February 19, 2009

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'Recent Developments in Sri Lanka' : US Senate Hearing - An Open Letter to Senator Kerry

Senator Kerry

Dear Senator Kerry,

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee which you Chair has scheduled hearings on the 'Recent Developments in Sri Lanka' for 24 February at 2:30 p.m.

Given these 'recent developments in Sri Lanka', which may be appropriately described as Sri Lanka's Genocide and President Rajapaksa's Horrific War Crime, I feel impelled to address this communication to you.

I believe that Stephen Covey was right when he said

"If I were to summarise in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in inter personal relations, it would be this: 'Seek first to understand, then to be understood.'..."

To make oneself understood, one needs to first understand what it is that is important to those whose understanding one seeks. I believe that this is the first step to a genuine conversation. I would start therefore by trying to understand the interests that the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is concerned to secure.

I would imagine that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is concerned to secure the strategic interests of the United States in the world. And it is of course right that it should be so concerned. I am also mindful that human rights and humanitarian laws are instruments which states often use selectively so that they may intervene for political reasons in the affairs of other states. None the less, reason is not without force - not least, perhaps, because liberal democracy has a need to nurture its liberal foundation. If militant dissent is to be avoided, conscious evolution becomes necessary.

Again, whether Tamil Eelam leader, Velupillai Pirabakaran was right when he declared more than 15 years ago -

"We are fully aware that the world is not rotating on the axis of human justice. Every country in this world advances its own interests. Economic and trade interests determine the order of the present world, not the moral law of justice nor the rights of people. International relations and diplomacy between countries are determined by such interests. Therefore we cannot expect an immediate recognition of the moral legitimacy of our cause by the international community... In reality, the success of our struggle depends on us, not on the world. Our success depends on our own efforts, on our own strength, on our own determination." Velupillai Pirabakaran, 1993

is a matter that will continue to engage more than 70 million Tamils living today in many lands.

Said that, I would imagine that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is aware

- that the Indian Ocean region is of particular strategic significance in the 21st century.
Indian Ocean - Global View
that - "Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. This ocean is the key to the seven seas in the twenty-first century, the destiny of the world will be decided in these waters." US Rear Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan quoted by Cdr. P K Ghosh in Maritime Security Challenges in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, 18 January 2004
that - "The Indian Ocean ...is a major sea lane connecting Middle East, East Asia and Africa with Europe and the Americas. Boasting rich living and non-living resources, from marine life to oil and natural gas, IO is economically crucial to Africa, Asia and Australasia, the three continents bordering it, and the world at large....The Indian Ocean is a critical waterway for global trade and commerce. This strategic expanse hosts heavy international maritime traffic that includes half of the world's containerized cargo, one third of its bulk cargo and two third of its oil shipment. Its waters carry heavy traffic of petroleum and petroleum products from the oilfields of the Persian Gulf and Indonesia, and contain an estimated 40% of the world's offshore oil production... The role of the Indian Ocean in Facilitating Global Maritime Trade, Nazery Khalid, June 2005
that - "..China, which has been a net oil importer since 1993, is the world's number two oil consumer after the U.S. and has accounted for 40 percent of the world's crude oil demand growth since 2000. .. in the presence of sporadic power shortages, growing car ownership and air travel across China and the importance of energy to strategically important and growing industries such as agriculture, construction, and steel and cement manufacturing, pressure is going to mount on China to access energy resources on the world stage. As a result, energy security has become an area of vital importance to China's stability and security. China is stepping up efforts to secure sea lanes and transport routes that are vital for oil shipments." Setting the Stage for a New Cold War: China's Quest for Energy Security - PINR, 25 February 2005
that - " The geopolitical strategy dubbed the "String of Pearls" is arising as foreign oil becomes a center of gravity critical to China's energy needs. China's rising maritime power is encountering American maritime power along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect China to vital energy resources in the Middle East and Africa. The "String of Pearls" describes the manifestation of China's rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf. .. Each "pearl" in the "String of Pearls" is a nexus of Chinese geopolitical influence or military presence. Hainan Island, with recently upgraded military facilities, is a "pearl." An upgraded airstrip on Woody Island, located in the Paracel archipelago 300 nautical miles east of Vietnam, is a "pearl." A container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh, is a "pearl." Construction of a deep water port in Sittwe, Myanmar, is a "pearl," as is the construction of a navy base in Gwadar, Pakistan. Port and airfield construction projects, diplomatic ties, and force modernization form the essence of China's "String of Pearls." The "pearls" extend from the coast of mainland China through the littorals of the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the littorals of the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf. China is building strategic relationships and developing a capability to establish a forward presence along the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect China to the Middle East. .. Militarily, the United States must bear the cost of maintaining superior military power to guarantee security and serve as a hedge against a possible future China threat. In the "String of Pearls" region, U.S. efforts should be aimed at broadening and deepening American influence in ways that have wide appeal among the various regional states..." String of Pearls:Meeting the Challenge of China's Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral - Lt.Col. Christopher J. Pehrson, July, 2006
Indian Ocean
that - "..US Marines will conduct exercises with the Sri Lanka Navy later this month, deploying more than 1,000 personnel and support ships for amphibious and counter-insurgency maneuvers with the aim of 'containing' growing Chinese presence in the region and to test its latest theories on 'littoral battle' without putting American soldiers at risk…" Indian Marines to train Sri Lanka Navy - Rahul Bedi, 25 October 2006
that - ".. China is all set to drop anchor at India's southern doorstep. An agreement has been finalized between Sri Lanka and China under which the latter will participate in the development of a port project at Hambantota on the island's south coast. ...the significance of Hambantota to China lies in its proximity to India's south coast. The Indian Ocean is a critical waterway for global trade and commerce. Half the world's containerized freight, a third of its bulk cargo and two-thirds of its oil shipments travel through the Indian Ocean. It provides major sea routes connecting Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and East Asia with Europe and the Americas and is home to several critical chokepoints such as the Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca...."China moves into India's back yard -Sudha Ramachandran in Asia Times, 13 March 2007
that - "..At the ...meeting of the Indo-US Defence Joint Working Group held in New Delhi (on 10 April 2007), China's 'growing naval expansion in the Indian Ocean' was noted with concern. The meeting also noted: ''China is rapidly increasing military and maritime links with countries such as Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar… The 200 years of the Anglo-Saxon presence in the region has now been replaced by the US-China presence to further and protect their interests. Isn't it time for the 'owners' of the Indian Ocean to get together to protect their own interests? " The Indian Ocean - Current Security Environment , Atul Dev - Mauritius Times, 25 May 2007
that - "If the world is showing an extraordinary interest in the peace process in Sri Lanka; if the western donor nations have given $3 billion for post-tsunami reconstruction work in the island; and if India wants to be kept informed about what is going on constantly, it is because of Sri Lanka's strategic importance... Sri Lanka has had strategic importance in world history since the 17th century, attracting the Portuguese, Dutch, French, the British, and the Indians, in succession. Now, we may add a new entity, "the international community", to the list of interested parties... Trincomalee has immense significance in this age of nuclear weaponry and nuclear submarine-based missile systems also...Given the depth of the harbour, nuclear submarines are able to dive low within the inner harbour to effectively avoid radar and sonar detection.." ' Strategic Significance of Sri Lanka' - Ramesh Somasundaram of Deakin University quoted by P.K. Balachandran in Hindustan Times, 30 May 2005
that - "..The ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on March 5, 2007 which provides for among other things logistics supplies and re-fuelling facilities, has major ramifications for the region, particularly India. For all the sophistry and spin by the Americans, the ACSA is a military deal and, on the face of it, is loaded in Washington's favour. For the U.S., it is as good as acquiring a base in the Indian Ocean and at little or no cost...
Just a few years ago, such an agreement would have been inconceivable given the sensitivities of India in view of the geographical proximity of Sri Lanka. For example, the grant of permission by Colombo to Voice of America to establish its transmitter in the island and the leasing of oil tanks in Trincomalee port to pro-American firms were major bones of contention between India and Sri Lanka for decades. Both the subjects were covered elaborately in the exchange of letters between Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lanka's President J.R. Jayawardene as part of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. " Another U.S. base in the Indian Ocean? - B. Muralidhar Reddy in the Hindu, 9 March 2007
that - "The Indian ocean region had become the strategic heartland of the 21st century, dislodging Europe and North East Asia which adorned this position in the 20th century.. the developments in the Indian Ocean region were contributing to the advent of a less Western centric and a more multi-polar world." Donald L. Berlin, Head of Security Studies, Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu, Hawaii, 13 December 2006

