, headline at hindu.com.10 The accompanying photo showed the Tamil para-militarist leader embraced by the Sinhalese war minister, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, upon being appointed Minister of National Integration. Gotabhaya’s brother, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had earlier the same day handed Karuna his membership card for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. A few months earlier, October 7, 2008, the family government had appointed Karuna as Member of Parliament and he left the TMVP to another Tamil war criminal, Pillaiyan.
George Orwell is known for creating the term ‘doublespeak,’ which Wikipedia defines as a “language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.” The Rajapaksa brothers must be students of this language.
With Karuna now directly a member of government—in fact he was soon appointed one of five vice-presidents for the SLFP—his rival Tamil para-military commanders, Pillaiyan and Devanda, joined with the revived PLOTE and EPRLF to form the Tamil Political Parties Forum (TPPF) coalition on July 7, 2010. Their objective was to find ‘solutions’ for their Tamil people in the North and East.
One hopes that the TPPF does not employ the ‘final solution.’ But the ‘solution’ does involve ‘disappearances’ of many Tamils and the confiscation of their homes and properties for Sinhalese. The Tamil para-militarists took on these tasks for the Sinhalese chauvinist government, either alone or in collaboration with the Sri Lankan Army.
“Ninety-five persons including two women have disappeared” in Batticaloa district. They were “abducted by the Sri Lankan Army Intelligence Wing with the assistance of Tamil paramilitary group of Pillaiyan and Karuna.” “The abductors arriving in white vans during nights had taken away the persons,” wrote TamilNet, August 20, 2010.
The white vans are written about in the UN expert panel report. Thousands of people ‘disappeared’ in this manner over the last few years. How could Tamils do this to their own?
A month later, September 28, TamilNet reported that the government was converting Tamil lands in Kaangkeayanoadal village, Batticaloa district, into a Muslim village to be called, “The Village of Peace,” with “funds from the Iranian government.”
On November 2, TamilNet reported that it was now China’s turn to assist in settling Sinhalese families in Tamil territory. China donated 12,000 prefabricated houses for installation in Jaffna. “The Tamil residents in the areas near Jaffna Fort and Ma’nyiam-thoaddam had been uprooted due to the Sri Lanka Army offensive.”
As of this writing, the Tamil para-military groups continue their genocidal assistance as well as internecine warfare for personal control over different areas that were once their own homeland.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, intoxicated with self-congratulations for ‘eliminating terrorism,’ decided to call early presidential elections. (See Appendix 1, “Misguided Solidarity.”) After his January 26, 2010, victory over his former Commander of the Army Sarath Fonseka, the ‘national hero’ was court-martialled twice. He was stripped of his rank, medals and pension for “dabbling in politics while in uniform,” and then sentenced to three years in prison for “corrupt military supply dealing.” The pretence for his arrest, plotting a coup, was dropped. Not forgiven was Fonseka’s public statement that he would testify before an international war crimes tribunal.
With his competitor for the role of ‘victor over terror’ disgraced and imprisoned, Rajapaksa’s UPFA took 60% of the vote in the 2010 parliamentary elections held on April 8 and 20. This collection of Sinhalese and Tamil massacring bandits—from the far right, anti-Tamil JHU monk party all the way over to the Tamil guns-for-hire once-loyalists-burning-to-liberate the Tamil people, to the up-country People’s Front of ‘Indian’ Tamil labourers in the middle alongside ‘leftist’ Moscow-oriented Sinhalese Marxists and anti-Moscow Sinhalese Trotskyists—held 140 seats. Rajapaksa appointed D.M. Jayaratme as his PM.
The traditional conservative UNP allied with the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress and the Democratic People’s Front to form another coalition, the United National Front. The UNF took 60 seats. The Tamil National Alliance, combined with the ITAK and the EPRLF, took 14 seats. The Fonseka-created New Democratic Front combined with the ‘far left’ JVP in a new coalition called Democratic National Alliance. The DNA only mustered seven seats.
No one dares to speak of Tamil independence or a separate state. This concept is not part of any political party platform. Everyone is understandably frightened to death. The only consolation one can find in these elections is that the parliamentary election had the lowest turnout since independence from Britain, 61% voted.
For us solidarity activists, left-wing organisations, and governments viewing themselves to be progressive-socialist-communist-revolutionary, I believe our task must be to press for the lives and rights of the Tamil people. Australia’s Democratic Socialist Perspective in the Socialist Alliance said it well in its October 2009 international situation report:
“Now the Tamil struggle has entered a new phase. The immediate campaign must focus on defence of basic human rights, release and resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons currently held in Sri Lankan government concentration camps, an end to murders, torture, rapes, and provision of basic housing, food and drinking water to the Tamil people under brutal occupation.”11
As a solidarity activist, who advocates the right to resist and the necessity to conduct armed struggle once peaceful means fail to induce oppressive and terrorist governments to engage in a process aimed at peace with justice, I condemn all perpetrators of terrorism and demand they change tactics to ones that are morally in accordance with our ideology for socialism, for justice with equality.
I find that most if not all armed movements commit acts of atrocities, even acts of terror in the long course of warfare. This has sometimes been the case with FARC and PFLP, for instance. But I support them in their righteous struggle. They are up against, as was the more brutal LTTE, much greater military and economic forces that practice state terror endemically. Remember the ANC in South Africa’s war for liberation? They committed much the same.
The main reason why I am on their side, why I have been a leftist solidarity activist and writer for half a century is a matter of basic ethics. I define ethics in this way: Life shall not be abused or destroyed by our conscious hand—without being attacked, invaded, or oppressed beyond limits of toleration. A moral person, organisation, political party or government acts in daily life and in the struggle for justice with that ethic in mind. These are my thoughts on morality:
1. We act so that no one person, race or ethnic group is either over or under another.
2. In combat against oppressors and invaders, we do not kill non-combatant civilians nor forcefully recruit them, or use them as hostages.
3. We struggle to create equality for all.
4. We abolish all profit-making based upon the exploitation of labour or the oppression of any person, group of people, or class. Instead, we build an economy based upon principles of justice and equality, one in which no one goes hungry, sharing equitably our resources and production.
5. We struggle to create a political system based upon participation where all have a voice in decision-making about vital matters with relation to local, national and international policies.
6. We struggle to eliminate alienation in each of us.
After following liberated Cuba for half a century, having lived and worked there for eight years, I find that during its guerrilla struggle, which fortunately only lasted two years, it acted in a moral manner. Cuba’s revolutionary armed struggle was exceptional in this way. The Vietnamese struggle against the invaders of France and the USA was so conducted as well. There are a few other examples: the original Sandinistas is, perhaps, one.
I think the key reason why so many millions of people the world over love and respect Che Guevara is because of his moral stance, his example as a just revolutionary leader. I conclude with the oft-quoted words from Che’s “Socialism and Man:”
“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love…Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, the most sacred cause, and make it one and indivisible…one must have a great deal of humanity and a strong sense of justice and truth in order not to fall into extreme dogmatism and cold scholasticism, into an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”
7. http://malaysiasms.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/sri-lanka%E2%80%99s-camps-%E2%80%98most- appalling%E2%80%99-in-the-world-%E2%80%93-ban-ki-moon/
8. “Doing the Right Thing in Sri Lanka”, Rohini Hensman, 1/10, www.dissidentvoice.org
Tamil Eelam in the Diaspora
Tamils living outside Sri Lanka are a dedicated people. They use a
lot of their time to organise themselves and encourage others to help
their kinsmen back home. It is my impression that most in the Diaspora
feel close to those they left behind, realising also the harassment
and physical abuse they are forced to endure at the hands of many insensitive
Sinhalese and their government.
Many other Tamils, especially in Tamil Nadu, India, join hands in this humanitarian struggle. Together they have achieved a great deal of real assistance and some recognition for their kinsmen and cousins albeit no government has as yet responded with consequent solidarity for this maligned people. The potential potency of a true humanitarian, internationalist United Nations has yet once again been left unfulfilled in the interests of monetary and territorial profits.
Tamils began fleeing Sri Lanka in large numbers following the third pogrom, in 1977. The first Tamils fled to nearby Tamil Nadu where 60 million Indian Tamils live. These Sri Lanka Tamils have been poorly treated by Indian authorities. Activism has been sparse but in January, 2011, a Solidarity Forum was organised to promote the Tamil cause.
Most Tamils migrated beyond Asia, spreading throughout the British Commonwealth, non-English speaking European countries, and the United States. Today, there are about one million Sri Lankan Tamils living in 20 countries or more. Their relatives back home number around 2.5 million.
Migrants and refugees did not abandon their kinsmen. Most send remittances and many helped finance the liberation movements, including the armed forces of the LTTE (Tigers). They established grass roots support committees in the countries where they had migrated.
One of the oldest Tamil associations in the Diaspora in the United States is Ilankai Tamil Sangam (Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka). It has a continuous history of support activities since its founding in 1977, and is now conducting a boycott campaign of Sri Lanka garments, which accounts for a quarter of foreign currency earnings. As it writes, “We know that by linking employment of Sinhalese to the human rights of Tamils we can help secure a just future for our people.”1
Another U.S. group, Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), formed in 2008, hired US attorney Bruce Fein, a conservative Ronald Reagan government official, to file human rights violation charges against Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, also a U.S. citizen, and General Sarath Fonseka, former head of the government’s war and also holder of United States residency. TAG has also filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Washington for $30 million in damages on behalf of three Tamil plaintiffs, who had family members killed by the Sri Lankan Army.
A separate legal attempt was made in the Supreme Court to annul part of the USA PATRIOTIC Act2 that forbids offering assistance to terrorist groups, so defined by the US government. A Sri Lankan Tamil and US citizen and lawyer, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, argued that supplying a liberation force, the Tigers, with “material support” is in keeping with First Amendment rights of free speech. He so contends because perpetual discrimination by the Sinhalese governments against the Tamil population allows them no alternative but to take up arms, in order to win their rights. On June 22, 2010, the Supreme Court denied Rudrakumaran’s case. It found instead that laws against ‘terrorism’ have priority over free speech, which, for the first time, the Supreme Court has now partially criminalized.
Tamil groups in many other countries are active in boycotting Sri Lanka products—such as Act Now in Britain—and in filing lawsuits against Sri Lankan diplomats for war crimes.
