Sri Lanka: Account for Wartime Disappearances

The Sri Lankan government should account for everyone who was taken into custody at the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long armed conflict in May 2009 and are feared to have been “disappeared,” Human Rights Watch said today. Despite numerous requests from families for information about their relatives, the authorities do not appear to have conducted any serious investigations, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch said unresolved enforced disappearances should be part of the mandate of a proposed United Nations investigation into laws-of-war violations by both government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A Panel of Experts appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on steps for ensuring accountability for laws-of-war violations in Sri Lanka is expected to hand over its report later in April 2011.

Sri Lanka Rules out Defence Agreement with Pakistan

Sri Lanka has firmly ruled out any defence cooperation pact with Pakistan although they maintained very strong military ties during the height of the ethnic war in the country.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the powerful defence secretary, said the government did not discuss the possibility of a Defence Cooperation Agreement (DCA) during the recent four-day visit by Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

`President Mahinda Rajapakse hadn`t discussed any defence-related proposal with his Pakistani counterpart,` the privately-run Island newspaper today quoted the Defence Secretary, who is also the president`s younger brother.

The Island said the defence secretary dismissed what he called unsubstantiated media reports on a post-war DCA between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

However, a joint statement issued by Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the end of Zardari`s visit last month said they had agreed to promote a dialogue on, among other things, defence and security issues.

Zardari, who held closed-door talks with President Rajapakse, discussed increasing trade and defence cooperation, the president`s office said on November 28.

It gave no details of the defence cooperation, but Pakistan was a main supplier of arms and ammunition when government forces were locked in combat with Tamil Tiger rebels.
Pakistan provided heavy weapons that were used to crush the Tamil Tigers in May last year which brought an end to their 37-year violent struggle for a Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.

Gotabhatya told the Sri Lankan daily that his brother`s government had not entered into any DCA during the fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), though the country acquired arms, ammunition and equipment from several countries, including Pakistan.

Spanish-Thai forgery probe reveals new links to LTTE

Spanish and Thai police investigating a gang that supplied forged passports to al-Qaeda linked groups have found new evidence of links to Sri Lanka’s defeated Tamil Tiger rebels, Spanish authorities said today.

Spanish and Thai police are analysing material seized late on Tuesday in a joint operation in which 10 people -eight Pakistanis, a Nigerian and a Thai national – were arrested in the two countries, Spain’s interior ministry said in a statement.

The 10 are suspected of providing forged passports to organisations linked to Al-Qaeda, including the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of plotting the attacks in Mumbai that killed at least 166 people in November 2008, as well as to the Tamil Tigers.

Police seized forged passports, immigration documents, faked rubber stamps, computers, mobile phones, passport photos, British driving licences and sophisticated counterfeiting equipment in the swoop named Operation Kampai.

Spanish police experts “have travelled to Thailand and are working with Thailand’s department of special investigations to analyse the numerous documents seized from the cell,” the interior ministry said Friday.

“An initial examination of photographs seized has turned up evidence of the membership of some members of the terrorist organisation the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.”

The LTTE “has perpetrated bloody attacks, many of them by suicides, such as that which killed the former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

“Many of its members were based in Western countries, where they obtained financial assistance for the organisation through extortion and drug trafficking,” it said.

The LTTE fought a violent 37-year campaign for an independent Tamil homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka before being crushed by government forces last year.

Thai police said yesterday that the three arrested in Thailand – two Pakistani men and a Thai woman – were part of criminal networks tied to “many terrorist attacks”.

These included the 2004 Madrid bombings, when blasts on packed commuter trains in a city suburb killed 191 people and wounded 1,841 others. However, Spanish authorities have not confirmed any such link to those arrested.

Spanish police detained seven suspects – six Pakistanis and a Nigerian – in the northeastern city of Barcelona during the operation.

Sri Lanka Frost Over Sri Lanka Live

An international aid group has suspended its aid operations in Sri Lanka due to restrictions placed on it by the government.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told Al Jazeera on Wednesday, a day after Sri Lanka’s government declared victory over the Tamil Tigers, that “additional restrictions” meant it had no choice but to halt its activities.

