American and Worldwide Tamil Diaspora Organizations Respond to Sri Lanka Constitutional Crisis

American and Worldwide Tamil Diaspora Organizations Respond to Sri Lanka Constitutional Crisis

WASHINGTONLONDON, and SYDNEYDec. 7, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Responding to the current constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka, leading Tamil diaspora organizations issued a call to the international community to support a permanent political solution to the country’s ethnic problem that goes beyond current or proposed constitutional arrangements and provides international guarantees and safeguards. The US Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC), British Tamil Forum (BTF), Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), and World Thamil Organization (WTO) jointly issued the statement. Political reform must include restoration of Tamil rights ensured by international guarantees of implementation

The following are my views. It is not necessary you all should agree with me. We have internationalised our national question, but at the same, time we should also bear in mind that the international community’s own geopolitical interests.

Which country/countries will directly intervene matters related to the internal affairs of Sri Lanka –  a member of UNO? Even in the present context when there is a flagrant violation of democratic principles, countries like US, UK, EU, Canada are acting very cautiously. Most probably they are waiting for the judgements in cases before the Supreme Court as well as Appeal Court before they consider travel sanctions, withdrawal of GPS etc.

The current turmoil we witness is largely between authoritarian and democratic forces. Sri Lanka is facing the worst- ever political crisis in recent times. Not only the Tamils even Sinhalese are in a suspended state of disbelief.  The politicians of all stripes are washing a lot of dirty linen in public and the stench emanating therefrom is unbearably nauseating.

The collapse of the Sri Lankan government on October 26th, 2018 has exposed the inconsistency and instability of Sri Lanka’s ethnocracy. A blatant disrespect for constitutional law and the failure to preserve promises made toward their people and the international community is evident. Since the 2015 presidential election, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has provided qualified support to the “unity government.” This support has been given with the expectation of the restoration of normalcy in the former war zones of the North and East – the traditional areas of habitation of the Tamils -, Transitional Justice, a permanent political solution acceptable to the Tamil people, and implementation of good governance.

Progress has been made in respect of human rights. The country is not the same as when Rajapaksa acted dictatorially, The 19th Amendment has diluted the powers of the President to dismiss the Prime Minister, dissolve parliament, appoint judges of the SC and Appeal Court. That President Sirisena is misusing his powers is a different kettle of fish. We don’t now have a judiciary subservient to the Executive President. It was magistrate who ordered the arrest of Ravindra Wijegunaratne in connection with the abduction and murder of 11 Tamil youths between 2008-2009. The President tried to save him from arrest, but he failed thanks to an independent Police Commission. The CID officer investigating this abduction and murder case was transferred to Negombo by the IGP on the request of CDS Wijegunaratne. The Police Commission stepped in and cancelled the transfer. This was unthinkable before 19A. The present crisis is not due to 19A but in spite of 19A.

The Sirisena government’s scant progress towards these expectations has been insubstantial and remains reversible. The TNA at a meeting with 15 countries on November 21, 2018, “urged the diplomats to use their influence with whoever necessary to set things right and put the country in the right path.” The TNA’s leader and Leader of Opposition Mr Sampanthan expressed concern that “Tamils are likely to become the worst victims in Sri Lanka’s political crisis.”

Since Sri Lanka’s Independence in 1948, the two primary Sinhala political parties have demonstrated a pattern of ‘ethnic outbidding’ in catering to the Sinhalese majority community at the expense of all others, beginning with disenfranchising a million members of the Tamil community. Following enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in 1978 and extensive use of emergency powers, the country has experienced years of authoritarian rule. The use of extrajudicial powers has subverted constitutional rights, perpetuating a lack of respect for the rule of law, and a culture of oppression and impunity by the security establishment, mainly targeting the Tamil population in the North and East.  This targeting includes war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide.

