Sri Lankan State, Global Powers and Tamil Genocide

Posted on 06/01/2012


Sri Lankan State, Global Powers and Tamil Genocide

29 October 2011. Jude Lal Fernando, The Weekend Leader


It is often stated that the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came into effect because of the international pressure that was exerted on the LTTE after 9/11.

But the facts prove otherwise. That is, fundamentally, the peace process was entered into, 2002 CFA/MOU was signed, not because of international pressure, but because of the balance of power between the two parties in conflict. Why do I say this?

How did the 2002 CFA/MOU come about?

The LTTE, as prelude to a possible peace process, declared a unilateral ceasefire as far back as 2000 December. However, this was not reciprocated by the GoSL.
Instead the GoSL, attempted to resolve the issue by asserting Sinhala supremacy while carrying out a new round of military operations in the Tamil region.

However, this was successfully repulsed by the LTTE. Later, the LTTE’s well-coordinated surprise attack on the country’s main airport and air force base in June 2001 (before 9/11!) destroyed a large number of military and civilian aircrafts (without causing a single civilian causality) and brought the country’s economy to a severe crisis.

It is interesting to note that the civilian and military airports are located next to one of Asia’s biggest Free Trade Zones where workers (largely Sinhala women) do not have a right to trade unions, but the foreign and local investors have tax free business transactions as part of the neo-liberal economy.

After the above attack, as the foreign investors began to express their serious concerns about the economic and political stability of the country, the Sri Lankan government entered into a massive political crisis. How?

The neo-liberal programme in Sri Lanka was initiated during the same period as in Chile under Pinochet in the 70s and it was also during the same period that Sri Lankan military forces began its process of modernising itself mainly targeting the emerging Tamil militancy in the north and east of the country (This military, well practised against the Tamils made short work of the Sinhala anti-government militancy during 1987-1989).

During the period from 1977 to 2002, while the Sri Lankan governments continued to build its military might and at the same time expediting its neo-liberal agenda, the LTTE which represented the Tamil national movement had emerged as a formidable politico-military force to the extent of controlling 70% of the Tamil areas and was struggling to build up a functioning civil-administration.

It strived to provide for welfare, health care, education, gender equality, environmental protection, child care, agriculture, fisheries, local industries, art, music, culture, law and order, policing etc.

By mid 2001 not only the Sri Lankan economy has been badly affected (due to accumulating burden of long term military expenditure and the economic crisis brought about by the LTTE’s June 2001 attack on the airport), but also the narrow Sinhala Buddhist nationalist ideology that was necessary to maintain the Sinhala supremacist unitary state structure had been severely challenged by the LTTE’s de facto control of large parts of the north and east where majority of Tamils live.

At the parliamentary elections in December 2001, the war weary Sinhala masses helped the opposition which fought on an anti-war ticket, into power. Subsequently when the LTTE declared another unilateral ceasefire, the newly elected United National Party (UNP) led government reciprocated.

The USA, EU, Japan and Norway (the facilitator) formed the so called ‘Co-chairs’ of the peace process expressing the wide international support for these historic developments in Sri Lanka.

In February, 2002, the CFA/MOU was signed recognising the line of control between the two territories and later peace talks began seeking to establish structures to demilitarise, resettle and rehabilitate the war affected regions.

It is in this sense that I argue this agreement came into effect not because of international pressure, but fundamentally because of local power dynamics. In a way this was a historic moment where, the sovereignty of this island was at its peak, because the British constructed unitary state structure, the real source of the conflict in the island and the hold the West had on Sri Lankan state was at its weakest. The government of Sri Lanka decided to talk with the LTTE as a result of this new situation.

The International Pressure was on the 2002 CFA/MOU!

However, different powers supported the peace process for different reasons. Some, like the USA and the British, wanted breathing space to rearm the Sri Lankan state and to change the military balance in its favour.

In fact, the international pressure started mounting on the LTTE soon after the CFA/MOU was signed. The pressure was on the agreement which had radically challenged the neo-colonial unitary state and its Sinhala Buddhist Ideology.

From the very beginning of the implementation of the agreement the American/British governments with the tacit approval of the Indian government made every attempt to strengthen the power of the Sri Lankan government relative to the LTTE.

This gave the government a signal that it could backtrack on the implementation of the CFA/MOU and gave succour to the ultra-nationalist forces who were opposing the whole agreement.

It is because of this international manipulation that the Sri Lankan security forces got well equipped with the blessing of global powers, and Sinhala Buddhist ultra-nationalist forces were given a moral boost.