About 265,000 ethnic Tamils were displaced in the military’s recent offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, and many of them have been sent to overcrowded camps in the country’s north.

“Since last weekend there have been additional restrictions imposed on aid organisations, including ICRC,” Paul Castella, the head of the group’s Sri Lanka operations, said.

“The authorities have said that because of security they had to restrict access to certain areas.

“What is the take of these civilians and what the conditions are we don’t know because we are not granted access to the area.”

SLUNA’s Media Release on Bruce Fein’s comments

Bruce Fein labours to Justify contractual payments of $30,000 each month from the Tamil Tiger Terrorist Front called the Tamils For Justice

Bruce Fein a Harvard Graduate and a Reagan era Deputy Attorney General of Justice attached to The Lichfield Group who in an article published in the Washington Times dated February 3, 2004 fully endorsed the banning of terrorists including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers. He subsequently offered his services effective October 1, 2006 to lobby on behalf of the Friends of Sri Lanka to have the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran brought before an appropriate tribunal for war crimes, and to bring criminal charges against supporters and sympathisers of the LTTE in the US Courts amongst other services at a fee of $25,000 per month. He renewed his offer in February 2007 to defend the listing of the LTTE for a fee of $40,000.

Strangely, the same Bruce Fein offers his services in 2008 to a front organization of the LTTE called the Tamils For Justice to seek de-proscription of the LTTE and win US support for establishment of a separate Tamil State in the north and east of Sri Lanka, this time seeking $30,000 each month for a contractual term of nine months. He certainly appears to know that the Tamil Tiger coffers are stacked with illicitly earned green backs from trading in narcotics, smuggling of humans, extortion, credit card fraud, and every conceivable crime, and are desperately in need of whitewashing or laundering of their dirt in the western capitals to stall the fast receding boundaries of their usurped territory in Sri Lanka.

Despite his highly acknowledged credentials as a lawyer, what we saw as mere laymen was that Bruce Fein’s strategy is partial disclosure of events and historical data that he highlights to support his case, with his very subtle spin aimed at misleading the reader or listener into reaching conclusions that are far removed from the truth. In other words, he is not truthful and does not state facts as they are, but distorts the real position to mislead persons in the US who are far removed from the history, politics and everyday issues of Sri Lanka. It is not surprising to understand that Americans know little of the outside world and especially a tiny island such as Sri Lanka. In fact, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation program called “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” found that a good proportion of US citizens did not know that their neighbour Canada was an independent country. Bruce certainly lacks knowledge of Sri Lanka, and obviously puts out the doctored separatist propaganda provided by the LTTE front, the Tamils For Justice group that he represents.

Having read his article in the Washington Times of January 29, 2008 and his subsequent address at the Brookings Institute, it is necessary to bring out some of the inaccurate statements that he relies on to make a case for de-proscription of the LTTE and break up Sri Lanka into two separate states to be dominated by the Tamils and Sinhalese instead of the multi-ethnic whole:

    1. Bruce Fein claims that the Sinhalese denied citizenship and disenfranchised a million Tamils immediately after independence from Britain in 1948.

      The fact is that the Tamils of Indian origin who were brought in by the British colonial regime as indentured labour from Tamilnadu for work on newly established plantations set up on lands confiscated from the indigenous Sinhalese land owners without a penny in compensation, did not qualify for citizenship in terms of the seven year residency stipulated in the Citizenship Act. These Indian Tamils were migrant workers who considered Tamilnadu their home, often returned to India with their earned wages. The Citizenship Act was passed in parliament by the elected members from the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burgher communities, and not just by the Sinhalese as stated by the lawyer Bruce Fein. The case of the stateless Indian Tamils was amicably resolved in 1963 with Prime Minister Shastri agreeing to take those opting for Indian citizenship, and Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike undertaking to absorb the rest. A balance of 94,000 who did not proceed to India as earlier decided were also granted Sri Lankan citizenship in the 1980’s.

