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The legitimacy of the armed struggle of the Tamil

The legitimacy of the armed struggle of the Tamil people

Democracy may mean acceding to the rule of the majority,
but democracy also means governments by discussion and
persuasion. It is the belief that the minority of today may
become the majority of tomorrow that ensures the stability
of a functioning democracy. The practice of democracy in
Sri Lanka within the confines of a unitary state served to
perpetuate the oppressive rule of a permanent Sinhala

It was a permanent Sinhala majority, which through a series of
legislative and administrative acts, ranging from
disenfranchisement, and standardisation of University admissions,
to discriminatory language and employment policies, and state
sponsored colonisation of the homelands of the Tamil people,
sough to establish its hegemony over people of Tamil Eelam.

These legislative and administrative acts were reinforced from
time to time with physical attacks on the Tamil people with intent
to terrorise and intimidate them into submission. It was a course
of conduct which led eventually to rise of Tamil militancy in the
mid 1970s with, initially, sporadic acts of violence.

The militancy
was met with wide ranging retaliatory attacks on increasingly
large sections of the Tamil people with intent, once again to
subjugate them. 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’. In
1980s and thereafter, there were random killings of Tamils by
the state security forces and Tamil hostages were taken by the
state when ‘suspects’ were not found.

The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

“Whereas it is essential if man is not compelled as a
last resort to rebellion against tyranny and
oppression, that human rights should be protected
by the rule of law.”

The rise of the armed struggle of the Tamil people constituted the
Tamil rebellion against a continuing Sinhala oppression over a
period of several decades. The gross consistent and continuing
violations of the human rights of the Tamil people have been well
documented by innumerable reports of human rights
organisations as well as of independent observers of the Sri
Lankan scene.

Walter Schwarz commented in the Minority Rights Group
Report on Tamils of Sri Lanka, 1983

“…The makings of an embattled freedom movement
now seem assembled: martyrs, prisoners and a
pitiful mass of refugees. Talk of ‘Biafra’ which had
sounded misplaced in 1975, seemed less unreal a
few years later… As this report goes to press in
September 1983, the general outlook for human
rights in Sri Lanka is not promising.

The present
conflict has transcended the special consideration
of minority rights and has reached the point where
the basic human rights of the Tamil community – the
rights to life and property, freedom of speech and
self expression and freedom from arbitrary arrest
have in fact and in law been subject to gross and
continued violations.

The two communities are
mow polarised and continued repression coupled
with economic stagnation can only produce
stronger demands from the embattled minority,
which unless there is a change in direction by the
central government, will result in a stronger
Sinhalese backlash and the possibility of outright
civil war”.

David Selbourne remarked in July 1984:

“The crimes committed by the Sri Lankan state
against the Tamil minority – against its physical
security, citizenship rights, and political
representation -are of growing gravity.. Report
after report by impartial bodies – By Amnesty
International, By the International Commission of
jurists, By parliamentary delegates from the West
by journalists and scholars – have set out clearly the
scale of growing degeneration of the political and
physical well being of the Tamil minority in Sri
Lanka… Their cause represents the very essence of
the cause of human rights and justice; and to deny
it, debases and reduces us all”.

A Working Group chaired by Goran Backstrand, of the Swedish
Red Cross at the Second Consultation on Ethnic Violence,
Development and Human Rights, Netherlands, in February 1985

“There was a general consensus that within Sri
Lanka today, the Tamils do not have the protection
of the rule of law, that the Sri Lankan government
presents itself as a democracy in crisis, and that
neither the government, nor its friends abroad,
appreciate the serious inroads on democracy which
have been made by the legislative, administrative,
and military measures which are being taken.

extreme measures which are currently being
adopted by the government inevitably provoke
extreme reactions from the other side… The normal
life of the (Tamil) population of the North has been
seriously affected. People either have great
difficulty or find it completely impossible to continue
with their employment and there is a severe
shortage of food and basic necessities Many Tamils
are daily fleeing across the Palk Straits to Southern
India. The continuing colonisation of Tamil areas
with Sinhalese settlers is exacerbating the
situation… and the country is on the brink of civil

Senator A.L.Missen, Chairman, Australian Parliamentary Group
of Amnesty International, expressed his growing concern in
March 1986:

“Some 6000 Tamils have been killed altogether in
the last few years… These events are not
accidental. It can be seen that they are the result of
a deliberate policy on the part of the Sri Lankan
government… Democracy in Sri Lanka does not
exist in any real sense. The democracy of Sri Lanka
has been described in the following terms, terms
which are a fair and accurate description: ‘The
reluctance to hold general elections, the muzzling of
the opposition press, the continued reliance on
extraordinary powers unknown to a free
democracy, arbitrary detention without access to
lawyers or relations, torture of detainees on a
systematic basis , the intimidation of the judiciary by
the executive, the disenfranchisement of the
opposition, an executive President who holds
undated letters of resignation from members of the
legislature, an elected President who publicly
declares his lack of care for the lives or opinion of a
section of his electorate, and the continued
subjugation of the Tamil people by a permanent
Sinhala majority, within the confines of an unitary
constitutional frame, constitute the reality of
‘democracy’, Sri Lankan style.”