Given all of the foregoing, the remarks of US Ambassador Lunstead (who is scheduled to be a witness at your hearing) in his paper on the United States Role in Sri Lanka Peace Process 2002-2006, published in 2007 appear to be somewhat disingenuous -

"..With the end of the Cold War, U.S. interest in Sri Lanka waned. As recently as 2000, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was planning for significantly reduced development assistance levels. The enhanced engagement that commenced in 2001 occurred despite the absence of significant U.S. strategic interests in Sri Lanka. Political-military interests are not high, and the U.S. has no interest in military bases in Sri Lanka. From an economic and commercial standpoint, Sri Lanka is unlikely to be a major U.S. trading partner in the near future. There is not a large enough Sri Lankan-origin community in the U.S. to have an impact on U.S. domestic politics. "

Ambassador Jeffrey Lunstead failed to mention that with the end of the old cold war a new cold war had started. The reluctance on the part of US Ambassador Lunstead to openly admit to US strategic interests in Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean region may be understandable. But such denials draws a veil over the real issues that the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee will need to look at if it is intent on meaningfully examining 'Recent Developments in Sri Lanka'. Not much is gained by ignoring the elephant in the room. Recent developments in Sri Lanka will acquire meaning only in the context of the international frame of the conflict in the island.

It will be fair to say that during the past several decades two conflicts have raged in Sri Lanka. And the two have impacted on each other. One conflict is that between the people of Tamil Eelam and Sinhala Sri Lanka. The other is the conflict that is reflected in the uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region.