Since April 2004 when the present president Mahinda Rajapaksa became prime minister, at least 34 journalists have been murdered—three Sinhalese and 29 Tamil.3 Fifty-five media workers have fled into exile in that time span. Towards the end of the war, some started Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), an action group of journalists, writers, artists and human rights defenders campaigning for democracy, human rights and media freedom in Sri Lanka.4
Three international organisations have started up since the end of the war with the common goal of offering hope for Sri Lanka Tamils back at home and in the Diaspora by struggling abroad for sovereignty in Sri Lanka—Global Tamil Forum (GTF), Council of Eelam Tamil in Europe (CETE), and Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). Although they all started after the defeat and collapse of the LTTE, the Sri Lanka government considers them all to be Tiger ‘terrorist’ followers.5
The GTF has committees in 14 countries. The first ones started in Britain and Canada in the summer of 2009. The GTF held its inauguration in London’s House of Commons, February 24, 2010. Several British government officials and parliamentarians were present. Foreign Secretary David Milliband spoke. He suggested that Sri Lanka embark on a “genuinely inclusive political process. Other establishment politicians from Europe, the US, and South Africa attended as well. This event followed the EU decision to suspend preferential trade benefits (GSP) for the Sri Lankan government in protest against its brutal abuses against Tamils.
The Forum’s leader is SJ Emmanuel, a Catholic priest and follower of Gandhi. The Forum’s vision is to seek self-determination for Sri Lankan Tamils using principles of democracy and non-violence.6 Global Tamil Forum projects include boycotts of Sri Lanka products, and aiding Internally Displaced Persons (IDP). They estimate that there are at least 80,000 Tamil widows, and many thousands of orphans. It is endeavoring to sponsor at least 1000 war orphans and provide general relief for those most affected by the war. The GTF also seeks justice for the perpetrators of genocide and war crimes. It works with the Centre for War Victims and Human Rights.7
In an interview with a leading participant at the inauguration he—a Tamil scientist and political advisor—acknowledged that obtaining tentative political backing by Western government officials and parliamentarians can be tricky. None of these governments have forthrightly aided the Tamil cause for self-determination or its people in any material way. Since the end of the war US, EU and UN leaders have made noises about protecting Tamils’ ‘human rights’ but have not condemned Sri Lanka or brought anyone before the International Criminal Court, as they often do to leaders of governments that they oppose. No, as I have shown in other writings herein, these Western regimes have been involved with the Sri Lankan Sinhalese governments’ genocide since the beginning in the 1950s. So, what is to be gained? His opinion:
“Believe me, no Tamil activist thinks of supporting US or British imperialism, just as we did not support British colonialism. But we have to present our case wherever we can, and hope that by bringing as much pressure as we can we will one day bear fruit. In politics, there are always contradictions. Most of us are more inclined toward the liberation struggles of other peoples, such as those countries in Latin America struggling free of the United States’ ‘backyard´ dominance. Ironically, some of these countries have sided politically with the Sri Lankan government. I think this is misguided, but they probably have done so because they see US-EU pointing a ‘human rights’ finger hypocritically at Sri Lanka leaders. And then there are China interests over there too.”
But we need to remember that the United States has invaded 66 countries 159 times since the end of World War-II. All these military operations have been aggressive—some minor, some major: Vietnam, Latin America, Iraq and Afghanistan. The US has directly murdered several millions of people in military operations. Through wars and sanctions, such as those against Iraq following its first military intervention, millions more have starved to death.8
Shortly after the GTF was launched, Tamil activists in Norway and Switzerland began the Council of Eelam Tamil in Europe. They were soon joined by activists in Germany, France and Italy. They see themselves as activists, first and foremost. Many are second generation Tamils in the Diaspora.
In Switzerland, Tamil CETE activists ran for election in a national assembly to form Canton based councils. They see this as a way of uniting and strengthening the Eezham Tamil Diaspora, and putting a separate state in northern-eastern Sri Lanka on the agenda. Sixteen thousand eligible Tamil voters in Switzerland, 70% of the total number, held a referendum in January 2010. Ninety-nine percent voted yes for an independent Tamil Eelam.9 Four European CETE councils, joined by Tamils Against Genocide, are filing war crimes charges against Sri Lankan diplomats sent to European countries.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) agreed to take up the case against the appointment of ex-SLA commander Jagath Dias as a diplomat to the Sri Lanka embassy in Germany. “SCET, the Norwegian Council of Eelam Tamils (NCET) and the US based NGO, Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), had filed an application to the ECHR in July 2010 charging the German government for violating EU Rights conventions by accepting a Sri Lankan military commander, Major General Jagath Dias, an accused in the war crimes,” wrote TamilNet.10
One representative of the Swiss CETE, Sharmini Lathan Suntharalingam, a young activist and member of the Swiss Parliament for the Socialist Party, told me, “We Tamils have to work hard to bring our cause before the world. We are very sad and confused after the defeat in 2009. We need to combine all our forces and struggles: Tamils, Arabs, Latin Americans…We need to help each other, because we have common problems and goals.”
A prominent activist in the Diaspora, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, who earned a law degree in immigration rights and constitutional law from Harvard University, saw the need for international representation of Tamil rights to sovereignty. He took the most ambitious initiative to begin the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam in the United States and throughout the Diaspora. Rudra, as he is known, called together Tamils living in many countries, mainly scholars, to a conference in Switzerland, in August 2009. Two more international meetings were held before the TGTE was officially inaugurated. Consensus was reached: a) armed struggle was defeated and is not now possible; b) the fight for sovereignty must continue.
An advisory committee of 11 persons was selected to draw up a strategy for the formation of a ‘Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.’ “This Government will lobby for the support of the international community and people to find a political solution to the Tamil national question on the basis of nationhood, a homeland and the right to self-determination.”
The TGTE is not to be confused with a ‘government-in-exile,’ as there had been no independent state with a government that later sought relocation. It will be formed like a transnational corporation or NGO, and will campaign through political and diplomatic channels. The real government will be established in the homeland when that is physically possible.
The traditional homeland of Tamils is swarming with military personnel and camps, effectively an occupied territory. Systematic gerrymandering of electoral districts occurs. Four Tamil members of parliament, representing Tamil political parties, have been murdered under Rajapaksa’s regime. Murderers of Tamils—whether military personnel or police or civilians—enjoy full impunity. The state prohibits equal rights for Tamils with the Sinhalese. In such circumstances, international law recognizes a right to self-determination and a right to secession. And when powerful nations back a people’s demand for sovereignty, such as in Kosovo, they get it.
TGTE strategy is to work with all existing local, national and international Tamil organisations in the Diaspora, and to create a power centre for diplomacy with all governments possible. It also seeks to work in partnership with Tamil leadership inside Sri Lanka but has not been able to establish ties, at least not officially, given the belligerent nature of the Sri Lankan government.
The advisors’ reported on January 2010. They said that a transnational government is “rationalized on the lack of political space for the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka to articulate their political aspirations and realise their right to self-determination and exercise their sovereignty.”
They devised an elaborate democratic procedure to elect delegates where Tamils live in the Diaspora, in order to shape a Transnational Constitutional Assembly, appoint a cabinet, and draft a constitution. One of the main provisions in a constitution will assure the special rights of Muslim Tamils, “who seek their identity based on Islamic religious faith” and are Tamil-speaking people.
The report also recommended a monitoring body to protect the guiding principles and ensure that the Transnational Government “does not act in a manner contrary to the Guiding Principles:”
1. Commitment to achieve Eelam, an independent, sovereign State—nationhood, homeland and right to self-determination.
2. Tamil Eelam will be a secular state.
3. TGTE shall assist in establishing health facilities in the homeland, homes and refuges for those affected by the war; promote cultural activities stressing Eelam Tamil distinctiveness. Much of this work will have to be done indirectly as the TGTE cannot be in Sri Lanka.
4. Promote education in the homeland.
5. Promote economic welfare.
6. Conduct foreign relations through lobbying.
7. Seek prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
8. Protect the equality of women and all Tamils.
9. Provide welfare of families of martyrs, former combatants and families affected by the war. One practical project is to establish monuments for martyrs in the Diaspora since their memorials and graves have been destroyed by the Sri Lankan government.
The advisors established procedures to elect 115 Elected Representatives (ER) by direct ballot where there are contests—otherwise the sole candidate for an area automatically became an ER—in the main population centres (16 countries), and 20 Delegates to represent countries or regions where conducting elections is not feasible because of small or diffuse Tamil populations, or there exists difficulty of access. Some Delegates could be non-Eelam Tamils coming from Tamil Nadu in India, primarily.
The numbers of ER and Delegates is proportional to the numbers of Tamils. For instance, Canada has the largest number, 25, to represent about a quarter million Tamils, followed by the UK with 20, for some 200,000 Tamils. Those wishing to vote in the TGTE Constituent Assembly must be 17 years old or older and connected to Eelam Tamil culture by descent, marriage or adoption.
In the spring of 2010, elections were held in 12 countries. In some cases, the proposed candidate met no competition and so there was no election. The fact that only about 5% of the Diaspora, around 35-40,000, voted does not indicate a lack of enthusiasm since in some cases there was no need for an election. Nevertheless, participation was lower than hoped for.
Fifty-six of the 89 ER and Delegates elected gathered, in Philadelphia, to officially form the Transnational Constituent Assembly, on May 17-19, 2010. Not all countries or regions had held elections. Their spots will be filled in time.
On June 17, following the first sitting of the Assembly of the TGTE, Rudrakumaran wrote the following in a news release.
“The fact that the first session took place in Philadelphia at the same site where the US Declaration of Independence was promulgated and the US Constitution was drafted symbolized, to the world, our passion for freedom. While the Government of Sri Lanka proclaimed that [it] crushed the Tamils’ struggle for freedom…we demonstrated our thirst for freedom to the world through the setting up of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. The manner in which we linked elected members of TGTE situated at venues in London and Geneva…portends the transnational character of the struggle we intend to take further.
The first session of the Assembly saw the election of an interim executive committee along with several action committees in order to address the immediate concerns until the time a formal constitution of the TGTE is drafted and ratified.”
The TGTE Assembly met again between September 20 and October 1, in
the United Nations Plaza Hotel, New York City. Representatives in N.Y.
were joined via teleconference by others from London and Paris. They
ratified its Constitution.11
“The opening plenary was addressed by former U.S. Attorney General Mr. Ramsey Clark, Deputy Chief Minister of Penang (Malaysia), Professor Ramasamy, Professor David L. Philips from Columbia University and who also served as UN and U.S. State Department adviser, and Mr. Ali Beydoun, Executive Director of UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic of the American University’s Washington College of Law. UNROW recently published a report on Sri Lanka War Crimes which was submitted to the UN.12
“After the opening session the Assembly turned to the challenging task of discussing the draft constitution. They debated and settled on a parliamentary model. The Parliament decided that the head of the government would be the Prime Minister. They also chose to create three Deputy Prime Minister posts. The Deputy Prime Ministers will be joined in the cabinet by seven other ministers.
