Brian Senewiratne, MD, FRCP,FRACP, Consultant Physician, Brisbane, Australia
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.
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:
|Sri Lanka||25,200||Sq m||Israel-Palestine||10,343||Sq m|
|Sinhalese area||18,200||Sq m||Israel||8,019||Sq m|
|Tamil area||7,000||Sq m||Palestine||2,324||Sq m|
Barack Obama in his Cairo speech[i] 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.”[ii]
If a Two-State solution is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, why not Sri Lanka?
There has been a mass relocation of Sinhalese from the South to the Tamil areas by the Government. What is not widely known is that the Sinhalese military and police who have quit their jobs are being relocated in the North with their families.
The result is a massive increase in the number of Sinhalese in the North and East. If this continues, the North and East will be dominated by Sinhalese. The electoral consequences are obvious. This will not be reversible as has happened in Amparai in the East, which was a Tamil area that has been ‘Sinhalised’.
The long-term objective of accelerated Sinhalisation of the Tamil area is to destroy the Tamil homeland and establish a monoethnic identity throughout the island – a Sinhala-Buddhist nation.
Buddhist temples and structures are proliferating in an area where there are no Buddhist civilians. The only Buddhists are members of the Armed Forces and Police.
What often is that a ‘Bo-tree” (Ficus Religiosa) is planted in an area which is then declared a Buddhist sacred site. A Buddhist temple is then erected.
The British Tamils Forum (BTF) has published an excellent book, “Proliferating Buddhist Structures in Tamil homeland – Sowing the seeds of Disharmony”.
Education in Jaffna in chaos
Daya Somasunderam, Professor of Psychiatry in Jaffna, delivered an important lecture, “A lost Generation of Tamil Youth: Impact of past war trauma, present psychosocial context, globalisation and Education”. What he said was alarming. 70% of students failed the Grade 5 examination annually, and 50% failed the Ordinary Level (O/L) examination. Of those who sit for the Advanced Level (A/L) examination, only 15 % enter Universities.
Even the few who enter universities are not assured of a bright future. The university system that was dong reasonable well up to the early 1980s has deteriorated drastically due to the general chaos
of war, poor resources, and support from the State, loss of able academics and teachers with the general brain drain. This ‘must-read’ publication is on the net.
The difficulty in getting into universities is compounded by the fact that large numbers of Sinhalese from the South are getting into the Jaffna University. Some of them qualify for university education. Others get in because they know the ‘right’ people.
As someone who has been a Senior Lecturer in Medicine in the Peradeniya University in the late 1960s, I am well aware that a significant number of medical students were Tamils, many from Jaffna. There is no place that I know of in any part of the world that has produced more professionals than Jaffna. As such, what is now going on in Jaffna is an absolute disaster. Jaffna will take decades, if ever, to get back to where it was at the top of the educational league table.
Of equal concern is that parents, who can afford to do so, are sending their children abroad. Once trained, they are not going to return. This serious brain drain will affect not only Jaffna but the rest of the country.
Poverty and unemployment in the North
Poverty and unemployment are higher in the Northern Province than anywhere else in Sri Lanka. At the Northern Provincial Council’s 2nd budget reading on 12/12/17, Chief Minister Wigneswaran said that out of all 25 districts in Sri Lanka, Kilinochchi was the poorest. Mullaitivu which was previously the poorest is now number 2 on the list of poverty by district.
Jaffna is the 5th poorest district.
The level of unemployment is also highest in the Northern Province than in any other province.
Sexual violence in the North and East
Sexual violence has increased across the Northern Province. Women widows in their 20s are sexually assaulted at work. Women teachers are sexually assaulted in schools. Gangs commit sexual violence for money. Sri Lankan Tamil men pay huge sums of money to watch filmed village rapes.
Unwanted pregnancies and teenage pregnancies are an issue. Many men come to Jaffna from other places, have relationships with women, marry them and then leave them. Society shuns these women seeing them as indecent.
Sex is a taboo subject in Tamil culture. As such, sex educations is not taught or taught poorly. In what is still a male dominated society, such issues are difficult to deal with.
