Posts filed under 'Full Text of Speech'
by Kanaganayagam Kanag-Isvaran
On the occasion of the launch of “Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy” Selected Speeches of and Tributes to Senator Tiruchelvam Q.C., Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, Colombo, 1st February 2008:
[Bradman Weerakoon, former Secretary to the PM speaking at Book Launch]
The year was 1973. I had moved into my residence at Barnes Place. Soon thereafter my father visited me, and as is usual, he commenced his peregrinations in Colombo, visiting his old friends and their visits in return.
One day, he came and announced, “There, Tiruchelvam wants to meet you”.
Soon an appointment was made and I went to see him on a Saturday morning, at about 10.30, at his residence in Rosmead Place.
I had heard of Mr. M. Tiruchelvam but had never met him. But from what I heard, I knew him to be a Senator, a former Minister, a Queen’s Counsel, principal political advisor to Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, a political strategist and to be a cunning man– cunning in the sense of being ingenious and skilful.
[Justice CV Wigneswaran speaking at the book launch]
I was therefore somewhat daunted and apprehensive when I entered his home.
But there he was seated on a low sofa, in a bookshelf lined lounge, in a white verti and white short sleeved shirt-(I have never seen him in a long sleeved shirt), looking quite civilized, with that infectious smile and charm and quiet dignity.
I was immediately immersed in a sense of well being in his presence. I knew I was going to like the man-and much later, I would like to believe, he became rather fond of me.
There was another gentleman with him that day, Mr. R. S. Wanasundara, the then Solicitor General and later a Justice of the Supreme Court.
After a little banter, I was told “We are looking for a young man like you, why don’t you join the Crown Counsels’ Department”?
Though it was a great honour, I said that my heart was set on private practice.
A week later, Mr. Tiruchelvam called and informed me that he had nominated me as his Junior in an appeal from Batticaloa. That is how I came to work in his Chambers,-a very short time though-until his untimely demise on the 22nd of November 1976.
Nevertheless, during the three and a half years I worked with him, he has enriched me beyond my wildest dreams.
Soft spoken and charming he had humane and lovable ways. He had the humility to listen to you even as a junior lawyer. He was an educationist-keen to teach not only law, but also social and political history.
Quick to sense, that I was ignorant of the political developments in the country during the period 1960 to 1965, when I was in the United Kingdom, he took upon himself to educate me on the “Struggles of the Tamil People” as he called it.
When we used to travel by air to Trincomalee and Batticaloa for legal work, I will be given a lecture on the history of the place, of its ancient glories and of its peoples. Often he used to speak to me about a quaint Hindu village in the Chilaw District called Uddappu-a stronghold of his political party.
His knowledge of the history of this island from ancient times, of Tamil civilization and culture, of the Hindu religion and of other religions, religious architecture, iconography and on a whole variety of subjects was prolific and came in very useful when he was leading me in an action relating to a Hindu temple and its temporalities and succession to trusteeship in Chilaw.
In law, his forte was constitutional law, administrative law (now called public law) and the law of Trusts. He initiated me in these areas of law, for which I owe him a deep debt of gratitude.
The crowning moment in my career as his Junior came when he invited me to work with him closely as a Counsel at the trial of Appathurai Amirthalingam, when he with three others, namely M. Sivasithamparam, K. P. Ratnam and K. Thurairatnam were arraigned at a trial-at-bar on the 18th of June 1976 charged with sedition.
It was then, whilst working with him, that I was introduced to world renowned authorities on constitutional theory and law, such as Dr. K. C. Wheare, Sir Kenneth Roberts-Wray, Prof. S. A. de Smith and to A. Rubinstein’s seminal work, Jurisdiction and Illegality and to jurisprudence on the subject in decisions from Uganda, Southern Rhodesia, Cyprus, Pakistan and India.
We had to work on tomes of material in preparation for the submissions Mr. Tiruchelvam had to make on the constitutional aspects of the case on behalf of the defense.
The trial-at-Bar was before J. F. A. Soza, H. A. G. de Silva and Siva Selliah, Judges of the High Court, with Mr. Shiva Pasupathi, A. G. prosecuting, and Messrs S. J. V. Chelvanayagam Q.C, G. G. Ponnampalam Q.C., Mr. M. Tiruchelvam Q.C. and some seventy five other Tamil Counsel appearing for the accused.
In a lighter vein, I remember that in the preparation for the trial-at-bar I had to run between the Chambers of Mr. G. G. Ponnambalam and Mr. Tiruchelvam, as they were not inclined to visit each others Chambers! And when it came to seating arrangements in Court, Mr. Tiruchelvam told me “Sonna” you sit between me and G.G! Thereby I earned a place in history, which is attested by a photograph in the book that is being launched today at page 320!
I believe this is the occasion on which something of the background that led to this indictment should be noted. I recount from memory what I learnt from Mr. Tiruchelvam.
The Tamil people’s relationship with the Sri Lankan State, after we achieved independence on the 4th of February1948–the 60th Anniversary of which we are supposed to celebrate this year, has gone through distinct periods.
From independence, till the enactment of the Official Languages Act of 1956 the two major linguistic groups would appear to have co-operated and cohabited to ensure that the newly independent state remained a viable democracy.
Since the Official Languages Act, the old camaraderie appears to have become a little tenuous, with the result that the Tamils were seeking autonomy as articulated by the Elangai Thamil Arasu Kadchchi-The Federal Party.
Aversion to the 1972 Constitution, which is quite evident from the speeches made in the Senate by Mr. Tiruchelvam, and reproduced in “Senator Tiruchelvam’s Legacy” shows that the Tamils had lost confidence in the ability of the Sinhala Governments to redress their grievances and it would appear to have influenced the call for separatism–or an ethnic divorce, culminating in the Vaddukkodai Resolution of 14th May 1976.
On that day, the Sri Lankan Tamils, the Indian Tamils and the Tamil speaking Muslims-the leaders of the Tamil United Front (TUF) met at Vaddukkodai, (which incidentally is also the village of my father as of Mr.Tiruchelvam) and reconstituted themselves as the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), and presided over by Mr. S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, resolved to restore and reconstitute a Tamil State, a political reality that had previously existed.
I quote below the resolution
“The first National Convention of the Tamil United Liberation Front meeting at Pannakam (Vaddukoddai Constituency) on the 14th day of May, 1976 hereby declares that the Tamils of Ceylon by virtue of their great language, their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of independent existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for several centuries till they were conquered by the armed might of the European invaders and above all by their will to exist as a separate entity ruling themselves in their own territory, are a nation distinct and apart from Sinhalese and this Convention announces to the world that the Republican Constitution of 1972 has made the Tamils a slave nation ruled by the new colonial masters the Sinhalese who are using the power they have wrongly usurped to deprive the Tamil Nation of its territory, language, citizenship, economic life, opportunities of employment and education thereby destroying all the attributes of nationhood of the Tamil people.
And therefore, while taking note of the reservations in relation to its commitment to the setting up of a separated state of TAMIL EELAM expressed by the Ceylon Workers Congress as a Trade Union of the Plantation Workers, the majority of whom live and work outside the Northern and Eastern areas,
This convention resolves that restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular Socialist State of Tamil Eelam based on the right of self determination inherent to every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation in this Country.”
Thereafter the TULF issued its Manifesto demanding the creation of an independent Tamil State. It read,
“What is the alternative now left to the nation that has lost its rights to its language, rights to its citizenship, rights to its religions and continues day by day to lose its traditional homeland to Sinhalese colonization? What is the alternative now left to a nation that has lost its opportunities to higher education through “standardization” and its equality in opportunities in the sphere of employment? What is the alternative to a nation that lies helpless as it is being assaulted, looted and killed by hooligans instigated by the ruling race and by the security forces of the state? Where else is an alternative to the Tamil nation that gropes in the dark for its identity and finds itself driven to the brink of devastation?
There is only one alternative and that is to proclaim with the stamp of finality and fortitude that we alone shall rule over our land that our fore fathers ruled….Hence the Tamil United Liberation Front seeks in the General Election the mandate of the Tamil nation to establish an independent, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam that includes all the geographically contiguous areas that have been the traditional homeland of the Tamil-speaking people in the country.”
The TULF Manifesto also stated that Eelam would be ultimately established “either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle.” However, despite this vow TULF members, for the most part, continued to negotiate with the government in hopes of finding a solution to the ethnic problem.
It is in this background that Mr. A. Amirthalingam was indicted on five counts of contravening the Emergency Regulations framed under the Public Security Ordinance by possessing and disseminating subversive literature, to wit the document “Resolution adopted at the first Annual Convention of the Tamil United Front”. Counts 1 and 2 relate to the possession and distribution of the document, which is likely to incite persons to defy or act in derogation of the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Count 3 accused him of distributing it to the public without the permission of the Inspector General of Police. Count 4, charged the accused with reading out the document as an attempt to incite the Tamil Speaking public to procure otherwise than by lawful means alterations of the Unitary State of the Republic of Sri Lanka. In the 5th Count the accused was charged with attempting to create discontent by reading out the said pamphlet. The date of the alleged offence was 22nd May 1976.
When the indictment was read out Mr. Amirthalingam stated as follows:
“I humbly state that I am not pleading guilty or not guilty because this Court is not properly constituted and it is not valid and there is no jurisdiction and therefore I am not pleading guilty or not guilty to the charge.”
Consequently, two preliminary objections were raised for the ruling of Court.
Firstly, that the 1972 Constitution of Sri Lanka is invalid and consequently this Court itself is a nullity.
Secondly, that the Emergency Regulations under which the accused has been indicted are invalid per se and in so far as they relate to the constitution of the Court.
The Attorney General, Mr. Shiva Pasupathi, on behalf of the Republic, raised the question of “justiciability” to counter the contentions of the defence. In other words, the contention was, that the preliminary objections were not “suitable questions for a court of law; it is not judicially examinable”. Meaning thereby that it had to be resolved by some other way – e.g. political.
Mr. Tiruchelvam brilliantly argued the constitutional aspects of the case as to why the 1972 Constitution was invalid. You would see the basic framework for the argument in his speech in the Senate on the 30th of June and 1st of July 1970 which is reproduced in the book under the caption “The Looming Dangers of the United Front Government” especially from pages 279 et seq.
The Court however, having heard submissions throughout the month of July 1976, determined on September 10th 1976,
“In these circumstances the time honoured and judicially settled principle of justiciability that a court or tribunal which owes its creation to a particular Constitution cannot embark upon an inquiry into the validity of that Constitution demands to be accepted. We therefore hold that the validity of the Constitution is not justiciable by us.”
On the validity of the Emergency Regulation, the Court held-
“We hold that there has been no valid declaration of a state of emergency by the President as set out in Section 134 (2) of the Constitution and that there has been no delegation of the legislative power by the National State Assembly to the President as envisaged in Section 45 (4) of the Constitution. Consequently Regulation 59 of the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulations No. 5 of 1976 published in Gazette No. 213/5 of May 17, 1976 as amended by Regulation 59 (1A) published in Gazette No. 214/16 of May 28, 1976 can have no sanction or validity in law. We cannot therefore continue to exercise any further jurisdiction in this case to try this accused for the offence for which he has been indicted. We accordingly discharge the accused from these proceedings.”
There was an electrifying silence when the verdict was announced and then an explosion of jubilation. The historic picture of the triumvirate–Mr. Chelvanayagam, Mr. Ponnampalam and Mr. Tiruchelvam–all smiles, reproduced in the book was taken soon after, outside the Court House.
Strangely in six months time from the date of this photograph being taken all three had passed away. Mr. Tiruchelvam in November 1976, Mr. Ponnampalam in February 1977 and Mr. Chelvanayagam in March 1977!
A new period of “ethnic conflict” was soon to begin in the years following.
The five year state of emergency of the United Front Government and its attendant repression brought new issues– the need for guarantees of personal liberties, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, police excesses, rule of law, independence of the judiciary, the repeal of the ex post facto penal laws etc. And because of the Tamils’ demand for separation, the need to find a solution to the problem became important in Sinhala politics.
J. R. Jayawadena offered a “Dharmista” government. He issued commitments on constitutional reform, a package of protection for minority rights and decentralization.
The 1977 UNP election manifesto contained three major commitments relating to the Tamil question. The first stated-
“We will ensure that every citizen, whether he belongs to a majority or minority, racial, religious or caste group enjoys equal and basic human rights and opportunities. The decisions of an All Party Conference (APC) will be summoned to consider the problems of non-Sinhala people and will be included in the constitution.”
All possible steps to remedy the grievances of the Tamil people was said to be via the APC.
The second was a proposal to decentralize administration by the creation of District Development Councils (DDCs) down to village levels.
The third, and more significantly, was the section on the “Problems of the Tamil speaking People’, which listed four areas of concern-(a) education; (b) colonization; (c) use of the Tamil language and (d) public and semi-public employment.
It resulted in a massive landslide for the UNP, winning a 5/6th majority or 83% of the seats in Parliament. The Tamil people were hopeful of solutions to their problems, because of the UNP’s pledges in its Manifesto.
But that was not to be.
Within a month of the UNP government taking office, the anti-Tamil riots of August 1977 engulfed the country. The UNP had in its Manifesto accepted that there were numerous problems confronting the Tamil peoples-education, colonization, use of Tamil language, employment and pledged to solve it. But once in power, it assumed a position no different from previous governments.
But that is another story, to be recounted at another time, not appropriate for discussion today.
As Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam was to observe, years later in 1984, the Vaddukoddai Resolution “represented a shift from the struggle for equality to an assertion of freedom, from the demand for fundamental rights to the assertion of self-determination, from the acceptance of pluralistic experiment to the surfacing of a new corporate identity.”
Senator Tiruchelvam stood for a pluralistic society. In his speech in the Senate on the Address of Thanks for the Throne Speech (1970) he said,
“That in a plural society minorities can only be satisfied by federalism or some form of regionalism is a well-recognized political solution, a solution accepted not at the point of the bayonet…but voluntarily.
For a minority people there are three solutions available in a country. The first is assimilation. That is, giving up being a Tamil.
The second course is more abhorrent, and that is the course of separation, to go our different ways, to fight it out and reach a different status.
Then, the third course is national integration. That can arise only by a recognition of the mutuality of our rights and obligations, by recognition of the fact that we exist as a people who have lived in this country for 2500 years; that we exist as a people who have a language of our own, with traditions of our own and a way of life of our own.”
Then he went on to say-
“We will get it one day, if not from this Government, then from the next; if not from the next Government, then may be 25 years hence; if not 25 years hence, then 100 years hence. I want to say here and now, for all time, that the cry for federalism will never be given up”
Nearly thirty eight years have gone by since these words were spoken. Thirty two years, since his death. A new generation has come into being. We live in difficult times. A great transformation has and is taking place, since his time.
A Sinhala Buddhist nationalist ideology has been institutionalized as state policy, perpetuating its supremacy within a unitary state and attacking as enemies those who disagree. Traducing the Tamils has become a way of life.
Tamil nationalism-a reactive phenomenon to ethnocentric policies embraced by successive Sri Lankan governments, champions the separatist cause and struggles.