"…the dynamics of the region calls for a balance of power approach rather than a straight alliance…. The rise of India as a major power, coupled with the better-known - and frequently analyzed - Chinese rise, is changing the structure of the world system. Not only is U.S. 'unipolar' hegemony in the Indian Ocean facing a challenge, but the strategic triad U.S.-Western Europe-Japan, which has ruled the international political economy for the past few decades, is now also under question…We can expect the South Asian region to be one of the system's key areas to be watched in the next decade." Adam Wolfe, Yevgeny Bendersky, Dr. Federico Bordonaro - India's Project Seabird and Indian Ocean's Balance of Power, PINR, 20 July 2005

Admittedly, the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region is not static. It is dynamic. The frame is multilateral and though asymmetric, not unipolar. The interactions are nuanced - and calibrated. But the short point is that today, neither the US nor India is prepared to walk away and leave Sri Lanka entirely to the other - or for that matter to China. Recently, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee disarmingly declared in the Indian Parliament -

"We have a very comprehensive relationship with Sri Lanka. In our anxiety to protect the civilians, we should not forget the strategic importance of this island to India's interests,... especially in view of attempts by countries like Pakistan and China to gain a strategic foothold in the island nation...Colombo had been told that India would "look after your security requirements, provided you do not look around". We cannot have a playground of international players in our backyard." Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, 23 October 2008

Further, New Delhi's continued reference to the comic opera reforms of the 13th Amendment as a way of resolving the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka, is simply its own way of getting Sri Lanka back on track to the Indo Sri Lanka Accord and the Exchange of Letters that secured New Delhi's strategic interests in its 'backyard'. As in 1987, so also today - the comic opera reforms of the 13th Amendment have little to do with satisfying the aspirations of the people of Tamil Eelam for freedom from alien Sinhala rule and everything to do with New Delhi's concern to prevent its 'backyard' becoming 'a playground of international players'.

It is this uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region which perhaps led the US administration under President Bush to arm and train the Sinhala army as a way of securing US influence in the Indian Ocean region - a Sinhala army commanded by US Green Card holder Lt.General Sarath Fonseka. In 2006, whilst the Norwegian Peace Process was still in place, US Ambassador Lunstead declared in Colombo -

"...Through our military training and assistance programs, including efforts to help with counterterrorism initiatives and block illegal financial transactions, we are helping to shape the ability of the Sri Lankan Government to protect its people and defend its interests... If the LTTE chooses to abandon peace, however, we want it to be clear, they will face a stronger, more capable and more determined Sri Lankan military. We want the cost of a return to war to be high." United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Lunstead: The Return of the Ugly American? , 11 January 2006

When in January 2008, two years after US Ambassador Lunstead had spoken, Sri Lanka (and not the LTTE) chose to 'abandon peace' and abrogated the Cease Fire Agreement the response of the United States was muted.

One result of the approach adopted by the US was that Sinhala Sri Lanka was encouraged to blatantly disregard the Geneva Conventions relating to armed conflict and engage in a naked genocidal onslaught on the people of Tamil Eelam.

Sri Lanka's Genocidal War on Tamil Eelam

Here it has to be said that the actions of President Rajapaksa's regime are not without an internal logic of its own. Jean Paul Sartre was right when he declared in 1967 that "against partisans backed by the entire population, (occupying) colonial armies have only one way of escaping from the harassment which demoralizes them.... This is to eliminate the civilian population. As it is the unity of a whole people that is containing the conventional army, the only anti-guerrilla strategy which will be effective is the destruction of that people, in other words, the civilians, women and children..."

The horrific war crimes committed by President Rajapaksa and the Sinhala forces under his command reflect the political reality that it is the unity of the entire population of Tamil Eelam in their struggle for freedom from alien Sinhala rule, that has led the Sinhala regime to believe that the ' only anti-guerrilla strategy which will be effective is the destruction of that people, in other words, the civilians, women and children...' The Sinhala rulers believe that they are clearing the 'swamp' but the political reality that will confront them sooner rather than later is that they have only created additional ones. The self immolation of Muthukumar in Tamil Nadu and Murukuthasan before the UN headquarters in Geneva is proof enough of that.

Sri Lanka has sought to use the political space created by the geo strategic triangle of US-India-China in the Indian Ocean region to secure the support of all three for its genocidal attack on the people of Tamil Eelam - and to impose permanent alien Sinhala rule on them.

The record shows that Sinhala Sri Lanka has engaged in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own by handing over parts of the island (and its surrounding seas) to India, US and China. We have India in the Trincomalee oil farm, at the same time we have a Chinese coal powered energy plant in Trincomalee; we have a Chinese project for the Hambantota port, at the same time we have the attempted naval exercises with the US from Hambatota (to contain Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean); we have the grant of preferred licenses to India for exploration of oil in the Mannar seas, at the same time we have a similar grant to China and a 'road show' for tenders from US and UK based multinational corporations; meanwhile we have the continued presence of the Voice of America installations in the island and the ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) was signed by the United States and Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007.

It will not be a matter for surprise if the US found Sri Lanka's attempt to engage in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own somewhat irritating - and has cautioned Sri Lanka privately that Sri Lanka was not a super power and should not try to behave like one. And threats of court actions against President Rajapaksa led by personnel in US based think tanks may help to pressure President Rajapaksa to move away from an overly reliance on a China/Pakistan/Iran axis. But President Rajapksa's own responses to such pressure may be governed by the internal left of centre political constituency on which he depends for continuance in power. President Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka is no exception to the rule that a state's 'foreign policy is the external manifestation of domestic institutions, ideologies and other attributes of the polity'. Hence the murder of Lasantha Wikremaratne, the suppression of the media and all those forces who may be used to promote an alternative Sinhala leadership which may eschew a 'balance of power' strategy to a policy that is more committed to US strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region.

