TamilWeek, Oct 23 - 29, 2005
How long the people must wait for peace in Sri Lanka?

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam                      

The abrogated Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957 was based on the federal
principle and was a trifle compared to what had been proposed in recent years to
devolve powers to the regions. Federalism meant division of the country to the Sinhala
nationalists, who wanted absolute control over the entire provinces considered as
integral parts of the Sinhala-Buddhist holy land (Sinhaladeepa). This stance
paradoxically sowed the seeds of separation. The present multifactor national crisis
involving constitutional, political, regional, ethnic and economic issues would not have
arisen, if Sri Lanka had adopted a different political system suitable for the multi-ethnic
and multi-regional country. The sovereign nation is now ethnically and regionally
divided and there is a separate de facto government in a segment of the country
administered by the LTTE. The 2002 Cease-fire Agreement between the Sri Lanka
Government and the LTTE recognizes the reality of two regions under the control of
different authorities. The island nation would have advanced and prospered like
Malaysia and Singapore, if policies to ensure unity in diversity had been adopted. At
the time of independence, the average per capita income in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon)
was higher than the levels in these countries and now it is far less.

Manifold ills

Corruption in public administration and breakdown in law and order have made life
difficult for millions. Those responsible for several political killings have not been
apprehended and brought to justice. Knowing this weakness, the suspected party is
denying the allegations and is now challenging the authorities to prove these in the
courts. A prominent judge was murdered in Colombo by underworld gangsters. The
undue delays in hearing civil cases are denying justice to litigants. This indirectly
benefits the offenders. Recently, the case of the appointment of a drug peddler, Lal
Peiris alias Kudu Lal as Justice of the Peace was highlighted in the Colombo papers.
His name is reported to be in the Police Narcotics Bureau’s list of major drug
traffickers. According to a recent press report, he is also wanted by the Indian
government in connection with a massive ten kilo drug bust. An analyst observed, if a
confirmed drug trafficker can become a Justice of the Peace, something is seriously
not working in this country.

The pre-dawn arson attack on the office of the country’s Human Rights Commission
(NHRC) on October 12, 2005 in Colombo is said to be an attempt to intimidate the
Commission which with its wide powers to investigate extra judicial killings was probing
several such cases. The attackers left the office after ransacking files, damaging
papers, pouring kerosene and throwing matches around. Amnesty International and
Human Rights watch have called for an independent investigation into the arson attack
“because the NHRC had investigated violations of rights by state actors, including the
police”. In a statement, Amnesty International’s deputy program director Natalie Hill
said: "Such intimidation must not be permitted. The authorities must take all necessary
steps to ensure that the NHRC is able to carry out its work independently and in
safety." Attacks on newspaper publishing offices like the one that took place at the
‘Sunday Leader’ press in Ratmalana recently and earlier violent attacks on several
journalists highlight the disturbing trends. Because of the internecine feud, some Tamil
journalists have been killed and the many are now working in an apprehensive state.

Despite the ‘no war’ state, the general conditions in the country are chaotic. The
dependence of Sri Lanka on foreign finance has also increased tremendously,
because of poor economic performance. The prospects of getting the much needed
funds for development depend crucially on creating conditions for permanent peace.
The donor countries feel strongly that only the federal route will take the country to
this goal and have urged Sri Lanka governments to get on it soon. Without bringing
peace, it is not possible to tackle the mounting social, economic and law and order
problems in the country.   

Given the severity of these problems, there are no instant solutions, although the
contestants in the November 17 Presidential elections have promised they will solve
them, if elected. Although the promises given by candidates in their election
manifestos are widely taken as mere fantasies, the wide range of problems of the
people indicated by them are real. At least from this standpoint the election manifestos
are useful. There are also the day dreamers, who want the country to continue with
the failed unitary system in the prejudiced belief that it will only ensure the territorial
integrity and unity of the country.