As a result, a new government was formed with the support of the ultra-nationalist forces under the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapakse in 2005 who vowed to the Sinhalese that he would ‘unite’ the country by abrogating the CFA/MOU, in other words that he would strengthen the unitary state.

Under pressure from the American and British governments the EU banned the LTTE in 2006.

With the EU, seen by most observers as the strongest supporter of golden rule of the peace process, the accordance of parity of status to both sides of the conflict, breaking this cardinal rule – encouraged the GoSL to renege on peace process and thereby paved the way to re-establish the endangered Sinhala Buddhist unitary state. What happened after that?

Since then until May 2009 the massive military operations that were carried out by the Sri Lankan security forces against the Tamil region have resulted in the first genocidal massacre of the 21st century.

What was in operation was not only the Sri Lankan state’s brutal war against the Tamil resistance, but also the propaganda war of the Sri Lankan state and the global powers – which was operating in full swing.

As the massive fire power was directed towards the Tamil region, the people continued to move deeper into the LTTE-controlled areas as they have been doing throughout the last 30 years.

Contrary to the allegation that the LTTE was using the Tamil people as a human shield, the LTTE was coming between the advancing Sri Lankan army and the Tamil people – providing a shield to the people.

However, as the Sri Lankan military’s fire power continued indiscriminately, targeting civilian settlements, churches, temples, schools and hospitals, the local and global propaganda machine was spreading the news that the LTTE is holding the people as a human shield and that the people should be allowed to cross to the Sri Lankan military controlled areas and the LTTE should surrender.

Few months of propaganda have distorted not only the political truth of 60 years of Tamil resistance but also the 6 years old CFA/MOU? What is the history of Tamil resistance?

The author Dr. Jude Lal Fernando is Research Fellow and Lecturer, Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Source:  The Weekend Leader



Do not let global supporters of genocide look like saviours of Tamils

29 October 2011. Jude Lal Fernando, The Weekend Leader

In the second part of his discourse on Sri Lanka, Sinhala academic Jude Lal Fernando traces the political history of the island nation and dispels the theory that British favoured the Tamils. The first part of this article appeared last week.

The British favoured the Sinhalese!

Tamil resistance was formed against the Sri Lankan unitary state and its Sinhala Buddhist nationalist ideology. This state and ideology is nothing but a British colonial product which was constructed in order to hold Sri Lanka as a strategic location in controlling India during the colonial period.

Its economy was built with the sweat of the Tamil Plantation Workers who had no citizenship rights.

As Indian history was written as a history of conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims, Sri Lankan history was written as a history of conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese, while forging a deep division between the Dravidian and Aryan civilisations.

In that ‘Aryan Sinhalese’ were seen as superior to the ‘Tamil Dravidians’. Contrary to the popular Sinhala Buddhist nationalist rhetoric, it was not the Tamils who were favoured by the British, but the Sinhalese themselves.

The fact that the Tamils had a higher proportion (not a higher number) of state and public sector employment than the Sinhalese until 1956 is used to prove the so-called privileged position that the Tamils supposedly enjoyed under the British.

The truth is that it was oppression and marginalisation faced by the Tamils under the British rule that created the conditions for them to seek and obtain petty bureaucratic jobs like station masters, bank officials and such like work for which English was needed.

The British had no reason to favour the Tamils as the latter were seen to be more inspired and motivated by the Indian freedom movement than the Sinhalese.

The Sinhala Buddhist (Sri Lankan) nationalist leaders never fought for total independence, but wanted a dominion state under the British, whereas the Tamil Youth Congress called for swaraj for whole of Sri Lanka following the inspiration of the Indian freedom movement.

For the British the key was to pull the Sinhalese away from connecting with the Tamils in the north and east and from those in the Plantation Sector and keep them loyal to British interests.

The unitary state structure and the Sinhala Buddhist ideology were the two main factors that provided political stability to Sri Lanka as strategic and satellite state of the British Empire. The political stability in Sri Lanka helped the British to rule India and the Indian Ocean.

It was this state ideology and structure that was rebuilt after the so-called independence in 1948, when Tamils began to discriminated in the issues of citizenship, land, employment, education, development etc.

It was in this context the Tamil resistance began. During the first 30 years after independence it followed a Gandhian type non-violent resistance. All of these were brutally crushed by the state.

Periodic murderous riots against the Tamils got worse to reach a crescendo in 1983. During the 1970s, the Tamil parties passed a resolution calling for a separate state based on the principle of self-determination.

In 1977 election, the Tamil parties which contested the elections on the basis of this resolution won vast majority of seats in the Tamil region.

The right-wing government in the 70s prohibited any party that called for separation and thereby closed the only parliamentary democratic option available for the Tamil parties.