But for the people of Tamil Eelam, an alternative Sinhala leadership will provide little comfort. Sri Lanka's sixty year record of ethnic cleansing of Tamils shows that Sinhala chauvinism and its assimilative agenda is not the special preserve of President Rajapaksa alone. The words of Professor Marshall Singer in 1995 remain true -

"...One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement..." - Professor Marshall Singer, at US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Sri Lanka November 14,1995

Any meaningful examination of recent developments in Sri Lanka must address the question which Professor Singer raised more than a decade ago. It is not enough to simply repeat parrot wise as US Ambassador Blake did in Chennai in October 2008-

"The greatest failure of the last 25 years has been the failure of the main Sinhalese parties to reach agreement." Time for Colombo to defeat LTTE with political solution: U.S. Ambassador Blake, 24 October 2008

The question must be asked: why it is that Sinhala political parties have failed to reach agreement during all these many years. Are the Sinhalese political parties stupid? Or are the Sinhala people who put these parties in power so stupid that they do not see that which Professor Marshall Singer and Ambassador Blake have seen so clearly?

Senator S.Nadesan Q.C. said it all in the aftermath of Genocide '58 -

"...Hon. Senators will remember how one of the present Ministers of this Government went round the countryside saying that the U.N.P. Government had offered the Sinhalese man's mat to Suppiah to lie on and allow Nalliah to pluck his eye and Subramaniam to wring his neck. That is the type of communal propaganda indulged in by members of the M.E.P. and by their Ministers. We cannot forget that...The Tamils are the pawns in a political game. It does not matter to anybody how we suffer, how we feel, so long as in this game one Sinhala party is the victor and the other Sinhala party is the vanquished. .... if one party said, "We will kill the Tamils", the other party could go one better and say, "We will eat the Tamils." In other words, it was a competition as to who would hold down the Tamils most. And the party which was going to hold down the Tamils most was going to have the support of the Sinhalese masses... That is all. That is why I ask you not to make us pawns in your game..." - Senator S.Nadesan during the course of the debate on the State of Emergency in the Second Senate on June 4th, 1958

And this leads one to the nub of the matter. The political reality in Sri Lanka is that a Sinhala ethno nationalism has sought to masquerade as a Sri Lankan 'multi ethnic secular civic' nationalism albeit with a Sinhala Lion flag, an unrepealed Sinhala only Act, with Buddhism as the state religion and with a Sinhala Sri Lanka name which it gave itself unilaterally in 1972.

Civic Nationalism
"...In the Sinhala language, the words for nation, race and people are practically synonymous, and a multiethnic or multicommunal nation or state is incomprehensible to the popular mind. The emphasis on Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhala Buddhists carried an emotional popular appeal, compared with which the concept of a multiethnic polity was a meaningless abstraction..." - Sinhala Historian K. M. de Silva in Religion, Nationalism and the State, USF Monographs in Religion and Public Policy, No.1 (Tampa, FLA: University of South Florida 1986) at p31 quoted by David Little in Religion and Self Determination in Self Determination - International Perspectives, MacMillan Press, 1996
"The central place of Buddhism in the constitution of the Singhalese territorial relation of a nation goes back to the Sinhalese histories of the fourth and fifth centuries of the Christian era, the Dipavamsa and the Mahavamsa. There one finds the myth of the visit of the Buddha to Sri Lanka, during which he freed the Island of its original supernatural and evil inhabitants, the Yakkas. As a result the Buddha had sanctified the entire island transforming it into a Buddhist territory. These histories thus asserted a territorial relation between Sinhalese and Buddhism, the stability of which was derived from a perceived order of the universe, that is, the actions of the Buddha. The reaffirmation of that relation may be observed to-day in the shrines throughout the island at Mahiyangana, where the supposed collarbone of the Buddha is kept, at Mount Samantakuta, where the Buddha's supposed fossilized footprint may be seen and the most important one at Kandy, supposedly containing the relic of the Buddha's tooth." - Stephen Grossly, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Clemson University on The primordial, kinship and nationality". "When is the Nation?" Edited by Atsuko Ichijo and Gordana Uzelac Routledge (2005) p 68

And this Sinhala Buddhist ethno nationalism is not about to transform itself into a multi ethnic secular civic nation and surrender its Sinhala Lion Flag, repeal its 1956 Sinhala Only Act, give up the Sinhala Sri Lanka name that it gave itself unilaterally in 1972 and give up Buddhism as the state religion. Indeed those who suggest that it should may want to pay attention to the words of Bernard Yack -

"...So-called civic nations like France, Canada, and the United States may have become relatively open societies that offer citizenship rights to all peoples, but they did not start out that way. In each case, they began with restricted core communities -- be they white or Catholic or British or European -- and expanded outward. As a result, when we urge nationalists, say in Bosnia or Kosovo, to follow our example and found nations solely on the basis of shared political principles, we are in fact urging them to do something that we never did ourselves..." Bernard Yack on the Myth of Civic Nationalism, July 2000

Political solution directed to resolve the conflict on the ground must address the political reality on the ground - US Congressman Mario Baggio 1980 - Massachusetts Resolution 1981 - 53 Non Governmental Organisations, 1998 - US Congressman Brad Sherman

And so, today those who rightly advocate a political solution in preference to a military one will also need to recognise that a political solution must address the political reality on the ground and not the other way round. And it is this that US Congressman Mario Baggio seems to have recognised when he declared in the US House of Representatives many years ago in May 1980 -

"To understand the problems that exist in Sri Lanka - formerly known as Ceylon - it is essential that we review its history. Located in South Asia, the island of Sri Lanka has been composed of two distinct populations for centuries - the Tamils and the Sinhalese. They lived not as one, but as two nations, with separate languages, religions, cultures, and clearly demarcated geographic territories...
My colleagues and I have introduced the following resolution because we believe it is essential to express the concern of the Congress about the army occupation in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka: the denial of basic rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equal citizenship and educational opportunities; and the freedom to exercise the right of political self-determination."