Sunday Island columnist ‘Foxwatch’ in his article “The federal dream and reality” (16
October 2005) has dismissed the view that a federal Sri Lanka will bring peace and
stability considering it as unrealistic. In the concluding paragraph, he has said:
“Federalism may be fashionable, but is not the panacea it is claimed to be. We have
neither the conditions nor the leaders under which it would have any chance of
succeeding. There are no panaceas, political or economic, for anything in the real
world. There is no substitute for national self-respect and courage. If there is one
measure which cries out for action, it is to exert national and international pressure on
the LTTE to disarm. There can be no hope of peace, within either a unitary or federal
state, while the LTTE retains and flaunts its capacity to kill, maim and destroy.”

The important point he has missed is the fact that the LTTE is the product of the many
divisive and destructive practices pursued by governments under the unitary
constitution. The ethnic minorities were made increasingly powerless and furthermore
the regions where they were in the majority were ignored in the national development
efforts. The political culture that evolved under the unitary system also contributed to
the severe problems confronting Sri Lanka now. With regard to his remark about the
LTTE, the case for ending violence in all forms is strong when Sri Lanka adopts a
federal constitution.

Paradoxically, the commentary also contains reasons for abandoning the unitary
system in the context of the present chaotic situation in Sri Lanka. To quote: “While
both unitary and federal states operate mixes of centralised and devolved powers, the
legal status of those powers differs. In unitary states the powers devolved to regions
are usually at the discretion of the centre, and can be modified or curtailed by the
centre. In federal states the division of powers between the center and the
states/regions is usually specified in a constitution, and may not be unilaterally altered.
Whatever the exact division of powers, the division tends to be irrevocable and
permanent in federal states.” Having seen how unfairly the controlling powers under
the unitary state have been exercised since independence, the Tamils want some
crucial regional powers that are irrevocable or could not be diluted later by the center.

Tamil culture and heritage

Sadly, many Tamils have been blind to the irrevocable damage done to their valued
cultural heritage in the name of ‘liberation struggle’. The respect shown by the society
for teachers and the importance given to education were intrinsic aspects of Tamil
culture admired by other societies. It was this cultural environment that produced many
successful and eminent Tamils. Tamil culture was not destroyed by foreign invaders or
by some senseless rulers. It had withstood many trials and tribulations since time
immemorial. Not long ago, Sri Lankan Tamils were held in high esteem in foreign
countries where they were either studying or working. The same impression no longer
exists with widely reported cases of violent attacks, killings and scams by Tamil
immigrants.

The recent killing of two school principals in Jaffna symbolizes the gloomy feature of
the dented Tamil culture that is in sway. Jaffna Central College Principal Kanapathy
Rajadurai (58) was gunned down on October 12 when he was on his way to
Veerasingham Hall to attend a cultural function. He had been at the helm of Central
College for the last 10 years. Was he an obstacle to the advancement of education or
was he taking the students in some other direction away from the prescribed
curriculum? On the contrary, he was against child conscription that has deprived many
children of their basic education. The murder of Central College principal is said to be
a tit-for-tat act. D.B.S. Jeyaraj in his article, ‘A Principal for a principal as shadow war
moves to Jaffna’ in the’ TamilWeek’ of October 16-22, 2005 has given the relevant
information. Kopay Christian College Principal N. Sivakadachcham (59) was shot dead
at his residence in Kopay in front of his wife and 8-year old daughter the previous day
(October 11). Apparently, the two principals were on opposite sides of the increasingly
visible divide in Tamil society; those who support and oppose the LTTE. Nevertheless,
both have contributed immensely to the improvement of their respective schools.
Sivakadachcham had virtually resurrected his school when it had been reduced to a
wreck by years of war. The killings took place during the visit of the former SLMM
chief, Major Gen. (Retd.) Trond Furuhovde and Ian Martin, former Amnesty
International Chief, presently Head of the UN Human Rights office in Nepal.

Major Gen. Furuhovde was sent by the Norwegian peace facilitators after the Sri
Lanka government and the LTTE failed to agree on a common venue for talks on
strengthening the implementation of the Cease-Fire Agreement (CFA). Ian Martin was
commissioned by both sides during the sixth round of negotiations held in Hakone,
Japan to work out a Human Rights Declaration. He had talks with leaders of both sides
in Colombo and Kilinochchi but failed to come up with a joint declaration, as the LTTE
wanted to wait till the discussions on the CFA are held. At the present time, the
perpetrators and victims of human rights violations are Tamils, though some Sinhalese
security officers have been targeted recently.