If Mr. Tiruchelvam was living today what would he have said? Would he accept that the second choice open to a minority-the abhorrent choice of separatism-is the way forward or would he still believe in a credible autonomy proposal as a sine qua non for future Sinhala-Tamil co-existence?
We would never know!
What lies ahead is any body’s guess!
February 9th, 2008
The following is an extract from Crown Prosecution Advocate, Robert Meikle’s speech at Karuna’s sentencing hearing, wherein he reads out of Karuna’s statement to the Metropolitan Police:
He said he had been living in Sri Lanka and wanted to come to London as his family and children were in the United Kingdom. He told the investigating officer that the Sri Lankan Government gave him the passport and sent him to the United Kingdom.
He said that he told the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary that he wanted to visit his family in the United Kingdom and it was he, the Sri Lankan Defence Secretary, who arranged everything for him and he told him that he would get a six month visa for the United Kingdom. The Secretary also told him, no problem if he wanted to come again. He then said that he thought that the Sri Lankan Government had spoken to the British Government about this visit.
He said he had no involvement; was unaware of how the official got him the passport and he was only aware when the immigration officers arrested him.
He said the Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka was the President’s brother and he knew him as they had met before as when he broke away from the LTTE, which is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and he had broken away and led a breakaway faction and apparently then became reconciled with the government.
When he broke away from the LTTE the government protected him and he then gave the name of the Defence Secretary to the officers.
He said he did not go after the passport and said that in Sri Lanka, without government assistance no one can get diplomatic passports.
He explained that in a meeting with the Secretary he told him of his intentions to visit his family in the United Kingdom; he had not seen them for a long time. Well, after that everything was arranged for him.
He said that he was taken to the airport and did not go through Customs and the agent who took him there went to the immigration official and he took them direct through the airport and he was then taken on board the plane, which flew to the United Kingdom.
As I say, enquiries with the Sri Lankan authorities dispute that they had anything to do with this passport.
On arrival in the United Kingdom, he went past the immigration official, had no questions of any note asked of him and took a taxi to the address in Kensington.
As far as his diplomatic status is concerned, he said: “No, I’m not a diplomat. I’m protected by the government.”
He said he had a genuine Sri Lankan passport in his name and date of birth that had been arranged for him by Norwegian officials. However, this had been given back to the Sri Lankan Government when they knew he wanted to come to the United Kingdom.
He was shown the passport on which he travelled. Stated the photograph was him. It was not his name and not his date of birth and again, said the government did it all and he said that the government said that he could not travel in his real name.
He said he did not go to the British High Commission or Embassy and was only travelling on the document that he travelled on because he was obeying government instructions, that being the Sri Lankan Government instructions, he was saying.
He was asked whether he had come to the United Kingdom to attend a wild life convention, as stated in the visa application, and said he knew nothing about the visa and that the government did not tell him anything.
He said that the agent in the airport again sorted everything out and he was taken on board the flight and before he left he was handed the passport. He said he was aware that the details on the passport were not his.
When he landed at Heathrow he gave it to immigration, he did not tell them anything regarding the details on the passport; they did not ask him anything. He says it was all down to the Sri Lankan Government authorities.
February 2nd, 2008
By Robert. O. Blake Jr.
Ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome to all you. Thank you for coming. We are here this afternoon to remember and honor not only a remarkable diplomat and dedicated patriot in the service of his country, but also a true friend of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, one who spent more than twenty years of his life in this beautiful country. Although I never had the privilege of meeting Ambassador Spain, his is an example that I and all of his successors have endeavored to emulate.
At the outset let me thank our good friends and partners in the Sri Lankan American Society, Chris Perera and Nihal DeSilva, for co-sponsoring today’s service, and for strengthening the people-to-people ties between our two countries.
Ladies and gentleman, Jim Spain’s extraordinary life began in 1926. He was born on the famous South Side of Chicago, the son of a streetcar conductor and a seamstress who were Irish immigrants. He attended a local Catholic school and a seminary, before going on to receive a Masters degree from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Columbia University. In addition to being a diplomat, he was a scholar and writer, the author of several books and numerous articles on foreign policy, as well as a series of mystery novels.
Many of us have heard the legend about Jim Spain having seen up close in his youth the Chicago gangster and larger-than life character Al Capone, an experience on which he would draw many times to regale his listeners over the years. His personal knowledge of that special era was to provide a rich vein to be mined for many tales over the years to the delight of his audiences, from Prime Ministers to office clerks. That he could hold the interest of the one and take the time to engage the other, speaks to his skills as a story teller and a diplomat.
Ambassador Spain had a long and distinguished diplomatic career, which included three Ambassadorships-to Turkey, Tanzania and, finally, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Despite his wide experience around the world, it was here on this island that he chose to retire and continue to make a difference. I have heard many times from his legion of Sri Lankan friends of the warm hospitality he extended to so many, first at Jefferson House, and then at his quarters in apartment 42 of the third floor of Galle Face Court.
Ambassador Spain continued to speak and write frequently following his retirement. One of the first pieces I read on Sri Lanka as I prepared for my assignment was the chapter he penned in a book edited by our mutual friend Tissa Jayatilaka exploring relations between the U.S and Sri Lanka on the 50th Anniversary of the Sri Lanka Fulbright Commission in 2002. In this chapter, entitled “Fifteen Mostly Serendipitous Years” written in 1999, he reflected on the many changes he had witnessed during the years he lived in Sri Lanka-some of them negative in keeping with his American penchant for straight talk, yet with an undertone of abiding respect and affection for Sri Lanka, its people and its 2500 year old civilization and culture. In closing his chapter, after some presciently pessimistic comments about prospects for defusing ethnic tensions, he observed:
“Sri Lanka will remain an appealing country for both foreigners and its own citizens. My own judgment on the future can be stated simply: I intend to live out my remaining years in Serendip.”
I have heard many people observe that Ambassador Spain was a diplomat of the “old school,” that he really cared about the people he met, and that he could put everyone at ease, no matter their station in life. Michael Owen, now our Consul General in Mumbai, recalled his four years serving with Ambassador Spain in Sri Lanka when Michael was a much more junior officer. “Ambassador Spain invited me to many dinners at his residence, introduced me to innumerable interesting Sri Lankans, regularly gave me sound advice, and was always generous with his time.”
Ambassador Spain’s Deputy Chief of Mission here in Sri Lanka, Edward Marks, himself long retired, commented that Ambassador Spain was an exceptionally intelligent, outgoing, and social individual.
Shaun Donnelly, the fine American Ambassador who had the challenge of succeeding Ambassador Spain, recalled with affection the wise and generous counsel Ambassador Spain provided him on things big and small throughout Shaun’s successful tenure. Shaun characterized Ambassador Spain as “one of the most honest, straight-forward and principled men I have met anywhere, a man whose focus was always on what was right for the people, whether American or Sri Lankan, rather than what was best for political leaders or him.” Shaun concludes that “He was the model of what an Ambassador, a Foreign Service Officer, an American and a man should be.”
Jayantha Dhanapala, one of Sri Lanka’s most distinguished diplomats is out of the country and regrets he could not be here today. He was kind enough to share several memories, however. Jayantha was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington following Ambassador Spain’s retirement. He told me “Jim was a sincere friend of Sri Lanka. Unburdened by the responsibilities of office he spoke with candor and yet with a deep understanding of the country and a genuine affection for its people. I felt proud when Jim told me how touched he was by the wide circle of genuine Sri Lankan friends who continued to remain steadfastly by his side long after he had shed the trappings of Ambassadorial office. That was traditional Sri Lankan hospitality displayed with dignity and grace towards a man who loved Sri Lanka and her people. Jim embodied the best American diplomatic traditions.”
These are only a small sampling of the warm recollections Ambassador Spain’s many friends have. He set the bar for his successors very high indeed, and will be greatly missed by his many friends.
Thank you all again for joining us.
[Ambassador Blake's Remarks for Ambassador James W. Spain Memorial Service-St. Andrew's Scots Kirk, Friday, January 11, 2008]
[Robert Blake, Jr is the current US Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives]
January 11th, 2008
‘Let me be clear. I am not saying that the political aspiration for Eelam is illegitimate, any more than I would argue that the Scottish National Party’s goal of an independent Scotland is illegitimate. Similarly, I see nothing illegitimate in some crackpot demanding that Yorkshire or some other English county should become an independent state. What is crucial, however, is what methods are used by the SNP or the LTTE to achieve their goals. And the LTTE’s methods are simply unacceptable.’
[British High Commissioner Dominick Chilcott]
So observed British High Commissioner Dominick Chilcott during the course of the 10th Dudley Senanayake address made in Colombo on Monday December 10th.
The full text of his address is reproduced below:
[Hon. Dudley Senanayake]
DUDLEY SENANAYAKE MEMORIAL LECTURE-10 DECEMBER 2007:
Mr Desmond Fernando, chairman of the Dudley Senanayake Foundation, Mrs Sagarica Delgoda, country representative of the Friedrich Nauman Stiftung “fur die Freiheit”, members of the board of directors of the foundation, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen.
When Desmond Fernando asked me to give the tenth Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture, I little realised the heavy responsibility and the signal honour that entailed. I subsequently found out that previous speakers were drawn from the A list of liberal politicians in Europe and this country. So I am very conscious this evening of standing in a tradition which started in 1989 with Lord Steel, the former leader of the Liberal Party in Britain, and includes Count Lambsdorff, a past President of Liberal International, as well as at least two former Prime Ministers and many other luminaries in contemporary political and academic life.
Thank you, Desmond, for inviting me to join that distinguished list of liberal thinkers.
The right way to start this lecture is to pay tribute to Dudley Senanayake. He was clearly no ordinary politician. In fact, his integrity of character and his probity in public life would make him a very unusual politician judged by the standards of today. But I suspect that, even in the 1950s and 1960s, the decades in which he was Prime Minister of this country on four separate occasions, Dudley Senanayake’s qualities set him apart.
It is a well known ruse that politicians who seek high office often protest that they do not do so, but are willing to serve if the country needs them. Chilcott, making his final public In almost all cases, this is bunkum. Politicians are usually astute enough to know that admitting to their over-vaulting ambition would harm their cause. But in Dudley Senanayake’s case, it appears that he had genuinely to be asked to become Prime Minister, the first time, on his father’s unexpected death.
For Dudley Senanayake was not motivated primarily by personal ambition, nor by the thrill of exercising power. He was a man of principle who lived by the values he espoused. The President of the Methodist Church in Ceylon described him, at his death, as a man whose “deep humanity and sense of fair play and justice endeared him to all communities”. It has been said of him that his respect for democratic institutions was carried to a degree that sometimes weakened his own political base. Again, the contrast – for better or worse – with Sri Lankan politics these days is striking.
How would Dudley Senanayake view today’s politics? As someone with a strong attachment to the principles of good governance, he would, I judge, be concerned at some aspects of contemporary political life.
I am sure he would have welcomed the adoption of the 17th amendment by Parliament in September 2001, mainly at the initiative of the People’s Alliance and the JVP. As you know, its aim is to depoliticise key public institutions by creating independent commissions to administer the Police, Judiciary, Public Service and Elections. Despite its limitations, the law was widely hailed at the time as a move towards a corrupt-free, merit-based system of public administration. So the fact that the 17th amendment has been inoperative, for some time now, would be a matter of regret and concern to him.
Similarly, Dudley Senanayake would be disturbed at the many allegations make these days about corruption in politics. He would be pleased at the existence of a parliamentary committee to investigate corruption but surprised that 22 of its 30 members are government ministers. It must be the only oversight committee in the world that consists mainly of ministers. This is not to cast aspersions on any of the individuals concerned. But the conflict of interest involved must undermine the credibility of such a committee.
He may have thought the position of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee actually worse than that. Because, in many cases and this is no secret, MPs have been made ministers, not because there is a job for them to do, but because it buys their loyalty to the government. I think Dudley Senanayake would have disapproved of this sort of politics. He would have seen the risk that using the perks of ministerial office-official vehicles, bodyguards, fuel allowances etc-to persuade MPs to cross the floor would corrode standards of political life. He believed the principle purpose of becoming a minister was to serve the people, not to feather one’s own nest.
No country that is governed by human beings will be free of corruption. It affects all of us. The important thing is for countries to have effective institutions in place to catch and punish people for corruption. That at least provides some deterrent. Nothing makes corruption spread faster than a sense of impunity. That’s why bodies like Parliament’s anti-corruption committee matter so much.
Dudley Senanayake is usually described as being a liberal. Lord Steel said “he was a man who put liberal principles first.” Count Lambsdorff called him “a person whose primary desire was the enlargement of the content of individual freedom” and that such a man “is, of course, a liberal”.
In Sri Lanka, the contemporary picture of liberalism is pretty confused. There is a Liberal Party here but its voice on human rights, individual freedoms and accountable government-core liberal values-is silent. This is a major handicap at the present time.
Surveys by the World Bank on good governance and by other bodies, for example Transparency International’s index of perceptions of corruption, tell the same worrying story. Sri Lanka is not, by any means, the worst country in the world for governance and corruption. It sits in about the middle of the country rankings. But in recent years it has begun to slide backwards, albeit not dramatically, relative to other countries. Liberals need to speak up and reassert their values.
Good governance matters. Dudley Senanayake saw that. He understood too that good governance fostered more development. Daniel Kaufman, the director of global governance at the World Bank Institute, argues that surveys reveal the value, in development terms, of good governance-what he calls the ‘development dividend’ of good governance. He has been bold enough to put a figure on it-about 300 percent. In other words, a country that has today $2,000 per capita income per year today can attain $6,000 per capita income per year in the long term if it improves its rule of law, controls corruption and increases government effectiveness.
Of course, it is not easy to speak out against corruption, graft and the lowering of standards of public life. It takes courage. Many people feel that the space within civil society to express dissenting views is under great pressure. One of the unintended, but nonetheless, observable effects of the resurgence of the internal conflict has been to polarise society. There is a tendency to put people into one of two camps-either one is an uncritical supporter of the military campaign against the LTTE or one’s loyalty to the Sri Lankan state is considered suspect.
That’s a dangerously false dichotomy. There are a million shades of grey (and many other colours) between the black and white over-simplification of being pro-war or pro-LTTE. Traditionally it is people of liberal views who are in the vanguard of speaking up for those intermediate colours. Let their voices be heard.
There is one other aspect of Dudley Senanayake’s life that I wish to mention, the agreement he signed with the moderate Tamil leadership in 1965. This agreement addressed three key issues for the minorities: language, devolution and land. It was an agreement that could have re-enfranchised the Tamil-speaking minorities. Dudley Senanayake’s failure to muster sufficient support for it in the South had tragic consequences for the country. Had it been implemented, it is quite possible that Sri Lanka today would have been a vibrant, prosperous, multi-ethnic country at peace with itself.
This episode showed Dudley Senanayake’s strength and weakness. He had the insight to understand what was needed to reach an accommodation with the minorities. But he did not have the political skills or muscle to convince his fellow Sinhalese.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My lecture this evening is titled “the new diplomacy for the new century”. Sometimes diplomacy can be seen as a sort of timeless stately minuet. All this Excellency-calling, the big cars with flags and the VIP treatment doesn’t convey an image of dynamism and change. But the practice or method of diplomacy is not set in stone. On the contrary, it is changing, and changing quickly. I shall try to set out what those changes are and what their significance is.
