Published On : Tue, 20 Jan 2009
1. Sri Lanka is a nation of 21 million people consisting of two major groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The Sinhalese are believed to have migrated to Sri Lanka from Eastern Coast of India and the Tamils from Southern India. According to the 2001 census, Sinhalese constitute 73.8 % of the population and Tamils 15.7 %. The conflict between these two groups dates way back in history, however it turned into a strife after the Independence of Sri Lanka in 1948. The decision to deprive a large number of Indian Tamils of the Sri Lankan Nationality, discriminatory actions against Tamils, declaration of Sinhala as the only national language, introduction of a procedure called standardization etc were all adding fuel to fire to a highly volatile situation. India had attempted to mediate and also to establish order by sending the IPKF. Unfortunately, these attempts did not give the desired results. 13th amendment consequent to Rajiv Gandhi- Jayewardene agreement in 1987, the Draft constitution in 2000 and Tissa Vitharana report were all made with the good intention of finding a negotiated settlement but the extreme position taken by the Sri Lankan Govts and LTTE made a settlement difficult and Sri Lanka came to the present situation. Our statement will treat the topics of Humanitarian Effort, Political solution, Healing Process and certain Strategic Security Issues.
2. There are about three lakhs people displaced from their homes and lodged in rehabilitation villages in precarious conditions. Ensuring supplies of food and medicines, providing sanitation facilities including makeshift hospitals with labour and child -care rooms should be a matter of top priority. Rehabilitation work should be undertaken on a war footing in a fair and transparent manner. While it is hoped that the Sri Lankan Govt will provide these facilities, it is desirable that the International community under the UN aegis undertake well-planned relief efforts for ensuring that these displaced people are looked after well till they return to their homes .It should be ensured that these people are not humiliated or attacked by the Sinhalese people or the Sri Lankan armed Forces. International NGOs working in co-operation with Sri Lankan NGOs and Sri Lankan Administration can play an important role. If the Internally Displaced Persons can get back to their homes and normalcy returned quickly, the credibility of the Govt in ensuring fair treatment to Tamils will be enhanced. India should play a visible and meaningful role in promoting the humanitarian efforts.
3. It is of crucial importance that a pragmatic political solution is found to meet the aspirations of the Tamil people generally in line with the 13th amendment, Draft constitution of 2000, the Oslo declaration of 25th Nov 2002 and Tissa Vitharana Report. Thereafter a political process has to be put in place for permanent solutions.
4. The 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution gave effect to the devolution provisions of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, signed in July 1987 by President J.R. Jayewardene and the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. The 13th amendment contained three lists detailing respectively the areas of government devolved to the provinces (List I), the powers retained at the centre (the Reserved List — List II) and a Concurrent List (List III) of shared functions, which were ultimately controlled by Parliament. The provincial councils were elected in November 1988, but the Sri Lankan Govt, in the name of the Executive Powers of the President, blocked a number of clauses in the amended constitution.
5. The 13th amendment did not bring about a sustainable solution to the ethnic conflict; mainly for the lack of political will at the centre as also the lack of clarity in some of the provisions. Because of its shortcomings and the indiscriminate use of exceptional powers of the President, it is not surprising that Tamil political parties rejected the 13th amendment and demanded more substantive devolution of power.
6. The Key provisions of the 13th amendment and Provincial Council Act are:
- Sinhala and Tamil will be the official languages with English as the Link language
- The North and East will be merged into one province subject to referendum
- Provincial councils will be elected once every five years.
- The President will appoint a Governor with executive powers will be appointed in every province
- Provincial High Courts will be established
- Reserved, Provincial and Concurrent lists were established
7. The OSLO declaration of 25th Nov 2002 between Sri Lanka n Govt and LTTE signed in the presence of representatives of USA, Norway, UK and Japan clearly stated that: “ The parties have agreed to explore a political solution founded on the principle of Internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of Tamil speaking people based on a federal structure
within the united Sri Lanka “
8. Prof Tissa Vitharana in his report recommended that: The name of the State to be "The Republic of Sri Lanka." .The State shall consist of the institutions of the Centre and of the Provinces which shall exercise powers in a manner provided for in the constitution The State shall preserve and advance a Sri Lankan identity, recognising the multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural character of the Sri Lankan society consisting of the Sinhala, the Sri Lankan Tamil, the Moor, the Indian Tamil and other constituent peoples of Sri Lanka. The right of every constituent people to develop its own language, to develop and promote its culture and to preserve its history and the right to its due share of State power including the right to due representation in institutions of government shall be recognised without in any way weakening the common Sri Lankan identity. The major points are:
- Executive presidency to be abolished at the end of President Rajapakse’s first term
- Executive prime minister to be elected
- Sri Lanka to be one, free,sovereign and independent state with Province as the unit of devolution.