“The TGTE Parliament will have a bicameral legislature. It will consist of the Parliament of elected representatives and the Senate. The Senate will serve as an advisory body as well as provide expertise. The Parliament also codified the recall mechanism of the elected members.
“After the Assembly ratified the constitution, and unanimously elected Mr. Pon Balarajan from Canada as the Speaker of the Parliament, and Ms. Suganya Puthirasigamany from Switzerland as the Deputy Speaker. The Parliament unanimously elected Mr. Visvanathan Rudrakumaran as the first Prime Minister of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam.”13
On November 3, the TGTE announced its first cabinet. Of the 10 ministers and 10 deputy ministers, five are women. The Secretariat is in Geneva. The ministries are: finance; welfare; education-culture-health; internal affairs; information; political & foreign affairs; welfare of women, children & elders; economic affairs, environment & development; investigation of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes; and IDPs, Refugees and POWs.14 The cabinet meets every 14 days over Skype. It will be issuing national membership cards and a quarterly journal, plus an international website.
On the foreign relations front, the TGTE senses a victory for its recognition in the invitation it received from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leadership to be official guests of the new nation-in-formation, the Republic of Southern Sudan, in July 2011.
In another area of rebellion and repression, the TGTE called upon the United Nations to protect Libyan civilians. On 25 February 2011, this statement was issued by the Political and Foreign Minister of Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, Mr. Thanikasalam Thayaparan:
“Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) today urged the United Nations not to fail in protecting Libyan civilians like it failed to protect Sri Lankan civilians in 2009, when around 60,000 Tamil civilians were killed. The failure of the international community to take concrete actions to protect civilians in Sri Lanka has given the green light to regimes around the world that they can also massacre civilians without any fear of consequences.
“What we are witnessing today in Libya is the result of indifference the international community exhibited during the massacre in Sri Lanka and not bringing Sri Lankan leaders to face war crimes charges.”
“UN should take immediate steps to bring Sri Lanka leaders (to account on charges of) Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, and War Crimes to show its resolve to hold those committing mass killings.”15
Among the TGTE challenges and weaknesses, which I see and have discussed somewhat with key participants, are:
1) The need to raise a treasury while avoiding the historic problem of Diaspora contributions being associated with the armed struggle of the Tigers, seen by many Tamils as having succumbed to acts of terrorism and, of course, being condemned as terrorists by many of the governments that TGTE is trying to persuade to assist it. So, it is the most active members who are paying for travel and other expenses. For now, they will not ask Tamils for money, in general. Perhaps some NGOs and grass roots groups might raise money. They must be careful about choosing their NGOs, as many are paid for by governments with special political interests—NGO imperialists, some call them.
2) TGTE must be careful about how it conducts its lobbying with governments of the ‘international community,’ a common reference to the US and its big capitalist allies. This is a reference to what I raised earlier regarding the Global Tamil Forum. In this context, it is noted that while the SPLM has a legitimate demand for a separate state, it allowed itself to be supported economically, militarily and politically by the United States.
3) While practically every Tamil in the Diaspora still wants a sovereign nation inside the Sri Lanka Island, there are strategic and tactical differences. The TGTE takes up where the LTTE ended but wants to use non-violent tactics. Not all in the Diaspora have yet admitted that the LTTE will not return, or that another armed struggle is impossible or unnecessary. Most GTF members support the TGTE, as do many in the CETE. But some activists wait in the background before deciding to cooperate with the TGTE; a few are against it. While Lathan Suntharalingam is skeptical, he did help organise a Country Working Group and an election for the TGTE in Switzerland.
“We supported the election, in April 2010, for delegates to the Constitutional Assembly. I am a bit confused about it, though. I wish more action. The TGTE needs more time. I see us getting on well together in two to three years.”
4) Finally, and most important, is how the TGTE can become a true representative for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. How can it get feedback and backing from this frightened and suffering population? A related problem, as I see it, is that all its ministers are scholars, professionals or business people, while most Tamils at home are workers, farmers or fisher people.
2. The USA PATRIOTIC Act was enacted on Oct. 26, 2001, and expired on 29 May, 2011. It is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.
12. UNROW was founded in 2000 by 5 Texas trial lawyers – Walter Umphrey, Harold Nix, Wayne Reaud, John O'Quinn, and John Eddie Williams (UNROW), who made gifts totalling $2 million to the Washington College of Law. Over the past 10 years, that gift has supported student participation in human rights litigation through participation in the UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic. On September 22, 2010, UNROW released a report calling for the establishment of a new international tribunal to prosecute those most responsible for the crimes committed during the conflict in Sri Lanka.
UN EXPERT PANEL ON WAR CRIMES IN SRI LANKA
Forty-seven governments on the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) assembled for its 17th session between May 30 and June 17, 2011, to discuss and decide what to do about serious human rights violations in scores and scores of countries. Among the charges discussed or referred to was an unusually truthful report in the world of international politics.
The “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” was delivered to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on March 31 concerning: 1) alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in the last phases of the 26-year old civil war, September 2008 to May 19, 2009; 2) consequences for approximately 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and, by extension, for 2.7 million Sri Lankan Tamils, 13% of the 21 million population.
After receiving the report, which calls for investigations into these allegations, Ban Ki-moon stated that he did not have the power alone, but one of three UN bodies had to request such action, either the General Assembly or the Security Council or the Human Rights Council.
The panel consisting of chairman Marzuki Darusman (Indonesia), Steven
Ratner (US), and Yasmin Sooka (South Africa) was commissioned by the
Secretary General on June 22, 2010, after Sri Lanka’s government
had failed to rehabilitate or reconcile with the Tamils affected by
the brutal war, which, according to the Panel, caused up to 40,000 civilian
deaths in those eight months, plus the deaths of several thousand combatants
of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and of government soldiers.
The Panel began work in September 2010 but had to conduct its research outside Sri Lanka as the government refused this United Nations body permission to enter its country. The Panel could interview many eye witnesses, however, who were eventually released or escaped from military camps after months of detention.
Of the dozens of recommendations proposed by the Panel, the last two
concern the United Nations.
“A. The Human Rights Council should be invited to reconsider its May 2009 Special Session Resolution (A/HRC/8-11/L. 1/Rev. 2) regarding Sri Lanka, in light of this report.”
The above cited resolution had been proposed by the Sri Lankan government to praise its behaviour in the war and condemn only the LTTE for war crimes and terrorism.
The Panel determined that, “the Human Rights Council may have been acting on incomplete information.”
“B. The Secretary-General should conduct a comprehensive review of actions by the United Nations system during the war in Sri Lanka and the aftermath, regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates.”
The Panel criticized the UN’s role in this conflict. “During the final stages of the war, the United Nations political organs and bodies failed to take actions that might have protected civilians.”
The Panel recommended that the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) should “commence genuine investigations,” and an independent international mechanism established by the UN Secretary-General should also investigate what did occur.
The Panel recommended that GOSL should also “issue a public, formal acknowledgement of its role in and responsibility for extensive civilian casualties.”
In its summary, the Panel wrote:
“The Panel’s determination of credible allegations reveals a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka. The Government says it pursued a ‘humanitarian rescue operation’ with a policy of ‘zero civilian casualties.’ In stark contrast, the Panel found credible allegations, which if proven, indicate that a wide range of serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed both by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity (author emphasis). Indeed, the conduct of the war represented a grave assault on the entire regime of international law designed to protect individual dignity during both war and peace.
“Especially the Panel found credible allegations associated with the final stages of the war. Between September 2008 and 19 May 2009, the Sri Lanka Army advanced its military campaign into the Vanni using large-scale and widespread shelling causing large numbers of civilian deaths. This campaign constituted persecution of the population of the Vanni. Around 330,000 civilians were trapped into an ever decreasing area, fleeing the shelling but kept hostage by the LTTE. The Government sought to intimidate and silence the media and other critics of the war through a variety of threats and actions, including the use of white vans to abduct and to make people disappear.
“The Government shelled on a large scale in three consecutive No Fire Zones, where it had encouraged the civilian population to concentrate, even after indicating that it would cease the use of heavy weapons. It shelled the United Nations hub, food distribution lines and near the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) ships that were coming to pick up the wounded and their relatives from the beaches. It shelled in spite of its knowledge of the impact, provided by its own intelligence systems and through notification by the United Nations, the ICRC and others. Most civilian casualties in the final phases of the war were caused by Government shelling.
“The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines. All hospitals in the Vanni were hit by mortars and artillery; some of them were hit repeatedly, despite the fact that their locations were well-known to the Government. The Government also systematically deprived people in the conflict zone of humanitarian aid, in the form of food and medical supplies, particularly surgical supplies, adding to their suffering.”
The Panel’s full text of 214 pages lists details of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity on both contending sides in paragraphs 246-252:
The government is accused of: murder, extermination, mutilation, arbitrary imprisonment, rape, torture, persecution founded on race, religion or politics, and disappearances.
The LTTE is accused of: violence to life and person, torture, mutilation, forced labour and forced recruitment of children, and shooting civilians trying to flee the war zone.
The IDP Tamils were brutally confined and treated. Tamils in their traditional Northern and Eastern ‘High Security Zones’ are militarized, denied normal rights, intimidated and made victims of violence.
The Panel therefore recommended that GOSL end all state violence, release all displaced persons and facilitate their return to their homes or provide for resettlement. (Thousands of Tamil homes have been taken over by soldiers and other Sinhalese.) It should also repeal the Emergency Laws that deny democratic and civil rights.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa family regime continues to deny any wrong-doing, contending that NO civilians were killed and were later well treated in IDP camps. It claims it only attacked the LTTE. If there were civilians killed, according to government logic, it is their own fault for being there. The Panel cites international law that “an attack remains unlawful if it is conducted simultaneously at a lawful military object and an unlawfully-targeted civilian population” (paragraph 199).
The GOSL says it has established a transparency process to address the past from the 2002 ceasefire agreement to the end of the conflict, the so-called Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). While the Panel views this as a “potentially useful opportunity to begin a national dialogue,” the “LLRC fails to satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality, as it is compromised by its composition and deep-seated conflicts of interests of some of its members.” The reference is to three government officials; one an Attorney-General.