Sir Harold Nicholson, a British historian, professional diplomat, MP, journalist and man of letters, gave a series of lectures at Oxford University in 1953, which were later published in a book called “The evolution of diplomatic method”. In those lectures, Sir Harold described several different kinds of diplomacy-ancient Greek and Roman, renaissance Italian, 18th century French and what he called egalitarian or American diplomacy, championed by President Woodrow Wilson after the First World War.
Sir Harold describes how many of the rules of the older schools of diplomacy are no longer practised. For example, any person claiming to be an ambassador in ancient Athens, without having been given the proper credentials by the Assembly first, was liable to be put to death. Fortunately for one Sri Lankan national, currently in detention in the UK, that practice does not apply in modern Britain, otherwise the penalty for reportedly entering the UK on a diplomatic passport with a false identity might be very severe indeed.
In 15th century Italy, Venetian ambassadors seemed to have had a particularly hard time. They were forbidden to take holidays during the period of their diplomatic missions. Their wives could not accompany them, since they might gossip. And ambassadors were expected to take their own cooks to lessen the risk of being poisoned. These days we bring our wives, who presumably gossip less than 15th century Venetian women, but hire our cooks locally.
The serious point Sir Harold makes is that as the world changes, the way of carrying out diplomacy changes with it. My point is that the world, in the half century since Sir Harold’s book, has changed very fast indeed. And we are seeing the way states deal with one other, the diplomatic method, change quickly too.
It is a cliche, but nonetheless true, that the world is now a much smaller place. We inhabit a global village. In Britain, our cut flowers come from East Africa, our computers are made in China and run software invented in the United States, our clothes come from Sri Lanka and so on and so forth. We are able instantly to communicate with people all over the world whether by phone or email. Cheaper flights allow us to travel to foreign countries more often.
If the image of the cold war period was of the Berlin Wall and division between different political systems and ways of life, the image of the modern world is of the internet and the billions of connections being forged between people all over the world. We now inhabit a world in which we can rightly talk not just of the wealth of nations, but of the wealth of networks. Humanity is no longer divided into clearly defined and distinct groups-Western, Communist, Non-aligned, Third world or whatever labels one liked to use-with barriers keeping the different kinds of societies apart.
Although some governments try, it is pretty difficult to prevent the spread of knowledge and ideas via the Internet. And as we travel and communicate more, we create lots of new links between different peoples-links based on trade or migration for jobs or education or many other things. Of course, most of this international activity is not carried out by governments. It is conducted by ordinary people, flexing their own economic and communications muscles.
At the same time, as countries and peoples are drawing closer to one another, with or without the support of governments, the distinction between domestic and foreign affairs is becoming blurred. Almost all home government departments in Britain have an external affairs division. Law and order is an international business because criminal organisations these days are international in character. Protecting the environment requires collective, international action. Education involves marketing British universities and colleges to attract foreign students to study at them. And so on.
Another change is that international affairs are no longer exclusively about what happens between states. When domestic issues have an international dimension, those domestic affairs can be important for relations between states. So diplomacy is increasingly concerned with what happens within states as well as what happens between them.
An obvious example of this is the drugs trade. 90% of the heroin on the streets of Britain comes from Afghanistan: so the political stability and economic prosperity of Afghanistan-resting on crops other than the poppy-will have a profound effect on British towns and cities.
More dramatically, since 9/11 and in the context of the threat from Islamic extremism, what happens in Afghanistan and in the tribal areas of Pakistan has a direct bearing on the safety and security of western countries, particularly the UK with our large British-Pakistani community. We have a direct stake in whether of not the Taleban succeeds in winning support amongst Afghans and Pakistanis. We can’t afford to treat this as the untouchable internal politics of foreign countries.
In a less extreme way, internal events in Sri Lanka affect Britain. The conflict here makes waves in the UK. For example, as the conflict worsens, we get more asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. It becomes more difficult to manage the movement of people between our countries. More Sri Lankans try to get into the UK illegally. The numbers of those overstaying their visa also increases.
We suffer other law and order problems associated with the conflict in Sri Lanka. LTTE fundraisers extort money from Tamil business people. There are Tamil gangs fighting one another on the streets of London. British politicians, particularly those in constituencies with large South Asian populations, become concerned about human rights violations, the creation of new refugees and the overall suffering of the people caught up in the conflict. They debate the issues in Parliament and demand action from the British government. South Asian affairs have become very much part of British political life.
So for those reasons, as well as others, Britain has a direct interest in the end of the conflict here and the establishment of a fair and lasting peace.
But how Sri Lanka’s conflict affects Britain is only one example of how humanity is becoming more inter-related and more inter-dependent.
Last month, Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a major foreign policy speech, addressing some of these issues. Our Prime Minister is well known for his seriousness of thought and his strategic vision.
Mr Brown identified six new global forces, unique to our generation, which showed humankind’s growing interdependence. These six forces were: violence and instability in fragile states; the spread of terrorism and the risk that terrorists could acquire destructive weapons; global flows of capital and global sourcing of goods and services; climate change; global pandemics such as Avian flu; and world-wide migration.
He also argued that the Internet empowers ordinary people. In the old order, governments affected people but could not be easily affected by them. The Internet gives once powerless people the potential to be heard and see their impact in places far away.
And because the world is so interconnected and so interdependent, Mr Brown thinks it is possible for the first time in human history to contemplate and create a global society that empowers people.
Pursuing the self-interest of nation states can no longer be carried out in isolation. It must be pursued in cooperation with other countries, overcoming shared challenges. And the underlying issue for any country becomes how together, in this new interdependent world, we renew and strengthen our international rules, institutions and networks.
As we become increasingly aware of the common challenges mankind faces, we become more conscious too that all humanity is really in the same boat. We float or sink together. We have to face up to issues, such as global warming, that affect us all and which can only be tackled by collective world action.
This awareness, I believe, is the beginning of a wider and more general understanding of the commonality of humankind or what Mr Brown calls the global society. And because of the empowerment of people through the Internet, that global society will expect its governments to take a global view of issues.
The Rwanda genocide of 1994 is nowadays considered to be a stain on the international community’s conscience. Despite international news coverage of the violence against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus as it unfolded, most countries declined to prevent or stop the massacres. In a period of about three months, more than half a million people were killed.
What is so shocking, a decade later, is not just the serious attempt at genocide, but the attitude of the international community, at the time, that the killings in Rwanda were not its business. The international community may not be able to stop all attempts at genocide in the future. And the right response may not be military intervention. But I don’t think we will ever again regard genocide, wherever it occurs, as not our business.
This sense that a great injustice committed against a people in one part of the world is somehow an injustice committed against all humanity itself can be seen at work in the British courts.
Philippe Sands, a British professor of law at University College, London reckons that the arrest of General Pinochet in London in October 1998 was a milestone in the general public’s interest in international law.
You may remember the details. Pinochet was arrested while recuperating after back surgery in a private London clinic. His arrest followed a request from a Spanish criminal prosecutor for Pinochet’s extradition to Spain to face criminal charges for violating international laws when he was president of Chile.
Consideration of the extradition request took a long time. The most difficult issue was whether Pinochet enjoyed immunity from prosecution for actions carried out as head of state, a position originally upheld in the High Court. But the House of Lords overturned that view and ruled that a head of state could not claim immunity from the jurisdiction of the courts of another country to avoid facing charges that he had committed the international crime of torture.
In the end, as we know, Pinochet was deemed too unwell to face trial and so was not extradited to Spain but returned in ignominy to Chile. But the aftershocks of the House of Lords’ decision reverberated around the world.
A further landmark case occurred in Britain, seven years later, in July 2005 when a court found an Afghan war lord, Faryadi Zardad, guilty of heinous crimes of torture and hostage taking, while carrying out a reign of terror at checkpoints on Afghan roads between 1991 and 1996. It was the first time a foreign national had been convicted in a British court for crimes committed abroad and where neither defendant nor witnesses were British subjects.
So international law is not standing still. The political and social sense of a common humanity is beginning to be reflected in our courts. I welcome the fact that judgements like these make it less easy for serious criminals, however important, to find safe havens. The British courts are strengthening the sense that one day people who commit really foul crimes, whatever nationality they and their victims are, will be held accountable for them somewhere.
Within my country I regard it as my business if a stranger is attacked or hurt. One has a natural empathy for one’s fellow countrymen. But I also want to live somewhere safe, somewhere where the rule of law is enforced, where criminals are punished according to the law and where society looks after the victims of crime and the most vulnerable.
If I feel like that about my country, why shouldn’t I have similar feelings about my world?
I don’t want to live in a world where fragile states or oppressive governments abuse human rights and get away with it. This is partly because I feel a natural empathy for my fellow human beings, wherever they may be. And partly because the world will be a safer place for me and those I love if the rule of law obtains throughout and if criminals do not enjoy impunity.
Those who argue for the inviolability of the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country are swimming against the tide of history. In the last 50 years, states have voluntarily bound themselves together in a net of international treaties and conventions covering even the most sensitive internal issues, such as human rights.
Treaties are agreements made between States: and human rights treaties are like any others in this respect. A State’s obligations under human rights treaties are owed not only to the individuals present in the State’s territory but also to all other States Parties to those treaties. As both the UK and Sri Lanka, for example, are party to all six of the core UN human rights treaties, in the hypothetical case that either the UK or Sri Lanka failed to comply with any of the provisions of those treaties, it would be in breach of obligations owed to the other country (and to the other States Parties to the treaties concerned). Sri Lanka or the UK would then be well within its rights, according to the Vienna Convention, to take action to defend its interests in seeing those human rights standards upheld in the other country.
So the sense of human rights being a common interest in a global society is underpinned by international law. And if it is a mistake to view something as sensitive as human rights as a purely internal matter, there can be few subjects that from now on should be regarded as beyond the general interest and purview of our global society.
Sir Harold Nicholson described how diplomatic method had changed from the time of the ancient Greeks until the 1950s. But the international institutions set up after the Second World War for 50 or so countries in what became a bipolar world during the Cold War are not suitable for an interdependent world of over 200 states where flows of commerce, people, information and ideas defy borders. We have to refresh these institutions so that they can play the role that public opinion in our global society demands of them. In particular, we have to find a way to make the UN more effective at dealing with fragile states. Some people argue we need to develop a doctrine of liberal interventionism.
Some of our philosophical problems with the concept of liberal interventionism start with our unspoken commitment to the ideas that grew out of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia which helped create the idea of non-intervention in the affairs of other states. But the modern world is very different from 17th Europe. As I have argued, we are now so interdependent that we cannot continue with the idea of absolute sovereignty. The problem we face now is how we translate our legitimate concern for fellow human beings in other countries into action that is proportionate, generally acceptable to our global society and effective.
Obviously, one doesn’t want a situation where one or two powerful countries act in the name of the international community in an arbitrary way. Nor should liberal intervention be thought to mean military action every time or even most times. There are many non-military interventions that a country can make-from arguing and persuading, to economic and political sanctions. I am not arguing for a return to the raw power days of international affairs when the mighty decided what was right. But nor will well-informed and empowered public opinion be content for us to sit on our hands if action is blocked at the United Nations, as it can be under the present system. The excuse that the fate of other people who are facing genocide or humanitarian catastrophe is not our business will not run. UN reform will be central to solving this conundrum.
The debate at the UN has begun. At its 60th anniversary world summit, in September 2005, over 150 heads of state embraced the concept of “The responsibility to protect” or R2P for short.
The idea of the responsibility to protect emerged from work carried out by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The authors argued that sovereignty needed to be reassessed in light of today’s greater sense of the commonality of humankind. Sovereignty should be firstly about responsibility rather than power.
In the report’s own words: “The starting point is that any state has primary responsibility to protect individuals within it. But that is not the finishing point: where the state fails in that responsibility, through either incapacity or ill will, a secondary responsibility to protect falls on the wider international community.”
One task of the new diplomacy is to find a way to give effect to the exercise of this secondary responsibility, R2P, that is generally acceptable to all those states who assented to the concept at the world summit.
This year, the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, is an apt moment to think about such concepts as the doctrine of liberal intervention or the responsibility to protect. Because, as the British peer, Lord Solely, pointed out, in a speech at Chatham House this June, British action to disrupt the international slave trade was not only one of the first liberal interventions, but also entirely illegal.
In international law at the time, the slave trade was legal. It was illegal to interfere with the ships of other nations on the high seas other than in the cases of war or piracy. However, the British Parliament judged that morality should be allowed to take precedence over international law. And history has been on Britain’s side. Who now regrets the position Britain took? Who does not support those illegal actions designed to end the slave trade. And whose side would modern lawyers have been on?
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In case any reassurance is needed, let me say immediately that the international community has no plans to intervene in Sri Lanka to exercise the responsibility to protect. The government here is quite capable of carrying out that responsibility for itself. But, as I am shortly to leave this country, on completion of my mission, I would like to finish this speech with some thoughts on the current situation in Sri Lanka. I do so from the perspective of someone who has been intensely involved in Sri Lankan affairs for the past 20 months, drawing on an experience of politics and diplomacy going back 25 years.
In the relatively short time I’ve lived in Sri Lanka, I’ve learned that making predictions about the future is a mug’s game. There is always a surprise around the corner. Each week seems to be absolutely critical to the future of the country. And yet issues that seemed so important last week are quickly forgotten as people and politicians get caught up in this week’s crisis. But paradoxically, despite all the political fireworks and scandals and controversy and crises, little seems to change.
For a number of weeks and months, Sri Lankan politics have been caught up in the vortex of the budget debate. The survival of the government has been at stake. That has neither helped keep tempers cool, nor public statements rational. There has been a lot of playing to the nationalist public gallery. I hope that, once the budget is out of the way, public discourse will become rather calmer.
After the budget, there should be a largish window of opportunity for sensible discussion and for the government to take some progressive steps. The budget debate could be equally fraught next year or it could be a calmer affair as in 2006. We’ll have to wait and see. But there are no elections due until the Provincial Council elections in the autumn of 2009. With the possible exception of next year’s budget, that suggests a period of 18 months’ relative stability. The international community will expect the government to make the most of it.
How will we detect if things are calming down? Well, here are a few indicators.
We should see fewer attempts to demonise UN agencies, NGOs and their staff on the basis of wholly unsubstantiated allegations. For example, the government should make clear it does not support the JVP’s campaign against UNICEF.
Similarly there should be no further equating support for human rights and the rule of law with support for the LTTE. This is a particularly ironic position, in any case, as the LTTE show no understanding of human rights norms and they rule by fear and terror. Being critical of the government’s record on human rights does not mean you support the LTTE. For the record, let me say again, the British government, which outlawed the LTTE in 2001, unreservedly condemns the LTTE’s terrorist activities.
It would also be good to see greater recognition that there is no contradiction in being a peace campaigner and a patriotic Sri Lankan. In fact, there are plenty of ways of being a patriotic Sri Lankan and being a peace campaigner is one of them.