My book Sri Lanka: Sexual violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces has nearly doubled in size in two years since it was first published in 2015. It is now (March 2018) 264 pages.
Continuing violation of human rights
There continues to be involuntary ‘disappearances’, abduction, arrest without warrant, illegal detention at unknown sites and a failure to release those who are being held without charge or trial. Nothing has changed in the North and East with the replacement of the dreadful Rajapaksa regime by Sirisena.
The 2016/17 Amnesty International Annual report spells it out. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/sri-lanka/report-sri-lanka.
ARBITRARY ARRESTS AND DETENTIONS
Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continue to be detained under the PTA, which permits extended administrative detention and shifts the burden of proof onto the detainee alleging torture or other ill-treatment. In 2015 the government pledged to repeal the PTA and replace it with legislation that complied with international standards, but had not implemented this commitment by the end of 2016. A draft policy and legal framework for replacement legislation submitted for cabinet approval in October retained many of the PTA’s most problematic elements.
TORTURE AND OTHER ILL-TREATMENT
The UN Special Rapporteur on torture visited Sri Lanka in May. He found that severe forms of torture by police continued.
In May (2016), Sri Lanka ratified the International Convention against Enforced Disappearance, but by the end of the year had not passed legislation criminalizing enforced disappearance in domestic law.
The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons concluded in July, having received over 19,000 civilian complaints. However, little progress was made in clarifying the fate of the missing or bringing perpetrators of enforced disappearance to justice. In August, Parliament adopted an Act establishing the Office on Missing Persons to assist families to trace missing relatives and take on the case load left by the Commission.
Impunity persisted for alleged crimes under international law committed during the armed conflict. Impunity also remained for many other human rights violations. These included the January 2006 extrajudicial executions of five students in Trincomalee by security personnel and the killing of 17 aid workers with the NGO Action Against Hunger in Muttur in August 2006.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
In August 2016, Balendran Jeyakumari, an activist against enforced disappearances, who had previously been detained without charge for a year under the PTA, was once again summoned for questioning. Human rights defender Ruki Fernando remained barred by court order from speaking about an ongoing police investigation into his advocacy on her case; his confiscated electronic equipment was not returned.
Sandhya Eknaligoda, the wife of disappeared dissident cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, faced repeated threats and acts of intimidation. These included protests outside the court where her husband’s habeas corpus case was being heard, and a poster campaign that accused her of supporting the LTTE after the police identified seven army intelligence officers suspected of involvement in his disappearance.
FREEDOMS OF EXPRESSION, ASSEMBLY AND ASSOCIATION
People engaged in activism in the north and east continued to report harassment and surveillance by security forces.
Tamils continued to complain of ethnic profiling, surveillance and harassment by police who suspected them of LTTE links. In August, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that the PTA was disproportionately used against Tamils and was discriminatory in effect.
Christians and Muslims reported incidents of harassment, threats and physical violence by members of the public and supporters of hardline Sinhala Buddhist political groups. Police failed to take action against attackers or in some cases blamed religious minorities for inciting opponents. In June, a group calling itself Sinha Le (Lion’s Blood) was linked to protests against a mosque construction in the city of Kandy. In June, its supporters waged a social media campaign of threats and intimidation against or in some cases blamed religious minorities for inciting opponents. In June, its supporters waged a social media campaign of threats and intimidation against Equal Ground, an organization seeking human and political rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning (LGBTIQ) community of Sri Lanka.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS
Impunity persisted for violence against women and girls, including rape by military personnel and civilians, and also in situations of domestic violence such as marital rape.
Women human rights defenders supporting constitutional reforms advocated repeal of Article 16(1), which upheld laws existing prior to the current Constitution, even when they were inconsistent with the Constitution. This included tenets of Muslim personal law that permitted child marriage and failed to recognize marital rape.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)
The PTA has been condemned by every human rights group in the world. It has been used for extensive violation of human rights. It has been used for numerous illegal arrests, detention without charge or trial, ‘disappearances’, sexual violence, torture and much more.
The current Sri Lankan government committed in the UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 in October 2015 to repeal the PTA and replace it with anti-terrorism legislation in line with “contemporary international best practice”.