The Panel also points to the history of conflict between the government and Tamils seeking full rights. For decades the Tamils used Gandhian civil disobedience, non-violent tactics before many took up arms in several groups. The Tamils have suffered half a dozen pogroms, with government backing, in which thousands were brutally murdered, including mutilation and being burned alive.
In the few instances in which Sri Lankan governments have set up commissions of inquiry to examine human rights abuses, they have “failed to produce a public report and recommendations have rarely been implemented.”
The fact is, states the report (paragraph 28):
“After independence (from Great Britain in 1948), political elites tended to prioritize short-term political gains, appealing to communal and ethnic sentiments, over long-term policies, which could have built an inclusive state that adequately represented the multicultural nature of the citizenry. Because of these dynamics and divisions, the formation of a unifying national identity has been greatly hampered. Meanwhile, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism gained traction, asserting a privileged place for the Sinhalese as protectors of Sri Lanka, as the sacred home of Buddhism. These factors resulted in devastating and enduring consequences for the nature of the state, governance and inter-ethnic relations in Sri Lanka.”
This was the challenge that the countries on the HRC faced with the Panel’s recommendations for an international investigation into substantial alleged war crimes.
Summary of HRC Discussion on Sri Lanka
High Commissioner Navi Pillay spoke on human rights issues throughout the Arab-Muslim world, on migrants, on missions in several countries, on the capture of Ratko Mladic, and on Sri Lanka.
These are her remarks on the UN Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka
and its recommendations:
“Let me also refer to the report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka, which concludes that there are credible allegations of a wide range of serious violations of international law committed by both the Sri Lankan Government forces and Tamil Tigers in the final stages of the conflict. It is incumbent on the Government to investigate these allegations and I also urge it to implement the measures recommended by the Panel.
“I fully support the recommendation to establish an international mechanism to monitor national investigations and undertake its own as necessary. (My emphasis). It would be important for the Human Rights Council to reflect on the new information contained in this important report, in light of its previous consideration of Sri Lanka and efforts to combat impunity worldwide.”
Thirty countries made comments on her report. About a dozen made reference to Sri Lanka.
FOR an independent investigation: Hungary (for Europe), France, Switzerland, Belgium and Ireland.
AGAINST: Pakistan (for itself and for the Islamic Conference), Nigeria, China, Russia, and Israel. Let Sri Lanka take care of its own internal problems was their message.
Although not a member, Sri Lanka was present to defend itself. The government spokesperson, with another doublespeak hyperbole title, “Human Rights Minister” Mahinda Samarasinghe, denounced the high commission and the UN report for not being ‘objective.’ The evidence of severe and constant human rights abuses presented in the report was not authentic, claimed the Human Rights Minister, who is also minister for plantation industries. His posture was unwavering. The government had not killed any civilians.
NEUTRAL: Norway was neutral but seemed pleased with Sri Lanka’s ‘progress.’ The US was “deeply concerned by findings” in the report, but only called upon Sri Lanka “to respond to the findings” and “to ensure the future of the people of Sri Lanka.”
Neither the Arab group nor the African group referred to the Sri Lanka matter.
Indian Government Approach
India, Sri Lanka’s neighbour, could not muster the morality to speak on the UN report either, not at first anyway. But by the end of the 17th session, it was pressed to say something. During general debate, India’s representative tried to belittle the High Commissioner’s comments about the UN panel’s report on Sri Lanka accountability. He tried to make an issue that she was “not independent” in her views, because she stated that the report made credible points that should be investigated. India obviously meant that the report was only for the General Secretary’s information and should not be discussed at the Human Rights Council. I ask, what is the point in having a Human Rights High Commissioner if she is not to have any opinions about abuses of human rights?
Ramu Manivannan, a political professor at the University of Madras, analyzed what India is thinking regarding Sri Lanka in a recent paper, which could explain its silence.1
“There is a kind of moral stagnation facing us in this country regarding India’s foreign policy towards Sri Lanka,” the professor began his paper, “Historical Shift: India, Sri Lanka and the Tamils.” “There are major changes taking place in the geo-strategic environment of South Asia and in the politics of Indian Ocean. Both India and China are vying for a competitive edge over one another.”
Manivannan points to the growing influence China has in Sri Lanka with abundant development aid, military supplies, road constructions and the “well anchored Hambantota Harbour project.” And India must learn to live with this new reality of Chinese presence just across the Palk Straits.
India also shares the United States’ worldview, which wishes India to be a check to the ‘China factor.’ India cannot thereby openly criticize Sri Lanka, or help its Tamil cousins there for fear that Sri Lanka would just drop India all together and go with China lock stock and barrel. This would also obviously hurt India’s economy. Why would her business classes want to miss out on lucrative post-war reconstruction projects in tourism, fisheries and agricultural development in the North-East of Sri Lanka?
Another factor in India’s current role is the “disappearance of an influential Tamil opinion in the island politics.” The Tamil people on the island are decimated by the conclusion of the brutal war and the subsequent continued brutality against them and they are totally defenceless now. Even their own people in arms are para-militarists wilfully allowing themselves to be used by the genocidal government.
“The radical Sinhala elements have always dreamt of dismantling this Indian influence with the Tamils,” Manivannan wrote. And so the Sri Lanka Sinhala government and its national chauvinism has completed that dream and the Rajapaksa family oligarchy is riding higher than ever. Although this oligarchy is considered ‘democratic’ because elections are held—albeit with frequent violence and fraud—there is no assurance that democracy prevails.
“Mahinda Rajapaksa had gone further to convert the Executive Presidency into a family fiefdom. There is a history before us that some of the worst dictatorial regimes in the world have been elected by the people and the appalling dictators have also come through the front gates of democracy,” Manivannan writes in a telling concluding remark.
‘Humanitarian Operation’ Celebrated in Colombo Mocking the UN
On the day that the Human Rights Council started its 17th session, the Rajapaksa family government inaugurated a three-day seminar in a luxury hotel in Colombo to celebrate “defeating terrorism” during its “humanitarian operation”—the military offensive that beat the Tigers and murdered many tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. Co-sponsoring the seminar was “its main arms supplier China,” which had two weapons industry companies on hand to display their killer products.2
The government invited 54 nations’ military forces to learn how it emerged victorious. In my view, the government sought to mock the United Nations Human Rights laws. It said it was showcasing its victory over terrorism to much of the world’s military forces two years following its victory over terrorism. But it had announced its victory on May 19, 2009. Why wait until May 30?
Human rights groups, including Tamils in the Diaspora, organised a
campaign targeting government switchboards in 48 countries to convince
them to boycott this blood-thirsty seminar. Within 12 hours, Canada
announced it would pull out. In the end, only 41 government military
forces were represented by 80 delegates instead of what Sri Lanka had
earlier announced would be 300 delegates from 54 nations. Most delegates
were not key officers. Only Senegal sent its army chief. The attendance
was such a disappointment that the planned visit by the president was
The United States and India appeared, however.
The Sri Lanka’s defence ministry wrote on its website:3 “Delegates from US, USSR, China, India, Pakistan and Maldives during sessions did not mince words to heap praise on the Sri Lanka Army’s...successful conduct of the Humanitarian Operations that witnessed the world’s biggest rescue operation, turned to be one of the widely debated topics (sic) since the Army, contrary to vicious expectations, secured this achievement with a zero casualty figure.” (My emphasis)
Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields
A Channel 4 UK television documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” was premiered in June before Human Rights Council delegates who wished to see it. A participating NGO organisation, Amnesty International, stood for the viewing. The 50-minute gruesome exercise in horror was an extension of the original two footages that Channel 4 had shown some months after the war, and about which I have referred to in chapter five.
After it was released following its premiere showing, I watched it with tears in my throat. I saw a news clip that showed some of the Council viewers shedding tears as well.
“It is some of the worst you can use 50 minutes for, but it is also some of the most important.” This is how Channel 4 itself presented the documentary, which its director recommended its viewers not to watch.
Much of the footage came from photos taken with mobile cameras by Sinhalese soldiers and Tamil civilians. There is also satellite photography taken by governments and UN bodies. There is no doubt that the Sri Lankan Army targeted civilians and especially hospitals. The documentary shows some of this bombing and its results.
One example: After 64 bombing attacks on various hospitals, local doctors who survived the attacks begged the International Red Cross not to give the government any more information about where hospitals were. The IRC has GPS coordinators showing where hospitals are, which it gives to the government so they won’t bomb there. One hour after this request, the SLA bombed more hospitals.
In contrast to the oft repeated one-liner “zero civilian casualties,” the documentary shows scores of civilian cadavers piled up on the ground and on trucks. It shows prisoners stripped naked and shot in the head and bodies of dead women with signs of having been raped.
Among those watching the documentary in the HRC audience was Sri Lanka’s representative. He did not wish to be interviewed, but he and other Sri Lankan government leaders continue to repeat the Big Lie: zero civilian casualties.
Why the UN Ignores Sri Lanka War Crimes
While the UN panel report was referred to during at least two sessions, it was never tabled for decision-making.
Too many governments on and not on the HRC are war criminals themselves and/or have been doing business as usual with war criminal governments, including Sri Lanka’s. If Sri Lanka did get accused of human rights violations, in its defence it could show how all the major powers assisted it with weaponry, intelligence information, technical and military training. If pressed enough, it could show that the United States and NATO conduct war illegally against Afghanistan and Iraq, that they are responsible for killing over one million Iraqis and committing cultural genocide in Iraq very similar to Sri Lanka’s destruction, in 1981, of the Tamil cultural history library.
As I view the possible thinking of socialist Cuba and other ALBA-NAM countries, the dilemma is between supporting sovereignty for Third World countries confronted with interference from imperialist and former colonialist states, a legitimate issue, and upholding a conduct of national policies such that no section of the population is systematically discriminated against or subject to genocide.
Since the 2009 HRC resolution there are 15 new countries on it, among them the US. One must ask: just what is the game plan of the US and its European allies, who make sounds of protest against Sri Lanka’s abuse of human rights while they are the worst offenders, constantly engaging in aggressive wars against NAM members and others, and are now warring against the sovereign government of Libya, the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Palestine.
One can also ask why one of the Panel members, Ratner, participated in such an elaborate, comprehensive and just report. As a legal expert of international law he was advisor to the US State Department from 1998-2008, the major political aggressor in the world.
Clearly victims of US permanent war aggression, such as Cuba, react against its hypocritical ‘support’ for ‘human rights,’ and side with the ‘victim’ Sri Lanka. Not in all cases, however, is the ‘victim’ innocent. Imperialist governments are not the only offenders of human lives and civil rights. The Buddhist supremacist clergy and every Sinhalese-led government in Sri Lanka are also such offenders of human rights when they whip up Sinhalese nationalist chauvinism and mercilessly murder Tamils simply because they have a different language or religion.