If this calmer and more rational atmosphere is achieved, it should be possible for the parliamentary committee, the APRC, to produce its final report on devolution. We would then look forward to the President’s endorsement of his vision of the country’s future, presumably based on the APRC’s work.
The APRC’s work, under Professor Tissa Vitharana’s leadership, for which I have the greatest respect, has been slow and drawn out. But although progress has seemed glacial, the time has not been wasted. The APRC process has moved thinking on devolution along. In the end, of course, what matters is what the President is prepared to endorse. After all, he has got to sell any new arrangements to the South. And, just as importantly, for the proposal to be credible, he has to ensure that it appeals to moderate Tamil opinion.
I say moderate Tamil opinion because I don’t believe the aim of the government’s devolution offer should be to put something on the table that will engage the attention of the LTTE. Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, dismissed the idea of negotiations with the government in his 2006 Heroes’ Day speech when he said the LTTE was “not prepared to place (its) trust in the impossible and walk along the same old futile path”.
In the present circumstances, I see little prospect of the LTTE responding to anything from the government that did not offer them separation. It would be nice to be proved wrong on that but I don’t expect to be.
I have serious doubts as to whether the LTTE leadership would be sincere about reaching a negotiated settlement that reinforces democratic values within a united Sri Lanka. They have never accepted that anyone else should be able to speak for the Tamil people, a fundamentally anti-democratic position. But unless and until they embrace democratic, non-violent methods, they will exclude themselves from any future peace process.
This year, Prabhakaran’s Heroes’ Day speech was critical of the international community for not putting more pressure on the government over its share of responsibility for the suffering of the Tamil people in the conflict. It is not a baseless charge. But Prabhakaran conveniently ignored the international community’s wish to see movement from the LTTE on the key issues of democratisation and the pursuit of political goals through non-violent means.
Let me be clear. I am not saying that the political aspiration for Eelam is illegitimate, any more than I would argue that the Scottish National Party’s goal of an independent Scotland is illegitimate. Similarly, I see nothing illegitimate in some crackpot demanding that Yorkshire or some other English county should become an independent state. What is crucial, however, is what methods are used by the SNP or the LTTE to achieve their goals. And the LTTE’s methods are simply unacceptable.
It follows from the fact that I believe the government offer on devolution should be addressed to moderate Tamils that I don’t believe that a future peace process should be based on talks exclusively between the government and the LTTE. Obviously, such bilateral talks are probably necessary to arrange a cease-fire. But the political process needs to be more inclusive and also more demanding of the participants.
In Northern Ireland, the peace process included all political parties and some other groups who had a legitimate interest in the future of the province and who could establish that they represented a significant group of Northern Irish people. I think there were ten such groups in all and their representatives were elected to the peace negotiations. But, in order to get through the door into the peace talks, all the groups had to commit themselves to democratic standards and to the non-use of violence to pursue their political goals.
So I think the international community’s focus, after the budget, will be on encouraging the government to come forward with an imaginative proposal on devolution that is capable of meeting the aspirations of moderate, democratic Tamils and Muslims. The government acknowledges that it cannot win by military means alone. The international community would like to see that acknowledgement backed up with a political vision of how Sri Lanka can be reunited and its different communities reconciled with each other.
A word of caution is necessary. Realistically, constitutional change is not going to happen quickly. It would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament plus a positive referendum result to pass the law to bring in new devolution arrangements.
The usual suspects will oppose them. As Dudley Senanayake found, those Sinhalese forces opposed to devolution and power-sharing with the minorities are powerful. The only time that constitutional change was adopted to address the country’s internal question was the 13th amendment. Then President JR Jayawardene had total dominance in parliament, the resignation letters of his MPs in his pocket and the Indian army on the point of taking unilateral action. That conjunction of circumstances is unlikely to recur soon.
But even if constitutional change seems a long way off, it will still be important for the President to set out his vision. Meanwhile, there are plenty of steps the government can take to establish its bona fides, within the existing constitution, by addressing the grievances of the minorities.
It could make more use of the Tamil language in the public administration in areas where there are significant Tamil-speaking populations. I see that the government has taken significant steps to teach Tamil to Sinhala speaking civil servants. More can be done.
It can make the East a model of development that benefits all communities without discrimination. This is a big challenge but it is essential that government should achieve this if it is to win the hearts and minds of the minorities. Unless it does, the conflict will never end.
As an interim step, the government should explore how to implement the 13th amendment in a way that gives real power to the provincial councils in the North and East of the country, as well as in other provinces.
The government should make clear its determination to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights by taking public steps to bring to justice those who violate human rights, particularly on behalf of the state.
Institutional racism. In 1999, a report into the murder of a black teenager in London accused the Metropolitan Police of “institutional racism”. This was defined as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”, which “can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.” To their credit, the Met Police acknowledged the problem and have since put a huge effort into eliminating racism within the service. It seems to me that in Sri Lanka the agencies of the state, including the police, need similarly to take a step back and make an honest assessment of whether they are institutionally prejudiced and what steps they need to take in order to ensure that they treat all Sri Lankans equally fairly.
The government needs to think how to develop policy on the internal conflict in a bipartisan manner. We would not have brought peace to Northern Ireland had the government and opposition of the day, whichever parties they were, tried to score party political points on Northern Ireland. Unless there is a bipartisan approach in the south between the two main parties, peace efforts are very unlikely to succeed.
Let me say a word or two about the conflict.
The sooner it ends, the better. The conflict causes too much direct suffering-to the combatants and to the civilians. And over time, it erodes the quality and standards of public life and undermines good governance, as well as holding back development and economic growth.
But the government has the right to take steps to defend itself against the threat posed by the LTTE. It is not realistic to expect that an organisation like the LTTE could co-exist peacefully alongside or within a democratic society. That situation is inherently unstable. The LTTE has to change its ways.
Given the lack of trust on both sides, sadly the prospect is for the conflict to continue. In those circumstances, we expect to see the distinction between combatants and non-combatants upheld as well as other international humanitarian law and human rights law. If there has to be a fight, and given the LTTE’s attitude to democracy and peace negotiations it is hard to see how one is avoidable, then it should be fought in a manner that minimises the suffering of civilians.
I cannot tell whether the government armed forces are capable of defeating the LTTE on the battlefield. But Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and plenty of other conflicts tell us that winning the peace is more difficult than winning the war. Without resolving the underlying issues, even if the LTTE are badly beaten in the Wanni, the conflict will continue in a different guise. The social and political issues, which caused the alienation of so many Tamils in the first place, cannot be left unresolved if there is to be a lasting peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The British government would like to continue to help the Sri Lankan government find the way forward to peace and development.
We shall continue to take steps against the LTTE in the UK, to prevent public demonstrations of support for the LTTE and to disrupt fund-raising.
We shall encourage all parties to look at what worked in Northern Ireland’s peace process. We believe there are lessons that apply in Sri Lanka, though we don’t expect the experience of Northern Ireland to be translatable in total.
We shall encourage the government to come forward with a suitable proposal on devolution and to that end share our experience of devolution in Britain with people here.
We shall promote the safeguarding of human rights and the rule of law as key elements to finding a solution, not as problems to be by-passed. We shall encourage the government to work with international bodies, such as UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and in the UN Human Rights Council, in a constructive, not a combative, way.
We shall continue to fund our modest peace-building strategy projects in cooperation with the Sri Lankan authorities to help address the underlying causes of the conflict.
We shall work with our partners in the international community to maintain our constructive engagement with Sri Lanka, despite all the frustrations. It is important that the EU and the Commonwealth should have sensible policies towards Sri Lanka.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I cannot be certain what Dudley Senanayake would think of the challenges inherent in the new diplomacy. I expect he would be keen to see any new doctrine was founded on liberal principles of good government, human rights and humanitarian concern. But I think he would welcome the networks and contacts that are bringing people together across the world. He would also, I judge, see the potential for those networks to do good: to spread the truth, to empower ordinary people and to create a sense of our common humanity in place of division and difference.
For those of us who are forging this brave new world, we could do a lot worse than remind ourselves of Dudley Senanayake’s life, his principles, integrity and values. Whatever shape the future world order takes, humankind will still need men and women faithful to those qualities.
Thank you very much.
December 10th, 2007
by Rohini Hensman
It’ s a great honour and pleasure to be invited to speak at this felicitation of human rights defenders, and I would like to thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity.
I have been asked to talk about Rajan Hoole and Kopalasingham Sritharan of University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) (UTHR(J)), who received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders this year. I was absolutely thrilled when they got the award, because I had been feeling for years that they hadn’t received sufficient recognition for the amazing work they had been doing under extremely difficult circumstances, without any institutional support or proper funding, and leading a hunted existence due to their refusal to give up human rights work despite death threats from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Rajan is my cousin, I have known him practically from the time he was born. We played together as children and later had arguments on issues ranging from Tamil nationalism to feminism. But one thing I never disagreed with was his deep commitment to non-violence, justice and human dignity, which underpins his human rights work. I got to know Sri properly only after Rajani Thiranagama’s murder and his hair-raising escape from Jaffna. Coming from a Marxist background, his politics are in some ways closer to mine, and his razor-sharp analysis is a notable element in the UTHR(J) reports.
UTH(J) was founded in 1988, in the midst of the worst period Sri Lanka has been through in its entire existence, with tens of thousands being killed in the course of fighting between the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) and LTTE in the North and East, and between the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and government of Sri Lanka in the rest of the country. The precursor to the UTHR(J) publications was The Broken Palmyra, co-authored by Rajan, Sri, Rajani Thiranagama and Daya Somasundaram. Rajani, a co-founder of UTHR(J), was a doctor and lecturer in anatomy. Her murder by the LTTE in 1989 was not only a terrible tragedy, but also a serious loss for the group, to which her focus on women and strong feminist voice made a major contribution. Daya is a psychiatrist, who has written very illuminating books on the psychological trauma resulting from violence, both for its victims and for its perpetrators. He stayed on for a while after Rajan and Sri left Jaffna, but he, too was finally forced to leave.
The Broken Palmyra set a pattern that persists till today, and which was mentioned explicitly as a reason why UTHR(J) got the Martin Ennals Award, namely, the ability to see and report on the evils of human rights violations regardless of who are the victims and who are the perpetrators. Thus the book deals with violations committed by the Sri Lankan security forces and the IPKF, but it also reveals the ugly record of abuses by the LTTE and other Tamil groups. In fact, this is in some ways its focus: the palmyra, the symbol of Tamil society, can bend before the blast of external repression, but it breaks only when something is rotten within. The agony of seeing the society they loved torn apart by fratricidal violence, of innocence desecrated by the induction of children into armed groups, comes through loud and clear in this and subsequent publications.
This means that unlike the phony human rights advocates who are silent about atrocities committed by members of their own ethnic or religious group against members of other groups, UTHR(J) highlighted and condemned massacres of Sinhalese and Muslims, and the wholesale expulsion of Muslims from the North. Unlike human rights defenders who felt that the case for defending the human rights of Tamils would be weakened if atrocities committed by Tamil groups were publicized, they felt that precisely these atrocities had the potential to destroy Tamil society more completely than anything inflicted on them from outside, and therefore should be condemned most
UTHR(J) got a lot of flak for this, especially after the 2002 ceasefire, when the bulk of their criticism was directed against the LTTE. Not only Tamils but also many Sinhalese accused them of LTTE-bashing. I think I understand where this criticism comes from: it is based on a fundamentally different conception of being ‘even-handed’ or ‘unbiased’, one that I think is deeply flawed. I already outlined UTHR(J)’s conception: basically, the belief that all violations of human rights should be recorded, reported and condemned, regardless of who is committing them and against whom. This other conception is that if there are two parties to a conflict, then whenever you criticize or condemn one party, you must criticize and condemn the other equally. But if the LTTE is conscripting children and the government is not involved in child conscription (as it was not at that time), then how can you criticize government forces for child conscription? If the LTTE is committing ten times more ceasefire violations and extra-judicial killings than the government, as even the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission admitted, then how can you condemn them equally? The answer given by far too many NGOs was, by downplaying or even remaining silent about LTTE abuses. I have listened to speeches about human rights in Sri Lanka where LTTE atrocities against Muslims were not even mentioned. No mention of child conscription. Not a word about the killings of Tamil critics. No wonder UTHR(J) sounded as if it was Tiger-bashing when it went on and on about these issues! It was because of the deafening silence coming from the peace lobby, which didn’t want to rock the peace boat by raising them, even though this amounted to a decision that the human rights of Muslims, Tamil children and Tamil dissidents were not worth
I think there were several catastrophic consequences of this silence. Firstly, it meant that nothing was done to rein in LTTE abuses. Secondly, it led to an enormous build-up of bitterness and resentment among Sinhalese, especially in cases where Sinhalese were the target of attack: resentment that should have been directed against the LTTE, but could later be unleashed against Tamil civilians because the Sinhala nationalists, LTTE and peace lobby all colluded in propagating the myth that the LTTE represented all Tamils. Thirdly, it discredited human rights advocates in general by making it appear that they were biased towards the LTTE, because the sad fact was that many of them were. Thus when the war broke out again and government forces really did start committing horrific violations, the accusations of these people could be dismissed with a certain amount of credibility by government propagandists.
UTHR(J), on the other hand, has made the sharpest denunciations of government policies, and not a single government propagandist has dared so much as to hint that they are pro-LTTE. That is the advantage of a principled commitment to human rights which is not swayed one way or the other by contingent political considerations, such as whether peace talks are in progress or not: no one can question your bona fides without sounding absurd. And any political considerations are immaterial when set against respect for human rights, which is the very basis of our humanity. ‘Peace’ without human rights is not worth having, because it is the ‘peace’ of humanity crushed and killed, the ‘peace’ of the graveyard in which humanity is buried.
A project like UTHR(J) can’t be run entirely by two individuals, however great they may be. I mentioned Rajani who was killed, and there were others who paid with their lives for participating. Rajan’s wife Kirupa and Sri’s wife Vasantha have been towers of strength, providing financial, logistical and moral support, as well as caring for the children. In some ways the burden they bear is even heavier than that of their partners, since it is worse to fear for the life of a loved one than to risk your own, yet these two courageous women have never faltered. Then there is a network of grassroots fact-finders in the North and East whose names I don’t know, and don’t even want to know at the moment, because what they are doing is so dangerous. The award is shared by all of them.
If we are being sincere in felicitating them, I feel we must commit ourselves to promoting their work in whatever way we can. That could mean quoting them or publishing extracts from their work wherever appropriate, but also, more generally, taking up their stance and making it our own. This includes a clear and uncompromising rejection of both the LTTE’s ultimate goal-an exclusively Tamil, totalitarian state-and the methods by which it is sought to be achieved, using innocent civilians and even the LTTE’s own cadre simply as objects to be blown up at will.
Here I appeal especially to Sinhalese human rights defenders and peace campaigners. Muslims are vulnerable to attack from both sides, and most Tamils who have taken on the LTTE in a major way have either been killed or been forced to flee Sri Lanka. On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, the LTTE has not engaged in targeted attacks against Sinhalese intellectuals and activists. So they are uniquely placed to be able to criticize the Tigers with impunity.