The reports speak for themselves and that which emerges is a
chilling pattern of a forty year genocide attack on the Tamil
people intended to subjugate them within an unitary Sinhala
Buddhist state.

Karen Parker of the Non Governmental Human Rights
Organisation, International Educational Development put it
succinctly at the 42nd Sessions of UN Sub Commission on the
Protection of Minorities.

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states
that all persons, including members of minority
groups, have the right to the full realisation of their
human rights and to an international order in which
their rights can be realised.

The Sri Lanka situation has shown that for the past
forty years, the Sinhala controlled government has
been unwilling and unable to promote and protect
the human rights of the Tamil population, and the
Tamil population has accordingly lost all confidence
in any present or future willingness or ability of the
Sinhala majority to do so. Are people in this
situation required to settle for less than their full
rights. Can the international community impose on a
people a forced marriage they no longer want and
in which they can clearly demonstrate they have
been Abused?… We consider that in the case of Sri
Lanka, 40 years is clearly enough for any group to
wait for their human rights.”

The inhabitants of the Northeast of the island of Sri Lanka
constitute a ‘people’ and are thereby entitled to the right of self
determination. Since it has been recognised that the exercise of
this right is not designed to dominate others but rather to escape
domination by others, the international community, through the
General Assembly Resolutions on Friendly Relations Among
States (Resolution 2625) and on Definition of Aggression (act 7)
and 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva convention of
1949 (Act 1 C4), declared that as a last resort armed struggle
can be used as a method of exercising the right of self
determination. The Sri Lankan governments use of force in
denying the Tamil’s right to self determination is in violation of
Articles 1 (2), 1 (3), 2 (4) and 56 of the United Nations Charter.

The Tamil people have been subjected to brutal and crude
personal psychological and institutional violence by the Sri Lanka
government and its agencies. The Sri Lanka Government has
built up a massive 70,000 member armed force constituted
exclusively of Sinhalese and allocated immense funds for its
support. The Tamils have resorted to arms to defend themselves
and the war being waged by the Liberation Tigers is a defensive
war. Unlike the measures adopted by the Sri Lankan
government, this struggle is not aimed at domination; instead it
serves to protect the sovereign identity of the Tamil people.

The armed struggle of the Tamil people is both just and lawful
because the rule of law for the Tamil people had ceased to exist;
because the Government of Sri Lanka had become a racist
government; and because the oppressed people of that racist
government were compelled to resort to arms to defend
themselves against that oppression.

Based on reason and international law and coupled with the
absence of any internal or external machinery to realise the Tamil
right to self determination, the Tamils resistance evolved from
peaceful agitation to armed struggle. As Professor Reisman of
the Yale Law School states, “insistence on non violence and
deference to all established in a … system with many injustices
can be tantamount to confirmation and reinforcement of these
injustices. In some circumstances violence may be the last
appeal.. of a group.. for some measure of human dignity.

The international community’s recognition of a “People’s” right to
defend themselves and to use force to secure their legitimate
political objectives is reinforced by the contemporary political
discourse. The formation of armed forces by the Ukraine,
Moldavia; Georgia and Armenia and the European Community’s
Peace plan for Yugoslavia’s current crisis are all proof of the
above mentioned proposition.

The legitimacy of the armed conflict of the people of Tamil Eelam
was afforded open international recognition when the combatants
in the armed conflict, participated in talks with a specially
appointed Minister of the government of Sri Lanka at meetings
convened by the Indian Government at Thimphu in 1985. It was
a legitimacy which was reinforced in February 1987, by the
United Nations Commission on Human Right when it adopted a
resolution on Sri Lanka in which the armed conflict was
discussed in terms of humanitarian law. Again, it was a legitimacy
which the Indo Sri Lankan Agreement signed by the Prime
Minister of India and the President of Sri Lanka in July 1987,
recognised when it described the Tamil militant movement as
‘combatants’ in an armed conflict. Finally, in 1989/90, the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam engaged in direct talks with the
government of Sri Lanka and were accorded recognition as

The statement made on behalf of the joint Front of Tamil
Liberation Organisations at the Thimphu Talks in 1985 serves to
underline the just and lawful nature of the struggle of the Tamil

“We are a liberation movement which was
compelled to resort to the force of arms because all
force of reason had failed to convince the
successive Sri Lankan government in the past.
Further under conditions of national oppression and
the intensification of state terrorism and genocide
against our people, the demand for a separate state
become the only logical expression of the
oppressed Tamil people. Our armed struggle is the
manifestation of that logical expression.”

The future of that lawful armed struggle clearly falls to be
determined in the context of the security of the Tamil people and
their right to self determination and these are matters for
resolution across a negotiating table, not in vacuum.

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