It was at this historical juncture, after nearly three decades of peaceful protests, Tamil militancy emerged.

India which was alarmed by Colombo’s turn towards Israel-Washington Axis supported the Tamil movements in order to contain the Sri Lankan government and keep the valuable Trincomalee harbour from falling into the hands of the USA.

At the end of the Cold War, as India leaned more towards Washington, it also aligned closely with the Sri Lankan government and sent its troops to the Tamil region during 1987-1989.

It was during the same period that the Sri Lankan military repressed the Sinhala youth uprising in the South led by the People’s Liberation Front (JVP). This was caused by socioeconomic grievances of the Sinhala lower middle classes.

However, it has to be noted that the JVP also adopted the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist ideology. The party did not have a support base either with Tamils in the north and east, or the Tamil Plantation Workers in the central hills.

By sending its troops to Sri Lanka, India had to experience in the Tamil region what America went through in Vietnam.

With the withdrawal of the Indian troops, the LTTE emerged as a strong political-military force and eventually formed a de facto state by the time of the CFA/MOU in 2002. That is the history of Tami resistance in short. Let me come back to the 2002 CFA/MOU.

The global powers protect the unitary state!

By the time of the CFA/MOU in 2002, the LTTE de facto state had under its control about 15,000 square kilometres, but by 2009 May this was reduced to 1.5 square kilometres by the heavy bombardment from air, sea and land by the Sri Lankan security forces.

The area that was declared as the so called ‘safety zone’ by the government, where well over 300,000 people lived, was heavily bombarded. Who were these people?

They were the people who decided to live in the LTTE-controlled areas as a result of 60 years of oppression under the British made Sinhala Buddhist state (Sri Lankan state).

The Sri Lankan government made the claim that it was carrying out a humanitarian operation to save the Tamils from the LTTE!

The USA, UK, EU and the Security Council issued statements expressing their concern about the civilians in LTTE territory and requested them to come to the Sri Lankan government controlled areas!

Nobody asked the question, ‘why should they come? It is their land!’

It is clear that the whole objective of the Sri Lankan government and the major international powers was to destroy the achievements of the Tamil resistance that established a balance of power through the 2002 CFA/MOU.

It is a unique and rare moment in recent history where a people’s resistance movement achieved a parity of esteem in local and international politics without the support of any major power in the world and that happens to be in Sri Lanka which has strategic harbours (Trincomalee and Hambantota) in the Indian Ocean.

It is this Ocean which is being mapped by the American establishment with the support of India against the Chinese expansion! Who paid the price for it?

It was not ‘a war without witnesses’!

It is often said that the war in Sri Lanka was a ‘war without witnesses’. It is true in a sense, as all the local and international media and the UN and other agencies were expelled from the region by the Sri Lankan government in October 2008.

When the Israeli forces attacked Gaza the UN agencies did not leave, but in Sri Lanka they left from the Tamil region which is the ‘Gaza of South Asia’.

Nevertheless, this is also untrue, because every diplomat in Colombo knew what was going on.

They had satellite evidence and their own sources of information. The UN very clearly knew the gravity of the situation, but did not want to release the scale and the figures of the massacres.

What should we conclude? Every major power, especially the Western powers, allowed the genocidal massacre to happen and justified it in the name of the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state.

Why do the UN, the American and British governments want to talk about war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka (two years after end of the war) by releasing the UN report on human rights situation in the country?

First of all they want to hide their complicity in the massacre of the Tamils and their responsibility in destroying the 2002 CFA/MOU.

Secondly, the accusation is coming mainly from the US/UK axis as China seems to have outweighed this axis in Sri Lanka by 2011.

Thirdly, these powers depict the Tamils as ‘helpless victims’ and expect these victims to depend on them to look for solutions like in the case of South Sudan and Kosovo.

India’s role in looking for a political solution within a unitary state structure fits into the US/UK axis very well. China too would be happy as long as the unitary state structure is untouched.

For all the powers, whether they are from East or West the most important factor is the unitary state structure which is the tool of domination. All these powers need the hub of the Indian Ocean, that is, Sri Lanka, to have a strong state so that they could control the waves of the Indian Ocean which is important both for commercial and military purposes in the emerging global politics dominated by the USA and China.

These so called, ‘helpless victims’, the Tamils, resisted for 60 years without the support of the imperial powers and emerged as a formidable force in Asian politics counterbalancing the Euro-American, Chinese, Indian and the Sri Lankan unitary state.

