Sri Lanka: The Human Rights Crisis In The Tamil North & East – An Appeal For International Intervention

By Brian Senewiratne –

Dr. Brian Senewiratne

I am a Sinhalese from the majority community in Sri Lanka. I have campaigned for the past 70 years for the Tamil people to live with equality, dignity, safety and without discrimination. I cannot think of any time in the past seven decades that the outlook for the Tamil people has been more disastrous than it is today.

Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) politicians are simply incapable of addressing the major human rights problems faced by the Tamil people. They do not have the ability, integrity or honesty to see that what has been done to the Tamil people in the North and East is unacceptable.

This publication is being written for circulation at the 37th Sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva (27 February – 23 March 2018) so that those who attend the Sessions will be apprised of the major abuse of human rights in the Tamil North and East, and the absolute need for international intervention.

A military/police state in the North and East

The North and East of Sri Lanka are not under the Sri Lankan government but under the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) military (99% Sinhalese) and the police (95% Sinhalese). It is a military/police state where the military and police can do what they want with no accountability.

16 of the 19 Divisions of the Sri Lankan Army are in the North and East. There were 170,000 members of the military at the end of the armed conflict in 2009. A year later it went up to 200,000 and the next year it was up to 300,000. The ratio of soldiers to civilians the North-East is 1:5, in Vavuniya it is 1:3.

The Adayaalam Centre in Jaffna and PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka) in Washington, titled ‘Normalising the Abnormal. Militarisation of Mullaitivu’ published in October 2017, says that the ratio of military to civilians in Mullaitivu is 1:2. There is no place in the world which is so highly militarised.

The military and police are responsible for all the serious violations of human rights of the Tamils people in the area.

The writ of the Sri Lankan government does not run in the North and East. As such, international intervention is mandatory for humanitarian reasons. If nothing is done the Tamil people in the area will simply wither away since they have no means of survival – no land to cultivate, no sea to fish, no jobs and unable to set up a business sine all of these have been taken over by the Armed Forces.

If the Tamil people wither away, it is genocide.

The Tamil Tigers have been crushed. The question is the justification for such a massive military presence. Who is the enemy? Since there is no justification, the military must be withdrawn and the police recruited from the local Tamil population. This is imperative and urgent. It will not happen without international pressure.

The military getting involved in non-military activity

The Armed Forces have gone into non-military commercial activity. They are engaged in large scale property development, construction projects and business ventures such as travel agencies, holiday resorts, restaurants and innumerable cafes in the North and East. Some of these holiday resorts have been published by the British Tamils Forum (see below).

This non-military activity is having a serious impact on civilian life and must be stopped. The military has no place in business activity.

The centralisation of power in Colombo must end

Sri Lanka is a British colonial construct that has failed – as have so many colonial constructs.

For hundreds of years there were three separate Kingdoms – a Tamil Kingdom in the North and East, a Kandyan Kingdom in the centre (Kandyan Sinhalese) and a Kotte Kingdom in the South (Low country Sinhalese).

It was the British who in 1833, the Colebrook-Cameron ‘reforms’, unified that which was divided with no consent from the people, and worse still, centralised power in Colombo. This has had a disastrous effect on the country. To make things even worse, when the British left Ceylon in 1948, they handed over the country to the Sinhalese despite serious protests from the Tamils that they feared discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese. The very least the British could have done was to have left a Federal State for the Tamils.

If what the colonial British did was wrong, what followed after the British left was worse. From Independence (1948), the Sinhalese governments totally isolated the Tamil homelands from all economic development programs undertaken with massive foreign aid from donor countries. As a result, over the past seven decades, while the Sinhalese people and their homelands have prospered and flourished, the Tamil people and their homelands in the North and East have suffered and become the backyard colony of the Sinhalese.

It is essential that all of this is reversed and power to govern is returned to where it was, if there is ever going to be peace and justice in Sri Lanka. This will simply not happen unless there is massive pressure from the international community, especially the aid-givers.

Fear and Insecurity in the Tamil North and East

The overwhelming problem facing the people in the North and East is fear and insecurity. They are justifiably afraid of the Armed Forces, Police, Sinhalese who have been settled there and are supported by the Armed Forces and Police, Tamil paramilitaries working with the government, and, alarmingly, fear of each other. No one is confident that what is told to someone might not be conveyed to someone else for monetary gain.

One such case is described in my book “Sri Lanka: Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces”. A prospective asylum seeker who wanted to flee Sri Lanka found that just before he left, the Armed Forces got all the details. This happened over and over again. He then realised that the information was being passed to the Armed Forces by a member of his family for financial gain.

Living in insecure homes is another major problem. Armed Forces and Police can kick the door down (if there is one) and sexually assault those inside – including children. A photograph of one such case is in my book on Sexual Violence.