A ‘Counter-Terrorism Act’ (CTA) was drafted by the government. Rather than reining in the PTA’s definition of ‘terror’, the CTA expanded upon it, criminalising any activity that threatens the ‘unity’ of Sri Lanka. This includes gathering information to supply to a third party deemed (by the Sri Lankan government) as a threat to Sri Lanka’s unity. The potential for local activists collecting information about human rights abuses being accused and charged with ‘terrorism’ is very real.
In early January 2018, the Sri Lankan cabinet approved the CTA. This was slammed by civil society groups stating that it fails to meet international standards and “leaves the door open for future abuse”.
Torture by the Sri Lankan Military and Police is widespread, especially in the Tamil North and East. This has been well documented by the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) administered by the Foundation for Human Rights South Africa under its director, transitional justice expert, Yasmin Sooka.
“Unstopped: 2016/17 Torture in Sri Lanka”, July 2017, is one of several publications by ITJP. The site has a detailed account of ‘Joseph Camp’ (Joint Operational Security Forces Headquarters – JOSFH) in the middle of Vavuniya town in the North. It is the main torture centre in the Tamil area. Torture rooms and equipment used for torture are clearly seen.
There are more than 40 other torture sites n Sri Lanka run by the Police and Armed Forces and include the notorious CID (Criminal Investigation Department) torture site in Colombo, the dreaded “4th Floor” where torture has been well documented. This has changed after President Sirisena took over the country.
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) put this well: “Torture is part of the day-to-day operation of the Sri Lankan State………Therefore it is no exaggeration to say that Sri Lanka is a ‘Torture Republic’. The only inaccuracy may be about the word ‘Republic’, given the constitutional changes which have virtually created an authoritarian system”.
National reconciliation is nonsense
I have published a detailed paper which is on the net “Why National Reconciliation in Sri Lanka is not possible”. The Government, past or present, has no interest in national reconciliation – a term used to bluff the international community.
Genocide of the Tamil people
I have dealt with this in detail in an article on the net. It is not only physical genocide but cultural, linguistic, religious, economic and structural genocide. All these terms have been defined and justified in my article.
The need to establish a vaid legal and justice system in the North and East
Court cases, especially when the accused is a member of the Armed Forces or Police in the North and East, are being transferred to the Sinhalese South. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the victim and witnesses (Tamils) to go to the new location which is miles away and where the proceedings could be in Sinhala – a language they do not understand. As a result, the case is usually dropped and the culprit gets away with no conviction.
This is unacceptable. Court cases that come up for hearing in the Tamil North and East must be heard in Courts in that area.
Chaos in Jaffna
It is not widely appreciated by the outside world that the social situation in Jaffna is chaotic.
Drugs and alcohol
Drugs are being brought by the Navy from Kerala in South India and sold in Jaffna. Illicit drugs are freely available and sold even to school-going teenagers, some as young as 11 years. The increased use of drugs has increased the crime rate massively. Drug users commit murder, rape and all sorts of crimes. Drug dealers are openly selling them. They are also being sold in villages, creating huge issues for the community.
There is only one hospital that offers alcohol and drug rehabilitation services. There clearly needs to be more drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. Without them they cause many social issues in society.
There has been a marked increase in domestic violence after the end of the armed conflict. Drugs, alcohol, the husband being unemployed and not earning any money, the husband believing that his wife is having an affair (largely untrue), are some of the causes. There are even more serious issues which I will not deal with until I am able to verify them.
Women tolerate this violence for the sake of the children and they do not want to lose the respect of the community.
Women rarely report these cases to the Police for fear that there will be no action. When the situation becomes critical and they cannot bear the physical violence, they seek help from NGOs (Non-government Organisations) but there are too few and are poorly resourced.
The Police are 95% Sinhalese and do not know Tamil. This language problem means that many cases go unreported or if a case is reported, the process is long and drawn out and often ineffective.
Often the Police just tell people to come back because they do not have a translator. The message finally gets through that it is an exercise in futility.
Corrupt Police nd Armed Forces
The Police and Armed Forces are corrupt. The Sri Lankan Police are reported to be the most corrupt in the world.