As Western imperial powers led by the USA need a strong state in Israel to control the Middle East and a strong Colombian government to manipulate Latin American politics they also need a strong state in Sri Lanka in order to get hold of the Indian Ocean in their strategies against China.

China too has backed the Sri Lankan state in its competition with the Western powers and India.

Unfortunately, following the same steps, progressive countries in Latin America have also backed the Sri Lankan government even though it is the most militarised state in South Asia and the first and the fastest in implementing neo-liberal economic agendas in the region.

Could the progressive governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua be supporters of the Sri Lankan brand of Pinochets (Chile) and José Efraín Ríos Montts (Guatemala)? Could ethics in politics be betrayed for geo-political strategic games?

The massacre of Tamils and the military defeat of their resistance are not necessarily a defeat of the Tamil people and the progressive people in the world.

It is a betrayal and defeat of the principled politics and humanity that the progressive governments in the world claim to uphold.

Conclusion: The power of Hope

It is often said that the magnitude of the loss of lives in genocide is unimaginable. The numbers are staggering and the destruction caused is inexplicable.

The imagination of the unimaginable Tamil genocide is possible only within the reassertion of the Tamil people’s right to nationhood, homeland and self-determination.

The imagination of Tamil genocide should also radically question the separation of ethics from politics in the so-called progressive countries and political parties in the world who are also indirectly responsible for the crime.

Memories of those who were killed or offered their lives for the cause continuously inspire us to recommit ourselves to the goal of justice, freedom and equality by strongly upholding the Tamil struggle not only as a nationalist struggle, but also as an internationalist and human struggle of the 21st century.

The most practical step towards this direction is not to allow the global supporters of the genocide to appear as the saviours of Tamils.

Let us maintain the spirit of independence of the Tamil struggle. (Concluded)

The author Dr. Jude Lal Fernando is Research Fellow and Lecturer, Irish School of Ecumenics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Source:  The Weekend Leader


tellitasis‘ 28-10-2011 03:24 PM

Jude Lal Fernando’s article has many hometruths on the much vexed internal conflict in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately it is a deep seated problem coming down the ages perhaps from the time of the immigrants from India more than two millenia ago. The country’s history has not only been dogged by internal warring between the two main races-the Sinhalas and Tamils- but also by an uninterrupted history of foreign invasions spanning over 450 years by the Portuguese, the Dutch and British until the exit of the last named external colonial power in 1948.

Added to the mixed past had been the influx of new indentured labour from India in the mid 19th century which labour toiled to introduce an invigorated plantation economy especially in the hill districts which was the main plank on which the economy stood as at the time of independence.

Despite the differences that crept into the budding politics of the nascent independent country in the 1930s along lines of race and internal geography a national concensus emerged around the Ceylon National Congress to stick out for independence from Britain, inspired from similar movement in India. Unfortunately the issues of language and ethnicity again cropped up even before the Brtish departed.

In a way Britain by unifying administratively what were three ethno-geograhic peoples in the mid 1830s destroyed the independent internal governance modes by a highly centralised administration from Colombo. Therein lay the seed of the crisis that has dogged the country particularly between the Sinhala and Tamil peoples. The muslims who were later immigrants hundreds of years ago adopted Tamil as their mother tongue living along coastal areas.

The national cataclysm that has since taken place is based partly on history but mostly on the nature of highly divisive politics along lines of language, race and religion to serve the ends of capricious politicians and political parties. In place of a much adulated Singaporean type economically advanced culturally appeased multilingual and multiracial country what has become so obvious since independence to date is a highly divided peoples glossed over under a veil of pretentious claims of a so-called united peoples free of the scars of internal warring supreme! No wonder the country has been ruled under Emergency and PTA laws for more than 4 decades, continuing to reel under the latter law under a near dictatatorial government which can claim legitimacy only because of holding of elections,a purely mechanistic process, sans rule of law, justice and even personal security. Good governance to the citizen as a result is practically non-existent.

During most of the years of independence good governance to all its citizens has been sacrified at the altar of political greed and power of either individuals or political parties built around such individuals. Names are well knwon and need not be cited. It is the abysmal failure of good governance by political parties using violence as a tool of control in power constituting the state entity that created the rise of disenchanted youths, first in the south and then in the north and east with much decadence and bloodshed. The consquences have been disastrous for everybody, most of all for those at the receiving end of state violence .

An even more unfortunate situation for the people of the country has been by other countries which failed to stem the rising tide of internal political failures and unleashing of state violence over time against people but adroitly support the state to stem the results of internal failures chiefly by selling arms and armaments, preaching divisive politics etc etc without an honest appraisal of the causes of such internal failures!

Source:  The Weekend Leader