The chief incumbent of the Sri Gayathiri Kamakodi Peedam, Ven. Rajkumar Swamigal
(34) was kidnapped by masked persons on Friday (holy day) 7 October 2005 and
severely assaulted and thrown on the street. He was subsequently admitted to the
Jaffna Teaching Hospital and later airlifted to Colombo for further medical treatment.
Gayathiri Kamakodi Peedam, a Hindu Ashram is located in Meesalai in the Jaffna
peninsula. According to published reports, the armed attackers had threatened the
priest and demanded Rs. 1.5 million from him as ransom, saying that the Hindu
Religious Affairs Ministry headed by Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) Minster
Douglas Devananda had already granted him a sum of Rs. 1.8 million for renovation
and construction work of the Ashram. He resisted and refused to pay the ransom and
paid the price for his refusal. He was found unconscious with his limbs broken on a
small street in Inuvil by the people of the area on the following day. Also on Friday
morning the Columbuthurai Temple administrator Kanthasamy Senthilkumaran (40)
was shot dead by unidentified persons, while returning home after dropping his son at
school. He was on his motorbike when he was attacked on the Sebastian Road near
Bishop’s House, Jaffna.

What is striking here is the pathetic state to which the Tamil society has descended
because of the scant respect for basic human rights that is tied to the belief that
violence is the panacea to all perceived problems in the struggle for self-rule. The
murder of E. Ananadarajah, Principal of St. John’s College, Jaffna 20 years ago by
Tamil militants was an unjustifiable act. What have the Tamils gained from this cruel
act? In the Eastern Province, principals Kandasamy of Palugamam MMV, Batticaloa
and Sithamparanathan of Vikneswara College, Trincomalee were murdered by the
Tamil freedom fighters (reference DBS article in ‘TamilWeek’ 16-22 October). Did they
consider the slain mentors obstacle to the future wellbeing of the society? Mayoress
Sarojini Yogeswaran was murdered for venturing to serve the people in Jaffna. Only
those with blinkered thinking will ignore the killings of such noble leaders as inevitable
in the present struggle for self-rule.

The Tamil society was silent when the freedom fighters killed innocent Sinhalese
women and children. The silence continued when Tamils perished in the internecine
feud in the East. Now that the spree of killings has started in the North, there is
concern amongst the Northerners that the process of self-destruction would escalate.
The immediate reaction of the students and school principals to the recent
assassinations in Jaffna gives a glimmer of hope for saving some noble aspects of
Tamil culture. A report in the Asian Tribune 17 October stated: “In a phone-in program
conducted by the London based Tamil Broadcasting Corporation (TBC), numerous
callers condemned the recent killing of the two college principals of Jaffna and urged
that in the future Tamils should not tolerate any more killings”. The expatriate Tamils
too seem to have now realized the self-destructive nature of the ‘shadow war’ in the
North-East.

Urgency for peace

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief
Coordinator, Jan Egeland speaking at a press conference in Colombo on October 12
said: "Peace is vital for the humanitarian activities. By gaining peace the parties in
conflict could benefit immensely in getting the support of the International community
in rebuilding the devastated areas. If there is a delay or the stalemate situation in the
peace process (continues) the rehabilitation activities would also be delayed further."
He also said: “The peace process is very vital for the overall rehabilitation and
reconstruction activities in the tsunami as well as the war devastated regions in Sri
Lanka". Egeland was on a two day visit to Sri Lanka to review the coordination of
International humanitarian assistance in the wake of last December's devastating
earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, with a focus on facilitating the smooth
transition from relief to recovery activities.