This would enable them to launch a blistering attack on government policies without being hypocritical or biased, and that is very much needed at present. The whole notion that a war against terrorists demands that the hands of the government and its security forces should not be tied by the requirement to respect human rights and civil liberties should be torn to shreds. We should argue the very opposite: that every clamp-down on civil liberties which takes away an avenue of non-violent protest forces people into violence as the only path left open to them, and every violation of human rights pushes more recruits into the arms of the terrorists.
Many Tamil nationalists have not hesitated to get foreign citizenship and give up the idea of living anywhere in Sri Lanka, much less in the North-East, whereas Rajan and Sri have not settled down elsewhere, despite the fact that their formidable academic qualifications would easily enable them to do so. The reason is that they still long to return to Sri Lanka, and preferably to Jaffna. So the best way to honour them is to do whatever we can to make it possible for them to realize their dream of coming home safely.
Text of a Talk at the Celebration of Human Rights Defenders, Organized by the Law & Society Trust, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre and Rights Now Collective for Democracy on 6th December 2007 at BCIS Auditorium.
December 9th, 2007
Ajith Samaranayake Memorial Lecture
by Dr. Sarath Amunugama:
All of us in this Hall today are friends and admirers of Ajith Samaranayake. Ajith was someone special in the field of media in our country, in that he could traverse many worlds. As a journalist he completed the full cycle of his profession from news reporter to lobby correspondent, columnist, Editor of a Daily, Editor of a Sunday newspaper, and finally consultant to Lake House. He was an English writer who made an indelible impression on the Sinhala arts and culture of his time as a critic of literature, theatre, cinema and of contemporary society. He was a welcome participant both at hearty celebrations organized by journalists as well as seminars of upmarket think tanks. He had a large circle of friends which included both bar keepers as well as keepers of literary salons among the glitterati of Colombo society. But most of all he was a good friend of media people and was every ready to do battle on their behalf. The brilliant obituaries he wrote of all newsmakers who were lucky enough to die before him, had that personal touch a reminiscence or two which gave evidence of a lifelong association. I cannot do better than quote Regi Siriwardena’s famous birthday apology and apologia on his Eightieth birthday.
“By time’s mere flux, I am called to play the part
Of Patriarch I am unfitted for.
But not for long, I hope. When the time comes,
Ajith, Prince of Obituarists, will write,
I know, a graceful piece measured, as always,
And free of flattery of fulsomeness.
(A pity I shan’t be there to read it, though)”
The vast outpouring of grief at Ajith’s passing a year ago here testimony to his influence on the local media both big and small. My lecture also then is a tribute to a good friend, sometime intellectual adversary and at all times a journalist who was at the to of his professional skills.
Looking back, I remember the young man who walked into my office in the Department of Information, several decades ago. We were bonded together by our common allegiance to Kandy, Trinity College, reading of books, socialist ideology and common cultural pursuits. Ajith and I spent many evenings together, particularly memorable ones with Lester James Peiris, Mervyn De Silva, and Sarath Muttetuwegama. I remember those stimulating days which now creates sadness. As Amitav Ghose wrote: “There is no greater sorrow than times of joy recalled in wretchedness.”
As luck would have it, when I took a call from the Chairman Lake House, Bandula Padmakumara, inviting me to deliver the Ajith Samaranayake commemoration lecture, I was half way through reading a brilliant essay by the French socialist and teacher Regis Debray in the July-August issue of the New Left Review. We all know that it was Regis Debray who was smuggled into the Seirre Maestre inCuba to join Fidel Castro and Che Guevara when they were battling the hated Batista regime. His dispatches from that front and his long interviews with Castro, which were published in Europe, helped in creating a support base, particularly, among radical youth and the French intelligentsia for the rebels then holed up in the hills. When the fighting got fiercer Debray was captured by Batista forces and faced execution till the French government, then under pressure from French intellectuals, negotiated his release. He is, still, as the French describe it, “a man of the Left.”
In his essay “Socialism and Print” Debray explores the ecosystem of socialism seen through the material forms in which is principles were transmitted books, newspapers, manifestos and the parties, movements, schools and men who were its bearers.
Ajith Samaranayake was also “a man of the left” from the time when as a schoolboy in Trinity College, he joined the youth league of the LSSP. To his dying day he was intellectually committed to the socialist cause. His view of society and arts and culture was underpinned by that belief. Therefore, I thought the theme of my lecture “The Left and the Written World” would be a fitting tribute to Ajith.
This lecture will be in two parts. The first part will deal with Regis Debray’s theory of the Mediasphere as comprising three epochs the logosphere, the graphosphere, and the videosphere which he claims “suggests a new periodisation for the history of ideas.”
The second part will attempt to apply the insights of Debray’s theory to the rise and eventual collapse of the Left in Sri Lanka, particularly, the LSSp and the CP. This collapse coincides with the beginning and end of Socialism which Debray characterizes as ‘the life cycle of socialism, that great fallen oak of political endeavour.’
Let us now describe Regis Debray’s theory. He says:
It is impossible to grasp the nature of conscious collective life in any epoch without an understanding of the material forms and processes through which its ideas were transmitted the communication networks that enable thought to have a social existence. Indeed, the successive stages of development of these means and relations of transmission whose ensemble we might term the mediasphere suggest a new periodization for the history of ideas. First what we may call the logosphere: that long period stretching from the invention of writing (and of clay tablets, papyrus, parchment scrolls) to the coming of the printing press. The age of the logos, but also that of the theology, in which writing is first and foremost, the inscription of the word of God, the ’sacred carving’ of the hieroglyph. God dictates, man transcribes in the Bible or the Koran and dictates in his turn. Reading is done aloud, in company; man’s task is not to invent but to transmit received truths.
A second period the graphosphere, runs from 1448 AD to around 1968; from the Gutenberg Revolution to the rise of TV. It is the age of reason and of the book, of the newspaper and political party. The poet or artist emerges as a guarantor of truth, invention flourishes amid an abundance of written references; the image is subordinate to the text. The third, still expanding today, is the era of the videosphere: the age of the image, in which the book is knocked off its pedestal and the visible triumphs over the great invisibles God, History, Progress of the previous epochs.”
Debray identifies print media as the dominant form within the second period of his mediological periodisation, which enabled socialism to flourish. The ecosystem of socialism as social practice depended on an ensemble of men (militants, leaders, theoreticians) tools of transmission (books, schools, newspapers) and institutions (factions, parties, associations). The print media helped in intellectualising the proletariat and proletarianizing the intellectual.
Based on ideas gleaned within this ecosystem of the printed word the library, newspapers, evening classes and lectures there also developed a powerful oral culture in the workers movement. Debray describes the link between socialist print and socialist speech making.
A powerful oral culture also played a large part in the workers’ movement, of course: harangues at rallies, congress speeches, conferences; Jaures at Pre-Saint-Gervais, Lenin on Red Square, Blum at Tours or the Place de la Nation in 1936 all spoke without benefit of microphones, shouting themselves hoarse, to the brink of exhaustion, before tens of thousands of listeners. But if the spokesmen of socialism relied as muchon their public pulpits as on their presses, their rhetoric was nevertheless stamped by a bookish culture and a long familiarity with the written word. Even their extemporizations have the feel of the reader or the scholar. Many were great parliamentarians, orators and tribunes in the classical republican tradition; but their addresses were formally founded upon the written word, the real basis of law both in their own eyes and in those of the rank and file.”
Debray who romanticized the revolution was happy to be a comp follower, to rub shoulders with the great socialist heroes of today. But he did not fail to see that they were in thrall to the written word. He says:
“All the revolutionary men of action I have met, from Che Guevara to Pham Van Dong by way of Castro (not the autocrat, but the onetime rebel), to say nothing of the walking encyclopedias known as Trotskyists, were compulsive readers, as devoted to books as they were unreceptive to images.”
Many followers of the Chinese Revolution will recall photos of Mao Tse Tung in his bedchamber cum study in Zongnanhai which was filled from top to bottom with books.
Andre Malrcaux who went in to this room to interview Mao describes his books, his writing table and the ever-present spittoon. Mao’s shifts in policy wre all proceeded by his writings and admonitions, which towards the end, had the flavor of aphorisms. “Let a thousand flowers bloom” he said, “let a thousand thoughts contend”, Later, more directly he ordered “Bombard the Headquarters.”
Why were words so important to socialist leaders? Because as Blanqui said in 1978 “Ideas alone have constituted the strength and salvation of the proletariat”. Debrary brilliantly explains why the idea is at the heart of socialist belief.
“Abstract concepts were the ABC of a militant’s apprenticeship. The notions of proletariat and bourgeoisie, like those of labour power, Surplus value, relations of production, etc., that underlie them, are not apprehensible by the senses. Secondly, whether project or myth, the idea of the Revolution as ‘what should be’ is the denial and transcendence of the immediate, the overcoming of the present. Both as logical discourse and as moral undertaking, the socialist utopia demanded an inner break with the of everyday life’, an act of faith that mobilized the powers of conceptual analysis to break the accepted social imagery down into elemental abstracts, like ‘exploitation’”.
Let us now apply Debrays analysis to the Sri Lankan situation, in particular the praxis of the LSSP and the CP. The founding fathers and outstanding leaders of both the LSSP and the CP were young men who were drawn to the growing communist ideology in the west. What started as an anti-imperialist militancy ended in the communist embrace, particularly, after the writings of Lenin on Imperialism and the establishment of the Third International, in which M. N. Roy was dominant Asian voice. Fortunately, we now have several publications regarding Philip Gunewardene’s early years in the United States and Europe where he was first attracted to the ideas of his teacher Scott Nearing in which he was joined by his friend and fellow student Jayaprakash Narayan. We must also remember that this was the time of the growth of the American Trostkyist Movement. This was the hay day of pro-Trotsky activities in the US with a special commission led by an American Liberal to investigate all of Stalin’s charges against the founder of the Red Army and Lenin’s colleague, now in exile in Mexico after being expelled from the island of Prinkip due to stalinist pressures. When Philip Gunawardene arrived in the UK he beganan association with Dr. S. A. Wickremesinghe, Dr. N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R De Silva and Leslie Gunawardena who were all engaged in post-graduate work either in London University or the LSE. Except for their Indian colleagues who later went on to join the Indian Communist Party, or the Praja Socialist Party, it would be difficult to think of a more “bookish” coterie even among radicals who, as we have seen, were the embodiment of Regis Debray’s graphosphere.
Another aspect that has escaped the scholars of the Left in Sri Lanka is the influence of the Indian Freedom movement and the Anti imperialist struggle on these young radicals. The Indian Nationalist Movement was gathering momentum in European Academia and Wickremesinghe, Philip and NM in particular, were drawn to it, Philip was for sometime the Secretary to Saklatwala; He was a colleague of Krishan Menon and was active in the Free India movement. Dr. Wickremesinghe was associated with the Theosophical Movement which had its headquarters in London and attracted Gandhi when he was studying Law in the Middle Temple. What is most significant is that with growing commitment to doctrinal Trotskyism the LSSP shed those contacts and relied more and more on directives from the 4th International which was housed in a side street in Paris. Colvin and Leslie were members of the steering Committee of this International and was the conduit through which there was the most horrendous control of the LSSP Parties policies by “Bookworms” from Paris who were far removed from reality.
When living in Paris, in the 1980s I met Michel Pablo who was the Leader of a ‘tendency’ which had the greatest influence on the LSS pint he post-war years. He was a secretive persons, fixing appointments with me in various cafes in the Republique area. He had lost everything after backing Messali Hadj in Algeria against the FLN. Ben Bella had called him a Traitor, burnt his library and expelled him from Algeria. Then living in Paris and reminiscing about the LSSP in which Leslie Goonewardene with his nom de guerre of Tilak was his favourite Michel Pablo did not strike me as a reliable “helmsman” for Sri Lanka’s LSSP.
Later Pieter Keuneman came down from Cambridge to serve in the Communist Party. He inhabited a Cambridge in the days of the hunger marches, when the children of the English elite were looking with eager eyes at developments in the Soviet Union, which he described pithily as “The Soviet Way” in a book he wrote later. This was Cambridge University of the “Cambridge Five” of Kim Philby, Burgers and McLean, whose spying for the Soviet Union from deep within the British establishment helped the USSR to defeat the Nazi Germany and win the Second World War.
Eric Hobsbawn, the outstanding Cambridge Communist Historian, gives the following pen picture of Pieter Keuneman at Cambridge in his book “Interesting Times”.
“Piter Keuneman, a dashing,, witty and remarkably handsome Ceylonese (the island was not yet Sri Lanka) who lived in Pembrokein some style, was a great figure in University society. President of the Union, among other things, not to mention the lucky partner of the ravishing Hedi Simon from Vienna (and Newnham), with whom I vainly fell in love. (After we graduated Pieter and I rented a tiny house together in the now no longer extant Round Church Street. Although both were devoted Party members, I do not think anyone would have predicted that this debonair socialite, who first introduced me to the poems of John Betjeman, would spend most of his later life as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Sri Lanka.”
Left leaders who depended so much on the written word for their theories and their pamphleteering suffered badly from antoehr difficulty. None of them could read and write Sinhala or Tamil with ease. Not only the leaders I have mentioned earlier, but other outstanding personalities such as Bernard Soysa, Doric de Souza, hector Abeywardena, Bala Tampoe and Karala-singham, were more at home in the English language. Their thoughts had invariably to be translated into Sinhala and Tamil.
The lSSp and Cp had to depend onintermediaries like Henry Peiris and G II Ratnaweera to carry out propaganda of the written word in Sinhala. The two leaders of the party who had mass appeal Philip and NM were both closer to local culture and language and wee therefore held in some suspicion by the BI.P oriented. Samasamajlssts or the 4th International as being susceptible to the Petit-Bourgeois and nationalistic virus.
In an open society and democratic politics such isolation would not have been possible. But the inevitable consequence of a collapse of the party due to its “Bookish” ideas was postponed due to several factors. The first is the epoch of its growth, which was characterized by the anti-imperialist struggle. Unlike in India where the monolithie Indian Congress could accommodate many tendencies within it like the Jayaprakash Group, Lohia Group, the PSP and the CP., in Sri Lanka due to the 4th International, the LSSP with its theory of ‘a plague on both your houses’ was cut off from the independence struggle and ultimately paid a heavy price. Unlike the CP which agitated for a joint front, the LSSP still in thrall to a bookish ideology went either into hiding or to prison.
Even in prison the Book prevailed. Unlike the communist Antonio Gramsei who turned to political theoretical writing in prison, the LSSp prisoners because of its stifling Troskyite ideology, turned to more prosaic tasks Colvin to edit his University of London history thesis into “Ceylon under the British” and NM to write “The case for Free Education”. There were no theoretical or programmatic works which characterized a Mao, a Gandhi, a Ho Chi Minh or even a MN Roy. Only Philip in later years began to think afresh after he was freed from the dead hand of sterile Trotskyite semantics whose chief exponent Doric de Souza-had, by this time, become his “Bete Noir”.
