Early Political History
The island known to Tamils as Eelam (and known under British rule as Ceylon and under Sinhala rule as Sri Lanka) is about 25,000 square miles in extent, situated about twenty miles from the southern extremity of the Indian sub - continent.
About one fifth of the island's population of 17 million, are Tamils and somewhat less than three quarters are Sinhalese. The Tamils reside largely in the north and the east and on the plantations in the central hills, whilst the Sinhalese reside in the south, west and in the centre as well. The area of the Tamil homeland in the north-east is around 7,500 square miles. A large number of Tamils are Hindus, some are Christians and the overwhelming majority of the Sinhala people are Buddhists.
The Tamils are an ancient people. Their history had its beginnings in the rich alluvial plains near the southern extremity of peninsular India which then included the land mass known as the island of Sri Lanka today. The plant and animal life (including the presence of elephants) in the island evidence the earlier land connection with the Indian sub continent. So too do satellite photographs which show the submerged 'land bridge' between Dhanuskodi in the south east of the sub-continent and Mannar in the north west of the island. It is estimated that it was during the period 6000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. that the island separated from the Indian sub continent - and that too by a narrow strip of shallow water.
The Sinhala people trace their origins in the island to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from India, around 500 B.C. and the Mahavamsa, the Sinhala chronicle of a later period (6th Century A.D.) records that Prince Vijaya arrived on the island on the same day that the Buddha attained Enlightenment in India. Here, the words of the Sinhala historian and Cambridge scholar, Paul Peiris represent an influential and common sense point of view:
`..it stands to reason that a country which was only thirty miles from India and which would have been seen by Indian fisherman every morning as they sailed out to catch their fish, would have been occupied as soon as the continent was peopled by men who understood how to sail... Long before the arrival of Prince Vijaya, there were in Sri Lanka five recognised isvarams of Siva which claimed and received the adoration of all India. These were Tiruketeeswaram near Mahatitha; Munneswaram dominating Salawatte and the pearl fishery; Tondeswaram near Mantota; Tirkoneswaram near the great bay of Kottiyar and Nakuleswaram near Kankesanturai. ' (Paul E. Pieris: Nagadipa and Buddhist Remains in Jaffna : Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Ceylon Branch Vol.28)
The early political history of the people of Eelam, in the centuries before the advent of the European powers, is largely a chronicle of the rise and fall of individual kingdoms. When the Portuguese landed on the island in 1505 there was not one but three kingdoms viz the Tamil Jaffna Kingdom, the Sinhala Kotte Kingdom and the Sinhala Kandyan Kingdom.
The Jaffna Kingdom was captured by the Portuguese when the king of Jaffna was defeated in 1619. The Portuguese ruled the Jaffna Kingdom from 1619 to 1658. The Dutch who captured the Jaffna Kingdom from the Portuguese ruled till 1795 and the British till 1948.
Even when the island was ruled by the Portuguese and the Dutch, the Tamil homeland in the North and the East was administered as an entity separate from the rest of the country. In 1833, the British amalgamated the north and east with the rest of the island for administrative convenience.
"Two different nations, from a very ancient period, have divided between them the possession of the Island: the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior in its Southern and western parts from the river Wallouwe to Chilaw, and the Malabars (Tamils) who possess the Northern and Eastern Districts. These two nations differ entirely in their religion, language and manners." (Sir Hugh Cleghorn, British Colonial Secretary, June 1879)
Sinhala Buddhism & Sinhala Majority Rule
With the departure of the British in 1948, the re emergence of a separate Tamil national identity was reinforced by the actions of a Sinhala majority which regarded the island of Sri Lanka as the exclusive home of Sinhala Buddhism and the Tamil people as `outsiders' who were to be subjugated and assimilated within the confines of an unitary Sinhala Buddhist state.