The Police, Army and Navy are involved with in the drug problem plaguing Jaffna. As such they are not trustworthy particularly if the criminal act is drug related and involves the Armed Forces and Police.
Some of this is dealt with in my book on Sexual Violence of Tamils which I have referred to earlier.
Women-headed families (WHF)
There are 69,000 women-headed families in the Northern Province of whom 34,000 are in Jaffna.
A great deal of money is wasted by the government building houses that are of little use. If this money is given to families, they could build larger and far more useful homes for far less money.
Many of these women do hard labour to support their families. Some of their children also work from an early age to support the family. Children having to work have an adverse effect on school work.
The definition of women-headed families (those who have lost their husbands during the war) is too restricted. There are many who are unmarried women with children, divorced women with children, and women with alcoholic or unemployed husbands who do not work. However, they are not officially recognised as needing help.
Counselling in short supply
There are only one or two NGOs offering counselling, in villages. As a result, family problems relating to abuse of women, abuse of children and domestic violence are not addressed. As a result serious mental health problems such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are not addressed. Not surprisingly, suicide rates are high. Professor Daya Somasunderam’s address which has already been referred to, states that suicide rates in Jaffna are high and rising.
People in the Northern Province, particularly in Jaffna, have always been hard working and disciplined. This is no longer the case.
During the war, the Northern Province was cut off from the rest of the country economically and socially. After the war ended, things previously unobtainable became freely available. So did money especially from abroad. From having access to nothing, people have access to almost everything. People do not know how to handle this.
Whereas earlier, people only bought essentials they now can buy such things as smart phones which allow access to pornography which has contributed to sexual violence.
As mentioned earlier, education has suffered seriously. Adults repeatedly say that children lack motivation to study and expect parents to buy things even if they cannot afford to do so. This has resulted in serious family problems.
The caste system which was virtually stamped out by the Tamil Tigers has returned. This is particularly so in Jaffna. Many of the ‘low caste’ people are poor. Some of their children who need tuition do not have the money to pay tuition fees.
The 6th Amendment to the Constitution must be scrapped
Introduced in August 1983 by Sri Lanka’s first dictator, J.R Jayawardena, the 6th Amendment states that:
“No person shall directly or indirectly, in or outside Sri Lanka, support, espouse, promote, finance, encourage or advocate the establishment f a separate State within the territory of Sri Lanka”.
In other words, one cannot even discuss a separate state for the Tamils.
The penalty for violating this Constitutional Amendment is severe. It includes confiscation of movable or immovable property.
While those outside Sri Lanka do not need to worry about this nonsense, those in Sri Lanka do have to worry because the full force of the law can be applied. It might, in fact, even be applied to those outside Sri Lanka who have property in Sri Lanka.
It is imperative that this absurd Constitutional Amendment is removed.
A Referendum in the North and East
It is important to have a Referendum in the North and East to ask the people what they want. Are they happy with what is going on or do they want a separate State, Tamil Eelam? It has to be a proper Referendum. A poorly conducted Referendum could be more dangerous than no referendum. It has to be a UN conducted Referendum with UN Forces replacing the Sri Lankan Armed Forces as was done in East Timor. If the result is “We want a Separate State,” then the UN will have to deliver, as was done in East Timor.
Tamils without a leader
After the death of S.J.V.Chelvanayagam, there has been no Tamil civilian leader worth talking about. The TNA (Tamil National Alliance) is a joke and the Sri Lankan government treats it as such. The TNA spokesman is effectively supporting the Sri Lankan government, not the Tamil people who elected him.
For several years the Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar, Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph was the unofficial leader of the Tamil people. I was worried about his survival and wrote an entire booklet: “Sri Lanka: Rt Rev Dr Rayappu Joseph and others in danger”. He had a devastating stroke and is unable to speak. Whether this was due to medical causes or whether he was poisoned I do not know. What I do know is that the Tamils lost an invaluable leader.
An upcoming leader is the Chief Minister of the Northern Province, a former Supreme Court judge, C.V.Wigneswaran. I gather that M.A.Sumanthiran, the spokesman for the TNA, has demanded that Wigneswaran be removed from his position.