We can now return to Debray’s thesis of “the eco-system of Socialism” based on the written words. The Soviet Union was the last such battleground of “alphabetical heroism”. Says Debray:
“the process was frozen in the post-war period in Eastern Europe’s huge conservatory of obsolete forms a museum of the word, in which the living sources of the past lay fossilized. Yet, studious and scholarly, ‘actually existing socialism’ had a typographic soul. A glance at UNESCO indicators for a number of books per head, quantity of public libraries, average household spending on books, etc., shows that during the Cold War, Communist countries where the economy was struggling and audio-visual cultural had barely arrived-held all the records for printed paper. To journey through those old world provinces, where Western Europe’s 19th century still lived on was to witness a universal cult of books and an idolization of writers Soviet stars were more likely to be novelists or poets than actors or musicians. With the atrophy of the image came a hypertrophy of the text, its aura enhanced by censorship.
Party-States had such respect for the power of words that they kept them under perpetual surveillance, yet this repression made a live grenade of every samizdat, in line with the ‘best’ Tsarist traditions. Everything was repeated, but upside-down. Under the Stalinist state, the Russian intelligentsia resumed its time honoured typographical combat, its old mole’s labours. For what else is told in the long history of the Russian underground, from herzen’s Kolokol (1855) to Lenin’s Iskra (1900) but stories of clandestine presses, illicit newssheets, books sown into great coats? In Dostoevasky’s ‘The Possessed’, Verkhovensky lures Shatov into a trap by sending him to retrieve a printing press buried in a school yard”.
What of the future? The old life cycle of socialism and its Eco system, which is based on the written word is now coming to an end. The age of graphology is closing and the age of videosphere is beginning. Everyday we see new developments in science information technology, cultural and politics based on the grammar of the video. Can socialism adjust, and survive?
Ajith Samaranayake was one of the few men of the left in Sri Lanka, who sensed this dilemma. As a media person with a youthful belief in High ideals, High culture and High politics, he was disturbed that the ground on which he had built his life was turning into a quicksand.
In the late eighties, I pioneered Sinhala writing on the concept of popular culture. The videosphere represented by the popular cinema, radio and TGV was beginning to play a significant role in our society and culture. Jothipala songs were on the working mans lips.
Ajith reacted with holy horror. We had an extended debate in the Sinhala Press. Leading cultural figures like Sarathchandra, Regi Siriwardena and A. J. Gunewardena entered the debate. Many years later Ajith told me that I had been right. Popular culture was on its way. But I appreciated his candour and his concern. What was under threat were the high political and literary values that he always espoused. Had he lived he would have brought his humane, intelligent and always engaged sensibility to an analysis of the emerging videosphere. His commitment was indispensable. That is why we mourn his death and miss him so much today.
December 7th, 2007
Transcript of Speech by Hon. Bob Rae, at the inaugural meeting of Canadians for Peace:
I want to thank the alliance and the new organization very much for inviting me to join you today. I must start by saying I don’t bring any magic solutions. I’m going to do two things in my talk, first, give a public account on my full personal experience in Sri Lanka, and then to perhaps try and point out some things the Government of Canada could do.
I hope by the end of it you realize that I won’t make everyone happy, and I won’t make anyone completely happy. I’ve learned over the years that honesty is the best policy. So what I have to say may not please everyone but I have to speak the truth as I’ve seen it over the last several years. I was asked to visit Sri Lanka in my role as Chairman of the new organization created in 1997 called the Forum of Federations.
In that role, we were contacted in 1998 by Mr. G. L. Peiris, who at that time, was the Minister and part of the Government of the day in Sri Lanka, who said he would like to come to our conference in Quebec, because he felt he had much to learn about the federal idea, and because he felt that it was important for him to come and say something to both, in the direction for reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Mr. Peiris came to the conference and gave a talk, in which he indicated that some kind of plural solution was the only way that he saw to end the conflict. At that time the war was still on and it was before the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).
I next attended a few conferences in Switzerland. One of them before the CFA, and the other one after the CFA, with a number of individuals, some who were closely associated with the LTTE, some who were closely associated with civil society, some who were closely associated with the Government of Sri Lankan and each of the main political parties in Sri Lanka. Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka many times. I’ve met with government leaders, with political leaders in the south; I’ve travelled to Kilinochi on three occasions, I’ve visited the headquarters in the Vanni of the LTTE; I’ve spent several days meeting with their local cadres and their leadership. I’ve met with Tamil Chelvan several times. And I’ve met with Nadasan, who’s their new political leader. I’ve met with Puli Devan, who’s the head of the Peace Secretariat. And I’ve met with each of the leaders of the political parties in the south. And I’ve participated in several of the peace conferences, or so called peace negotiations, as they were called, the ones that were held in Bangkok, in Oslo, and in various capitals in Asia and elsewhere. And I also attended the last meeting that took place in Japan before the peace process ended. And I’ve visited Sri Lanka since that time.
Bob Rae visits the Church Wellesley Village, Mar 16th 2007 – bobrae.ca
So what I say to you will be very much based on that experience. I’ve come away, first of all, with a great love for the country. It’s a beautiful country and I’ve been made welcome in every part of the country that I’ve visited. My wife and I spent 10 days just travelling by car, going around to see the country just to meet with people in a non-political way. And I don’t have to tell people here, it’s a very beautiful country. I’ve seen much devastation as well, devastation by war. Many villages destroyed, many homes destroyed. I’ve been in Jaffna and visited many houses which are in ruins. I could tell you a funny experience that I’ve had in Jaffna. I was getting out of the plane someone threw a bag at me from the back of the truck, that greets you as you get off the plane in Jaffna. He looked at me and said “You’re Bob Rae”. “That’s right, how do you know me?”, I asked. He said, “I’m from Scarborough, so I know who you are.” It was a reminder to me of how small our world is, and how connected we are as people.
I’m going to be very candid with everyone here, I felt very strongly, and I feel as strongly today as I did then, that there is no military solution to this problem. To think there is a military solution on either side is a delusion. There is no military solution. And I know that obviously, in the south today, in the Government, there may be those who think ‘well, we’ve been able to kill one of the leaders of the LTTE. We struck a mighty blow, and therefore we can win with a military solution. And on the other side, there may be people who think, ‘well, we’ve developed. There’s no part of Sri Lanka which is safe from our own counterattacks. We can inflict so much damage on the Government of Sri Lanka that we can force the solution that we want, by military means.’ I am convinced that is wrong. There is no military solution.
We know why it is that people took up arms many years ago, and we have to recognize that people take up arms for a reason. They don’t do it because they enjoy it; they do it because they feel that they have no other way to get a message across. And that has to be understood. We will not find a solution that does not deal with the grievances that are underneath this conflict. I was very interested to hear Mr. Kumarasamy’s speech, in which he made the point that, there are some people who think that peace is just the absence of conflict. That if people stop fighting there will be peace. That will be the solution. But, in itself it is not, the solution because you have to deal with the underlying conditions that give rise to the grievance.
Now you know, I’ve got several messages this week from people, saying don’t come to this meeting because it is not representative of the feelings of the Tamil people in Canada, and does not reflect their feelings. But I have to say to those people; never try to keep Bob Rae from coming to a meeting. It’s not a good idea to try that, because I don’t respond well to that kind of approach. I am not here to endorse any one position, or any one view of what needs to happen. I am here to simply give you my assessment as a Canadian who’s been involved a long time, for nearly a decade now, to say what it is I think we need to do as a country.
We have to deal with the underlying conditions. And I can say very directly to you, that the LTTE is a guerrilla organization that recruits children, that engages in violent activity, and it is not activity that I either approve of, or condone or support. I wouldn’t be deluding anyone, if were I to say that. But I’ve said it to Tamil Chelvan, I said it to Puli Delvan, I’ve said it to every LTTE leader that I’ve met, do not ask or expect any Canadian political leader, or Canadian mediator, or anyone with a Canadian role, to look you in the eye and say “we approve of what you are doing, or we believe you when you say that you are not engaged in violent activities, or you are not engaged in being a fighting army.” You are a fighting army, you are an insurgent army, and you are engaged in violent activity that we cannot condone or approve. I don’t say this lightly, I don’t say it because it’s what people want me to say. And the response comes back, “we are only doing what we feel we have to do. We’re doing, what we are doing because we feel we have no choice to do it, and we’re doing it because we felt there was no other avenue for us to carry out our activities.” To which I can only reply, if you look at the example of the IRA, in Ireland, if you look at the example of the African National Congress in South Africa, at some critical point in their lives, at some critical point in the struggle, wiser souls realized that there was not victory, victory did not lie through the military route. And it did not lie through the military route, because the pain and suffering inflicted on the civilian population was not worth the price, it was not worth it. If the purity of the struggle required that level of human sacrifice, then everyone has to look again at their hearts, and say how else can we achieve a legitimate recognition of our rights, and a legitimate political solution to our problem.
On the other hand, there are those people who think that we have to find a solution that does not involve the LTTE. To which I say, everything in my experience tells me, that as much as I disapprove or dislike the tactics that have been used of the LTTE, I do not believe we are going to find a solution that does not include them, because unless they are included in the solution, we will not find a basis for a solution. That has to be understood. Now, does this require a change of behaviour on the part of the LTTE? Of course it does. Of course it does. Does it mean that we expect or ask the government of the day to simply sit down and say “we are simply going to discuss with the LTTE without any pre-conditions”? No. Do I believe that the LTTE is the only voice of the Tamil people? No, I do not believe that. But do I believe it to be a voice of the Tamil people? Absolutely.
Its not for an outsider to say exactly what is the route that must be followed to get to a solution, but it is for an outsider to say, that based on our experience of human history, based on our experience on how these insurgencies develop, ultimately they lead to tragedy or they lead to a solution, we have to offer our best advice. So at the risk of repeating myself, by far the advice we’ve consistently given the involved parties is this: there has to be a ceasefire, the ceasefire has to be carried out by the people who are involved in the conflict. But the creation of the solution, the long-term political solution, requires the presence of more parties than just the parties of the ceasefire. The ceasefire is between the combatants, between those who are fighting. That is what a ceasefire is. You don’t ask somebody who is not engaged in the fighting to be involved in the ceasefire? No, because they are not involved in the ceasefire, or in the fighting.
But once the fighting is over, you are looking to create the basis for a broader solution, there has to be broader participation. Now we’ve seen how by the Up-country Tamils coming to the table how the grievances of the Tamils have been presented in ways that they were never presented before. We’ve seen the Muslim population, whose leadership I’ve met with many times, in the east and in Colombo, and in the north. Wherever we can find Muslim leaders who come forward, we’ve met with them. Clearly there are issues which need to be resolved, to be dealt with. During the ceasefire negotiation process we did have meetings between the LTTE and the Muslim leadership. There were discussions, and there was a recognition. Even Balasingam recognized that things happened during the conflict that should not have happened. And injustices were caused which should not have been created. And there needs to be recognition of that, an honest recognition. A recognition that there is no purity on anyone’s side in these conflicts. Mistakes are made, terrible things happen and terrible tragedies occur, and we have to have the honesty to recognize that, that’s what happens in a war.
War is a terrible thing and nobody should glorify war and nobody should glorify death and nobody should glorify a conflict. There is nothing glorious about it. It’s a terrible, terrible thing that inflicts huge pain and suffering and ends the life of thousands of people who should not have died and should not be held hostage to this kind of conflict.
I can tell you that I’ve been criticized very heavily by the Government of Sri Lanka who say why don’t you realize that what we have to do is win a military solution to this problem and the LTTE is a terrorist organization and that’s the beginning and the end of it. The answer to that is to say to the Sri Lankan Government, and we have to be very emphatic again and again and again, “There is no military solution to this problem”. That is why I must say that the statement made in the earlier speech that, for the next step, the ball is in the court of the Government of Sri Lanka, is correct. I can tell you, as an observer and as somebody who has been watching and listening, we have been waiting, the world has been waiting for a long time for the Government of Sri Lanka to tell us what are the ways in which they believe this conflict can be ultimately resolved outside of a military solution. What is the plan? What is the plan that will recognize human rights? What is the plan that will recognize not just individual rights, but the collective rights of the people? And how do you intend to go about changing the internal constitution of a country in such a way that it will contribute to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. We’ve been waiting and we are still waiting. We are still waiting because such a plan has not been forthcoming.
We all know the reasons, the political reasons why it hasn’t happened. I’ve observed this. One party is in and the other party is critical. Them saying why are you giving in, why are giving in and the other party gets into power and all of a sudden it’s a switch. One day you know a federal solution might be possible, the next day federalism is the f word. The f word; you’re not allowed to say. I don’t care what the word is.
The one thing I believe very strongly is the constitution does not have to contain the words either federal or unitary. It doesn’t, these are just words. The emotion, the value, the passion that has to underlie the future of the country is mutual respect. This means respect for identity, respect for language, respect for religion, respect for pluralism, and which recognizes that there cannot be simply the dominance by the majority. That does not recognize the legitimate rights of all the people and of all the nationalities that make up Sri Lanka.
As I said I have no magic solution. There is no magic wand to be waved. I think the government of Canada has to be one of the countries, not the only country, but one of the countries that continues to be as present as we can be in insisting that these are the things that need to happen to get us to peace.
To me it is amazing. And I feel this so intensely, the news is very selective. If there is a bomb that goes off in one country in the Middle East it’s a big deal. And it’s on the news and everybody is preoccupied, everybody is focused, everybody is thinking. In the last two years in Sri Lanka, we’ve had over two hundred thousand people displaced from their homes, displaced from their homes. We’ve had more people killed in the last year than in most other countries that have the attention, the full attention of the Security Council of the United Nations. We have very little international attention being paid to Sri Lanka. It’s disgraceful. The eyes of the world need to be on Sri Lanka just as much as any other place in the world where there is a conflict that we need to understand better.
Now, the United Nations is going to look at the human rights situation. We have people beginning to, again put pressure back on to say this is something which has to be dealt with. And I can tell you the world should not be silenced. And I will not be silenced. I will not be silenced by people who say you can’t express sadness or regret at the death of the leader Tamil Chelvan. I will tell you when a leader like Tamil Chelvan dies, it isn’t a good thing for the world. It is not. I also say to you that I do not condone and I do not support and I will not be silenced in saying that the atrocities that have been committed, have been committed on both sides. And the evidence of that is overwhelming and anybody wants to say, well they have done this and we have done nothing wrong, I can tell you the evidence for that is just not there. The evidence is that terrible things have been done that should not have been done and they have been done by all sides to the conflict. Unless a lot of people face up to that fact and recognize the cost of the conflict and what it is meant in human terms, then we will not succeed.
So I think Canada should be playing a leadership roll and frankly, I don’t see Canada there. I see Canada, just going through the motions, going through the motions of expressing concern. I don’t see any leadership at the moment coming from our Government and it should be coming from our government. We are home to more people of Sri Lanka in origin, Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim, than virtually any other country outside India. Therefore we have a stake.