"The history of Sri Lanka is the history of the Sinhalese race... The Sinhalese people were entrusted 2500 years ago, with a great and noble charge, the preservation... of Buddhism..." (The Revolt in the Temple, by D.C. Vijayawardhana, 1953)
It was a belligerent Sinhala ethno nationalism which sought to masquerade as a Sri Lanka civic nation.
It was a belligerent Sinhala ethno nationalism which laid claim to the island of Sri Lanka as a Sinhala Buddhist `Deepa' and which often found open and shameless expression:
"...The time has come for the whole Sinhala race which has existed for 2500 years, jealously safeguarding their language and religion, to fight without giving any quarter to save their birthright... I will lead the campaign..." (J.R.Jayawardene, Sinhala Opposition Leader reported in Sri Lanka Tribune: 30th August 1957)
"I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people... now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion... the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here... Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy." (President J.R.Jayawardene, Daily Telegraph, 11th July 1983)
Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, speaking in July 1995, declared:
'The Sinhalese Buddhist majority should merge with the Sinhala Christians, Tamil Hindus, Tamil Christians, Muslims and others to form one Lankan nation. This is the greatest task we are facing today'
President Kumaratunga buttressed her 'assimilative' approach by recourse to "history". She declared:
'Our ancestors succeeded in forging one nation. Even those communities who retained their separate identities lived with the Sinhala Buddhist majority as one nation."
In claiming that her ancestors had succeeded in forging one nation, President Kumaratunga followed in the footsteps of ex President J.R.Jayawardene who too claimed in 1983 that the country had been a united nation for 2500 years. Here, the comments of the International Commission of Jurists in 1983 remain relevant:
"... (the President's) statement that the country had been united for 2,500 years flies in the face of history. There was for some centuries an independent Tamil kingdom and the chronicles report frequent wars between Singhalese and Tamil kings. Separate Singhalese and Tamil communities existed on the island from the pre-colonial era until the administrative unification of the island by the British in 1833." (Supplement to Professor Virginia Leary Report on a Mission to Sri Lanka 1981-83 published by the ICJ)
More recently, in July 2008, Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka declared with disaarming frankness -
"... I don’t think the people in the North and East are subjected to any injustice... In any democratic country the majority should rule the country. This country will be ruled by the Sinhalese community which is the majority representing 74 percent of the population..." Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka On Democracy and Sinhala Hegemony - 19 July 2008
The statements of Sinhala leaders reflect the appeal that such statements have for the Sinhala electorate.
"...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 reality of 'parliamentary democracy' in Sri Lanka is that no Tamil is ever elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate and no Sinhalese is ever elected to a predominantly Sinhala electorate. Majority rule within the confines of an unitary state and the constraints of a third world economy served to perpetuate the oppressive rule by a permanent Sinhala majority. It was a permanent Sinhala majority, which sought to consolidate its hegemony over the island of Sri Lanka, through a series of legislative and administrative acts, ranging from disenfranchisement, state sponsored colonisation of the Tamil homeland, discriminatory language and employment policies to standardisation of University admissions.
Tamil Parliamentary Struggle
When the Tamil people sought to resist these oppressive legislative and administrative acts by resort to Parliamentary agitation and non violent protests, they were attacked physically, some of them burnt alive, and their homes destroyed and looted. The attacks in 1956, 1958, 1961 are illustrative of these Sinhala attempts to terrorise and intimidate the Tamil people into submission at a time when Tamil protest was confined to entirely non violent forms of agitation.
Again, successive Sinhala dominated Sri Lanka governments dishonoured agreements solemnly entered into with Tamil parliamentary parties including the Bandaranaike -Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayagam Agreement of 1965.