At a recent event in the Jaffna Hindu College, three young Tamil boys with exceptional courage, got on to the stage and said, “Sumanthiran must resign from Parliament since he does not represent the Tamil people any more. He is with the Government”. These are, hopefully, the future leaders of the Tamil people.
The absolute need to have human rights monitors in the Tamil areas
When there is a violation of human rights such as rape by the Armed Forces, Police or paramilitary Tamil groups working with the government, there is nowhere that the victim, a Tamil woman or girl, can lodge a complaint. To go to the Police is not only useless but might even be dangerous. In my book on Sexual Violence of Tamils by the Armed Forces, I have said that if the victim goes to the Police station or the Army Camp, there is a risk that the victim or whoever accompanies her, getting raped or the details taken, not for any action but for a midnight ‘visit’ by the Police or the Armed Forces.
The claim that international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group are allowed into the country is not good enough. For a start, if/when these organisations visit the Tamil areas they are accompanied by members of the Armed Forces or Police who take notes of who was visited and what was said. This even happened when the former UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Navaneetham Pillay, visited the area. Before her visit, people were told that any complaints to her would be noted and the consequences could be serious.
There is no alternative to having set places manned by Tamil civilians to whom victims of human rights abuse could complain without fear.
It will take years before this serious problem is resolved and it will not be resolved until the Armed Forces are removed from the area and Sinhalese Police are replaced by Tamil Police.
The potential for development of the Tamil North and East
There are several economists who have said that the Sri Lankan North and East have the greatest potential for development. It is this that has been, to a large extent, taken over by the Armed Forces to run commercial projects.
The Sinhalese Armed Forces in the North own a 180 acre farm, many hotels and resorts, a golf course, three cricket stadiums, a ferry service, two whale watching tours, two air lines and numerous cafes that dot the roads in the North and East. These are just the ones we know about. Many have been opened after President Sirisena got into power.
Some of these can be seen in the outstanding publication by the British Tamils Forum that I have referred to.
The land for all this has been seized from the Tamil people without the payment of compensation.
Sri Lanka is up for sale
Sri Lanka in general, the Tamil areas in particular, are up for sale. The buyers are mainly from China and India. When Sirisena came into power some of these Chinese projects were put on hold. The Chinese government simply said that the projects were run by Chinese banks and that stopping them might result in legal action. The order was promptly withdrawn.
Today there are thousands of Chinese in Sri Lanka so much so that I gather some street signs are in Sinhalese and Chinese. Sri Lanka owes China some US$ 8 billion.
The Economy in crisis
Inheriting large budget deficits and dangerously high debt, the Sri Lankan government has been unable to deliver election promises of jobs and improved standards of living. Money borrowed from the International Monetary Fund always comes with conditions which adversely affect those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Raised food prices and cutting down on subsidies (always insisted on by the IMF), have serious social and economic effects on the people. Facing a balance of payments crisis, the Government has been forced to do a U-turn on its campaign pledges and cancel what it calls “wasteful Chinese-funded infrastructure projects”.
The Government plans to lease the new port and much land for a Chinese-controlled industrial zone in former President Rajapaksa’s home area in Hambantota. However, this was met with violent protests in January 2017. Finalising the long-term lease would have paid off US$ 1.1 billion of the 8 billion owed to China.
Sri Lanka’s debt has risen from Rs 120 billion in 1981 to Rs 10,500 billion (US $ 685 billion) in November 2016. Export earnings are declining. There has also been a collapse of the States income from 23% of GDP in 1996 to 11.3% in 2014.
There has also been a sharp fall in Sri Lankan production and widening inequality of income distribution.
Given this economic crisis, a well-planned economic boycott of goods and services going in and out of Sri Lanka till the Tamil people get their rights is very important.
China has a stranglehold on Sri Lanka. 4 years ago Sri Lanka built Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) in Hambantota (Rajapaksa’s home area) with Chinese assistance of $190 million. Today MRIA is running at a huge loss and Sri Lanka is unable to pay back dues to China’s EXIM bank.