It is this political reality on the ground that the resolution of US Massachusetts House of Representatives in June 1981 calling for the Restoration of the Separate Sovereign State of Tamil Eelam also acknowledged -

".... Whereas, from ancient times two nations the Sinhalese and the Tamils possessed distinct languages, religions, cultures and clearly demarcated geographic territories until the British who were characteristically oblivious to the differences between these two separate nations, imposed one rule for the purpose of colonial administrative unification, and
Whereas, as was to be expected in 1948 when the British left the island and two unwilling nations were consequently left under a unitary governmental structure, the majority Sinhalese faction subverted democratic principles to become the new masters of the Tamil - speaking people, and...
Whereas, successive Sinhala governments have been guilty of racism and acts of racial discrimination against the Tamils in the fields of education, employment, religion, politics, economic development and trade, and
Whereas, from time to time violence is used it the Sinhala governments, army and the police against the Tamils without provocation as a political weapon in order to obtain subservience and
Whereas, in 1972 the representatives of the Sinhala and Tamil nation met together and peacefully overthrew British sovereignty and thereby each nation resuscitated, and reverted to, its own sovereignty, and
Whereas, a new constitution, which reiterated that foremost place should be accorded to the Buddhist religion and the Sinhalese language. was unilaterally adopted without the cooperation or consultation with the majority of the Tamil representatives in Parliament, and
Whereas, the Tamil nation of Eelam at the general election of May 1977 gave a clear mandate for the restoration and reconstitution of the separate sovereign state of Tamil Eelam by winning 18 out of 19 Tamil seats in Tamil Eelam, and
Whereas, the Tamil people were again not a party to the constitution of 1978 which replaced its predecessor of 1972, and
Whereas, the Tamil nation of Eelam opposed the two constitutions as illegal impositions on them and their territory and asserted their right of self determination and sovereignty by non violent agitations, and
Whereas, the Sinhala government of Sri Lanka has occupied the territory of Tamil Eelam with its armed forces and security services and are denying the right of self-determination and sovereignty of the Tamil nation by the use of force on Tamil people, and
Whereas, the Tamil United Liberation Front which received the mandate of the Tamil people at the may 1977 general election for the separate sovereign Tamil state is continuing the struggle for freedom by non-violent ways preached and practised by Mahatma Gandhi and by the late leader of Tamil nation, S.J.V. Chelvanayagam,
Resolved, that the Massachusetts House of Representatives hereby urges the President and the Congress of the United States to support the struggle for freedom by the Tamil nation for the restoration and reconstitution the separate sovereign state of Tamil Eelam and to recognize publicly the right of self determination by the Tamil people of Tamil Eelam, and be it further resolved,
that copies of these resolutions be forwarded to the President of the United States, to the Presiding Officer of each branch of Congress, to the members thereof from this Commonwealth, to the Secretary of State, to the Director of the World Bank and to the Secretary General of the United Nations." Resolution of US Massachusetts House of Representatives 18 June 1981

It is this political reality on the ground that moved 53 Non Governmental Organisations to declare in a Joint Statement to the UN Human Rights Commission in April 1998 -

"We are gravely concerned by the continued Sri Lanka-Tamil Eelam war and by the increasing genocidal dimension of that war as evidenced by: (a) targeting of the civilian population by the Sri Lankan forces; (b) epidemic proportions of disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, rape, arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention of Tamil civilians; (c) a sweeping embargo in the North and East of subsistence food and essential medicine in contravention of humanitarian law; (d) the existence of more than 850,000 displaced persons living in appalling conditions at risk now of starvation and death.
In his message to the Tamil people on National Heroes Day in November 1997, LTTE leader Mr. Velupillai Pirabaharan stated that any political solution should take into account the following four points of the Thimpu Conference of 1985 to which all Tamil political parties agreed:
  1. Tamil people are a national entity and have a distinct language, culture and customs;
  2. Tamil people have historically inhabited a contiguous territory in the North-East of Sri Lanka which is their homeland;
  3. The Tamil people have the right to decide their political destiny based on the right to self-determination of peoples;
  4. All Tamils, including the Plantation Tamils, should enjoy full rights in the island.
To contribute to resolution of the Sri Lanka-Tamil Eelam War and to provide meaningful international support to secure the aspirations of the Tamil people we urge the Commission to adopt a resolution that
  1. calls on the government of Sri Lanka to withdraw all its armed forces from the Tamil homeland;
  2. calls on both the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to secure a political solution that allows the Tamil people to realise its right to self-determination and that establishes full human rights to all the people of Sri Lanka; and
  3. appoints a Special Rapporteur with a mandate to investigate the situation and monitor a peace process.
Written statement [E/CN.4/1998/NGO/120, 21 April 1998]- signed by 1. Franciscans International 2. Worldview International Foundation 3. International Peace Bureau 4. International Association Against Torture 5. Society For Threatened People 6. International Work Group For Indigenous Affairs 7. North-South XX1 8. African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promotion 9. International Indian Treaty Council 10. International Organisation of Indigenous Resource - Development Category 11. The Saami Council 12. Federation Internationale des Journalistes Libres 13. International Right to Life 14. International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples 15. International Education Development 16. World Society of Victimology 17. Liberation 18. REDHRIC 19. World Federation of Democratic Youth 20. Movement contre le Racisme et pour Amitie des Peuples 21. FEDEFAM 22. International Association of Democratic Lawyers 23. AZADHO Association de Defense de Droits de l`Homme 24. World Muslim Congress 25. World Federation of Trade Unions 26. American Association of Jurists 27. Agence des Cites Unies pour la Co-operation Nord-Sud 28. Parliamentarians for Global Action 29. Asian Women`s Human Rights Council 30. International Federation of Human Rights Leagues 31. International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development 32. International Human Rights Association of American Minorities 33. Change 34. Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Latin America 35. New Humanity 36. World Alliance of Reformed Churches 37. Human Rights Internet 38. Felix Varelar Centre 39. Centre for European Studies 40. International Federation of Journalists 41. General Arab Women Foundation 42. World Movement of Mothers 43. International League for Human Rights 44. Movimento Cubano per la Paz 45. International Human Rights Law Group 46. Canadian Council of Churches 47. Pax Romana 48. World Confederation of Labour 49. International Commission of Jurists 50. Arab Lawyers Union 51. World Organisation Against Torture 52. International Org for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination 53. Arab Organisation for Human Rights 54. Association for World Education