Having said that we have a stake, I want to put back a challenge to the community in the Diaspora. And that is, those of you who are here, and frankly those of you who are not here because many people who say that they will not come to meeting like this because they are too attached to one side or the other to come. I understand that. We have to recognize that people who take that stronger view, but I can say to you very emphatically, very emphatically; it is frankly in the Diaspora that a lot of the momentum for peace is going to come. I mentioned that Ireland was an example. A little known fact about Ireland, the Irish conflict in the past twenty years is as much a part of Canada as it is part of any other country. When the people came to Canada from Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland in the last twenty to twenty five years, they came here and they said, “that was there, here we’re Canadians; here we’re trying to find a solution. I don’t care whether this guy is a Protestant or a Catholic. I don’t care what part of the country you came from, we’re going to work together.”
We are going to work on building an understanding and go back to Sri Lanka saying this is crazy. We should not be perpetuating this conflict in Canada. We should be trying to solve this conflict in Canada. And the Diaspora has the responsibility to do that. We have to break down those barriers that still exist among Canadians of Sri Lankan origin. Now we’ve seen signs of this among younger people going back to their homeland and coming back and learning lessons and taking lessons and trying to share experiences. We have to continue to do that, but we have to do it more effectively and with more support. And so, I don’t come with a magic solution and if, somebody said, “do you support the Canadian’s Peace Alliance Solution?” I’ll say I’m not taking a position.
I’m not here to say one thing or another, but wherever Canadians come together and look at a conflict which has caused such heartache, such hardships, such pain, such suffering and such loss; loss of life, loss of culture, loss of work, loss of jobs. The economy in Sri Lanka has been devastated because of this conflict. Anything that contributes to changing that is something we should all support; all political parties should support.
Please call Mr. Carry Johnson here to participate in this discussion because he to has been to Sri Lanka many times and knows as much about the conflict as anyone. So I’ll stop there Mr. Chairman, I thank you very much for your introduction and your kindness and inviting me. I appreciate it.
I hope you will accept some of my very direct observations. They are not made lightly and they are made with the greatest of respect and I will continue to make them in whatever way I can. A solution is not going to be easy. The killings last week could well, it’s fair to say unless people take a deep breath and look hard into the mirror, lead to yet another spiral escalation of battle to retaliation and to counter retaliation and on it goes. It has to stop.
I guess the last thing I’d say is, from my experience I have often wondered what is it that leads us to peace and it’s very ironic today; just before coming here tonight I was late was because I had a meeting at three o’clock with Mr. Jerry Kelly who was a member of the Irish Republican Army and who is now a junior Minister in the newly formed Government in Northern Ireland. He works everyday with E.N. Paisley Junior who is the son of E.N. Paisley. And E.N. Paisley Senior is the joint first minister with Martin McGuinness who was also in the Irish Republican Army. I was telling Mr. Kelly a story in which he initially didn’t believe. He was quite incredulous but I’ll tell it to you too. In 1974 I was a young student in England and I went over to Ireland to look at what was happening, just as a curious observer, an interested observer. And was coming back from Belfast to London on a plane in 1974 and the plane made an emergency landing and we were held in custody for twelve hours at the Magistair airport. Because they discovered that a bomb was on the plane. It turns out that on that plane there was a police chief who was going down to London to be knighted by the Queen and there was an attempt to assassinate him. I later discovered on reading a book on the history of the conflict that somebody had painted the pin which was to carry the charge between the timer and the bomb, which was 2 seats behind the seat I was sitting on the plane and I said to Mr. Kelly that my life was saved by a single coat of paint. And he looked, I started the conversation and he didn’t know what I was talking about and so I told him the story and he told me that he was going to check it and tell me if it was true or not and I said well I was on the plane and I know there was a bomb on it. I know that we were interviewed for 12 hours and I read the story that gave the account of when this story happened. But I said but here we are, thirty years later and he said well you know it’s amazing. He said you know if you’d told me thirty years ago, I was in jail thirty years ago, that in thirty years time I would be sitting in a cabinet meeting next to E.N. Paisley, I would not have believed it.
And so I really think we have to learn these conflicts; to say that it’s not enough just to say that we have to defeat terrorism. Of course we have to defeat terrorism. But we also have to recognize that we have to get at the underlying causes of this violence and we also have to recognize that people change and people learn and frankly we have to learn that nothing is hopeless. I must confess that a level of frustration that some of it is cultural and you know I’m a western guy, and there is a different pace of time in Sri Lanka, right, and there is a different sense of how things emerge and unfold in the discussion. I was watching this discussion about people saying how are the negotiations going and I used come back to Canada and say that I don’t know if there were any negotiations. People are in the same room for a long time and they were giving speeches to each other but nothing was going on that I would have called a negotiation. But it wasn’t end of a conflict. So there were times now that I must confess upon hearing the news last week, where you know you can throw up your hands and say that it’s hopeless and the conflict is just unbearable and its going to continue and we don’t know what next step is going to be taken, which will be, which could take place. But I guess our experience should tell us, as I said this happens, this happens in this connection of this meeting that I had today, is that things can change.
All I can say is let’s hope that things change and lets work together to make sure things change. Let us at least do what we can to make it happen. Having said that let me thank you once again for having me here.
[Inaugural meeting of Canadians for Peace was held on 10th November 2007 at the Scarborough Civic Centre, Canada]
November 29th, 2007
Leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V PirapaharanToday called upon the international community to stop supporting Sri Lanka and ‘take a new approach in relation to our freedom struggle’.
‘Our people firmly expect that at least from now on the international community will take a new approach in relation to our freedom struggle,’ Prabhakaran said in his speech.
‘On this sacred day, it is the hope of our people that the international community will cease giving military and economic aid to the Sinhala regime and accept the right of self determination and the sovereignty of the Tamil nation.’
Full Text of Annual Heroes’ Day statement on 27 November 2007 by The leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), V Pirapaharan:
Propping up the genocidal Sinhala State is counterproductive-International community should change its approach:
The 21st century began as the ‘Asian century’ and the world is looking towards Asia. Many countries in our region have grown in leaps and bounds in social, economical and scientific fields. They are researching space, moon and atom. The whole human race is taking up new challenges and has embarked on a united path, seeking answers to many of nature’s mysteries and looking for remedies to incurable diseases. It is seeking to protect the entire globe and its plant and animal lives. Sadly, the Sinhala nation is moving in exactly the opposite direction, on a path of destruction. It is trying to destroy the Tamil nation and, in the process, it is destroying itself. This beautiful island continues to soak in blood.
Buddhism is a profound spiritual duty. Its philosophy emphasizes a life without desires, a life of love and justice. The Sinhala nation, claiming that it has followed this path for more than two thousand years, has in fact remained immersed in the poison of racism. It is unleashing unthinkable violence against another people. During the long history of the Tamil struggle, first through non-violence and later through armed struggle, the Sinhala mindset has remained unchanged. The Sinhala nation did not change even after so much destruction and lost lives. It continues on the path of violence. It only desires to find a solution to the Tamil question through military might and oppression. It cunningly evaded efforts to seek peace and is boldly taking forward its military plan. The international community’s economic and military aid, its moral and political support, its diplomatic efforts, and its one-sided involvement directly aided this turn of events.
We know very well that the military, economic and geo-political interests of the world’s powers are embedded in our region. We understand their concern to take forward their interests. We also recognize the concerns of the international community to bring about stability and good governance to this island for these reasons. At the same time the chauvinistic Sinhala State is attempting to exploit this interest in our region of the international powers. It is trapping the international community in its chauvinistic project and turning the international community against the Tamil freedom struggle. Our people are dismayed and disappointed that these countries, trapped in the deceptive net of the Sinhala State, are being unhelpful in their involvement to resolve our problem.
These one-sided involvements of foreign powers are not new in our prolonged struggle. India intervened in our national question then as part of its regional expansion. India signed an accord with the Sinhala State without the consent of the Tamils. The Indo-Lanka Accord was not signed to meet the aspirations of the people of Tamil Eelam. In fact, India then attempted to force an ineffectual solution on our people – a solution which did not even devolve powers to the extent of the Banda-Chelva pact signed in the 1950’s. India tried to enforce that accord with the strength of more than 100,000 Indian forces, with the power of the agreement between two countries and with the assistance of treacherous Tamil paramilitary groups. However, even this ill-considered solution, which did not even address the basic national aspirations of the Tamils, was blocked by the chauvinistic Sinhala State.
We are intimately familiar with the Sinhala State and its deceptive politics. Our people have a long history of bitter experiences. That is why we explained to India on many occasions, at many locations and at many levels about the implacability of Sinhala chauvinism. We explained to India then that the aim of the Sinhala State was not to find a solution to the Tamil question and bring peace; but to occupy the Tamil homeland, destroy its resources, and enslave the Tamil nation. India refused to accept this reality. As a result our land witnessed great sorrow and destruction.
Today, the international community is making the same mistake that India made many years ago. Even the countries that are the guardians of the peace efforts succumbed to the deception of the Sinhala State and listed our freedom movement as a terrorist organization. What we find most incomprehensible is the fact that these same nations, which labeled us terrorists, not so long ago fought in defence of their own freedom.
The Sinhala nation is unable to stomach the support of our Diaspora for the Tamil freedom struggle; it is unable to accept the humanitarian help and the political lobbying by the Diaspora to end the misery heaped on our people. That is why the Sinhala nation is trying hard to shatter the bond between our people in our homeland and our Diaspora. Some countries are also assisting this amoral effort of Sinhala chauvinism. These countries are denouncing, as illegal activities, the humanitarian actions and political protests of our people abroad-actions that are carried out according to the laws of those countries. These countries have imprisoned and humiliated Tamil campaigners and representatives. These countries have ridiculed their protests and their efforts to seek justice.
This partisan and unjust conduct of the international community has severely undermined the confidence our people had in them. And it has paved the way for the breakdown of the ceasefire and the peace efforts. Furthermore, the generous military and economic aid they have given to the Sinhala State and their diplomatic efforts to prop up the chauvinistic Sinhala State has encouraged the Sinhala nation further and further along its militaristic path. This is the background to the confidence of the Rajapake regime in continuing with its unjust, inhuman war of occupation of our land.
Overconfident of its military victory over the Tamil freedom movement, the Rajapakse regime has shut fast the door for peace. The desire to oppress the Tamils has intensified as never before. With the entire world giving support, the Sinhala State, using the ceasefire as cover, and exploiting the peace environment, prepared its war of occupation. The SLMM that was monitoring the peace covered its eyes, tied its hands behind back, and went to sleep in Colombo. The exhausted Norwegian facilitators remained silent. The countries that preached peace to us also went silent and refused to speak out. The Sinhala State started its war and justified it with slogans like ‘War for Peace’, ‘War against terrorism’ and ‘War for the liberation of the Tamils’.
The Rajapakse regime assembled its military might and let loose a massive war on the eastern region of our homeland. This part of our homeland became a wasteland after incessant bombing and shelling. Trincomalee, the famous Tamil capital, was destroyed. Batticaloa, an ancient cultural city of the Tamils, became a land of refugees. Jaffna, the cultural centre of the Tamils, was cut off from the rest of the world and turned into an open prison.
The Sinhala State’s war of genocide destroyed the peaceful life of the Tamils. It turned the Tamils into refugees in their own homeland, ruined their nation’s social and economical infrastructure and plunged them into unprecedented hardships. While our motherland, caught within gruesome Sinhala military rule, is destroyed, Sinhalisation of our historic territory is going on under the pretexts of High Security Zones and Free Trade Zones. This naked Sinhalisation proceeds by the hoisting of Lion flags, the erection of Sidharthan statues, the renaming of Tamil streets with Sinhala names, the building of Buddhist temples. Sinhala settlements are mushrooming in the Tamil homeland.
The unjust war, the economic blockade, the restrictions on our people’s freedom of movement, the killing of thousands, the displacement of hundreds of thousands, have all deeply wounded the Tamil psyche. The Sinhala nation is celebrating this tragedy as a victory. It is lighting firecrackers believing it has defeated the Tamils. The Sinhala military leadership believes that its occupation of the east has been completed and the barbed wire noose around the neck of Jaffna has been tightened. The Sinhala nation arrogantly believes it has manacled the eastern coast from Pothuvil to Pulmoddai. The Sinhala leadership thus believes it has won great victories against our struggle.
The Sinhala nation has always misunderstood our freedom struggle. It consistently underestimates us. Only after carefully scrutinising the global situation and external conditions; only after accurately estimating the strengths and weaknesses of the adversary; only after gauging the enemy’s goals and strategies; only after ensuring that we remain focused on our own strategy; only then did we implement our plans to take our liberation struggle forward. We have strategically withdrawn from the east while launching defensive attacks. The Sinhala nation could have learnt the dangers of putting its feet too wide apart in our land as it did during past battles. But the Sinhala military has fallen yet again into the net we spread and it is now forced to commit large numbers of troops to rule land without people. Caught in a territorial trap, it will soon be forced to face the serious consequences of its misguided ambitions.
Operation ‘Ellalan’, the very first combined Black Tiger and Tamil Eelam Air Force attack was a massive blow to the Sinhala military. It has disrupted the daydreams of the Sinhala nation. The Sinhala nation has not emerged from this massive shock delivered by our beloved fighters. The immeasurable dedication and sacrifice of our Heroes is delivering a message to the Sinhala nation. Those who plan to destroy the Tamil nation will in the end be forced to face their own destruction.
The Rajapakse regime is never going to realize that the Tamil national question cannot be resolved by military oppression. The Sinhala leadership is not going to shed its desire for military supremacy or the Sinhalisation of the Tamil homeland. The Rajapakse regime is working hard to import more and more destructive weapons from all over the world without care for the cost. Therefore, it is not going to give up its war of genocide.
The All Party Representative Committee was appointed by the Rajapakse regime to spread a smokescreen over the misery that its military adventures are creating in the Tamil homeland and to deceive other governments to get their aid and support. We clearly predicted this would happen one year ago. We have been proved right. After dragging on without putting forward any solution, the committee has gone on holiday.
The past sixty years have proven beyond any doubt that no political party in the South has the political honesty or firmness in policy to find a just solution to the Tamil national question. It has been also proved beyond any doubt that none of the Southern parties are ready to accept the core principles for a lasting peace: the Tamil homeland, the Tamil nation and the Tamil Right to self determination. The ruling party is adamant on unitary rule; the red and yellow parties are calling for no solution at all; and the main opposition party, somersaulting from its earlier position, is, on the one hand, saying nothing concrete and using evasive language to support the military actions of the government and, on the other hand, saying it supports peace efforts. All this clearly clarifies our point and proves beyond doubt that all the Sinhala political parties are essentially chauvinistic and anti-Tamil. To expect a political solution from any of these southern parties is political naivety.
The Sinhala nation showed eagerness in the peace talks only when we shattered their ‘Operation Fireball’ military action and made them realize that the Tigers cannot be defeated. It was only when we proved our military prowess and only when we were militarily in a position of strength that the Sinhala nation signed the ceasefire agreement. Now, with abundant monetary and military aid from several countries, it has rehabilitated its destroyed military and has prepared itself for war again. It is yet again walking the military path having abandoned the peace path.