China will lend money to countries at high interest rates which the recipient country is unable to repay. This leads to China getting a permanent footprint in the country.
Not far from the loss-making airport is the sea port of Hambantota also built by China. China has recently got a 99-year lease for running the Hambantota port.
For the Hambantota port project, Sri Lanka borrowed US $ 300 million from China at interest rates of 6.3%. Interest rates for loans from India to neighbouring countries is as low as 1%, and even lower.
Sri Lanka is currently unable to pay its debt to China because of its slow economic growth. To resolve its debt crisis, the Sri Lankan government has agreed to convert the debt into equity. This will probably lead to Chinese ownership of the project finally.
Sri Lanka’s decision to hand over the loss-making airport to India is a move against China’s tightening noose of debt.
China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) project is a global partnership of China. Touted as a global partnership by China, OBOR is really an exploitative, colonial stratagem to gain vital assets in smaller countries.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
Responsibility to Protect is a global political commitment which was endorsed by all the members of the UN at the 2005 World Summit, to prevent genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
R2P is based on the premise that sovereignty is a responsibility to protect all its population from mass atrocities and human rights violations. It is based on a respect for the norms and international law relating to sovereignty, peace and security, human rights and armed conflict.
Clearly this is applicable to the North and East of Sri Lanka where the Tamil people are in need of protection.
Anne-Marie Slaughter from Princeton University called R2P “the most important shift in our conception of sovereignty since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648”.
Louise Arbour from International Crisis Group said that “The responsibility to protect is the most important and imaginative doctrine to emerge on the international scene for decades”.
Professor Damien Kingsbury, Deakins University, Australia, has written an entire book. Sri Lanka and the Responsibility to Protect: politics, ethnicity and genocide.
I will leave it to lawyers to decide where we go from here. As for me, knowing the talk-shop that the UN is, I will not be surprised if the Responsibility to Protect are just three words with no meaning.
Problems in the South
Maithripala Sirisena was elected as President in 2015 almost entirely because of the votes he received from the Tamil people in the North and East. In his ‘100-day’ program after he was elected as to what he would do, the word ‘Tamil’ was not even mentioned.
There is an outstanding recent article “Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere” published by the International Crisis Group on 16 May 2017. It spells out what is going on in Sri Lanka, including and especially the Sinhalese South. It is on the net.
Sirisena is the weakest and most insecure President that Sri Lanka has ever had. Ranil Wickremasinghe, head of the UNP and Prime Minister, is in effect the de facto President, Sirisena ( a breakaway from the SLFP) being the elected President.
It was Wickremasinghe who prevented Gotabaya Rajapaksa from being prosecuted (which he should have been on several charges of fraud and even murder). I am told that there was a specific order from Wickremasinghe that no action should be taken against Rajapaksa. The reason for this extraordinary situation is that if the Rajapaksas are wiped out,(which they will be if the necessary action is taken), Sirisena will lead the SLFP. By keeping the SLFP divided (between Rajapaksa and Sirisena) Wickremasinghe has less of a problem.
Wickremasinghe’s past political record is such that this is entirely credible.
One way or the other, at the next Presidential election I will be most surprised if Sirisena is re-elected. Into the vacant shoes will step in the Rajapaksas who are waiting in the wings. Sri Lanka could end up with Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President and Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister. That will be the end of Sri Lanka in general, the Tamils in particular. I will get back to this dreadful possibility later.
The Sirisena bombshell
On 12 October 2016 in a speech before the military, Sirisena angrily denounced his own government’s investigations into corruption, saying that those undertaken by the police and the Commission to Investigate Alleged Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) were politically motivated. This was met with shock and anger by civil society activists and sections of the public that had backed his government.
By criticising CIABOC and the Financial Crimes Investigation of the Police, demanding that they inform him in advance of filing charges in major cases and appearing to protect military suspects, he was seen as undermining the independence of the investigations.
Four days later, CIABOC Director General, Dilrukshi Dias Wickremasinghe humiliatingly resigned. In subsequent weeks, Courts released on bail all remaining military intelligence personnel held on suspicion of involvement in murder and abduction cases- including the January 2009 murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the 2010 abduction of cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda. The speech and the releases cast a cloud over ongoing investigations and deepen doubts about the government’s willingness to pursue cases against the Armed Forces and the associates of the former regime in the face of military resistance.
