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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2553

Befriending Sri Lanka Should Be India's Concern

Dr. Subramanian Swamy | in Oped

Without UNSC backing by way of a Resolution, an UNHRC Resolution is not even worth the paper on which it is written. Hence the British PM’s threat at CHOGM to enforcehuman rights justice by external intervention is laughable.

The world witnessed a historic event in May 2009, when in a final Sri Lankan military assault, the treacherous and murderous terrorist outfit Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was decimated. Its chief V Prabhakaran and his main associates were killed on May 19, 2009.

The Sri Lankan President successfully led his nation to bring the 29-year-long sordid affair of terrorism in the island to a decisive end by military means. Much has improved in Sri Lanka since the historic May 19, 2009. Coming to terms with Prabhakaran’s death, the rump LTTE, surviving in the island, laid down their arms. Subsequently many of them have been rehabilitated in the mainstream.

Today, Tamil families living in Sri Lanka no more fear the forced recruitment of their children by the LTTE. The extortion of funds from civilians to finance terrorist operations has also ended. Normalcy has returned in daily life after three decades.

The Sri Lankan people gave the President a huge mandate in the subsequently held general elections. With the war victor halo and the public mandate, it is clear that President Mahinda Rajapaksa is crucially positioned to take necessary and effective steps to solve the remaining pending and pressing issue — a healthy Sinhala-Tamil reconciliation — by finding a mutually acceptable way to heal the residual Sinhala-Tamil divide, and bring about a meeting of minds.

Decades of brutal insurgency have polarized communities and undermined institutions that guarantee civilian rights.

The immediate task before President Rajapaksa is to accomplish the rehabilitation of the remaining victims of the insurgency, to provide solace to the bereaved families whose kin were killed in the crossfire, the displaced and the injured. However, the more fundamental long-term challenge for Sri Lanka is to provide succour to those who are scarred mentally and emotionally by the brutalities and are uncertain about their place in Sri Lanka’s future.

The Sri Lankan Tamils are facing the delicate situation. The war conducted by the Sri Lankan armed forces against a sinister terrorist organisation had — due to the extremist Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu and the violent authoritarianism of the LTTE demanding that it be recognised as the sole representative of the Tamils — more or less polarised into a conflict between the Sinhala and the Tamil communities. This was confounded by the political miscalculations of some short-sighted leaders on both sides of the Palk Straits over the last three decades.

The LTTE, in fact, had led that polarisation, and Tamil leadership fell into the quicksand created by it. They were egged on across the Palk Strait by selfish leaders in Tamil Nadu, many of whom were being financed by the LTTE.

Today in 2013, more than four years later, we are faced with two conflicting imperatives —
First, there is a need for the Sri Lankan government to treat and co-opt the Tamils in national endeavours as a linguist (not ethnic) minority within the framework of a quasi-unitary Constitution.

Second, to heal the wounds of the mind and body of the Sri Lankans, who are victims of both the LTTE terrorism and the collateral human rights damage implicit in an anti-insurgency and anti-terrorist military action. Such damage has happened in many countries and even in a traditional war such the Allies attack on Germany and the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II.

The first imperative requires forgetting the past injustices, human rights violations, and horrors of armed conflict in order to move forward, while the second imperative needs remembering the past and bringing the offenders of gross human rights violations to book to serve as a deterrent for the future.

The contradiction in the goals implicit in the two issues is difficult to resolve in Sri Lanka. It was easier in the aftermath of a traditional war, like that in 1945, when the Nuremberg Trials took place, while reconstruction of Europe commenced simultaneously. In 1945, the winners and losers were identifiable as national identities, and victor-imposed solutions had the moral sanction against a defeated opponent led by a depraved leadership.

In Sri Lanka, the two issues are almost impossibly entangled because the human rights violations have been committed in a morally just military campaign of the Sri Lankan Sinhala-dominated army of a democratically elected Government against the most brutal and well-organised terrorism of the Tamil Tigers, and whose outfit was financed by a narcotics and money laundering international network.

In such a milieu, there are no clear winners and losers. Hence, a UN sponsored and enforced solution or a Nuremburg Trial-type resolution of the second issue is so counter-productive that it could lay the foundation for the emergence of the same problem that existed pre-2009 but with the possibility of deepening and festering the wounds of the insurgency war.

Hence, in my view, the UNHRC session not be devoted to ensuring the passage of a censuring and blistering Resolution which cannot be enforced in Sri Lanka, in view of the clear division in the veto-holding members of the UN Security Council.

Without UNSC backing by way of a Resolution, an UNHRC Resolution is not even worth the paper on which it is written. Hence the British PM’s threat at CHOGM to enforce human rights justice by external intervention is laughable.

Instead, I suggest the mover of the Resolution at next March UNHCR session — the United States, India and China as members — should engage Sri Lanka and persuade the leadership to secure a commitment for internationally prevalent and accepted devolution of the Sri Lankan Constitution. And the devolution should be consistent with the cultural ethos of the Sri Lankan mainstream.

While the concept of rigid federal autonomy, in my view, is alien to the Hindu-Buddhist cultural ethos of the majority of the people of the South Asian nations, plurality is the foundation of the culture of the sub-continent. This is why the SAARC nations have been by and large democratic and held Constitutional mandated periodic elections and peaceful transfer of power.

Hence, a future government of India should take the initiative, and put forward a Resolution before the UN Human Rights Commission, to begin bilateral discussion with Sri Lanka, and support back-channel efforts to work out a mutually acceptable Resolution.

Proposal for reconciliation

There are many proposals on the desk of the Sri Lankan President, so I see little point in giving another fully structured proposal. Rather I shall concentrate here on certain fundamentals of any viable and mutually acceptable reconciliation between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority, the core of which is devolution of powers under the Constitution:

First, no proposal for reconciliation can be pushed for acceptance in Sri Lanka from abroad, whether from India, or United Nations or from any European busybody. The proposal must emerge indigenously in Sri Lanka after full democratic consultations with the stakeholders, none of whom shall have a veto, and adopted by the Sri Lanka Parliament by way of a resolution or, if necessary, by a Constitutional amendment.

Second, the final reconciliation proposal should be based on the draft prepared by the Joint Select Committee of the Sri Lankan Parliament; so far the Tamil National Alliance has been boycotting. Now that a former Supreme Court Judge has been elected by a huge mandate as the CM of Northern Province, it should be possible for TNA to enter the Parliamentary process.

Third, the Sri Lanka’s Constitution may provide for provinces but yet remains Unitary in character in the sense that the Parliament will have power under the Constitution to dismiss and take over the administration of a State for specified contingencies such as a state being unable to enforce the relevant provisions of the Constitution.

Fourth, Sri Lanka by a Constitutional Amendment become a Union of States, with exclusive and concurrent power delegated under the Constitution for the Union and the States to exercise and accordingly, a Union, Concurrent, and State Lists will be incorporated in the Constitution enumerating the subjects under the three categories.

Fifth, the Chief Minister as Head of the state government should have primary responsibility to maintain public order through a Central Reserve Police and a contingent of the Armed Forces stationed in a special conclave in the state to intervene for the maintenance of public order whenever the President determines with ex-post facto approval of the Parliament that a situation has arisen that requires such an intervention.

Sixth, the Parliament enact an amendment to the Constitution to empower the Union to appoint Special District Magistrates whenever necessary and whose power will supersede the orders issued in exercise of State Magistrates power to maintain public order.

(The writer is a BJP leader and former Cabinet minister and this Open Ed appeared in Pioneerr of 23 November 2013

- Asian Tribune -

Dr. Subramanian Swamy
diconary view
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