"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)
In 1972, a new Constitution was proclaimed by the Sinhala majority who constituted themselves a Constituent Assembly, sat in premises outside Parliament to reinforce the constitutional break with the past, gave themselves an auththochnous Constitution, which changed the name of the island from Ceylon to the Sinhala, Sri Lanka, proclaimed Buddhism as the state religion and removed even the meagre safeguards against discrimination contained in the earlier Constitution. The plea of the Tamil parliamentary parties for a federal constitution was rejected and the leader of the Tamil parliamentary group resigned his seat in Parliament and sought a mandate from the Tamil people for a separate state. On winning the bye election, he declared:
"We have for the last 25 years made every effort to secure our political rights on the basis of equality with the Sinhalese in a united Ceylon. It is a regrettable fact that successive Sinhalese governments have used the power that flows from independence to deny us our fundamental rights and reduce us to the position of a subject people... I wish to announce to my people and to the country that I consider the verdict at this election as a mandate that the Tamil Eelam nation should exercise the sovereignty already vested in the Tamil people and become free. - Statement by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam Q.C. M.P., leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, February 1975
It was a mandate which was later crystallised in the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976, and in the 1977 Election Manifesto of the Tamil parliamentary parties and was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Tamil people at the General Election in July 1977. The response of the Sinhala people to this parliamentary struggle was yet another physical attack on Tamils to intimidate them into submission.
Tamil Armed Resistance & Sri Lanka's Genocidal Onslaught
The failure of peaceful parliamentary means led to the rise of the armed resistance of the Tamil people. The armed resistance of the Tamil people arose in response to decades of an ever widening and deepening oppression under alien Sinhala rule. The question whether that armed resistance was lawful or not falls within the domain of international law. At the same time, it may be helpful (and, indeed, necessary) to heed the words of Dr Colin J Harvey
"...International law is political. There is no escape from contestation. Hard lessons indeed for lawyers who wish to escape the indeterminate nature of the political. For those willing to endorse this the opportunities are great. The focus then shifts to interdisciplinarity and the horizontal networks which function in practice in ways rendered invisible by many standard accounts of law... We must abandon the myth that with law we enter the secure, stable and determinate. In reality we are simply engaged in another discursive political practice about how we should live.."
An armed resistance movement brings in its train certain predictable consequences. Jean Paul Sartre's Statement 'On Genocide' at the Second Session of the Bertrand Russell International War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam, held in Denmark in November 1967 remains valid today:
"...Against partisans backed by the entire population, colonial armies are helpless. They 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..."
In Sri Lanka, the Tamil armed resistance was met with wide ranging retaliatory attacks with intent, to compel the Tamil people to accept Sinhala rule. In the late 1970s large numbers of Tamil youths were detained without trial and tortured under emergency regulations and later under the Prevention of Terrorism Act which has been described by the International Commission of Jurists as a `blot on the statute book of any civilised country'. Torture was almost an universal practise for the Sri Lankan authorities.
In 1981 the Jaffna Public Library was burnt whilst several high ranking Sinhala security officers and two cabinet ministers were present in Jaffna town. The widespread attack on the Tamil people in 1983 was described in the Review of the International Commission of Jurists in the following terms:
"The impact of the communal violence on the Tamils was shattering. More than 100,000 people sought refuge in 27 temporary camps set up across the country. The evidence points clearly to the conclusion that the violence of the Sinhala rioters on the Tamils amounted to acts of genocide." (The Review, International Commission of Jurists, edited by Niall MacDermot, December 1983)
" Communal riots in which Tamils are killed, maimed, robbed and rendered homeless are no longer isolated episodes; they are beginning to be become a pernicious habit." (Sri Lanka - A Mounting Tragedy of Errors, Paul Sieghart, Chairman, Executive Committee, Justice, International Commission of Jurists.1984)
In the subsequent years, the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan government continued with its efforts to conquer the Tamil homeland and rule the Tamil people. The record shows that in this attempt, Sri Lanka's armed forces and para military units have committed widespread violations of humanitarian law.
In the East whole villages of Tamils were attacked by the Army and by the so called Home Guards. In the North aerial bombardment and artillery shelling of Tamil civilian population centres by the Sri Lanka armed forces was undertaken on a systematic basis.
The attacks on the Tamil homeland were coupled with the declared opposition of successive Sri Lankan Governments (including that of President Kumaratunga) to the merger of the North and East of the island into a single administrative and political unit and the recognition of the Tamil homeland.
