This report makes its appearance at a time when we approach the 10th anniversary of the fateful July of 1983. The current phase of the war is over 2 1/2 years old. The Tamils have no readily identifiable political leadership. Those who promote the LTTE as political leaders do not also feel an obligation to raise issues with them nor demonstrate that they could be influenced to give priority to the welfare of their people. The government's military enterprise is widely talked of as being at a dead end. The political approach based on the parliamentary select committee was handled in the worst possible manner. Instead of a consensus the Tamil parties found themselves bull-dozed towards giving up perceived gains of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord for what a Tamil SLFP MP described as a `paper rose'. Instead of giving the Tamils the necessary confidence and apply pressure on the LTTE, it tended to strengthen the only plank of Tamil chauvinist politics - that the Sinhalese cannot be trusted. The navy's act of piracy in the Jaffna Lagoon which left more than 35 dead or missing, reinforced some of the worst fears. It must be said here that the Tigers too must be blamed for not allowing the development of any structure to safeguard the interests of civilian travellers and forcing civilians to travel under contrivedly provocative conditions. Even 1O days after the incident the government was `unable to verify the facts', although several of the dead were leading government officials and the informant was the government agent, Killinochchi. Unable to give political leadership, it was once more covering up for the forces. If the hard facts, such as the navy hacking civilians with knives and robbing jewellery from the victims are admitted, an inquiry would be unavoidable.
Still, one need not despair of history standing still or repeating itself. Every positive action leaves its mark. We have no doubt that although we may be far from realising the full potential of an international presence,including the ICRC,UNHCR,MSF and others, such a presence has had a benevolent influence. Even with political paralysis at the top, international organisations working closely with well motivated military leadership at local level can greatly improve the general situation in the area. It gives the people greater freedom to articulate their interests, which in turn constrains the Tigers towards greater accountability. Such an outcome is not a victory or a defeat for either side, but a victory for humanity. It is such an outcome that mature leadership ought to aim at, now that we know that talk of a military decision is futile. This is not theory, but is based on recent benign developments in some areas, as isolated and unnoticed as they may be. [See Ch.5]
We have from the beginning (the IPKF days) paid far greater importance to such developments, and have urged action in this direction. Giving precedence to the well-being and dignity of ordinary people,we needed to disagree strongly with Tamil nationalists of various shades for whom the Tamil people did not exist. We increasingly felt that our approach of checking human rights violations by goverment forces while exposing the inhuman depravity of the dominant Tamil nationalist politics,is, in practical terms, the right one. Checking the violations of government forces in the East and bringing greater accountability to the people will go a long way to make it very costly for the Tigers to massacre Muslims and Sinhalese. This would, in both the short term and the long term, be the practical way forward.
Another aspect where time has thankfully not stood still is that there is some visible openness in the Southern press in trying to understand what is happening to the Tamil people. There is no total blackout in the independent English press on human rights violations by the forces.Inspite of this, whenever questions of accomodating the minorities arise, undue prominence is given in these papers to individuals with no sense of history. They are unable to grasp the crucial reality of the development of the Sri Lankan state since independence as an essentially Sinhalese state, and the consequent alienation of the minorities. Much credit for the positive developments in reporting should go to some of the smaller Sinhalese papers. Unfortunately there is little openness in the Tamil press, even in some earmarked for that purpose, in examining the legacy of Tamil nationalist politics, and particularly the murder and alienation of Muslims.
A number of incidents involving LTTE massacres of Muslims have taken place since the publication of Report No.9, the last being on 15th October 1992. In this instance three villages in the Polonnaruwa District populated almost exclusively by Muslims were attacked resulting in 16O civilian deaths. This followed an earlier attack in the same district the previous May. We refer the reader to reports published by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo. We will cover aspects of these in coming reports.