The United Nations is comprised of 192 nations, only three in the world are not in it: Kosovo—a separatist state creation of the US-EU and led by a terrorist government; Taiwan, a separated part of China; and 771 people in the state of the Vatican City.
Members on the HRC, with China, Russia, the USA and other large countries, represent more than half the world’s citizens. Third World countries comprise the majority on the HRC. They have many ethnic peoples long oppressed and brutalized by other ethnic peoples as well as by national and international governments. Remember Rwanda, and how the UN failed to intervene and prevent genocide of one million people? The UN has once again failed in a similar debacle in Sri Lanka.
Writing this book, and the original articles two years ago, has been the most agonising writing in my life. The closest in comparison was the essay, “The Guilty Innocent,” which I wrote concerning the chickens coming home to roost when the terrorist attacks occurred in the United States on September 11, 2001. But this effort was only a couple days of agony while the Sri Lanka research and writing has taken many months of my life.
This ‘story’ is clearly a tragedy for the Tamils, but also for the world of humanity. Most people not directly involved, however, cannot react because they don’t know what they can do. There are so many tragedies going on at the same time. The cynical brutality of major enterprises and their governments in the ‘first’ world—alongside China and Russia—as well as in the ‘third’ world is constant. Brutality is the norm. In those countries where there is little brutality, in comparison, by the governments such as of Cuba and other ALBA countries, the leaders see the necessity of having economic ties, which implicates political ones as well, with nations whose governments are war criminals or supporters of such, and thus they feel the need to ignore their own moral solidarity principles in ‘cases’ such as Sri Lanka.
I am truly sorry to come to this conclusion but I’m afraid we are headed for moral collapse, and then fascism throughout much of the world.
I conclude with the next to the last paragraph of A. Sivanandan’s excellent but sad “Ethnic cleansing in Sri Lanka:”
“What, in sum, we are faced with in my country today, is a brainwashed people, brought up on lies and myths, their intelligentsia told what to think, their journalists forbidden to speak the truth on pain of death, the militarising of civil society and the silencing of all opposition. A nation bound together by the effete ties of language, race and religion has arrived at the cross-roads between parliamentary democracy and fascism.”
2. http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20110603_03 is the war ministry own account, and http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110602/wl_sthasia_afp/srilankamilitaryunrestrights_20110602160436
[This is an abridged version of my article “‘Bride of Venezuela’
Eva Golinger Misinterprets Solidarity: Support Tamils not Sri Lanka
Criminal War Government.” (Printed 1/6/10 on www.VHeadline.com
and 2/6/10 on www.DissidentVoice.org)]
Eva Golinger is known for her counter-intelligence analysis in the service of Venezuela’s peaceful revolution against the local oligarchy and the United States Empire. She is a noted author (“The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela”). A dual citizen of the US and Venezuela, she is an attorney, and a personal friend of President Hugo Chávez, who dubbed her, “La Novía de Venezuela”. (Novía means bride.) She is a frequent contributor to left-wing media around the world, and is the English editor of the Venezuela government newspaper, Correo del Orinoco.
Hers is a name synonymous with solidarity and anti-imperialism. However, she recently inexplicably immersed herself into being a supporter for the most brutal, racist and genocidal Sri Lanka government in a resoundingly irresponsible opinion piece printed on 15 and 21 May in the Spanish daily version of Correo del Orinoco, published by the Caracas city government newspaper, Ciudad CCS. The piece was simply entitled “Sri Lanka.” Printed in Spanish, I translate into English the major part of its content and analyse its errors with the goal of countering rumours she started in an effort to broaden support for a most maligned and oppressed nation, the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
Golinger wrote that in Sri Lanka “presidential elections occurred for the first time in nearly 30 years” in 2005. “Mahinda Rajapaksa obtained victory with more than 58% of votes. He was re-elected, January 2010, with more than 60%.”
“Rajapaksa, Buddhist leader, is supported by a coalition of leftist parties, among them the Communist Party. In May 2009, Rajapaksa finalised the civil war, defeating the armed organisation, LTTE.”
“The LTTE had close ties with the CIA, and Washington negotiated an accord with them for establishing a military base in the country, if they obtained power. Upon its defeat, the LTTE established numerous organisations—fronts in different countries around the world, seeking to create ‘a government-in-exile’ and hoping to isolate the current government of Sri Lanka. Last week, representatives of one of its fronts, Canadian HART, passed through Venezuela; it met with government functionaries seeking support in its intent to weaken the relationship between the two governments.”
“Instead of relating to the illegitimate opposition in Sri Lanka, Venezuela should shake the hand of an ally that also suffers imperial aggressions.”
Among grievous errors in Golinger’s article are the following prominent ones:
1. Mahinda Rajapaksa is not the first president to be elected. In 1982, J.R. Jayewardene won the first presidential election with 52.9% of the vote. The United National Party (UNP)—a pro-western party of the comprador bourgeoisie—introduced a new constitution after its 1977 landslide victory. Before then, the office of prime minister was the highest, and Jayewardene won that post and the UNP took 80% of the parliamentary seats. In 1978, the new constitution renamed the country, “Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,” but this had nothing to do with socialism. The economy then, as now, was a capitalist one with a neo-liberal orientation much like Chile after the 1973 coup d’état.
According to the Government Department of Census and Statistics’ own figures (2006/2007), 82% of the rural population lives under the national poverty line, while 65% of the urban population is not able to meet the minimum level of per capita daily calorie and protein intake recommended by the government Medical Research Institute. See the official figures on the government website.
There can be nothing ‘democratic socialist’ about discriminating against one section of its population, the Tamil nationality, making them unequal by legally restricting their rights and privileges. Such has been the case since independence from Britain, in 1948. Even the US Library of Congress studied Tamils as an ‘alienated’ group.1
2. Rajapaksa won the fifth presidential elections and with the least majority of all presidents, 50.29%, not 58% as Golinger wrote.
Rajapaksa is the current leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), founded in 1951 to represent the Sinhalese bourgeoisie. In the 1960 elections, Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister. The Moscow oriented Communist Party and the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) formed the ‘United Front’ coalition with the SLFP in 1970. Now with three ministerial posts, the ‘old Left’ betrayed the young. Many Sinhalese Leftist youth became disillusioned with the ‘Old Left’ and after the SLFP returned to government, they rebelled. The so-called ‘leftist’ government, with the CP and LSSP, branded this upsurge a ‘Che Guevarist uprising’ and crushed the rebellion by killing about 20,000, mainly rural Sinhala youth, in 1971. The next year, these ‘Left’ parties drafted the first republican constitution in which Sinhalese was codified as the only official language and Buddhism as the only official religion—Tamils are not Buddhists. This eroded whatever support the ‘Old Left’ had among both leftist Sinhalese and all Tamils. Since then neither the CP nor the LSSP has managed to get a single seat in the parliament independently. They are always with the capitalist party, the SLFP.2
3. Rajapaska won the January 2010 elections with 57.88%, not 60%, over his former chief general, Sarath Fonseka, in charge of liquidating the LTTE. Fonseka’s party, New Democratic Front, received 40.15% of the vote. In desperation, a few Tamils voted for General Fonseka knowing that he was the head of the main army force in carrying out the president’s orders in liquidating the LTTE, and massacring tens of thousands of Tamil civilians. The one difference between the two war criminals was that Fonseka later promised he would release the rest of the interned Tamils and return their possessions and land. Tamils are crushed for now and resort to seeking a bit of breathing space.3
The egomaniacal president was not satisfied with just defeating his former general in the ballot box, he had him arrested and beaten, on February 7, shortly after the elections, and charged him with plotting a coup, which General Fonseka denies. A purge of scores of top military officers has occurred; a dozen or more Sinhalese and Tamil journalists have been arrested. In the four years of Rajapaksa rule, at least 23 journalists critical of his regime have been murdered:4
4. “The LTTE had close ties with the CIA, and Washington negotiated
an accord with them for establishing a military base in the country…”
That is an outrageous and unsubstantiated allegation. In my month-long
research last autumn, I found nothing to indicate Golinger’s unsupported
claim. Looking up in Google for “LTTE and CIA,” nothing
exists. When searching for LTTE and CIA and LTTE ties to CIA without
quotation marks, nothing exists that binds them. I looked up some 200
hits and only found reference to the Golinger claim, and this was cited
by a most skeptical Patrick J. O´Donoghue, news editor for the
English-language website www.VHeadline.com, in a May 23 commentary.
He said: “I couldn’t believe what I read in the Caracas
CC blatt (newspaper)!” We have no way of knowing if the LTTE even
met with the CIA, but in war almost anything is possible. What we can
know is that the US, and its CIA and Pentagon, have long supported the
genocidal Sinhalese governments, and most certainly that of Rajapaksa,
and it placed the LTTE on its Foreign Terrorist Organisation hit list
in 1997. I will delve into this farther on.
5. Golinger’s claim that Canadian HART is a front for the LTTE is denied by several solidarity groups in Canada who know that organisation for its humanitarian work.5
6. Golinger depicts the Sri Lankan capitalist and genocidal government as an ‘ally’ of Venezuela, and she recommends her revolutionary government to “shake the hand of an ally that also suffers imperial aggression.” This boggles the mind, or “beggars belief,” as O’Donoghue wrote. Instead of opposing the Yankee Empire, her position is allied with imperialist United States and its allies Zionist Israel, the United Kingdom and other former European colonialists, as well as the emerging superpower and worker-exploiter China.6 There is no shred of evidence that the United States commits acts of aggression against Sri Lanka governments, on the contrary.
US Supports Sri Lanka Genocide
The Indian Ocean is a vital waterway where half the world’s containerized cargo passes through. Its waters carry heavy traffic of petroleum products. Sri Lanka’s cooperation is vital to the US Empire’s global interests. A separated Tamil state would complicate cooperation requirements.
The United States of America has been arming and financing Sri Lanka for most of the civil war period.7 The Bush government praised Rajapaksa for restarting the war already in July 2006, and officially ending the ceasefire in 2008. The US embassy in Colombo issued this statement: “The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE…”8
On May 26, 2002, the Colombo English-language Sunday Times wrote about a joint military pact between Sri Lanka and the US, a development taken soon after the ACSA was signed.9
“The Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA)…will enable the United States to utilise Sri Lanka’s ports, airports and air space. As a prelude to the signing of the agreement scheduled for July, this year, United States naval ships have been calling at the Colombo Port for bunkering as well as to enable sailors to go on shore leave.