- A senate to be elected by provincial legislatures
- Two vice presidents from different communities
- A Constitutional Court outside the Supreme.
9. In our view, a final political solution has to be based on the underlying spirit of the Oslo Declaration, the provisions of the 2000 draft constitution and the report of the Tissa Vitharana Committee.
10. The Sri Lankan Govt and international agencies have to work together for the reconciliation, rehabilitation and e-integration of the Tamils in the main stream of Sri Lankan Society. It is obvious that the Sri Lankan Govt will have to go the extra mile in winning the hearts of Tamil people demonstrating clearly that the fight was only with the LTTE and not against the Tamil people (as often repeated by the Sri Lankan President). They will also have to avoid authoritarianism. The Tamils and the Sinhalas should have the same rights and all the Govt Directives like Standardization handicapping the Tamils need to be repealed forthwith.
11. There are over a million Sri Lankan Tamils living in other countries like Canada, USA, Europe and India. It is possible that some of them have been helping LTTE directly or indirectly. It is necessary to channelize the strength and resources of this Diaspora for building Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan could initiate positive steps in this direction with the help of friendly nations. The Tamil Diaspora needs to be persuaded to abandon their support to the armed struggle and channelize their resources for rebuilding Sri Lanka, particularly the affected areas and thereby preventing the possibility of a revival of insurrection.
12. It is also necessary to create conditions favourable for Tamils living abroad to return to Sri Lanka if they so desire. While India can play a major role in the reconciliation process, India should not adopt a big brother attitude. Many Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka believe that India bullied the Sri Lankan Govt to pass the 13th amendment quickly. Many Tamils finally interpreted an action undertaken in good faith and with good intention as bad.
13. Steps may be taken to rehabilitate and absorb the LTTE into the main stream. India could assist Sri Lanka in this process. A reconciliation commission may be formed applying the Buddhist concept of compassion or Karuna.
14. There has to be a massive programme for economic development of Sri Lanka, particularly the affected areas of North and East. International agencies like IMF, ADB and World Bank could take active interest in this matter. This will help the hard working Tamil people to rebuild their provinces and forget the wounds of the long liberation struggle. India can play a significant role in the rebuilding of the nation. The international community, while extending generous aid to Sri Lanka for the economic rehabilitation, should help Sri Lanka to initiate positive steps to remove the root causes of the ethnic conflict.
14. It is a matter of concern that there is a growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, which exploited the opportunity of India’s non-committal stance during the conflict. This is evident from the following:-
- China is heavily investing in the Sri Lankan economy; the infrastructure project of Norochchola power plant is being set up with Chinese help.
- China is extensively involved in the construction of the Hambantota port. This will provide China with a firm base in the Indian Ocean,this along with other ports being developed by China in the region, will enable repair and refuelling facilities to PLA Navy while operating in the Indian Ocean.
- Arms sale has been in progress and a deal worth 37.6 million US $ was signed in 2008. China has even gifted six F7 fighters to SriLanka.
- China used its veto power to block the discussion in the UN Security Council on the steps undertaken by the Sri Lankan Govt in the war against LTTE. This despite Chinese known position of non-interference in the internal affairs of others countries.
- With its growing influence in Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and of course its most trusted ally Pakistan, China has undermined Indian influence in considerably attempting to relegate India’s position in the Region to second place.
15. Thus there is an urgent need to take note of the growing Chinese influence and take appropriate counter measures to safeguard Indian Security interests.
16. In conclusion we would support:-
- Recognising the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
- Immediate actions for humanitarian efforts, to be undertaken with active participation and involvement of UN agencies
- A pragmatic political solution to meet the aspirations of Tamils generally in accordance with the Oslo accord, the draft constitution of 2000 for devolution of powers and Tissa Vitharana report.
- A healing process to be in place to win the hearts of the Tamils. This should include rehabilitation actions, economic development with the participation of International community as well as the Tamil Diaspora spread all over the world. India should play a major role in revitalisation of agriculture and fisheries in the Northern provinces of Sri Lanka.
- The ultimate goal should be that all Sri Lankans irrespective of their background should realise and recognize that Sri Lanka is one nation and pull together with all their forces to make it a prosperous nation where all the citizens can live in peace and harmony.
- Take appropriate measures to counter growing Chinese influence and safeguard Indian Security interests in the Region.