Citing the success of the peace process in Indonesia's tsunami hit Banda Aceh region,
he said that the Banda Aceh conflict remained a good example as the rebels in the
region who were carrying out a separatist war had now given up their struggle and
returned to the political mainstream following the tsunami devastation there.
Unfortunately, the leaders in Colombo and Vanni have not made efforts to create
conditions for the swift implementation of reconstruction and rehabilitation
programmes in the affected areas in the North-East.      

In the letter to the President on ‘Proposals for Peace in Sri Lanka’, the UNP leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe has said: “Our manifesto builds on the Oslo Communiqué. The
peace process is now approaching a stage where a common ground needs to be
created between the UNP and the SLFP -- the two largest political parties in Sri
Lanka.” At a media briefing in Colombo he said, being elected President he would hold
a referendum to find a solution to the ethnic conflict. Depending on the outcome of the
referendum a new constitution could be drawn up. Since under the constitution power
lies with the people, it is they who can help him to achieve peace. This statement is
unhelpful from the practical standpoint. It is the duty of a responsible national leader to
lead the people on the right path having convinced them of its rightness for achieving
the national aims. The proposed referendum (not just an opinion poll) will only be
purposeful, if a draft federal frame is first explained and then submitted to the people
for approval. This is all the more necessary because the SLFP Presidential candidate
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse in his Presidential ‘THOUGHTS’ has pledged to
seek a settlement under a unitary constitution. The resurgence of the distrust in
federalism at this time, when there is the urgent need to stop all killings and create
conditions for permanent peace is most unfortunate.   

In appositely titled ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ (Thoughts) the aspirant to lead the country for
the next six years thinks an ultimate solution to the ethnic crisis could only be reached
through negotiations and not through war and that a settlement should be on the
basis of a unitary state. There are three thoughts here – negotiations, no war and
unitary state as a basis for settlement. Besides the underlying contradictions, the
emphasis on the unitary state is unwise. Given the existing realities not forgetting the
cause for which the brutal war was waged (suspended since February 2002) by the
LTTE and the enormous destruction it caused to the people and the country as a
whole, the statement reflects the wishful thinking, if it is not the gimmick to solicit the
votes of the Sinhala-Buddhist masses.    

Austin Fernando, former Defence Secretary in his illuminating article (Daily Mirror 19
October 2005) on the Aceh MoU has pointed out, despite the stated commitment of
the Aceh rebels (ARs) and the Government of Indonesia (GoI) in "creating conditions
…within the unitary state and constitution of Indonesia", the powers that will be
exercised by Aceh go even beyond a typical federal system. According to Article 1.1.2
of the MoU, "Aceh will exercise authority within all sectors of public affairs, which will be
administered in conjunction with its civil and judicial administration, except in the fields
of foreign affairs, external defense, national security …” Importantly, Aceh will reserve
the right for internal defense. Moreover, the Aceh administration will have the right to
set taxes to fund official internal activities and conduct trade and business internally
and internationally, and, to seek foreign direct investment and tourism in Aceh (Art.
1.3.2). Austin Fernando has raised a pertinent question. Will the JVP and JHU agree
to have a similar governing system for Sri Lanka under their preferred unitary state?
What is important for lasting peace is not the label unitary or federal but the
division/sharing of powers between the center and the region(s) in ways that do not
endanger the unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.  

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse has called for political consensus within Parliament
regarding a permanent solution which will then be put before the people at a
referendum and revised and discussed with the LTTE. While this process is ongoing,
he has promised to conduct discussions with the LTTE. He has also committed himself
to one-to-one meeting with the LTTE supreme Leader. The latter did not have a
meeting with the late President Premadasa, President Kumaratunga and even the
former Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, who signed the MoU in 2002. Will his pledges
in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ attract the LTTE leader to the proposed meeting? What
has been ignored is the fact that war or no war, talks or no talks and agreement or no
agreement are matters that can also be decided by the opponent, who is not inclined
to give up fighting just for the sake of a notion of peace that is in the mind of the Prime
Minister. It is most unlikely that any external pressure will be forthcoming to push the
LTTE to negotiate a settlement under a unitary system. Even India has not voiced her
opposition to both the Oslo understanding and the Tokyo declaration.