And it was this political reality on the ground that US Congressman Brad Sherman also addressed in 2000 -

"....The United States has an opportunity make Sri Lanka a model and help it to evolve, by negotiating, two autonomous democratic political structures within a system acceptable to both parties, where ethnic communities can coexist peacefully on the Island. The US should be firm in its message to the government and the opposition, that if negotiations are not forthcoming immediately, they should be prepared to conduct a referendum of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. This can be done with the assistance of the United Nations similar to the referendum in East Timor. Thus, in the absence of a negotiated settlement, the Tamil people could determine whether they want a confederation or a separate state as endorsed by the Tamil people in the last democratic elections held in 1977 in the north and east of Sri Lanka...." - US Congressman Brad Sherman, 1 September 2000

Given all this, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee may want to examine whether US strategic interests in an emerging multi lateral world and in particular the Indian Ocean region will be advanced by preventing the emergence of new states or whether, on the contrary, US strategic interests will be furthered by recognising (as US Congressman Mario Baggio, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Resolution, and US Congressman Brad Sherman did) that self determination is not a destabilising concept.

It is sometimes said that to accord international recognition to nations within existing states will lead to instability in the world order. The reasoning is not dissimilar to that which was urged a hundred years ago against granting universal franchise. It was said that to empower every citizen with a vote was to threaten the stability of existing state structures and the ruling establishment. But the truth was that it was the refusal to grant universal franchise which threatened stability.

Central governments of existing states may have the power that flows from the barrel of the gun, but a feeling or thought such as democracy, the aspiration towards liberty, is not without material force. If democracy means the rule of the people, by the people, for the people, then the principle of self determination secures that no one people may rule another - and herein lies its enduring appeal.

"...Let us accept the fact that states have lifecycles similar to those of human beings who created them. The lifecycle of a state might last for many generations, but hardly any Member State of the United Nations has existed within its present borders for longer than five generations. The attempt to freeze human evolution has in the past been a futile undertaking and has probably brought about more violence than if such a process had been controlled peacefully...Restrictions on self-determination threaten not only democracy itself but the state which seeks its legitimation in democracy" Self Determination & the Future of Democracy - Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, 2001

Steadfastly defending the inviolability of territorial boundaries of existing states, regardless of how and when they were determined may not be the path to a stable world order. 'Values are the essential principles of life without which life would be without meaning - things would fall apart, and the centre cannot hold. They are agents of social cohesion'.

"...Movements for justice throughout the world and throughout history always begin with and are sustained by a moral statement, a value idea...Movements are sustained when there are enough people whose imagination is captivated by a vision that lifts them beyond wherever they may be and which encourages them to have a better idea of themselves and their history into what they might or could become.. Values are the essential principles of life without which life would be without meaning - things would fall apart, and the centre cannot hold. They are agents of social cohesion.... " N Barney Pityana in Liberation, Civil Rights & Democracy, The Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial Lecture, 2004

There is a need for the US to defend the very real values that a people stand for and speak from the heart to the hearts of those people. These are the values which the Obama administration has pledged to uphold. And it was for these values that more than two hundred years ago, the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence suffered - and some paid the ultimate price -

"Have you ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence? The history books never told you a lot of what happened in the Revolutionary War. We didn't just fight the British. We were British subjects at that time and we fought our own government! Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army, another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor." The Fifty-Six Men who Signed the Declaration of Independence

The struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam is for the same values for which the signatories of the US Declaration of Independence fought and suffered. It is for those same values that tens of thousands of Tamils both young and old have fought and given their lives. They have fought and given their lives so that their brothers and sisters may live in freedom - freedom from rule by a permanent alien Sinhala majority within the confines of a single state..

The conflict in the island of Sri Lanka is not simply about the systematic violations of human rights of the Tamil people, or about violations of the humanitarian law of armed conflict - or for that matter genocide. The conflict in the island is about the refusal of the people of Tamil Eelam to submit to alien Sinhala rule. In the ultimate analysis the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam is about the democratic right of the people of Tamil Eelam to govern themselves in their homeland.