The disfranchisement of Hill Country Tamils was possible because of the covert support of GG Ponnambalam and his accolades who were angling for cabinet posts. GGP did not speak against the Citizenship bill nor he voted against it. It was a well-known fact that GGP while going through the motion of opposing the Ceylon Citizenship Bill was secretly conducting negotiations with DS Senanayake to join the cabinet. The sequence of events says it all. Ceylon Citizenship bill was passed on August 20, 1948, it was signed into law on November 15 of the same year, but GGP joined the cabinet and took oaths as Minister of Industries, Industrial Research and Fisheries on September 3, 1948, within just two weeks of the passage of the Bill! That is to say, negotiations with DS for a cabinet post commenced weeks before August 20, 1948. GGP betrayed the hill country Tamils whom he pledged in writing to defend for the sake of a cabinet post. He dearly paid for his treachery during later years. Had GGP joined forces with SJV to oppose the bill along with the Ceylon Indian Congress the outcome would have been different? We betrayed our own people and then conveniently blame the Sinhala politicians. The same goes to the support given by Tamil legislators (about 10 out of a total of 51) to the Ceylon Indolence order adopted on 19 December 1947. Nor did the Tamils supported the federal solution proposed by the Kandyan League before the Donomore Commission and Soulbury Commission. So, by and large, we were the architects of our own downfall.

In 1987, the 13th Amendment based on the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, an inadequate agreement to address Tamil grievances, created Provincial Councils as the unit of devolution, including police and land power. The Amendment also merged the Tamils’ traditional homeland of the North-East into one province. The non-implementation of the 13th Amendment, including the dismembering of the merged North-East in 2006 without the required Referendum, is a blatant ongoing disregard of the country’s constitution.

The merger of North and East was temporary. A referendum in the East should be held for a permanent merger. Had JR or his successors held the referendum Tamils would have lost it. The Sinhalese (23.15%) and Muslims (36.72%0 combined would have defeated the Tamils (39.79%) in a referendum. The demerger came from a Supreme Court ruling. But to be charitable the SC judges only said that the merger should be by an Act of Parliament and not through notifications in the Gazette. 13A with all its deficiencies was a quasi-federal provision. Land and Police powers are still vested with the PCs. But the government failed to set up Provincial Land Commissions and Police Commissions to implement land and police powers. The interim proposals by the Steering Committee recommended the taking away of the executive powers from the Governor and vesting it on the Board of Ministers. Likewise,

North and East (or for that matter any two or more councils) can amalgamate passing resolutions in the respective councils with a two-thirds minority. UNP and JVP supported the proposals.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored UNHRC Resolution 30/1 in 2015, which required the establishment of a hybrid court including international judges and prosecutors. Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected this commitment since.

This is only partially true. On the other hand, Sri Lanka has co-sponsored Resolution 30/1 and 34/1.

The ethnocentric nature of the Sri Lankan state controlled by a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist ideology is fundamentally incapable of providing a political settlement that addresses the root causes of the war, provided the Sinhala-centric political reality of the past decades continues. For the Tamil community, the hard questions remain –

Will we be able to advance transitional justice within this current political state mechanism, regardless of the regime in power? Even if the present constitutional exercise to solve the Tamil question succeeds, what are the chances of such an arrangement being faithfully and permanently implemented? What kind of international safeguards would be needed to ensure legitimacy and permanency?

There was a time when Tamil leaders rejected the 13A, but in hindsight, that was a foolish decision. We should have accepted 13A and contested elections for the Provincial Councils. It took 23 years to do so in the North and 18 years in the East,

While we want the current crisis to be solved within the norms of democratic principles and the constitution, we urge the international community to reassess its options. It must take on a greater role in instituting transitional justice in Sri Lanka and must support fundamental change for a permanent political solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil people, strengthened by international guarantees.

The Tamils in Diaspora and the organizations representing them must put pressure to their respective countries to ensure the speedy and full implementation of  UNHRC Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1 in FULL. If that is done 90& of our problem can be solved. When we are alone and helpless and we face two enemies we should secure one them as our friend.  We should not make the mistake of lumping the UNP. SLLP and SLFP together. UNP under Ranil Wickremesinghe is backing the two UNHRC Resolutions, if not 100%. UNP is the only party that accepted the Interim Report without dissent.

For further information contact:

For further information, contact: 
S. Sivam, President, USTPAC 
T: +1 202 595 3123 
Twitter: @UstpacAdvocacy


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Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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