The Rajapakse regime, after unilaterally abrogating the ceasefire agreement, is ruthlessly implementing its military plan to remove the contiguity of the Tamil homeland. It has killed and disappeared thousands of our people. It reprimands and controls the Norwegian facilitators. It vehemently criticizes the SLMM. It even dares to brand senior UN officials as terrorists in order to hide its own terrorism. It is obscuring the ground reality in the Tamil homeland by striking fear among journalists and NGO workers.
The world’s powers, even while taking forward their own geo-political interests, respect human rights and democratic institutions. Be it this universe, human affairs or international relationships, they all revolve on the wheel of justice. That is why nations like East Timor and Montenegro broke free of their subjugation and gained their freedom with the help and support of the international community. Even now, the international community continues to work for the freedom of nations like Kosovo.
Yet the actions of the international community with respect to our own national question are unjust. The confidence our people placed in the international community has been eroded. By only paying lip-service to peace the international community has contributed to the killing of an extraordinary son of our nation, Tamilselvan. It has stopped the heartbeat of a light that walked the path of peace. I will be lighting the lamp for my dear brother, Tamilselvan, who until last year was with me every time we, with a burning desire to reach our goal, lit the lamps for our fallen Heroes. The international community has made the entire Tamil world drown in its tears. Had the international community firmly and unambiguously condemned the anti-peace activities and the war mongering of the Sinhala regime, Tamilselvan would be alive today. A huge blow would not have fallen on peace efforts.
The Co-chairs, acting as the guardians of the peace process, have failed in their responsibility. If the Co-chairs do not have a moral obligation to protect peace efforts, what exactly is the purpose of their meeting from time to time in different places? Is it their intent to assist the Sinhala regime to wipe out the Tamils? Questions like these have arisen in the minds of our people. Our people firmly expect that at least from now on the international community will take a new approach in relation to our freedom struggle. On this sacred day it is the hope of our people that the international community will cease giving military and economic aid to the Sinhala regime and accept the right to self determination and the sovereignty of the Tamil nation.
My beloved people,
We are an ancient people with special qualities. We have a unique national identity and national foundation. We have been struggling non-violently and by armed struggle for a very long time against national oppression. We are not terrorists, committing blind acts of violence impelled by racist or religious fanaticism. Our struggle has a concrete, legitimate, political objective. We are struggling only to regain our sovereignty in our own historical land where we have lived for centuries, the sovereignty which we lost to colonial occupiers. We are struggling only to reestablish that sovereignty and rebuild our nation. The Sinhala nation is continuing to reject our just and civilized demands for freedom. Instead, it has declared a genocidal war on our land and our people. Behind the smokescreen of fighting terrorism, it is creating immense human misery.
Despite our people enduring injustice and oppression, facing death, destruction and massive displacement, no country, no nation, no international organization has raised its voice on our behalf. We face this situation alone because, although 80 million Tamils live all around the globe, the Tamils do not have a country of their own.
On this day, when we remember our Heroes, I ask the entire Tamil speaking world to rise up for the liberation of Tamil Eelam. I wish to express my love and gratitude to you for your past participation in the building of our nation, bringing together your abundant intellectual, material, monetary and many other resources in the service of our nation and ask that you stand with us in the coming years of our freedom struggle .
Thousands of our fighters are standing ready to fight with determination for our just goal of freedom and we will overcome the hurdles before us and liberate our motherland. On this day when we remember our Heroes who sacrificed themselves for this sacred goal, let each one of us carry their dream in our hearts and struggle until it is achieved
November 27th, 2007
Martin Ennals Award, Acceptance Speech by Dr. Rajan Hoole, October 2nd, 2007:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege to thank the Martin Ennals Award Foundation for choosing the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) among the laureates for 2007. I do so also on behalf of my colleague K. Sritharan. We remember our inspiration Dr. Rajani Thiranagama, whose life of promise, with those of two students Manoharan and Chelvi, was cut short by the LTTE. Many staff and students of the University of Jaffna enthusiastically supported the UTHR(J) in the early years and were then driven to silence by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). There were many who supported us from all walks of life, and often at great risk, whose names we cannot mention.
[Dr. Rajan Hoole , K. Sritharan]
We dedicate this award to the hundreds of democratically minded youth, women and men, who took part in various forms of struggle whether non-violent or violent, to fight for dignity and justice for the Tamil community. They paid the ultimate price for questioning not only the politics of Sinhalese chauvinism and narrow Tamil nationalism but also the militarism and totalitarianism inherent in the workings of the various actors.
When we commenced our work at the University of Jaffna in 1987, we had no illusions about the Sri Lankan State and its capacity for ideologically directed violence against the minorities, especially the Tamils. The two bouts of communal violence targeting the Tamils in 1977 and 1983 were major catalysts in giving birth to the Tamil militant movements. The LTTE which had a totalitarian agenda virtually eliminated the other militant groups in 1986 through heart-rending scenes of fratricide. It brought about paralysing disillusionment within the Tamil community, which was beginning to have hopes in a negotiated settlement.
Thus from the start while giving violations by the State and its Sinhalese ideological compulsions their due, we suppressed nothing. We found it no less important to address internal violence within the Tamil community arising from the LTTE’s ideological character. This LTTE’s fascist ideology also made it virtually impossible for it to live with any political settlement outside a separate state of Eelam, in the name of which it had killed as traitors those who stood for a federated Lanka. The LTTE perfected the suicidal cult in a way that mainstream political and social analysis finds difficult to explain. Rather than see it as a crime forced on the people and a tragedy for the community, it becomes easy to dismiss it as some oriental religious trait. Faced with the State’s ruthlessness, the LTTE mobilised the hysteria of nationalism, and blinded people from seeing others’ points of view and paralysed their capacity for independent action.
We began our work in 1987 when the Indian Army took control of Jaffna. Apart from the callousness of an army, we saw that many instances of civilian tragedy were deliberately engineered by the LTTE for propaganda. We gave a frank account of how both sides had acted in our book, The Broken Palmyra and the first two reports of the UTHR(J). Our early work discussed the thwarting the Indo Sri Lanka Agreement, by both the LTTE and the Government and how the Indian Peace keeping Force were pushed to strong military action by the LTTE’s calculated provocations resulting in many violations by the IPKF. In addition to challenging the LTTE’s terror against civilians, we also took on its use of children in lethal tasks such as assassination and throwing grenades at army patrols. By our activity in the University we tried to give life to an institution which was once a hub of political debate and student activism in the early 1980s and had become paralysed by the terror unleashed by the LTTE. The silence and helplessness of the University is an even greater tragedy given the spate of disappearances and targeted killings of youth in Jaffna today.
In 1988, students, staff, both academic and non academic, began coming together to face the antagonism of the IPKF, associated groups and the LTTE, to create space within the University to represent the larger interests of the people when all other structures, political and social, were paralysed. While it was dangerous to document abuses by the LTTE, the LTTE found it of some advantage to tolerate our work during that time due to our exposure of IPKF violations. In particular instances we commended IPKF officers, as Sri Lankan officers in later years, for their display of humanity and moderation. The LTTE signalled total repression of the Tamil community when IPKF’s withdrawal was announced. The LTTE was in consequence being handed over the Tamil areas in prearrangement with the Government.
In the LTTE`s absolutism, internal criticism is viewed as treachery, and on September 21st ,1989, the day after IPKF announced its withdrawal, it assassinated its most vibrant critic Dr. Rajani Thiranagama as a warning to rest of us. Even after her assassination, we tried to continue our work in Jaffna and invited many national and international human rights and civil society leaders to Jaffna for the 60th day memorial of Dr. Rajani Thiranagama’s assassination. It is our privilege to mention here that Mr. Martin Ennals was one of the prominent persons who visited Jaffna with many international and national figures to show solidarity with our work on November 21st 1989.
Then, in June 1990 the next bout of war began. This was when the LTTE ended the Government’s first attempt at appeasement, which allowed the LTTE to imprison thousands of Tamil dissidents in several underground prisons in the North. Many were tortured and killed. The honeymoon with the government had also served the purpose of getting the IPKF out. Given the bitterness of the new round of war, it fell to us to record the LTTE`s cynicism in deliberately inviting reprisals against civilians, the terrible reprisals by the government forces and the LTTE`s ideologically directed violence against the Muslims including the ethnic cleansing of the entire Northern Muslim population and the mosque massacres in the East. In order to carry on with our work, we were forced escape from Jaffna after the war started in 1990 and to lead a semi-underground life in the South.
With a change of government in 1994, there was another opportunity for a negotiated settlement. Instead the LTTE chose war. Another change of government resulted in another round of talks brokered by Norway in 2002. Although the Government and the LTTE committed themselves to a federal settlement, the LTTE proceeded with the conscription of children. Simmering conflict, largely engineered by LTTE provocations, made it clear to many people on the ground that it was using peace talks as a respite to prepare for a more severe round of war. The Government too responded, not by outflanking the LTTE politically by reforming the State to be more democratic and accountable and seeking a political settlement which would satisfy Tamil democratic aspirations, but simply bought time by covering up the LTTE’s violations and conscription of children. These became the major focus of our reports at this time.
The LTTE`s simple programme is to undermine any healthy development in the Sinhalese south for a political settlement, and by some foul act of violence to provoke the State’s inherent harshness towards the Tamils. It was in character for the LTTE to abet the election of a president with nationalist leanings and then deliberately provoke war. It saw this as the most promising way to a separate state.
We thus have the picture that while the LTTE continued immovable at its habitual worst, the State too showed no serious intention of moving away from the debilitating status quo that had kept this nation of promise a stunted object of derision for five decades. Whenever we saw a humane and enlightened approach by some military officers, we documented these so that these exemplars would shine a few lights in unmitigated darkness and a catalyst for reform and re-evaluation. Although we are aware of the institutional nature of the State, during the two decades of war, when people were many times left at the mercy of military officers by deliberate actions by the LTTE inviting the Army to massacre for the benefit of its propaganda, we saw these exceptions in the worst of times as important.
After more than three decades of conflict, the country still continues to bleed. Democratic institutions are fracturing beyond a point of repair, while the leaders are blinded by the arrogance of power. Their short term political interest helps the LTTE to thrust and hold the Tamil civilians in a regime of war claiming with some logic that there is no alternative.
Ours is another tragic instance where identity politics has taken a devastating toll on communities in a multi ethnic and multi religious country through a combination of lack of visionary leadership and political opportunism tied to an exclusivist majoritarian agenda. We have also seen that in the name of liberation and right to self determination, groups with a narrow nationalist agenda have opportunity to impose on them a regime of unlimited destruction where the people stand to lose everything.
Monitoring human rights and making oppressors accountable are in reality very difficult and Humanitarian Law has limited impact in arresting the situation once the war dynamic is in place. Now we are seeing how in the name of “war on terror”, the human rights paradigm developed after the pervasive devastation of the Second World War is called into question. The limitations of human rights mechanisms, including those within the UN, are evident today and are subject to manipulation and appropriation by the larger powers. In several instances, those struggling for democracy and justice in the Third World, are caught between the machinations of global powers and the reactionary politics of fundamentalism and narrow nationalism. The local practitioners of the latter find a novel pretext for their behaviour towards their own citizens in what big powers do half way round the globe.
Once emotions are heightened, individuals lucky enough to flee their war-torn homes often lost all feeling for those they left behind, romanticised their plight, glorified the LTTE and covered up its crimes even against their own fellows. Other foreigners even found career opportunities writing anthropological articles and one-sided human rights narratives in the name of academic research and human rights campaigns. Their critiques of the State are valid but they besmirched rather than enhanced the potential for peace in our country and co-existence among communities. They completely threw a veil over the suffering of the people from internal terror. In this environment, our work, although called suicidal, was essential to keeping alive the voices of sanity and preserving dissent against heavy odds.
In this context our work of documenting human rights abuses by state and non state actors in a situation of armed conflict, with the aim of arresting dehumanising trends and advancing accountability by giving a place to the people’s narratives, we hope, would also make a small contribution towards the major re-evaluation needed to address the limitations of international human rights mechanisms.
The retreat of Third World States and their elites into sovereignty or cultural relativism cannot address the concerns of ordinary people. Tolerance and openness are becoming increasingly important as we face these challenges. If the political changes and processes cannot accommodate and manage these contradictions, these states will generate political and institutional crises such as we have in Sri Lanka.
The minorities in Sri Lanka need a political settlement to emerge out the two decades war and violence. Our reports have continued to bring out political analyses, documented institutional degradation, and even challenged our colleagues in civil society. In documenting human rights abuses, we challenged both Sinhalese chauvinism and narrow Tamil nationalism as they blinded people from seeing crimes committed in their name, whether purportedly “in defence of a state’s sovereignty” or “liberation from majority oppression”. We continue to challenge the myth propagated by the LTTE that they are the sole representatives of the Tamil people and the claim by the Sinhalese extremists that all Tamils are LTTE supporters bent on division of the country. We appealed to the humanity in all communities. While our work may have had little impact on the overall process, we are confident that it has set a qualitatively different reference point for those who want to see a united Sri Lanka which respects the rights of every community and veers decisively from its past.
Our political foundations, owe in part to solidarity with struggles of peoples against oppressive regimes. Rajani was active in working with several groups around the world during her doctoral studies in Britain in the early 1980s. Palestine, South Africa, Eritrea and Nicaragua drew much of our attention at that time. An important lesson to be drawn is that while the struggles of people for dignity are always legitimate, the failure of the rest of the world to act in time, frequently result in undesirable leaders with narrow-nationalistic, anti-democratic ideologies hijacking the legitimate struggles of peoples with tragic results. Today, we express our solidarity with the struggle for democracy in Burma.
In Sri Lanka now, there is only a foundering political process to reform the state, so as to ensure the democratic rights of its peoples and particularly its minorities. The unitary state in Sri Lanka over the last three and a half decades has symbolised repression of minorities including state inspired violence. Equally important today is the right for people in parts of the North-East under government control to return to their homes and live without fear of being picked out by state affiliated killer squads. These squads are part of government policy. Law enforcement is completely disingenuous. Police investigation is directed more towards the disappearance or intimidation of witnesses rather than the prosecution of killers. The state forces pummel areas of intended advance with MBRL fire and aerially dropped bombs, destroy whole villages and find that they cannot advance.
Even as we meet today, the LTTE is conscripting unwilling persons hidden by their families in covered trenches and jungles and forcing them to the frontlines in the Vanni where the Government is bent on advancing. They form the bulk of current casualties, leaving their wives suddenly widowed and their families in shoddy, ill-equipped refugee camps. The people have lost everything.
This is a war against so-called terror, with merely a token acknowledgement of the need for a political settlement to buy time and satisfy the world. It is a war using excessive munitions against a weakened LTTE, where the LTTE has become a pretext for crushing the Tamil people in the interests of a Sinhalese hegemonic state.
When a state has devoted increasing portions of its income to fight a minority based insurgency for over 20 years, it must ask itself some salient questions, whether, for one, democracy simply means the unconditional will of an ethnic majority? Whether the LTTE transforms or vanishes, the political grievances of minorities need to be addressed so that human rights would be sustainable. In Sri Lanka, democracy and human rights are closely intertwined and could rest on a good foundation only if there is progress towards a political settlement and reform of the state.
On the Web: [Martin Ennals Award]
October 2nd, 2007