"We are not chauvinists. Neither are we lovers of violence enchanted with war. We do not regard the Sinhala people as our opponents or as our enemies. We recognise the Sinhala nation. We accord a place of dignity for the culture and heritage of the Sinhala people. We have no desire to interfere in any way with the national life of the Sinhala people or with their freedom and independence. We, the Tamil people, desire to live in our own historic homeland as an independent nation, in peace, in freedom and with dignity." - Velupilllai Pirabaharan, Leader of Tamil Eelam

A principle centred approach to the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka will recognise something which Professor Margaret Moore said in Normative Justifications for Liberal Nationalism:Justice, Democracy and National Identity in 2001 -

"...The problem in nationally divided societies is that the different groups have different political identities, and, in cases where the identities are mutually exclusive (not nested), these groups see themselves as forming distinct political communities. In this situation, the options available to represent these distinct identities are very limited, because any solution at the state level is inclined to be biased in favour of one kind of identity over another. That is to say, if the minority group seeks to be self-governing, or to secede from the larger state, increased representation at the centre will not be satisfactory. The problem in this case is that the group does not identify with the centre, or want to be part of that political community...One conclusion that can be drawn is that, in some cases, secession/partition of the two communities, where that option is available, is the best outcome overall. .."

I would urge the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to recognise the force of reason in that which 17 non governmental organisations (consisting of International Association of Educators for World Peace, International Educational Development, International Indian Treaty Council, Consejo Indico de Sud America, Comision de Deeches Homonas de El Salavador, Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in Central America, World Council of Churches, International Movement against all Forms of Discrimination and Racism,Action des Christians Pour L'Abolition de la Torture,FIMARC, International Council of Women, American Association of Jurists, Centre Europe-Tiers Monde, Servieiv Pax Justica America Latina, Pax Romana, International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, and World Christian Live Community) told the UN Commission on Human Rights at its 50th Sessions in February 1994:

'' There is a need to recognise that the deep divisions between the Sri Lanka government and the Tamil people cannot be resolved by the use of force against Tamil resistance. The Tamil population in the North and East of the island, who have lived from ancient times within relatively well defined geographical boundaries in the north and east of the island, share an ancient heritage, a vibrant culture, and a living language which traces its origins to more than 2500 years ago.
...Before the advent of the British ..., separate kingdoms existed for the Tamil areas and for the Sinhala areas in the island. The Tamil people and the Sinhala people were brought within the confines of one state for the first time by the British in 1833. After the departure of the British in 1948, an alien Sinhala people speaking a language different to that of the Tamils and claiming a separate and distinct heritage has persistently denied the rights and fundamental freedoms of the Tamil people. ..
It is ...our view that the Secretary General should consider invoking his good offices with the aim of contributing to the establishment of peace in the island of Sri Lanka through respect for the existence of the Tamil homeland in the NorthEast of the island of Sri Lanka and recognition for the right of the Tamil people to freely determine their political status.''

Said that, the struggle for Tamil Eelam is not about a search for historical first causes - a search that will end in the stone age and in a discussion about original sin. Neither is the struggle for Tamil Eelam an invitation to engage in the politics of the last atrocity. Nor is the struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam about what the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam may have done or may not have done - though I together with millions of Tamils not only in Tamil Eelam but also in many lands and across distant seas will bow our heads in humility and continue to recognise Velupillai Pirabakaran and the LTTE (warts and all) as the undying symbols of Tamil resistance to alien Sinhala rule.

Here it will be helpful to revisit the words of Hilary Clinton in October 2007 -

"..I believe that terrorism is a tool that has been utilized throughout history to achieve certain objectives. Some have been ideological, others territorial. There are personality-driven terroristic objectives. The bottom line is, you can't lump all terrorists together. And I think we've got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raisons d'être of terrorists. I mean, what the Tamil Tigers are fighting for in Sri Lanka, or the Basque separatists in Spain, or the insurgents in al-Anbar province may only be connected by tactics. They may not share all that much in terms of what is the philosophical or ideological underpinning. And I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush, which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what it is we were up against when it comes to those who pursue terrorism for whichever ends they're seeking... (US) can have an approach that tries to project power and authority in an appropriate way that draws on all aspects of American power, that inspires and attracts as much as coerces."

A principle centered approach which will 'inspire and attract' will need to draw a distinction between violence and terrorism. The two words are not synonymous and much confusion arises by conflating the two. All violence is not terrorism and an US approach which liberates political language will also help liberate peoples who have taken up arms as a last resort in their struggle for freedom from oppressive alien rule. There is a compelling need to attend to the conclusions of the UN Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K. Koufa in 2004 -

"The most problematic issue relating to terrorism and armed conflict is distinguishing terrorists from lawful combatants, both in terms of combatants in legitimate struggles for self-determination and those involved in civil wars or non-international armed conflicts. In the former category, States that do not recognize a claim to self-determination will claim that those using force against the State's military forces are necessarily terrorists. In the latter, States will also claim that those fighting against the State are terrorists, and that rather than a civil war, there is a situation of "terrorism and counter-terrorism activity"....The controversy over the exact meaning, content, extent and beneficiaries of, as well as the means and methods utilized to enforce the right to self-determination has been the major obstacle to the development of both a comprehensive definition of terrorism and a comprehensive treaty on terrorism. The ideological splits and differing approaches preventing any broad consensus during the period of decolonization still persist in today's international relations. ...
...The Special Rapporteur has analysed the distinction between armed conflict and terrorism, with particular attention to conflicts to realize the right to self-determination and civil wars. This is an issue of great international controversy, in need of careful review due to the "your freedom fighter is my terrorist" problem and the increase in the rhetorical use of the expression "war on terrorism", labelling wars as terrorism, and combatants in wars as terrorists, and it has an extremely undesirable effect of nullifying application of and compliance with humanitarian law in those situations, while at the same time providing no positive results in combating actual terrorism...." Terrorism and Human Rights Final Report of the Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K. Koufa, 25 June 2004