Sri Lanka continued its genocidal attack on the people of Tamil Eelam with impunity despite hundreds of statements of grave concern expressed at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
In August 1995, 20 Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) declared at the UN Sub Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in Geneva:
"Our organisations are gravely concerned with the impunity with which the Sri Lanka armed forces continue to commit gross and inhumane violations of human rights and humanitarian law...
In April this year , President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared that it may be necessary to launch an all out attack in the Jaffna peninsula and that this `would mean a lot of civilian casualties' and the `place would be wiped out'. .. .(Thereafter) the Sri Lanka armed forces launched a genocidal onslaught on the Tamil people in the Tamil homeland in the North-East. ...The aerial bombardment of (Tamil) civilian population centres and places of worship follow a pattern set by the Sri Lanka armed forces over the past several years..
During the past twelve years, the UN Commission on Human Rights and the Sub Commission have heard hundreds of statements expressing grave concern at the situation prevailing in the island of Sri Lanka.
The record shows that it was the oppressive actions of successive Sri Lanka governments from as early as 1956 and in 1958, and again in 1961 and again with increasing frequency from 1972 to 1977 and culminating in the genocidal attacks of 1983 that resulted in the rise of the lawful armed resistance of the Tamil people.
We are constrained to condemn the actions of the Sri Lanka government as gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law, intended to terrorise and subjugate the Tamil people."
"...many peace agreements are fragile and the 'peace' that they create is usually the extension of war by more civilised means... A peace agreement is often an imperfect compromise based on the state of play when the parties have reached a 'hurting stalemate' or when the international community can no longer stomach a continuation of the crisis. A peace process, on the other hand, is not so much what happens before an agreement is reached, rather what happens after it... the post conflict phase crucially defines the relationship between former antagonists..." - Walter Kemp, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, reviewing 'After the Peace: resistance and reconciliation' by Robert L.Rothstein, 1999
This ofcourse opens up the question as to what it is that leads the so called 'international community' to conclude that it can no longer stomach a continuation of the conflict. The 'international community' is not without its own 'security' interests, whether they be linked to the control of oil resources or nuclear non proliferation or control of the currency in which world trade is conducted - and these may not be unrelated to that which the international community can no longer countenance at any particular time in relation to the conflict in the island.
"...the denial by international actors of their conflicting strategic interests in Sri Lanka draws a veil over the real issues that any meaningful conflict resolution process in the island will need to address. We cannot ostrich like bury our collective heads in the sand - and, to mix the metaphor, ignore the elephant in the room. Whilst the goal of securing peace through justice is loudly proclaimed by the international actors, real politick leads them to deny the justice of the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom from alien Sinhala rule. The harsh reality is that on the one hand international actors are concerned to use the opportunity of the conflict in the island to advance each of their own strategic interests - and on the other hand, Sri Lanka seeks to use the political space created by the geo strategic triangle of US-India-China in the Indian Ocean region, to buy the support of all three for the continued rule of the people of Tamil Eelam by a permanent Sinhala majority within the confines of one state. The record shows that Sinhala Sri Lanka seeks to engage in a 'balance of power' exercise of its own by handing over parts of the island (and the 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 Hambantota (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. " - Nadesan Satyendra, Key note address at Seminar on International Dimensions of the Conflict in Sri Lanka presented by the Centre for Just Peace & Democracy (CJPD) in partnership with TRANSCEND International in Luzern, Switzerland, 17 June 2007.
In the end the Norwegian Peace Process collapsed in January 2008 with the unilateral abrogation of the ceasefire agreement by Sri Lanka on 2 January 2008. And Sri Lanka, whilst expressing public 'concern' for the Tamil people, renewed its genocidal attack on the people of Tamil Eelam with renewed vigor.
In the face of the sustained genocidal onslaught on the people of Tamil Eelam by the Sinhala Sri Lanka armed forces, on 17 May 2009, the armed resistance movement of the Tamil people, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam silenced their guns.
