Human rights and democracy at the centre of the
by Rohini Hensman
HUMAN RIGHTS: The local government election results demonstrated
that the JVP's claims to popularity were exaggerated, while the JHU is
really of no political importance. Paradoxically, this puts Mahinda
Rajapakse under even greater pressure than before to deliver on his
promise of peace. If he fails, the blame cannot be put on his allies.
While he may not be able to dispense with the JVP altogether, he is in
a much stronger position to bargain with it for a position that could win
the approval of a majority of Tamils, especially on the issue of a
permanent solution to the conflict. If he insists on a unitary state and
thus allows the LTTE to perpetuate the conflict, the responsibility for
this betrayal of the public's expectations of peace will fall fairly and
squarely on him.
At the same time, the results do not suggest majority approval for
Ranil Wikremesinghe's policy of giving in to the LTTE's demand for
absolute power in the North and East. This opens up the possibility of
a negotiating position in the next round of talks with the LTTE, which is
neither an appeasement of their totalitarian demands, like that of the
UNF, nor a Sinhala chauvinist refusal to consider the justifiable
demands of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.
The issue of paramilitaries The JVP is right to attack the CFA of 2002
and the role of the Norwegian mediators. Yet its proposal that both
should simply be dumped reveals a sad lack of tactical thinking on
their part. Just as martial arts train combatants to use their opponents'
weight against those very opponents, the LTTE's desperation to
eliminate rival Tamil groups can be used to press for a new CFA.
If it is true that there are armed groups other than the LTTE and
Government Security Forces acting in the North and East, who or what
is to blame for the situation? It can quite convincingly be argued that
the LTTE, the UNF, the Norwegian mediators and the CFA of 2002 are
Retaliate with equal violence If the leadership of one party - the LTTE
- is allowed to violate the human rights of the public, critics and even
internal dissidents with impunity, as it was under the 2002 CFA, then it
can only be a matter of time before some opponents of this leadership
decide to retaliate with equal violence.
This is what has happened in the North and East. The government is
not in a position to prevent this from happening by disarming the
parties who are under LTTE attack, and thus helping the LTTE to
massacre them, nor should it agree to do so under any circumstances.
The only solution that is compatible with international law is the
incorporation of clauses protecting human rights into the CFA, so that
neither the government, nor the LTTE, nor other Tamil groups, can
violate them with impunity. A fool-proof monitoring and enforcement
mechanism, probably involving international human rights monitors
who are different from the ceasefire monitors, would need to be
agreed and put into place.
All parties who genuinely support human rights would benefit from
such a development, and the civilian population of the North and East
would benefit most of all. If the LTTE objects, it must asked to explain
its objections to the rest of the world.
If it is complaining that the human rights of its members and
supporters are being violated, why on earth should it object to
measures that will stop these violations? The Government should call
the LTTE's bluff on this issue instead of allowing them to get away with
Putting Human Rights and Democracy at the Centre of the Peace
The Norwegians too should be asked to state in public whether or not
they think that measures protecting human rights should be
incorporated in the CFA.
Their racist contempt for the human and democratic rights of
non-European peoples was responsible for their spectacular failure to
advance the peace process in Palestine, and they have displayed the
same attitude in Sri Lanka.
For example, Eric Solheim's callous disregard for the agony of child
conscripts and their families, and the use of Norwegian soil for issuing
death-threats against Tamils like Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole,
demonstrates their belief that Tamils do not have the same human
rights as Europeans.
It is this dismissive attitude towards international law that makes the
Norwegians unsuitable as mediators, and if the JVP were to highlight
this, and make concrete proposals for remedial measures, they would
be taken much more seriously.
Instead, by emphasising only the fact that the CFA gives control of
part of the country to a Tamil group, and that the Norwegians are
supporting this group, they have branded themselves as Sinhala
This impression is strengthened by their opposition to a Federal
Worse still, Mahinda Rajapakse, by echoing the JVP-JHU insistence on
a unitary state, has created the impression that Government policy is
ruled by the Sinhala nationalist agenda. The irony is that by doing so,
he and the JVP-JHU legitimise both the LTTE and the Norwegians in
the eyes of many Tamils as well as the international community.
armed resistance The perception that there is a strong Sinhala
nationalist lobby in Sri Lanka, opposed to recognition of the legitimate
rights of the Tamil minority, leads them to conclude that armed
resistance to this lobby and the state it controls is legitimate. For all
those who are not being crushed under the jackboots of the LTTE, it is
only too easy to believe that it represents this legitimate resistance.