Said that, the central moral problem is war and not its methods. The words of Harry L. Stimson, US Secretary of State 1929-1933 quoted, appropriately enough by Hitler's Arms Minister, Albert Speer in Inside the Third Reich merit our careful attention:

"...We must never forget, that under modern conditions of life, science and technology, all war has become greatly brutalized and that no one who joins in it, even in self-defence, can escape becoming also in a measure brutalized. Modern war cannot be limited in its destructive method and the inevitable debasement of all participants... we as well as our enemies have contributed to the proof that the central moral problem is war and not its methods..."

The bottom line is that a conflict will be resolved only if we honestly pay attention to the deep felt differences which had given rise to the war in the first instance - deep felt differences which had not been amenable to peaceful resolution and which had led to war.

I will end by saying something which I said 3 years ago in 2006 in Zurich at the International Seminar: Envisioning New Trajectories for Peace in Sri Lanka organized by the Centre for Just Peace and Democracy (CJPD) in collaboration with the Berghof Foundation, Sri Lanka

"Ayubowan. Vannakam.
The couple of words that I spoke in Sinhalese and in Tamil reflect in a small way the divide across which we meet here in Zurich. Language is not only a matter of semantics. It also has something to do with our feelings and the way in which we segment the world in which we live. And often something may be lost in the translation.
Having said that, the few moments that we stood up last evening in memory of those who have died in the conflict in Sri Lanka brought us together in recognising and indeed, feeling the pain and suffering that this conflict has brought in its train - a pain and suffering that moves us to commit ourselves to contribute in whatever small way we can, to help bridge the divide that exists amongst the peoples who live in the island of Sri Lanka...
...We are not desiccated calculating machines. To use a felicitous metaphor that some of you may have come across before, a metaphor used by Roger Fisher - to understand a beetle, it is not enough to think like a beetle - you must also begin to feel like one. You must begin to truly feel what it is like to be a beetle.
But the invitation to reach to our hearts is not an invitation to descend into sentimentality - a sentimentality which is transient and quickly evaporates with time. We need heart. But we need mind also. We need both mind and heart. It was Martin Luther King who said somewhere that we must combine a tough mind with a tender heart.
Here, I was touched by something that Peter Senge wrote a couple of years ago. I truly cannot put it better than in his own words. I will therefore read what he said.
"We are unable to talk productively about complex issues because we are unable to listen. ... Listening requires opening ourselves. Our typical patterns of listening in difficult situations are tactical, not relational. We listen for what we expect to hear. We sift through others' views for what we can use to make our own points. We measure success by how effective we have been in gaining advantage for our favored positions. Even when these motives are covered by a shield of politeness, it is rare for people with something at stake to truly to open their minds to discover the limitations in their own ways of seeing and acting.
Opening our minds ultimately means opening our hearts. The heart has come to be associated with muddled thinking and personal weakness, hardly the attributes of effective decision makers... (But) The path forward is about becoming more human, not just more clever. "
In the conflict in the island of Sri Lanka, too, the path forward is not about being clever. We can all be clever. But the path forward is to become more human.
The conflict in the island of Sri Lanka can be simply stated.
The LTTE struggles for the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. Sri Lanka seeks to secure its existing territorial boundaries.
Stated in this way, the conflict may appear to be insoluble. Something will have to give. Squaring the circle may seem impossible.
Some of you may have heard of the story about the two professors Ury and Fisher. It is a story. There were these two professors in a room. One wanted the windows open and the other wanted the windows closed. So there was this big dispute about open - and close. Ury insisting that the window be open and Fischer saying no, it must be closed. The conflict went on for sometime and Fisher eventually said let us sit and talk about this. The response he got was "What is there to be talked about - I want the window open, you want it closed. So what is there to talk about?' . And then Fisher asks, 'Yes, OK - but why is it you want the windows open?' So, behind your stated position what is your interest?. And Ury replied 'I want it open because I like the fresh air and the breeze and so on.' Ury then asked 'Yes, but, then why do you want it closed?' Fisher replied 'Because papers are flying around, I cannot control it.'
And then the two of them jointly started examining ways in which they could get a win-win solution so that Ury could have the fresh air and Fisher would not have his papers flying about. They discussed the idea of positioning the tables differently, then putting up screens and so on and so forth. But the point of the story was not so much about the end result - it was about the fact that the two parties to a conflict were able to jointly engage in a dialogue and the synergy that was created resulted in solutions which neither of them may have thought of on their own.
In the case of the conflict in Sri Lanka we may want to look behind the stated positions of the LTTE and Sri Lanka. We may want to look at the interests that the Tamil people and the Sinhala people want to secure. I believe that it is possible to move towards a resolution of the conflict on a win-win basis.
I am reminded of a statement by a UK foreign minister some years ago that 'Sovereignty is not virginity.' Independence? Yes. But all countries in this world are dependent on one another. After three hundred years of wars and two world wars, the countries in Europe have moved towards an European Union. There are different ways in which peoples may associate with one another in equality and in freedom - and here there is every thing to talk about. And not much is gained by straight jacketing the discussions on the basis of known ideas and conceptual models. I thank you.

Yours sincerely

Nadesan Satyendra