"... The LTTE had for almost three decades fought the Sri Lankan military and defended its right to carry arms as a means of protecting the Tamil people living in the island. Since the war intensified in 2007, several thousand Tamil civilians have died. The recent thrust by the military into the Northern strong holds of the Tamils have seen an escalation in the deaths and has resulted in untold misery with people succumbing to starvation and lack of medical supplies....We need to do everything within our means to stop this carnage....We have decided to silence our guns... We have not forgotten that it is for our people that we fight. In the face of the current conditions, we will no longer permit this battle to be used as a justification by the forces of the Sinhala state to kill our people. We willingly stand up with courage and silence our guns... " We are silencing our guns - LTTE, 17 May 2009
Tamil right to self determination
Despite the genocidal onslaught launched on the people of Tamil Eelam by successive Sinhala Sri Lanka governments, many Tamils take the view that today the Tamil Eelam nation exists - it exists in their hearts and minds. It exists because it is rooted in the direct personal feelings and the material interests of large sections of the Tamil people,
whether they be public servants deprived of increments and promotions in consequence of the Sinhala Only Act in 1956,
whether they be expatriate Tamil professionals who had left Ceylon in the face of a growing discrimination so that they may lead a life not of luxury but of dignity,
whether they be those who continued to suffer discrimination at their work place because they had nowhere else to go,
whether they be students deprived of admission to Universities because of standardisation,
whether they be parents who saw no future for their children's advancement,
whether they be farmers who were forced to contend with a Sinhala 'open economic' policy which granted them no protection,
whether they be businessmen who had their businesses burnt and destroyed by Sinhala goon squads,
whether they be those who had their kith and kin killed and raped and their homes looted,
whether they be those who were rendered homeless and who lived in refugee camps in their own 'homeland',
whether they be those who had left their homeland in fear and who sought refugee in Tamil Nadu or as wandering nomads in foreign lands,
whether they be those who continued to remain in Sri Lanka and live in fear because they were Tamils and
whether they be those who said that 'enough was enough' and who would not take it lying down any more and who were ready to give their lives in an armed struggle.
The Tamil population in the North and East of the island are united by an ancient heritage, a rich culture, and a distinct language with a great literary tradition. They have lived for many centuries within well defined geographical boundaries which demarcate their traditional homeland and the group identity of the Tamil people has grown over the past several centuries, hand in hand with the growth of their homeland in the North and East of the island, where they worked together, spoke to each other, founded their families, educated their children, nurtured their cultural traditions and also sought refuge, from time to time, from physical attacks elsewhere in the island.
Where a social group, characterised by distinctive objective elements such as a common language and a historic homeland, acquires a subjective consciousness of oneness through struggle and resistance to alien domination, such a group clearly constitutes a 'people', and by any and every test of international law and standards, the Tamils constitute a `people' with the right to self determination.
But that is not to say that the Tamil Eelam struggle is an expression of chauvinism. The people of Tamil Eelam recognise that no nation is an island. They do not deny the existence of the Sinhala nation. It is Sri Lanka which has thus far failed to face upto the challenge of recognising the Tamils as a 'people' and associating with them on that basis.
``It is the Sri Lanka government that has failed to learn the lessons from the emergence of the struggles for self determination in several parts of the globe and the innovative structural changes that have taken place.'' (Velupillai Pirabaharan, Leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, reported in Kalathil, February 1992)
In February 1993 at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, 15 non governmental organisations (NGOs) urged that
"any meaningful attempt to resolve the conflict should address its underlying causes and recognise that the armed struggle of the Tamil people for self determination, arose as a response to decades of an ever widening and deepening oppression by a permanent Sinhala majority, within the confines of an unitary Sri Lankan state'';
and further that
"there is an urgent need for the international community to recognise that the Tamil population in the North - East of the island of Sri Lanka are a `people' with the right to freely choose their political status.''
Again, even apart from the right to self determination, the demand for Tamil Eelam may also be justified in international law under the concept of reversion of sovereignty.