Thus pursuing the path proposed by the JVP - of repudiating the CFA
of 2002 and sacking the Norwegians - would simply confirm in the eyes
of the world that the Government of Sri Lanka is controlled by rabid
Sinhala chauvinists, and the LTTE should be supported against them.
This would be a public relations disaster for the Government.
On the other hand, giving in to the demands of the LTTE and the
Norwegians to 'disarm paramilitaries' so that the LTTE can slaughter
them would be equally disastrous.
It would involve the Government in an armed conflict with Karuna's
forces (which is not even a 'paramilitary' in terms of the 2002 CFA,
since Karuna was at that time part of the LTTE), weakening both and
making the Government an accomplice in a war crime.
The Prabhakaran forces would then be in a strong position to launch
their final war, and would undoubtedly do so.
The only way to avoid both these disasters is to put human rights and
democracy at the centre of the peace process.
Failure to do this has allowed the war to drag on endlessly, and will
allow it to continue for decades to come.
And the failure has not been confined to successive governments.
Sinhalese liberals and NGOs who accept and propagate the fascistic
view that the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamil people of Sri
Lanka are equally guilty.
Indeed, by making the Sinhalese masses believe that all Tamils are
responsible for atrocities committed by the LTTE, they have stirred up
hatred against innocent Tamils, and incited violence against Tamil
civilians by the armed forces. Like the Norwegians, they have sided
with a small minority of Tamil oppressors against the vast majority of
Ensuring that the peace process itself as well as the proposed
permanent solution satisfy the conditions of justice and democracy is
the only safeguard against both these disasters. Responsibility for this
rests on the Government in general and the President in particular.
Initiating a debate on federalism Senior Tamil politician V.
Anandasangaree has explained why many Tamils, given the trauma
they have suffered in a Sinhala-dominated unitary state, want a
federal constitution. The new Tamil party, the Akhila Ilankai Tamil
United Front, also stands for a federal solution in a united Sri Lanka.
There is considerable evidence that a permanent settlement along
these lines would be acceptable to the vast majority of Tamils in Sri
This alone would make it imperative to have a public debate on the
issue. Since the conflict arose out of the denial of democratic rights to
Tamils, it can only be resolved by restoring those democratic rights,
which first and foremost involves listening to them and taking their
If the JVP and Mahinda Rajapakse object to any kind of federal
arrangement, they must explain why they object, and must, in addition,
describe in detail the alternative measures they would take to
guarantee protection of the basic rights of minorities in a unitary Sri
At the same time, advocates of a federal solution must describe in
detail what kind of federal arrangement they advocate - since several
are possible - and reply to the criticisms put forward by opponents of
The media must take this debate to the public and enable the
maximum number of people to participate.
solution acceptable to the vast majority
It is only out of such a process that a solution acceptable to the vast
majority of people in Sri Lanka of all ethnic and religious communities
This solution will no doubt involve a considerable amount of
devolution, but within a common democratic framework, and must
avoid undue economic fragmentation within a country that is already
This is what the LTTE fears most of all, because it is the only way it
can be defeated. Once such a proposal has been accepted by most
Tamils, the LTTE would become redundant, lose their raison d'etre as
a military outfit.
They would have to lay down their arms and enter the political
mainstream in order to gain acceptance from Tamil people as well as
the international community.
But this is something they have shown themselves completely unwilling
to do. That is why they are counting on the present Government to
stick to its position on a unitary state, which is seen as a Sinhala
nationalist agenda, so that they will then be seen to be justified in
pursuing a separate state of Tamil Eelam.
The previous PA administration, with all its faults, had the courage to
propose such a constitution, and the way the LTTE responded is
They murdered Neelan Thiruchelvam, who worked on it, and
Lakshman Kadirgamar, who supported it, and almost succeeded in
murdering Chandrika Kumaratunga, who presented it.
Today, given that the rest of the world is not willing to back a separate
Tamil state, they claim they would accept a federal solution. On this
issue too, will Mahinda Rajapakse have the guts to call their bluff, or
will he play along with them by continuing to advocate a unitary state?
The ball is in his court! [Courtesy: DailyNews]