Politically active Buddhist monks
Politically active Buddhist monks have been the curse in Sri Lanka for decades. It was one of them who assassinated Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in the first political assassination in Sri Lanka. Venerable Somarama Thero who shot the Prime Minister was convicted of murder and hanged. Buddharakhitha Thero who was the master mind behind the assassination was also convicted of murder and sentenced to death. However, he was reprieved and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The power of these monks is enormous. Buddharakkitha Thero, a whiskey-drinking monk saw to it that Bandaranaike appointed his mistress Wimala Wijewardena as the Health Minister. I know all this because my mother was a devout Buddhist and worshipped in the temple where Buddharakhitha was the chief priest.
These Buddhist monks have blocked every attempt by every Government to devolve any power to the Tamils claiming that it is a sell-out of a Sinhala-Buddhist country to the Tamils.
They are now getting even more violent. The Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Power Force) led by a very violent man in yellow robes who should have been arrested for threatening the Police and even Ministers in the Government, remains at large.
As this report is being written, on 6 March 2018, President Sirisena declared a state of emergency after violent Buddhist monks attacked Muslim temples, homes and businesses in Kandy. This type of anti-Muslim violence by extremist Buddhist monks will continue.
With some 20,000 Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka the possibility of an acceptable solution to the problems facing the Tamil people is not good.
The 2018 Provincial Council elections
On 10 February 2018, elections were held in 340 local authorities (divisional, urban and municipal councils). The results were a serious blow to the current government, in particular the President. The previous President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, launched a new party – the Podujana Peramuna- which virtually swept the board. Here are the results:
Party Local authorities elected
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Mahinda Rajapaksa) 231
United national Party (Ranil Wickremasinghe) 34
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (Maithripala Sirisena) 7
Illankai Tamil Arasa Kachchu (Tamil party) 41
Presidential elections are not due till January 2020. If they are held now, it is very likely thet President Sirisena will be defeated and the Rajapaksas will be back in power. Mahinda Rajapaksa cannot contest the Presidency because he has already held the maximum number of terms. However, his brother, Gotabaya, a US citizen, can contest provided he renounces his American citizenship.
In a recent interview, Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that if he is ‘called upon’ to do so (contest the Presidency), he will do so. So, in January 2020, there is the possibility of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Here is what the ICG publication, “Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere” said about a return to the Rajapaksas “Sri Lanka’s international partners should send a clear message to President Sirisena and his wing of the SLFP that reunifying the party around either Gotabaya or Mahinda Rajapaksa will not only damage Sri Lanka’s long-term prospects for sustainable peace but also endanger the international backing it has recently regained”.
Sri Lanka’s Coalition government is falling apart
In January 2015, Maithripala Sirisena, the Health Minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and the General Secretary of his party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), decided to contest Rajapaksa at the Presidential election, and won.
The presidential election was followed in August 2015 by the parliamentary election which was won by the United National Party (UNP)-led coalition over a group led by former President Rajapaksa and most of Sirisena’s own SLFP.
That allowed Sirisena to convince the fractured SLFP to form an unprecedented national unity government with its bitter UNP rival, led by Ranil Wickremasinghe who was elected Prime Minister.
Most of the SLFP politicians who quit the SLFP with Sirisena never accepted the SLFP-UNP coalition, especially since they were treated as the ‘junior partners’ rather than equals.
This has now come to a head especially because of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s arrogance and unilateral policy making.
There has been increasing tensions between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, with Sirisena asking Wickremasinghe to step down as Prime Minister – which, of course, Wickremasinghe flatly refused to do.
Much of the current chaos has been set out in the publication already referred to by the International Crisis Group (Brussels) titled “Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere”. For the current publication what is important are the “Recommendations”
- Restore civilian authority and build confidence in the north and east by:-
- expediting and making more transparent the return of military occupied land to its owners;
- ending military involvement in farms and shops that harm local businesses;
- ending military involvement of Buddha statues in Tamil and Muslim areas; and
- ceasing intimidation and surveillance of lawful political activities.