The struggle for Tamil Eelam is a national question and it is therefore not a matter for surprise that it has become increasingly an inter-national question. Efforts at conflict resolution have involved India, the United States, United Kingdom and Norway amongst others, from time to time. The attempt to square the circle - i.e the attempt to square the demand for self determination with the claim of an existing state to its territorial integrity, has attracted much research. But to suggest that the negotiating process is about reaching a compromise somewhere between a 'unitary state' and 'independence' is to continue to think inside a box.
The error is to place 'totally independent' and 'complete unitary state' at the two ends of the continuum, with associations of independent states, such as the British Commonwealth and the European Union, somewhere in between. A meaningful negotiating process will need to address the question of working out a legal framework for two free and independent states to co-exist - a legal framework where they may pool their sovereignty in certain agreed areas, so that they may co-exist in peace.
A meaningful negotiating process will need to telescope two stages - independence and beyond independence. Yes, beyond independence to inter dependence.
It is sometimes said that to accord international recognition to separate national formations will lead to instability in the world order. The argument 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 . Self determination is not a de stabilising concept. Neither is it a dirty word. Self determination and democracy go hand in hand. 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.
Here, it may be useful to consider the words of Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein at The International Institute for Strategic Studies on 25 January 2001:
"...Let us accept the fact that states have lifecycles similar to those of human beings who created them. ..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...
Humanity is leaving the agrarian age which has shaped societies and states for thousands of years and is moving rapidly through the industrial age to an age which is dominated by services. The states have not even adapted to the industrial society, not to speak to the service society. The states still try to preserve the relics of the agrarian age, gentleman farmers with a strong lobby are protected by subsidies paid by the consumer and the tax payer. To move the state from the agrarian age to the service age peacefully, humanity will have to break the monopoly of the state on its territory and will have to accept the democratic principle and with it the right of self-determination. Many people will reject those changes but do they prefer the alternatives which are wars and revolutions?.."
The struggle for Tamil Eelam is about giving effect to the will of the Tamil people expressed by their leader S.J.V.Chelvanayagam in 1975 and reinforced by the mandate that they gave the Tamil United Liberation Front in 1977, and reiterated in the Manifesto of the Tamil National Alliance in 2001. It is also about reversion of sovereignty - a sovereignty that the Tamil people enjoyed before the British unified the administration of the island of Sri Lanka in 1833. It is a struggle for freedom for which many have willingly given their lives.
The struggle for Tamil Eelam is about the democratic right of the people of Tamil Eelam to govern themselves in their homeland - nothing less and nothing more. The struggle for Tamil Eelam is not about 'modest devolution' or 'significant devolution'. It is not about devolving power from the higher to the lower. It is not about devolution. Period. It is about freedom from alien Sinhala rule. It is not about securing benevolent Sinhala rule. It is about securing a legal framework where two independent and free states may associate with one another in equality, in freedom and in peace.
Peter Senge wrote some years ago in 2004 -
"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. "
Here, it is helpful to remind ourselves that the problem with war is always with the victor, because he (or she) has demonstrated that superior force pays - and, sooner rather than later, there will be those who will rise to show that they have learnt well the lesson that was taught. However, 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. Nor is the struggle for Tamil Eelam an invitation to engage in the politics of the last atrocity - a pursuit which leads to brave speeches, retaliation and more atrocities.
The path forward is not about being clever. We can all be clever. But the path forward is to be become more human. The conflict in the island of Sri Lanka can be simply stated.
The people of Tamil Eelam have struggled for many decades for the establishment of an independent Tamil state - a struggle whose moral legitimacy may be difficult to deny. On the other hand Sri Lanka seeks to secure its existing territorial boundaries. And in this it has today the support of many existing states in the world. Stated in this way, the conflict may appear to be insoluble. Something will have to give. Squaring the circle may seem impossible.
The story about the two professors Ury and Fisher comes to mind. 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 continue to 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.