WASHINGTON, LONDON, and SYDNEY, Dec. 7, 2018 /PRNewswire/ — Responding to the current constitutional crisis in Sri Lanka, leading Tamil diaspora organizations issued a call to the international community to support a permanent political solution to the country’s ethnic problem that goes beyond current or proposed constitutional arrangements and provides international guarantees and safeguards. The US Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC), British Tamils Forum (BTF), Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), and World Thamil Organization (WTO) jointly issued the statement.
The collapse of the Sri Lankan government on October 26th, 2018 has exposed the inconsistency and instability of Sri Lanka’s ethnocracy. A blatant disrespect for constitutional law and the failure to preserve promises made toward their people and the international community is evident. Since the 2015 presidential election, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has provided qualified support to the “unity government.” This support has been given with the expectation of the restoration of normalcy in the former war zones of the North and East – the traditional areas of habitation of the Tamils -, Transitional Justice, a permanent political solution acceptable to the Tamil people, and implementation of good governance.
The Sirisena government’s scant progress towards these expectations has been insubstantial and remains reversible. The TNA at a meeting with 15 countries on November 21, 2018, “urged the diplomats to use their influence with whoever necessary to set things right and put the country in the right path.” The TNA’s leader and Leader of Opposition Mr. Sampanthan expressed concern that, “Tamils are likely to become the worst victims in Sri Lanka’s political crisis.”
Since Sri Lanka’s Independence in 1948, the two primary Sinhala political parties have demonstrated a pattern of ‘ethnic outbidding’ in catering to the Sinhalese majority community at the expense of all others, beginning with disenfranchising a million members of the Tamil community. Following enactment of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in 1978 and extensive use of emergency powers, the country has experienced years of authoritarian rule. The use of extrajudicial powers has subverted constitutional rights, perpetuating a lack of respect for the rule of law, and a culture of oppression and impunity by the security establishment, mainly targeting the Tamil population in the North and East. This targeting includes war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide.
In 1987, the 13th Amendment based on the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, an inadequate agreement to address Tamil grievances, created Provincial Councils as the unit of devolution, including police and land power. The Amendment also merged the Tamils’ traditional homeland of the North-East into one province. The non-implementation of the 13thAmendment, including the dismembering of the merged North-East in 2006 without the required Referendum, is a blatant ongoing disregard of the country’s constitution.
Sri Lanka co-sponsored UNHRC Resolution 30/1 in 2015, which required the establishment of a hybrid court including international judges and prosecutors. Sri Lanka has repeatedly rejected this commitment since.
The ethnocentric nature of the Sri Lankan state controlled by a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist ideology is fundamentally incapable of providing a political settlement that addresses the root causes of the war, provided the Sinhala-centric political reality of the past decades continues. For the Tamil community, the hard questions remain –
Will we be able to advance transitional justice within this current political state mechanism, regardless of the regime in power? Even if the present constitutional exercise to solve the Tamil question succeeds, what are the chances of such an arrangement being faithfully and permanently implemented? What kind of international safeguards would be needed to ensure legitimacy and permanency?
While we want the current crisis to be solved within the norms of democratic principles and the constitution, we urge the international community to reassess its options. It must take on a greater role in instituting transitional justice in Sri Lanka and must support fundamental change for a permanent political solution that meets the aspirations of the Tamil people, strengthened by international guarantees.