At the third session of peace talks between the Government and the LTTE held in
Oslo, Norway on 2 to 5 December 2002, the parties agreed to explore a solution
founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation
of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.
The parties acknowledged that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities.
Although, the two main parties agreed that a power-sharing arrangement within a
Federal framework should be worked out for the survival of Sri Lanka as a united
sovereign country, there has not been any move to start even the basic work. The
Oslo and Tokyo declarations are not agreements like the one signed by Ranil
Wickremesinghe and V. Prabhakaran in February 2002. The LTTE did not even
participate in the Tokyo Conference on Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka,
held on June 9 and 10, 2003.

Past experiences indicate the danger of delaying decisions on vital political matters.
The attempts to devolve powers to the regions since 1995 failed because of the rivalry
between the two main political parties. The campaign for the forthcoming Presidential
election has even divided the SLFP on the federal issue. Those who are now against
devolution outside a unitary structure were silent when devolution was proposed
before the ceasefire. Even the watered-down devolution package agreed by the
Parliamentary Select Committee was not strictly within a unitary structure. The draft
constitution referred to Sri Lanka as a union of regions, avoiding the word federal. It
was not endorsed by the main opposition party for petty partisan reason. The kind of
external pressure that compelled to introduce the Thirteenth Amendment to the
Constitution and President J.R. Jeyewardene’s swift move are missing now. Even
without bipartisan support, he was able to get the required two-thirds majority in the
Parliament because of the consent of the people obtained through the controversial
referendum that enabled him to keep the overwhelming majority his party obtained in
the 1977 general elections. The situation now is different necessitating bipartisanship
for constitutional amendments.

The Prime minister in his manifesto has stated: “With the consensus of all, I expect to
present a Constitution that will propose the abolition of the Executive Presidency and
to provide solutions to other issues confronting the country. In the interim, I propose to
present a Constitutional amendment through which the Executive President will be
made answerable to the Parliament by virtue of holding such office.” From this
statement, it is clear he too like his chief challenger has no intention of taking early
action to replace the present constitution with the one that devolves substantial
powers to the regions. As mentioned previously, the present constitution itself is an
impediment to the peace process. This was evident from the partly successful legal
challenge to the PTOMS proposal.        

The Hindu daily in its October 17 editorial said: “Aside from what the Tigers want, the
main question is: how will this election outcome help in bringing enduring peace to Sri
Lanka? Unfortunately, whoever wins there is not going to be a clear answer to this.”
The conceptually opposite stands of the two principal contestants on the political
solution to the national question, have also contributed to the skepticism. Besides, the
suggested approaches to permanent peace in Sri Lanka are just superficial ideas. All
point to one common conclusion. People have to wait for a long time for the peace
they have been anxiously waiting for the past several years. It is doubtful the
developments in the interregnum will make the effort easier.

The leaders of the two main parties should give some thought to the consequences of
dragging the peace process by simply proposing to talk peace without even a basic
political frame for devolving governing powers that would meet the aspirations of all
ethnic communities and guarantee their safety, security and their political rights to
shape their future. What is needed urgently is the constitution of an expert group to
draft a suitable frame for consideration by the Parliament and the people. The
redemption of the country from the manifold problems causing instability, social
degradation, economic stagnation and disorder depends on making drastic changes
to the present governing system. The many defects in the present constitution of the
country are well known. The 1978 constitution was initially drafted and several ad hoc
amendments introduced to serve the political interests of one party and its leader. It is
the inalienable duty of true national leaders (not only political but also civic leaders) to
explain and convince the people the imperative to adopt the revised frame. The
people should also be told the consequences of rejection.

Finally, the continuation of the so-called ‘shadow war’ in the East and North will be
highly damaging to the Tamil community. Already the harmful effects are visible. The
Tamil leaders must press for swift action to avoid the peace process continuing to
remain deadlocked or drift aimlessly. Given the many weaknesses in the present
constitution, besides its inaptness to settle the ethnic issue, the work on drafting a new
constitution must begin as early as possible. It should not wait until the negotiations
with the LTTE reach the final stage. Both can proceed simultaneously.
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