 

    1. Bruce claims that the Tamil minority has been oppressed by a brutal regime controlled by the majority for the past 50 years, which entitles them to seek a separate breakaway state.

      Bruce is merely parroting Tamil separatist propaganda without studying the underlying facts. The Tamil minority of 11 percent in pre-independent Ceylon (Sri Lanka) were a privileged minority community that benefited immensely during the 145 years of British colonial rule under the latter’s divide and rule policy. The new Christian Missionary Schools were established in Tamil areas such as Jaffna for the dual purpose of propping up the minority against the majority and also with an eye to converting the Tamils who suffered indignities due to a strict caste system prevailing under the dominant Hindu culture. Fewer schools were started in the rest of the country to cater to the multicultural communities outside Jaffna, creating a serious imbalance in access to education. As a result, the Tamil minority came to dominate the majority in almost every field of economic activity, in that they demanded balanced representation for the 11 percent Tamils with the 78 percent Sinhalese in the new parliament popularly called the 50:50 cry, which the Commission set up by the British under Lord Soulbury rejected as an insidious attempt to make a minority of a majority, and instead recommended the grant of universal franchise to all citizens over 21.

      It is not oppression of the minority, but a minority that wanted to retain their dominance over the majority even after the departure of their British colonial fairy godmother following independence. Instead of adopting a cooperative approach they decided on a confrontational stance on ethnic lines, which naturally caused friction and hostility giving rise to serious clashes on certain occasions. It is unfortunate that the Tamils have always organised themselves on communal lines and avoided joining mainstream national political parties. The cry for balanced representation later turned to a separatist cry adopting the infamous Vadukkodai Resolution of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976, based on myth and fantasy of a traditional Tamil homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka which they could not substantiate. This false claim was used by the TULF to mislead the Tamil youth and encourage them to take up arms against the Sinhalese to gain their separate state of “Eelam”. (Ref. Justice Sansoni Commission Report)

 

    1. BF – The 1958 Sinhalese Only Act was a landmark in the history of Tamil oppression, which reflected a Sinhalese policy of “separate and unequal” that has persisted for 50 years.

      The Sinhala Official Language Act and not the ‘Sinhalese Only Act’ was introduced in 1956 to recognize the language spoken by 78 percent of the people, and to replace the alien language of English spoken by just about 5 percent of the population, due to the limited access to English education in spite of 145 years of British colonial administration. It was a measure adopted to give redress to the vast majority of the population that had been marginalized throughout colonial rule. In India, Hindi spoken by 44 percent was made the official language as a unifying measure, just as much as the USA keeps English as the official language even though it has become a mixing bowl of a multitude of languages and cultures.

      The Sinhala Official Language Act merely required that official records of the state would be kept in Sinhala, and it further required those public sector employees to acquire a working knowledge of the official language assessed at the Grade 8 level within a space of 5 years, failing which, with the option of retiring from public service with full pension rights. Contrary to what BF states, every Tamil child was provided with opportunities to be educated in the Tamil medium from the kindergarten to university free of charge at state expense.

      Furthermore, a Reasonable Use of Tamil Language Act of 1958 was adopted, formalizing a set of Tamil language rights which also required public servants to have a working knowledge of Tamil to be able to serve in Tamil areas. Added Tamil linguistic rights and concessions were introduced in 1965 by the government led by Dudley Senanayake. Tamil language was enhanced as a National Language by the Second Republican Constitution of 1978 enshrining an array of rights far exceeding those enjoyed by English Canadians in Quebec and French Canadians in the rest of Canada. Thus within a short space of 22 years Tamil linguistic rights gained ascendancy to meet levels acceptable to most Tamils. Tamil was again elevated as an official language in the 1990’s bringing it on par with Sinhala. It must be added that language is not a fundamental right and needs to be won through the political process by gaining support of the constituency.

 

    1. BF states, in 1983, the Sinhalese Government originated race riots that culminated in the slaughter of 4000 Tamils, and that no Tamil was compensated.