“In return for the facilities offered, Sri Lanka is to receive military assistance from the United States including increased training facilities and equipment. The training, which will encompass joint exercises with United States Armed Forces, will focus on counter terrorism and related activity. The agreement will be worked out on the basis of the use of Sri Lanka’s ports, airports, and air space to be considered hire-charges that will be converted for military hardware.”
US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca, was the key liaison person with the Sri Lankan government. (Rocca had been a CIA officer before joining the State Department). The ACSA agreement was not finally signed until Rajapaksa came to power. It was U.S. citizen Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary, and brother to President Rajapaksa, who signed the agreement, March 5, 2007. (Their younger brother, also a minister, is a US citizen too.)10
Even after leading international observers, and some of the mass media, especially in the UK and France, began to expose the Sri Lankan government’s and its army’s systematic atrocities against Tamil civilians, and captured LTTE soldiers, the US continued to back up the Sri Lankan government, in contradiction to Eva Golinger. In mid-April, 2010, the US and Sri Lankan military forces conducted military exercises in the Eastern Seas (Trincomalee) for the first time in 25 years.
Said Lt. Col. Larry Smith, the US defence attache: “The joint exercise helped members from our two militaries to exchange best practices on how to address complex humanitarian challenges.” He added: “The US and Sri Lanka have a long tradition of cooperation. We hope this partnership can be expanded.”11
When the U.S. does not want to be seen on the frontlines in a war,
it sends in surrogates and Israel is its main partner in this war crime.12
Sri Lanka Government War Crimes
Golinger even ignores ample evidence of extreme war crimes committed by president Mahinda Rajapaksa against the minority Tamils. They have a righteous claim for liberation because of being subject to systematic discrimination, oppression and genocide.13
In May 2009, Rajapaksa had all the civilians who survived his gunfire placed into concentration camps, which he called ‘welfare villages,’ much like those the Yankees had concocted in Vietnam. In violation of United Nations’ international rules, as many as from 280,000 to half a million people were forcibly interned. Today, one year later, 100,000 remain. Only two million Sri Lankan Tamils remain in the country. Nearly one million have fled in the past three decades.
Several internationally respected organisations concerned about war crimes, and a few mass media journalists, have conducted interviews with IDPs, taken or viewed photographs, videos and satellite images—taken surreptitiously during the war—and have read electronic communications and documents from many sources. Some observers have been able to visit a camp or two.
On May 17, one of those organisations, the International Crisis Group, released its report, “War Crimes in Sri Lanka.” I cite from it:
“The Sri Lanka security forces and the LTTE repeatedly violated international humanitarian law during the last five months of their 30-year civil war…from January 2009 to the government’s declaration of victory in May (violations worsened). Evidence gathered by the International Crisis Group suggests that these months saw tens of thousands of Tamil civilian men, women, children and elderly killed, countless more wounded, and hundreds of thousands deprived of adequate food and medical care, resulting in more deaths.
“This evidence also provides reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lanka security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible.”
In a recent Channel 4 news broadcast by Jonathan Miller, two eyewitnesses spoke of systematic murder of all LTTE fighters caught or surrendered. One witness is a senior army commander: “Definitely, the order would have been to kill everybody and finish them off.” A frontline Sri Lankan soldier told Miller: “Yes, our commander ordered us to kill everyone. We killed everyone.” Even the head general in charge of defeating the LTTE, General Fonseka, spoke of having orders from the Defence Secretary to kill leaders without taking prisoners—“all LTTE leaders must be killed.”14
Returning to the International Crisis Group war crimes report:
“Starting in late January (2009), the government and security forces encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into ever smaller government-declared No Fire Zones (NFZs), and then subjected them to repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages and other fire. This continued through May despite the government and security forces knowing the size and location of the civilian population and scale of civilian casualties.
“The security forces shelled hospitals and makeshift medical centres—many overflowing with the wounded and sick—on multiple occasions even though they knew of their precise locations and functions. During these incidents, medical staff, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others continually informed the government and security forces of the shelling, yet they continued to strike medical facilities through May…”
Among the charges that must be investigated, wrote ICG, is “the recruitment of children by the LTTE and the execution by the security forces of those who had laid down their arms and were trying to surrender.”
Shortly after this report, Amnesty International released its report of torture in 111 countries. Among those condemned by AI for the “politicization of justice” is Sri Lanka’s government. It also criticizes the UN “for its failure to intervene…By the end of the year, despite further evidence of war crimes and other abuses, no one had been brought to justice,” said AI’s Secretary-General, Claudio Cordone. “One would be hard pressed to imagine a more complete failure to hold to account those who abuse human rights.”15
Some leaders of ALBA countries may be under the impression that when westerners (AI, ICG, Channel 4) protest about human rights abuses this reflects the doublespeak language of white imperialism or NGO imperialists. This is sometimes the case. But it is definitely not so in the case of Sri Lanka. None of the western governments on the HRC wished to condemn Sri Lanka. They only condemned the LTTE and simply asked Sri Lanka to look into its own behavior during the war.
Do not take my word or those of AI and ICG alone for this assessment
but look at the conclusions drawn by internationally renowned figures
with impeccable solidarity credentials, such as Francois Houtart, who,
among other positions, is an honorary professor at the University of
Havana. He chaired an 11-judge panel—the Permanent People’s
Tribunal on Sri Lanka (PPT)—looking into war crimes charges against
Sri Lanka’s government and army, held in Dublin in January. Among
the many supporters of the panel and their conclusions is the senior
advisor to President Daniel Ortega, Miguel D´Escoto. Ironically,
Nicaragua is one of the ALBA countries that praised the Sri Lanka government
and voted for their resolution at the HRC. The PPT’s conclusions
approximate those allegations made by the above mentioned organisations:
Sri Lanka committed ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against
humanity.’ These conclusions are found on pages 14-15 of the 50-page
“Summing up the facts established before this Tribunal by reports from NGOs, victims’ testimony, eye-witnesses accounts, expert testimony and journalistic reports, we are able to distinguish three different kinds of human rights violations committed by the Sri Lankan Government from 2002 (the beginning of the CFA) to the present:
• Forced ‘disappearances’ of targeted individuals from the Tamil population;
• Crimes committed in the re-starting of the war (2006-2009), particularly during the last months of the war;
• Bombing civilian objectives like hospitals, schools and other non-military targets;
• Bombing government-proclaimed ‘safety zones’ or ‘no fire zones;’
• Withholding of food, water and health facilities in war zones;
• Use of heavy weaponry, banned weapons and air-raids;
• Using food and medicine as a weapon of war;
• The mistreatment, torture and execution of captured or surrendered LTTE combatants, officials and supporters;
• Rape and sexual violence against women;
• Deportations and forcible transfer of individuals and families;
• Desecrating the dead;
• Human rights violations in the IDP camps during and after the end of the war;
• Shooting of Tamil citizens and LTTE supporters;
• Forced disappearances;
• Malnutrition; and
• Lack of medical supplies.16
I urge ALBA members of the Human Rights Council—Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua—along with their brothers and sisters in Venezuela to recognize an error made when they promulgated Sri Lanka’s own resolution laid before the HRC and adopted by the majority, on May 27, 2009—Resolution S-11/1, “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights”17
The self-serving resolution only condemned the LTTE for acts of terror while praising the Sri Lankan government and supporting, naturally, its right to sovereignty. These ALBA countries, along with most members of the Non-Aligned Movement on the Council, let the entire Tamil people down, especially the Internally Displaced Persons. My assessment is shared by the People’s Tribunal in paragraph 5.5:
“The Tribunal stresses the responsibility of the Member States of the United Nations that have not complied with their moral obligation to seek justice for the violations of human rights committed during the last period of war. After repeated pleas, and in spite of the appalling conditions experienced by Tamils, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council failed to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate those responsible for the atrocities committed due to political pressure exerted by certain members.”
The PPT came to the opposite conclusion that Golinger does on all accounts. The US is not an actor of ‘aggression’ against Sri Lanka’s government rather it is the case of one war criminal supporting another. The tribunal “highlights the conduct of the European Union in undermining the CFA of 2002. In spite of being aware of the detrimental consequences to a peace process in the making, the EU decided—under pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom—to list the TRM (Tamil Resistance Movement, which included the LTTE) as a terrorist organisation in 2006. This decision allowed the Sri Lankan government to breach the ceasefire agreement and re-start military operations leading to the massive violations listed above. It also points to the full responsibility of those governments, led by the United States, that are conducting the so-called “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) in providing political endorsement for the conduct of the Sri Lankan Government and armed forces in a war that is primarily targeted against the Tamil people.”
True solidarity activists have no choice. We must support the Sri Lankan Tamil people. Today, they are in disarray. Various tendencies are in formation. But dialogue with them all is what solidarity forces must engage in around the world. One tendency is the new provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), which formally constituted itself in Philadelphia in May 2010. Their coordinator and now elected prime minister, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, is a resident of the United States and an attorney. Tamil Eelam advocates in the US have associated with the civil rights organisation, Humanitarian Law Project, and along with supporters of the crushed LTTE and the PKK (Kurdish rebels in Turkey) are seeking to legitimize the rights of oppressed minorities to fight for liberation, if necessary with arms when peaceful means are impossible.18
My main motivation for siding with people who fight against oppression and for liberation is a matter of essential solidarity morality, and an understanding of this necessity for the suffering people. The basic reason why so many millions of people have respected and loved Che Guevara is because of this moral stance. To back any corrupt, capitalist, genocidal government—albeit in the name of support for ‘sovereignty’—is not consistent with Che’s and our collective moral stance.
5. See their perspective, “Venezuela: Eva Golinger’s misinformation endangers exiled Tamils’ fight for freedom,” at: http://VHeadline.com/readnews.asp?id=92565.
6. See my five-part series here or at: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=9428&lg=en
7. See chapter 5 for more details about US support for the Sri Lanka genocide.
12. See chapter 5 for more details on Israel’s role in the genocide.
13. See chapter 3: “Equal Rights or Self-Determination” and chapter 4, “The Struggle for Tamil Eelam.”
16. http://transcurrents.com/tc/2010/01/full_text_verdict_of_the_perma.html. http://www.pptsrilanka.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=109&catid=30&Itemid=36
18. See TGTE’s website http://govtamileelam.org/gov/.
defamation of my character
(The following interview with Ms Tamara Kunanayakam, ambassador of Sri Lanka to Cuba, originally published in Spanish by the Venezuelan newspaper and website Correo del Orinoco, was posted by the website transcurrents on June 9, and by www.VHeadline.com on June 10, 2010, in English translation. I am reproducing this interview as well as my response to the defamation of my character in this interview that was sent to Correo del Orinoco’s editor Vanessa Davis in Spanish with 3 reminding notes on the same. It was not published and my notes were not replied to. Finally, I sent the response to www.VHeadline.com, where it was published on 30.03.10)
IS THERE A MOVE TO MAKE VENEZUELA PART OF THE TAMIL SEPARATIST
NETWORK IN LATIN AMERICA?