Until the Armed Forces are removed from the North and East, this fear and uncertainty will remain.

Return land to civilian owners

Under the previous Rajapaksa government, 70,000 acres of land were under military occupation. Only 2,000 acres have been released by the Sirisena government. This is only 3.5% of the total land occupied by the military.

What is being released is usually infertile land. Fertile land is still being acquired even today.

The Tamil people are unable to exist since agriculture and fishing are not possible. This land grab (and ‘Sinhalisation’ – see below) will permanently change the demography of the Tamil homelands and make the Tamil people destitute in their own homeland.

The return of land to civilians is mandatory and urgent. Unless the international community, especially aid-donors, exert the necessary pressure, this will not happen.

Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) governments – unable to govern

A feature of every government since Independence in 1948 is that they have had no idea of proper governance. This is a serious problem especially where there are two separate nations in one country – in Sri Lanka a Sinhalese Nation and a Tamil Nation.

The Sunday Leader, the only newspaper in Sri Lanka worth reading put this well. Four days before the 2010 General Election, the editorial was blunt: “None of the individual contenders, political parties or opportunistic coalitions are worthy of our respect or our vote. Together they comprise the most mind-boggling array of crooks, thugs, conmen, hypocrites, unprincipled racists, rapists, drug dealers, money launders, and general all-round scum that is without parallel elsewhere in the world. Other nations have their share of such undesirables, no doubt, but among them are a handful of honest, sincere, principled folk who have distanced themselves from the corrupt majority. Not so in miserable Sri Lanka.”

These are the people who have governed Sri Lanka. If the Sinhalese are happy with them, that is their choice but the Tamils can find better folk to govern them.

Tamil Eelam

This leads me to the de facto Tamil State run by the LTTE for a decade. I have not been to this place but I know someone who has and has written extensively on his experience. Professor Kristian Stokke, Professor of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo, Norway, who spent some time in the area wrote an outstanding account “Building the Tamil Eelam State – Emerging State Institutions and Forms of Governance in LTTE controlled areas of Sri Lanka”. It is on the net and also in the 3rd World Quarterly 2006.

The most striking feature was a well-organised legal system and an excellent police service, as a result of which serious criminal activity was rare and rape virtually unknown.

The judicial system included several District Courts, two High Courts, a Court of Appeal and an apex Supreme Court. Particular care was taken to ensure that the Courts were just.

Despite their relative youth, the ‘Judges’ were perceived by the public as professional. The entire Judicial system carried substantial legitimacy and public confidence.

Penalties were generally more severe than those imposed by the Sri Lankan government Courts which also functioned in the same area. Despite this, the people had so much confidence in the efficiency and fairness of the de facto Courts that they opted to take their legal problems to these rather than those run by the Government.

I spoke with a former Supreme Court judge who had visited the de facto State and he said that he was most impressed by what he saw. Although the ‘judges’ were young, he said that they knew the law and applied it without fear or favour – which is more than what he could say for the legal system in the South.

The Police (Tamil Eelam Police) was the other key institution for maintaining law and order. Police stations were established throughout the LTTE-controlled areas, and assigned duties to prevent crime, regulate traffic and disseminate information about crime prevention. The community involvement with the Police was a key feature responsible for the low crime rate in the de facto State.

There is not the slightest doubt that where law and order and serious offences are concerned, the civilian population in the North and East are far worse off now, after the area was overrun and handed over to the thoroughly corrupt and undisciplined Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Armed Forces and Police, and the highly dubious judicial system.

The most impressive thing the Tamil Tigers did was to show that an outstanding State, the de facto State of Tamil Eelam, could be run – something that has never happened in the rest of the country under Sinhalese politicians.

Is Sri Lanka too small to be divided?

No, it is not. It is already divided – into a North and East under military rule, and the rest of the country under civilian rule. What is need is a division that addresses the ethnoreligious chauvinism of the Sinhalese – that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala – Buddhist nation. If it is a Sinhala-Buddhist nation, there is no alternative except to set up a separate Tamil nation – since the Tamils are neither Sinhalese nor Buddhists. It is as simple as that.

With a land area of 25,200 sq miles, Sri Lanka is not a particularly small country and is much larger than many UN countries. It is double the size of Belgium. To claim that Sri

Lanka cannot be divided is arrant nonsense. If divided into a Tamil State in the North and East and a Sinhalese State in the rest of the country:

The Sinhalese State – 18,200 sq miles is larger than 63 UN countries

The Tamil State – 7,000 sq miles is larger than 38 UN nations. 30 times larger than Singapore.

When compared to Israel and Palestine, the results are even more interesting:

Barack Obama in his Cairo speech on 4 June 2009 said,

“The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

If a Two-State solution is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, why not Sri Lanka?

To be continued…

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