      It is true that Tamils suffered at the hands of a mob that ran amok in 1983 after the non-transfer of bodies of 13 Sinhalese soldiers killed by Tamil militants by a claymore mine attack and simultaneous machine gunfire, to the respective families to conduct last rites, a decision apparently taken at the time to avoid the identical situation as display of badly battered bodies in the several townships and villages had the potential to trigger similar riots in the country. It was not originated by the government though certain elements are suspected of having participated. Also, it was the government led by the United National Party and not “the Sinhalese Government” that was in power at the time, which had representatives of the Tamil and Muslim communities in the cabinet.

      The number of Tamil deaths according to official sources was 400, whilst BF has given an exaggerated figure of 4,000, both of which are unreliable. Most Sinhalese took steps to protect their Tamil neighbours and friends from the mob at great personal risk, of which little is said by those so protected. The Sinhalese have acknowledged the serious crimes committed against the Tamils during the riots in 1983 and have publicly apologised, whilst the state took steps to compensate the victims and apologise to the Tamil community both at the local and international forums.

      BF and most Sri Lanka observers have failed to note the prevailing situation in the period prior to 1983 which contributed to the building of communal tensions such as the forced eviction of the 27,000 Sinhalese residents in the Jaffna peninsula in the late 1970’s following the adoption of the Vadukkodai Resolution, the forced closure of the Sinhala stream at the University of Jaffna necessitating the evacuation of 400 Sinhalese students to safety in 1981, and the blatantly false propaganda carried on outside the country by the Tamils to demonize the Sinhalese. These factors have been ignored and left out in determining the causes for the unfortunate eruption that occurred in July 1983, in the aftermath of the killing of the 13 soldiers that triggered the mob violence.

      The riots of 1983 involving the Sinhalese who had hitherto treated the various minorities with respect was clearly an aberration. The Sinhalese who have regretted the action of the mob have remained calm despite numerous brutal attacks carried out by the LTTE with intent to deliberately provoke them, such as the killing of 144 pilgrims at the Sacred Bodhi Shrine in Anuradhapura, killing of 33 Buddhist monks at Arantalawa, regular bombing of passenger buses and trains and targeting of civilians in public places, attack on the world renowned Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, and untold massacre of thousands of Sinhalese residents and Muslims in the north and east of Sri Lanka to ethnically cleanse the region of non-Tamils, in areas sought for their mono-ethnic Tamil racist separate state comprising 1/3rd of the land and 2/3rd of the coast for residentTamils numbering less than 4 percent of the island’s total population.

      Notwithstanding the riots of 1983, the temporarily displaced Tamils have been able to return to their homes and livelihoods in the City of Colombo and other places in the south, whereas the ejected Sinhalese and Muslims have not been able to get back to their former places of residence due to the danger to their lives. In fact, a larger proportion of Tamils have taken up residence in Colombo and its suburbs and other southern townships to live in mixed ethnic surroundings midst the Sinhalese majority, as they have opted to distance themselves from the influence and control of the self-declared sole representative of the Tamils, i.e. the LTTE. Today, the Tamils account for the second largest group in the capital city of Colombo following closely on the Muslims who are in the majority, whilst the Sinhalese community are in third place.

 

    1. BF – General statements on Discrimination of Tamils in education and employment.

      The oft repeated statement that Tamil students had to score higher marks than Sinhalese students to gain admission to universities is a distortion of the truth. In
      1972, Sri Lanka introduced a scheme of standardization as a temporary measure to assist children in less developed areas (districts) having schools with sparse facilities in respect of teachers, libraries, science laboratories, and other extra-curricular activities, to be able to enter higher educational institutes with a lower aggregate of marks as against students in districts such as Colombo, Kandy, Matara, Kurunegala, Jaffna, etc. that had far superior facilities. This enabled students in Tamil areas such as Kayts, Vanni, Vavunia, and Sinhalese areas such as Moneragala, Hambantota, Ampara, to be admitted to universities with lower scores, while both Sinhalese and Tamil students from the better facilitated city schools requiring higher scores had to give up some places to their rural counterparts. It has been wrongly described as a measure to restrict the admission of Tamil students, whereas it was to assist the deprived students notwithstanding their ethnicity.