You are Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Cuba. What brought you to Caracas?
Our attention was drawn to the active presence in Caracas of a delegation
representing Canadian HART and meeting Government authorities making
false, fabricated and defamatory accusations against the Government
of Sri Lanka, alleging that there was a ‘genocide’ against
the Tamil community in Sri Lanka and ‘concentration camps.’
They were trying to persuade the Venezuelan Government to give refuge to members of the Tamil community, who they claimed were held incommunicado in Indonesia, after their ship was allegedly intercepted on its way to Australia.
It baffles me why an organisation in Canada, an immigration country with some 250,000 Tamil residents, should ask Venezuela—a Spanish speaking country—to give refuge to persons who are in the other end of the world—Indonesia—and who want to go to Australia!
I can only surmise that this was a pretext, the real objective being to lure Venezuela into providing symbolic recognition to the pseudo Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) that had just held its inaugural Congress in Philadelphia, its goal being to establish a separate State in Sri Lanka. They were also hoping to obtain Venezuela’s help to organise a network in Latin America to promote their separatist cause.
Who is behind Canadian HART?
Canadian HART was launched in 2008 by LTTE front organisations, the Tamil Youth Organisation of Canada (TYO – Canada), the Canadian Tamil Congress and Tamil Women’s Organisation. The LTTE’s Tiger flag boldly flutters on the home page of the TYO-Canada website, despite the LTTE being banned as a terrorist organisation. The TYO and the Canadian Tamil Congress are also listed as supporters of the Canadian HART operated website www.tamilidpcrisis.org.
The Canadian Tamil Congress is one of the most influential founders of the recently formed Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which was created by ex-LTTE International Chief Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP by bringing together 15 existing LTTE front organisations from different Western countries with the goal of establishing a separate State in Sri Lanka. KP is one of the two architects of TGTE.
In January this year, Canadian HART Media Team Coordinator, Jessica
Chandrashekar, accompanied Saradha Nathan, a member of another LTTE
front organisation, the Australian Tamil Congress, to Indonesia to visit
the so-called asylum-seekers detained in Indonesia. The Australian Tamil
Congress is also founder of the pro-LTTE pro-separatist Global Tamil
Canadian HART Jessica Chandrashekar was apprehended trying to smuggle laptops and other documents to those on board. Both she and Saradha Nathan were taken for questioning in Indonesia on suspicion of human trafficking. It is reported that a high-profile LTTE leader, who had been deported from Toronto, and several other identified LTTE members were on board the vessel.
These organisations and their campaign of defamation have the support
of certain major powers, their institutions and NGOs such as the International
Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch, Reporters without Borders, Amnesty
International, The Real News Network of Sharmini Peries, and individuals
such as Ron Ridenour and Patrick O’Donoghue.
You are part of the Tamil community yourself. What do you have to say about the allegations of genocide by Canadian HART?
Such allegations are ridiculous, a caricature and dangerous. Yes, I belong to the Tamil community and I’m proud to be Sri Lankan!
Cries of genocide were heard only during the last phase of the war and only when the military defeat of the LTTE became possible, and to justify external intervention to rescue its leaders. If one takes a closer look at the definition of ‘genocide’ in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, you will have a hard time finding evidence that there was intent on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka “to destroy, in whole or in part” the Tamil community.
The Tamil community represents about 18% of a total Sri Lankan population of about 21 million. Although there is a large concentration of the community in the North, the majority live outside alongside other Sri Lankan communities, Sinhala, Muslim, Moor, Malay and Burghers. If there was genocide, would the communities be living peacefully alongside each other? Since time immemorial, mixed marriages have been common. This is true in my own family.
You will find political parties emanating from the Tamil community in Government. Others emanating from the same community have elected representatives in parliament. Even the pro-LTTE political Party TNA has entered the democratic process and participated in recent elections. Members of the community are at senior levels of Government, in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, in the various professions, in universities, in the press, in business—in every walk of life! Sri Lanka’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lakshman Kadirgamar was from the community. He was assassinated by the LTTE. After the Eastern Province was liberated by Government forces with the aid of a breakaway LTTE faction, provincial elections were held and a former LTTE child-soldier was appointed by the president as chief minister of that province. An ex-LTTE commander was appointed as Minister of National Integration.
Government forces were engaged not against the Tamil community, but against a terrorist organisation that fought a relentless and ruthless war for separation. They were engaging LTTE suicide squads—the Black Tigers—trained in suicide operations, unprecedented in history. The Black Tigers were involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa.
Let’s recall that right from the beginning of his mandate and practically until the end of the war in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued to call for discussions, even face-to-face, with the LTTE leader Prabhakaran, who didn’t even respond.
Throughout the war, the Sri Lankan Government continued to transport—physically—salaries of pubic servants to LTTE-controlled areas so that the Tamil community was not deprived of essential services.
The Eastern Province was liberated in 2007 by the Sri Lankan armed
forces fighting alongside other groups emanating from the Tamil community,
including an important faction that split from the LTTE. Within six
months the Government had resettled 220,000 IDPs from that province.
In fact, some NGOs and governments protested that it was too fast!
The more recent IDPs numbering some 300,000 members are those who fled for safety from LTTE-controlled areas to Government cleared areas in May 2009. They had been forced to follow the trail of a retreating LTTE across jungles for use as human shields. Many had been corralled out of the Jaffna peninsula at gunpoint by the LTTE, as early as 1995, during the first big enforced exodus.
In the last stages of the war, when the LTTE was cornered, it is well-known
that civilians were prevented from moving out of the line of fire or
escaping to government-controlled areas. In an attempt to prevent them
escaping, the LTTE fired at the fleeing civilians, launched grenade
and mortar attacks, and sent suicide bombers to explode in their midst.
But what about allegations of concentration camps?
There are NO concentration camps in Sri Lanka!
To accommodate this unprecedented surge of fleeing hostages, the Government rapidly set up welfare villages with UN assistance. In the welfare villages, not a single person starved even for a day! Not a single outbreak of disease! Not a single death by unnatural causes reported! Efforts were made to provide education facilities for children. In November 2009, 19,364 boys and 19,644 girls were attending classes within the welfare villages. An important programme of rehabilitation of former child soldiers and ex-combatants was conducted. From May 2009, mortality rates had dropped to an average of 2 to 3 per day giving an annual crude mortality rate of 4.4 per 1000 persons in Vavuniya, which had the largest number of IDP villages. This is compatible with mortality rates in any other part of the country.
The resettlement process conducted in cooperation with the UNHCR according to international standards has been rapid, despite the over 1.5 million landmines and UXOs that have had to be cleared to guarantee the safety of returnees. Today, more than 80% of the IDPs have returned to their homes or are with host families. The 20% remaining in welfare villages have been cleared to leave at any time. More than 68 UN agencies, INGOs and NGOs have access to the villages and assist in the resettlement process. More than 173 media personnel have visited the area since 2009 and can testify. So far, out of 11,000 IDPs identified as LTTE combatants, over 2000 have been released after completing a rehabilitation programme. These include 847 females, 253 children and 55 university students. At present, there are 148 university students, including 51 females, under rehabilitation.
Canadian HART and foreign supporters of separatism such as Ron Ridenour conveniently forget the collective forcible eviction of the Muslim population by the LTTE from the North and North-West of the country in October 1990. They were given only 24 hours to take a few personal items. It is only now, 20 years after their expulsion, that my Government has been able to even begin resettling the over 60,000 Muslims still displaced. At that time and ever since, nobody called this barbarous act ‘genocide’ or ‘ethnic cleansing’!
Do the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) represent the Tamil Diaspora and the entire Tamil community?
No, they don’t!
The GTF and the TGTE claim that they represent the ‘Tamil Diaspora,’ which is then rehashed by individuals like Ron Ridenour, to justify claims of genocide and hence the need for a separate State.
Both organisations were formed by international leaders of the earlier LTTE and are composed of LTTE front organisations and their supporters in various Western countries. What they have in common is their LTTE origins and the demand for a separate State. Having lost territory and control over the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, claims of genocide have become a facile argument to justify foreign intervention to help create a separate State.
The TGTE is a re-branded manifestation of the LTTE overseas structure. Its co-architects are Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran, former international legal advisor of the LTTE and New York based lawyer, and Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias KP, previously International Chief in charge of international LTTE branch administration, global fund raising and arms acquisition. The TGTE is unambiguously clear about its ultimate goal being the creation of a separate State. At its inaugural Congress in Philadelphia, the LTTE flag was openly flaunted alongside the US flag, despite it being a banned terrorist organisation, and Rudrakumaran was elected as Interim Chief Executive of TGTE. As I mentioned earlier, the GTF too is an entity formed by bringing together several LTTE front organisations in the West.
These organisations are unrepresentative, but project themselves as the ‘sole representatives of the Tamil people.’ Their leaders belong to a financially powerful and influential class of educated professionals and business people residing in the West and benefiting from external political and financial backing.
Let us recall the brutal war the LTTE waged against other groups issuing from the Tamil community, assassinating intellectuals, politicians and activists to establish itself as the ‘sole representative.’ At the same time, its representatives moved in to gain a stranglehold over the Tamil community in the West —including through intimidation, assault, and threats to families in Sri Lanka. Paris and Toronto were prime examples of the phenomenon, where unquestioning compliance was demanded and wrought. The TGTE too has made clear that it will not take into account decisions of the so-called ‘Tamil leadership’ inside Sri Lanka unless they accept its separatist agenda.
No, the Tamil community is not a homogenous group! Our perceptions of who we are and the choices we make depend essentially on our historical origins, our economic and social status, geographic location, and cultural background. For instance, the demand of almost 1 million workers belonging to the Tamil community brought as indentured labour by the British from India was to obtain Sri Lankan nationality. The LTTE showed no concern whatsoever for the fate of this working class. Within Sri Lanka, even in regions such as the East and the northern Jaffna peninsula, which separatists claim as their territory, there is no popular support for the separatist cause.