This very important paper was published on 30/01/17 and updated on 16/05/17 – well before the recent (March 2018) provincial council elections in which Sirisena’s party was routed by the new party formed by the previous President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
A follow-up publication by ICG will be worth reading.
The need for international pressure on the Sri Lankan government has been mentioned several times in this publication.
The ICG publication “Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere” states that ”Internationals have been too quick to celebrate a Sri Lanka success story and failed to maximise their leverage…….Without significant external pressure, the government is unlikely to pursue reforms seriously enough”.
There is no straightforward answer to this. What is important is that people should focus on this critically important issue which is the only answer to the continuing human rights problems in Sri Lanka.
Can anything be done?
Something will have to be done to save Sri Lanka, in general, the Tamils in particular. Here I will only deal with the latter.
In Sri Lanka
On 14 September 2016, there was a massive protest in Jaffna. Some 15,000 Tamils took part in the largest protest since the end of the armed conflict. Called ‘Ezhuki Thamizh (Let Tamils rise) thousands of Tamils from all eight provinces in the North and East came to protest in Jaffna which was ground down to a halt. Despite thousands of members of the Armed Forces, the crowd could not care less. It was ‘people power’ on show.
They were protesting against the military occupation of the North and East and the chauvinistic policies of the Sri Lankan government including Sinhalisation of the Tamil areas. A long list of problems faced by the Tamil people was displayed. I wrote a piece about this which is on the net (Colombo Telegraph, 4 October 2016).
On 10 February 2017, there was another massive rally in Batticaloa in the east denouncing the unitary state and genocide being envisaged in the Constitutional proposals.
On 12 October 2017, there was another complete work stoppage in Jaffna, a showdown against the Government which continues to practice inaction, duplicity and political chicanery.
These protests must be supported because they are crucial.
Outside Sri Lanka
With more than 1 million Tamils living in all the important countries in the world, these expatriate Tamils are the strongest force that those in the Sri Lankan North and East have got. Unfortunately, this massive force is divided for petty reasons or, more recently, have become apathetic and have not appreciated the gravity of the situation facing the Tamil people. Here is what they can do:
- Get the message to the world of what is going on in the North and East – especially the fact that the area is a military/police state.
- People cannot exist if their lands are taken over and their occupation, agriculture and fishing, are prevented.
- The Tamil people in this area do not live, they merely exist. Even that is becoming increasingly difficult.
- Jaffna is awash with drugs and alcohol brought by the Sri Lankan Navy from India. Those who disbelieve this must go to Jaffna and talk to the people. To go there and live in a 5-star hotel or with family and then say that all is well is adding to the problem, in addition to being untrue.
- Torture is taking place in at least 40 sites – mainly Police stations and Army Camps. The Joseph camp in the middle of Vavuniya and the CID 4th Floor in Colombo must be visited even if they are told that they are not a ‘tourist attraction.’
- Do what was done to Apartheid South Africa – isolate Sri Lanka.
- Say ‘No’ to Sri Lanka is worth supporting.
- Goods and services in and out of Sri Lanka, especially tourism, must stop. There are many places with golden beaches and sea such as Bali in Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand where the beaches are not blood stained.
- This publication and the dozen dvds I have recorded on the Tamil struggle must be distributed.
- The fact that unless the international community, especially the aid-donors act, the Tamils will cease to exist as a people. That is genocide.
- The best way to find out what is going on in Sri Lanka is by going there. Get your MP and others in positions of power to go there and see what is going on.
- Time is crucial. You must act now. Tomorrow may be too late for the Tamils.
- If you cannot go to Sri Lanka, let ‘Sri Lanka’ (asylum seekers) come to you. Listen to what they tell you. They know full well the ground situation in the Tamil areas.
- Check the outstanding publications of Yasmin Sooka – ITJP.
- Read what international human rights organisations such as AI, HRW and ICG publish.
- More important than all of these, get involved. The future of an entire nation – the Tamil Nation of Sri Lanka – is at stake.
Brian Senewiratne , Brisbane, Australia, 14 March 2018