The University Teacher for Human Rights (UTHR) was formed during the middle of 1988 in response to a growing need felt throughout the country. Its membership comprises university teachers from all universities. The need for such an organisation was thrust upon the university teachers in the course of views and problems aired at meetings of the Federation of University Teachers Associations (FUTA). In time it was decided to form the UTHR as an organisations affiliated to the FUTA, but independent of it. It was natural that several leading figures in the UTHR turned out to be long term activist in the FUTA. It was universally admitted that the role of university teachers in this country in upholding human rights was inadequate, if not unheroic. As much as university teachers in the South could be blamed for their unconcern in the face of the militarisaton of the state (in response to a political problem in the Tamil areas which developed into and insurgency), the university teachers in the north could equally be blamed for their silence on internal developments which culminated in internecine killings. It was recognised by the generality of teachers in the South that the meteoric rise of gross human rights violations in the South was a spill over from the militarisation of the Sri Lankan state(in response to a problem that should have been dealt with politically), and the resulting debasement of the human psyche (see Appendix 2 for statement issued by the UTHR)
Violations of human rights in the Tamil areas have a long history going back to the 1970s. The problem simmered for some time and came to the boil after the racial violence o f 1983. Although university teachers in Jaffna had been familiar with organisations campaigning for human rights, left to themselves it is unlikely that they would have gone back into this work at this point of time. The coming together of university teachers in this country and the effect it had on loosening inhibitions, fears and misconceptions was a key even in forming the UTHR, and the UTHR(Jaffna) as an organisation within the UTHR. That the UTHR(Jaffna) derives strength and inspiration from being part of the national organisations gratefully acknowledged.
The enthusiasm shown by the university teachers in Jaffna towards the UTHR was phenomenal once the idea was explained and had caught on. Because of our long experience, questions that are still unresolved in the South were quickly disposed of here in what was a broad consensus. Some of these questions are: Whether we should confine ourselves to persons related to the university or whether we should go into difficulties of the community at large? Whether we should only deal with violations by the state(s)or whether we should deal with violations independently of their source?
It had been generally held by human rights organisations which have been active in this region in the past that it is mainly violations by the state that are significant. The argument given for this stand is that the state represents the internationally acknowledged law-enforcing authority with resources, material and non-material, far exceeding hat of any other group. It is thus the failure by the state to deal with problems justly and wisely that is the principal source of all the resulting violations. This view, which has much merit in it, is reflected in the practice of many international human rights organisations. In many parts of the world with which these organisations were initially concerned, the state exercised a virtual monopoly in the violation of human rights. This was true in Eastern Europe and in parts of the world where there were no armed rebel movements. We have no doubt hat the work done in this part of the world by human rights organisations in the past has brought relief and hope to countless numbers.
In our own context, this approach had some unintended effects. It came to be thought adequate in many quarters to expose the actions of the Sri Lanakan State internationally, while little was done to build our own strength as people who stood by certain ideals and standards. In the course of the resulting passivity, the people lost the will and the ability to check both undemocratic and homicidal tendencies in militant groups which became increasingly hard to ignore. As terror by the Sri Lankan state claimed thousands of lives, people became increasingly passive, finding some relief in the growing military prowess of militant groups and in international campaigns on their behalf. The logic of accepting that the people were helpless was that it came to be thought wrong, if not risky, to criticise any action undertaken by militant groups. In time there were those who advocated human rights campaigns, directed against the state, as part of the militant struggle. In observance of human rights day, speakers stressed national rights- namely the demand for the Tamil separate state of Eelam- saying little or nothing of violations against individuals and groups and the harm done to the community.
The premise that one must not criticise those who had come forward to give there lives in protecting the population against the Sri Lankan state, brought in further confusion when internecine killings resulted in the course of militant groups vying for dominance. Large numbers of our young men who had come forward to give their lives for us had become fugitives in our own community, and were being hunted and killed without knowing why, or what had hit them. Had we nothing to say? The stated premise meant that one must observe silence and pay homage to the victorious group of the moment, now the sole protector against the Sri Lankan state. Thankfully, such a premise was not universally accepted, and many unarmed civilians gave refuge to fugitives, placing humanity about ideology. The acceptance of such a premise would also have entailed that one must throw away all universal values and pledge oneself to the power of the moment. Thus, when gun power changed hands and the new victors asked What were you doing when we were attacked?, the question, together with the feelings it reflected, had a note of legitimacy.
Again, the more one looks at the problem, one can hardly ignore the fact that the panorama of human misery comprises all shades of people: Tamil, Singhalese, Indian; guerrilla and soldier. Even those who represent states responsible for some detestable acts raise questions which must be listened to with sympathy. Can one shrug way the killings of policemen who were performing a civil functions such as transporting cases between banks, or of soldiers trying to enable passenger trains to run? One cannot but feel some sympathy for a Gurkha or a Sikh soldier who complains that he was told he was coming here to protect the Tamils, and that he has no quarrel with anyone; whereas many people do not seem to lime him, while others are shooting at him.
Daily, young lives are being snuffed out,. The departed person may have been a friend to some, a friend to others and does certainly leave behind a void that cannot be filled. The young life may be that of a civilian, a militant or of a soldier.
We do certainly hold that states, as internationally accountable law enforcing agencies, are principally responsible for an anarchic state of affairs, which devalues life. While we can sympathise with some of heir resentments, we could also ask them to go beyond these. Do their subsequent actions make life pleasanter for themselves or for others? No resentment can excuse a resort to depravity. Behind the impossible tasks faced by the Indian soldier is a history of unprincipled cynicism that governed mutual relations between the Indian and Sri Lankan states and the militant groups. There is also a history of conflicting expectations, which when disappointed led to greater instability. The logic of the Sri Lankan states military approach to the Tamil problem was that in the end all Tamils were classed with armed rebels, whose extermination was desired, There is little doubt that, but for international concern, the Sri Lankan government showed few inhibitions against practicing genocide.
We have documented a number of instances where the IPKF has shown a blind preference for a military approach in dealing with day to day problems at the cost of debasing politics. Even if one justifies inhumane practices on pragmatic grounds, the recourse of events suggest a heavy political price and displaced the Sri Lankan forces, the same methods are still being applied with much the same effects.
Our experience has also taught us that the community must develop its ability to stand up for values it hold s dear, which alone can guarantee its dignity. This raises certain matters specific to our own situation, consequent to the marginalizing of all civilian political groups. We have a situation where the gun approach to problems has become the r rule rather than the exception and there is no political impetus to question it. Thus anyone who wishes to question this tendency stands in isolation and cannot identify with any significant political grouping. This is an additional reason why university teachers have been cast into the role of questioning violations by non-state organisations. Perhaps in our context, it is only a human rights group that can question this tendency which has how assumed the proportions of an institution.
In presenting this report, ewe have avoided emphasis on numbers and have tried to show the human significance of each even. We have presented reports of violations, which came to our attention with out bias. These associated with the university. Accuracy has been ensured, within reasonable limits.
Primarily, we hope that by trying to understand what is happening to this society and to themselves in turn, those responsible for these violations will change their methods and themselves, for the better. In addition, with the world so interlinked, no event is an isolated event. What happens in this so city has a close relation with its interaction with the outside world. By trying to hide what our society really is, we can only deceive ourselves. While exposing what is being done to us, we are also giving and airing to the truth about ourselves. This we hope will challenge us to change for the better.[Top]
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