As for INGOs and their backers and individuals who toe the LTTE/TGTE line, genocide is only a pretext for achieving a hidden agenda. Perhaps we are seeing a new model for external intervention in the making, creation of a dangerous precedent. First, encourage groups without territory or control over the population to establish ‘Transnational Governments.’ Then, facilitate a campaign of defamation to justify intervention by a nebulous ‘international community’ to exercise the so-called ‘Responsibility to Protect.’ Of course, all this has nothing to do with the principles of the UN Charter or human rights!
My question to you is, would you like to see this happening in Latin America where regional integration, the dream of Bolivar, is on the agenda?
In Latin America we have little information about Sri Lanka. Was there a popular insurrection in your country?
Insurrection implies an organised rebellion aimed at overthrowing the Government in place. The goal of the LTTE was not to overthrow the Government but to establish a separate State of Tamil Eelam under its totalitarian control. That is why they projected the Sinhalese people as the enemy.
The LTTE was NOT a liberation movement. It never had an economic or
social programme nor did it concern itself with development of the areas
it controlled or in improving the well-being of the Tamil community.
The only institutions they set up were institutions of coercion—police
stations, tribunals, prisons. They had airplanes, a fleet of tankers,
and even submarines.
It was a terror organisation terrorising even members of the community they claimed to represent. Theirs was an anti-civilian approach! Child soldiers were forcibly recruited for their notorious baby-brigades and forewarned that their families would be wiped out if they surrender. They invented the suicide belt and pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks. Their soldiers wore cyanide vials for consumption upon capture.They practised extortion. They were known within the Tamil community as the ‘Eelam Enterprise’ for their involvement in human, arms, and drug trafficking and sea piracy.
Tens of thousands of civilians from the community who did not subscribe
to their separatist goal were physically eliminated, including leaders
of progressive political groups and their cadres, politicians and intellectuals.
In one day alone, they killed 175 leaders of the Tamil Eelam Liberation
Organisation. Then they machine-gunned the entire Central Committee
of the left-wing EPRLF – the Eeelam People’s Revolutionary
It shocks me to hear comparisons being made between the LTTE and genuine liberation movements in Latin America and the Middle East. Is it ethical to brand an entire community—the Sinhalese in this case—as enemy? Is it moral to target innocent civilians and workers in public places, transit hubs, buses, trains, marketplaces, temples, banks, office buildings, etc.? Ron Ridenour’s presentation of Rudrakumaran, top LTTE and TGTE leader and associate of the mafioso KP, as a moral reference, is an insult to the intelligence of people, particularly of the Tamil community itself!
How do you see your country going forward?
A new historical period is opening up for our country with a strong potential for development. Sri Lanka is the 2nd fastest growing economy in Asia, second only to China, and the 8th fastest growing economy in the world. According to the UNDP, Sri Lanka is one of the countries of the world on the threshold of achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
With the elimination of an autocratic group, democratic space has been opened. A large number of important emergency laws and regulations have been relaxed and a ‘Commission on Lessons Learned and Reconciliation’ established. Soon, Northern Provincial Council elections will be held and members of the Tamil community in the North will be able to choose their own chief minister and administration. We are also engaging in a comprehensive dialogue with all political parties to stabilise the democratic administration.
We are building a strong national industry and agriculture to reduce import dependence and to achieve greater self-reliance, food and energy security. Every effort is being made to harness and further develop the country’s natural wealth and resources. A massive development programme is underway in the recently liberated Northern and Eastern provinces with a total budget of US$ 4.3 billion for the period 2007 to 2012. In addition, from 2010 onwards, the Government will allocate some US$ 1 billion each year—for 3 years—for the North and East for reconstruction and rehabilitation.
With an average GDP growth of 6% or above between 2005 to 2008, our target is to achieve an average economic GDP growth of 8% after 2010 and to double GDP per capita to US$ 4000 by 2016. Our priority is to ensure that growth is spread more evenly.
The almost 30-year old conflict has ended and Sri Lanka has the potential to develop into a naval, aviation, commercial, energy and knowledge hub, serving as a key link between the East and West. As one of the fastest growing economies and a feeder to rapidly growing China and India, Sri Lanka can become a regional centre and major gateway to India.
How do you see the relations between Sri Lanka and Venezuela?
Our Governments have excellent relations based on the principles of mutual respect, solidarity and reciprocity, and the relations between President Hugo Chávez and President Mahinda Rajapaksa have always been warm and friendly.
Sri Lanka and Venezuela are both firmly committed to the defence of State sovereignty, national independence, territorial integrity and non-interference, and to the pursuance of an independent, free and non-aligned foreign policy. Strengthening the national economy for the benefit of people, improving social well-being, achieving food and energy security, protection and preservation of the environment are common concerns. We are also firmly committed to a strong multilateral system and vibrant South-South cooperation.
During my cordial meeting with the Minister of External Relations, Mr. Nicolas Maduro, we reaffirmed the continuing solidity of the friendly relations between our two countries and the need to strengthen our cooperation in areas of mutual interest. My Government will exert every effort to do so at the bilateral as well as multilateral levels—at the United Nations, within the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-15, which is chaired by Sri Lanka.
? ? ?
The digital magazine of the eight countries of ALBA (Boliviarian Alliance for the Americas), www.patriagrande.com.ve, published a supposed interview, on June 11, 2010, with the ambassador of Sri Lanka in Cuba, Tamara Kunanayakam (TK). The interview, which had no name for the interviewer, was entitled in the original Spanish, “Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Cuba denounces manipulations by separatist groups.” Patriagrande presented the interview as “realised by Correo del Orinoco” (Venezuela government’s official newspaper and web) without a date and without being found on the web. Websites, such as www.transcurrents.com (June 9) and www.VHeadline.com (June 10), published the interview in English without the name of the translator.
Apart from the disinformation that the ambassador disseminates denying the systematic political discrimination and brutality that all governments of Sri Lanka have conducted against Tamils for decades, I refer now only to the defamation against my character that Tamara Kunanayakam makes.
I cite from the supposed interview: “These organisations (that she says are fronts for the now destroyed terrorist LTTE, known as the Tigers) and their campaign of defamation have the support of certain major powers, their institutions and NGOs such as….Reporters without Borders…and individuals such as Ron Ridenour and Patrick O´Donoghue (News editor of www.VHeadline.com).”
“Certain major powers” signifies the United States, I believe. “Reporters without Borders” is one of the CIA’s fronts, and one whose principal objective is a campaign against Cuba.
As a revolutionary and writer, I have written articles about the relations in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. I am in favour of self-determination for the Tamils, who have lived under discrimination and violence for decades. But I have nothing to do with the Tigers of LTTE, or with the Yankees, the CIA and its lackey group “Reporters without Borders,” as TK implies or states in this interview.
As it is a crime to support terrorism, Tamara Kunanayakam is libeling me. It is also a defamation of my character, in my eyes, to associate me with the most potent terrorists of the world—the United States/CIA. I, therefore, demand a retraction. (Unfortunately, patriagrande and Correo del Orinoco did not publish my answer to these defamations.)
To understand my anger, you should know that I have been fighting yankee imperialism since my first political action, which was in front of the federal building in Los Angeles, California, when the Yankees and Cuban right-wing exiles invaded Cuba, in April 1961. I have been an activist, journalist and author against imperialism and for socialism since that date, including eight years (1988-96) working for the Cuban government as a writer, translator and consultant for their foreign languages publishing house Editorial José Martí and for Prensa Latina, its chief foreign news agency started by Che and an Argentine journalist friend of his.
(www.Vheadline.com published the above on 30.06.10 with the headline: “Correo del Orinoco refuses right to reply over Sri Lankan Ambassador slur” and with the note that Ron Ridenour said that he has written to editor Vanessa Davis three times and sent the above text in Spanish but received no reply. What hurts most, Ron says, is that she hasn’t even bothered to reply.)
ACTC All Ceylon Tamil Congress
ALBA Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America
AI Amnesty International
ANC African National Congress
BCE Before Common Era
BLPI Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma
CE Common Era
CETE Council of Eelam Tamil in Europe
CFA Ceasefire Agreement
CIC Ceylon Indian Congress
CPC Communist Party of Ceylon
DJV Deshapremi Janatha Vyaparaya (Patriotic People’s Movement)
DVJP Desha Vimukthi Janatha Pakshaya (National Liberation People’s Party)
ECHR European Council of Human Rights
ENDLF Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front
EPDP Eelam People’s Democratic Party
EPRLF Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front
EROS Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students
FARC Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
FP Federal Party
GOSL Government of Sri Lanka
GSP Generalised System of Preferences
GTF Global Tamil Forum
HART Humanitarian Appeal for Relief of Tamils
HRC Human Rights Council
ICG International Crisis Group
ICRC International Committee of the Red Cross
IDP Internally Displaced Person
ITAK Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (Lanka Tamil State Party)
JHU Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Heritage Party)
JSS Jathika Sevaka Sanagamaya (National Union of Workers)
JVP Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front)
LKR Lanka rupee
LSSP Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Ceylon Equalitarian Society Party)
LTTE Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
MEP Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (People’s United Front)
MP Member of Parliament
MULF Muslim United Liberation Front
NAM Non-aligned Movement
NFZ No Fire Zone
NSSP Nava Sama Samaj Party
PA People’s Alliance
PFLT People’s Front of Liberation Tigers
PLFP Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
PLO Palestine Liberation Organisation
PLOTE People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam
POW Prisoner of War
PPT Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka
RAW Research and Analysis Wing
SAS Special Air Service
SBP Sinhala Bhasha Peramuna (Sinhala Language Front)
SCET Swiss Council of Eelam Tamils
SLA Sri Lankan Army
SLFP Sri Lanka Freedom Party
SLFSP Sri Lanka Freedom Socialist Party
SLMC Sri Lanka Muslim Congress
SLMM Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission
SLMP Sri Lanka Mahajana Party
SPLM Sudan People’s Liberation Movement
TAG Tamils against Genocide
TELO Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation
TGTE Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam
TMVP Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (Tamil People Liberation Tigers)
TNA Tamil National Alliance
TNT Tamil New Tigers
TPPF Tamil Political Parties Forum
TUF Tamil United Front
TULF Tamil United Liberation Front
UFB United Front of Bhikkhus (Eksath Bhikkhu Peramuna)
UNDP United Nations Development Programme
UNHRC United Nations Human Rights Commission
UNP United National Party
UPFA United People’s Freedom Alliance
USA United Socialist Alliance
UTHR University Teachers for Human Rights
VLSSP Viplavakari Lanka Sama Samaja Party (Leftist Lanka Equalitarian Society Party)
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