For the present, high level talks in Colombo may be of little consequence. Where therefore the people are not involved and the electoral map remains fluid, there is little substance in the promises of politicians and `betrayals' will remain the order of the day. With unpromising leadership the deep paralysis brought about by decades of Sinhalese and Tamil chauvinism will take long to thaw. Hence the role of international and non-governmental organisations assumes a disproportionate importance. They must be vigilant against slipping into some kind of paralisis. It is finally a climate of opinion and a desire to act among the people that would move the politicians.
In this report we once more highlight the issue of Tamil political prisoners. We have repeatedly raised the matter involving the lives of about 4OOO persons which hang in the balance. Commendable work in exposing this phenomenon has been done by Amnesty International and Article 19, and representations have been repeatedly made to the LTTE. Even though this information reached a limited circle, the work mentioned has had a positive influence over the LTTE's thinking on prisoners. Some of the prisoners have been allowed visits by relatives. The LTTE has been trying to improve its image on that score by giving publicity to token releases of prisoners. Much more will be accomplished if concerted publicity is given to the matter and the politics behind it is questioned. If not those in Jaffna and elsewhere trying to raise the matter will continue to face considerable danger. Major news organisations appear to view the matter with some incredulity and are not geared to what would require a greater commitment to human rights rather than routine journalism. That people in Jaffna do not talk about prisoners seems an adequate reason for ignoring the existence of this phenomenon. Will this too be exposed when it is too late for the victims, like the horrors of Nazi concentration camps? This may be unfair to journalists when issues of this kind and the fate of Muslims somtimes come low in the attentions of major humanitarian and religious institutions.
The government's poor showing in the desire for a settlement and continuing human rights violations by its forces, appear to have persuaded more expatriates to render `negative' support for the Tigers. These are often persons who would privately admit that the Tigers are `brutal' and `fascist, but also that if the Tigers are weakened now the Tamil people will be `finished'. Indeed while we write this preface,as though to emphasise their point, news came in of 9 civilians killed in Siththankeni, Jaffna, as the result of the airforce bombing a civilian area. We have argued throughout that to say that the Tigers have in any sense protected the Tamils is to take a very blinkered view of events. The only evidence, starting from events in June 199O upto the massacre at Kilaly is that the Tigers deliberately endangered civilians for their own benefit, in the face of brutal state forces.
But time has not stood still and there is another stark ground reality. The population of the North-East has declined from about 1.7 million in 1987 to about O.9 million today. (5.1 inside). Disease and malnutrition are rife. In 1987 when bombing and shelling in Jaffna was more murderous, people did not flee in such large numbers. Why this situation today? Why such deep rooted disillusionment about our future? Why much of our best potential in underground prisons and foreign climes? What sort of liberation politics is this that tries to excel the government in its oppressiveness?
Even the present population of the North can only decline. Most people have their only capital in terms of the one house giving a roof over their head. They are not allowed to sell this and use the money to move to Colombo. If they leave they lose their house to the Tigers. Thanks to the dedication of individual teachers and university dons, the system of education remains reasonably good at least for the present. Under these conditions it makes practical sense for those with children to let them complete their education in Jaffna, rather than being destitute in Colombo. The Tiger pass system meant to keep people in the North is in many ways superfluous,except to keep children, who are regarded as potential recruits, a captive population. Again a very large number have decided that once their children complete higher education, and are old enough to be on their feet in Colombo or abroad, they will follow them - house or no house. If peace does not reeturn, it is the Mosquito rather than the Tiger that will be master of the land. This is hard reality.
If the government is determined to destroy the Tamils in the
North-East, they do not need to waste money on new weapons and aircraft. The president has only to talk peace, do nothing about it, and ask the army to stay put. Tiger politics will do the rest.
It is important that the Tamils see this for themselves. We have argued that a politics relying on destructive strengths will only destroy the people. The survival of the people of the North-East surely needs a more positive strategy. Our approach of putting human rights first is based on experience and has been sufficiently vindicated. [Top]
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