      In fact, Jaffna earlier regarded as a district with superior facilities has deteriorated following the upheaval caused by the long drawn out separatist conflict in the north and east, is today the beneficiary of the standardization scheme, enabling Tamil students to acquire places in universities with a lower aggregate.

      As regards employment, the Tamil cry of discrimination does not hold when you examine the proportion of high positions held by members of this community. In 1981, when the Tamil minority population was only 12.6%, they had 34.9% of the engineers, 29.9% surveyors, 35.1% doctors, 38.8% veterinary surgeons, 30.2% medical technicians, 41.5% life scientists, and 33.1% accountants in the public service in Sri Lanka. Tamils have held high offices such as Chief Justice, High Court Judge, Attorney General, Army Commander, Navy Commander, Inspector General of Police, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Heads of Departments, Heads of Diplomatic Missions, which is most commendable for members of a minority community. Tamil judges and other senior officials have been held in high esteem by the public.

 

  1. BF – The oppressed Tamil minority should have the right to break up a sovereign nation and establish separate statehood as in the case of Kosovo.

    Sri Lanka founded over 2600 years back by the indigenous Sinhala people has a pre-history still being unravelled by archaeological experts. She has never invaded others lands. Sri Lanka has welcomed friend and foe, and permitted even defeated Chola and Pandyan Tamil invaders of South India to make it their home. Amongst Sri Lanka’s ethnic mosaic are the majority Sinhalese comprising 78.5 percent, Sri Lankan Tamils roughly 7.8 percent, Muslims (Moors) making up 7.8 percent, Indian Tamils numbering 5.4 percent, whilst Malays from Indonesia and Burghers who are descendants of the Portuguese and Dutch colonialists make up the balance of approximately 0.5 percent. The Tamils who initially came as invaders to pillage and plunder came as settlers only around the 11th century. The homeland of the Tamils is Tamilnadu in South India where an estimated 61 million Tamils live.

    Today, Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic country with no exclusive homeland of any single ethnic group, with the majority of the people living in mixed ethnic surroundings except for some parts of the north which were ethnically cleansed in recent times by Tamil militants who forcibly evicted the long resident Sinhala and Muslim people. The Tamils like all other citizens enjoy equal rights as enshrined in the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Nation’s Constitution. As a result of favoured treatment meted out to Tamils by the British colonial ruler for over 145 years, they have arrived at the notion that they are more than equal and should therefore continue to dominate the other communities, or have a separate state for their exclusive domain for which they have engaged in armed warfare for the past three decades.

    The people of Sri Lanka are not willing to grant the demand made by a segment of the Tamil community for a separate state, but are agreeable to devolve some power to the periphery to a unit yet to be determined such as the district council, and to share some powers at the centre to enable the minorities to participate in the day to day governance.

    There are absolutely no parallels to the Kosovo situation in Sri Lanka. The UN Security Council Resolution Number 1244 of June 10, 1999 recognized that Kosovo was an integral part of Serbia and formed part of Serbia’s sovereign territory. Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and recognition of Kosovo as an independent sovereign country by the USA, UK, France, Germany and some others is in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and Resolution adopted by the Security Council in 1999 of which the USA and UK are key members. The USA is now backtracking from its earlier position as contained in the UN Security Council Resolution, and has now claimed that the unusual combination of factors found in the Kosovo situation allows her to recognize the breakaway state of Kosovo. The USA further stated that Kosovo cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today.

Bruce Fein’s position on the claim for Tamil statehood in Sri Lanka is untenable and lacks any legal, historical or other basis to support it. The only reason that he touched on it is probably to make some undue turbulence to justify the high fees charged to his client. If the Tamils are unwilling to live as equals within the common homeland of Sri Lanka, they are free to move back to their motherland of Tamilnadu in South India, Bruce Fein country or any other place where they would be free to become true worshippers of the ‘Sun God’, as the LTTE’s sun gradually sets in the Vanni and the separatist fires fade away.

Yours very truly,

Mahinda Gunasekera
Honorary President