Tamil Right to Self-Determination

Posted on 06/01/2012

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Many Tamils take the view that today the Tamil Eelam nation exists. It exists because it is rooted in the direct personal feelings and the material interests of large sections of the Tamil people,

 

The Tamil population in the North and East of the island are united by an ancient heritagea 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 theright 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 lawunder the concept of reversion of sovereignty.


 Conflict Resolution

The struggle for Tamil Eelam is a national question and it is therefore not a matter for surprise that it has become increasinglyan inter-national questionEfforts 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 box –

Totally
Independent
Commonwealth
of Independent
States
Federation
like
Canada
Federation
like US
Significant
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
Regional
Development
Councils
Complete
Unitary
State









British
Commonwealth
of Nations
Confederation
like
Switzerland
Federation
like India
Modest
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
Very moderate
Devolution
like UK

The error is to place ‘totally independent’ and ‘complete unitary state’ at the two ends of the continuum, with associations ofindependent states, such as the British Commonwealth and the European Union, somewhere in between

A figurative representation more in accord with reality will be:

– outside the box –

– the box –

Commonwealth of Independent States
European Union
(Totally)
Independent
Federation
like
Canada
Federation
like US
Significant
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
Regional
Development
Councils
Complete
Unitary
State









British
Commonwealth
of Nations
Confederation
like
Switzerland
Federation
like India
Modest
Devolution
to Provincial
Councils
Very moderate
Devolution
like UK

meaningful negotiating process will need to address the question of working out a legal framework for two free and independent peoples 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 wordSelf 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-determinationthreaten 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.

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 i 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 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 free peoples may associate with one another in equality, in freedom and in peace.  

The demand for Tamil Eelam is not negotiable. But an independent Tamil Eelam will and indeed, must, negotiate. And here, there will be everything to negotiate about. There is a need to telescope two processes – the emergence of an independent Tamil Eelam and the emergence of a free, inter dependent association of Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka. The European Union, structured albeit after two world wars,  stands as an example of what the Tamil people and Sinhala people in the island of Sri Lanka may be able to achieve -but we will need to dig deep to find common ground.

 

……………………………….
Source: TamilNation.org

Posted in: Tamil