Speaking at a meeting on “The Tamil Struggle for Self-Determination: A Leftist Sinhala Perspective” at University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, Sinhala academic Dr. Jude Lal Fernando highlighted the need to understand the role of powers in shaping and manipulating the forces among the Sri Lankan state and the Eezham Tamils, on Thursday. Talking extensively about how the western establishments tilted the parity of status against the Tigers during the CFA period, he expressed the view that the US-UK axis was to blame for the 2009 massacre. Dr. Fernando, who was one of the main co-ordinators of the Dublin Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka, explained how with the implementation of neoliberal policies the Sri Lankan state expedited privatization and militarization of the Tamil homelands.
Jude Fernando is a lecturer and a post-doctoral researcher in peace studies at Trinity College, University of Dublin.
Dr. Fernando told the packed audience that anyone who wanted to understand the Tamil national question and the conflict in the island had to first comprehend the international influences impacting the internal dynamics in the island. Based on his research interest in the Irish peace process, Dr. Fernando observed that the success of the peace process in Ireland was based on the parity of status between both warring parties.
Dr. Fernando argued that in the Irish peace process the parity of status was the outcome of the struggle of the people, and the outcome of a particular geopolitical context in world politics conducive to the parity of status. However, parity of status between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Government was not respected by the same international powers that backed the Irish peace process.
For the benefit of those who were new to the conflict, Dr. Fernando provided the audience with a thorough pre colonial and post-colonial history of the origins of the conflict. Dr. Fernando indicated that the British colonial unitary state dovetailed with an intentional and systematic genocide committed by the ruling Sinhala elites against the Tamil nation through economic, political and cultural subjugation.
This process of subjugation intensified with the implementation of neoliberal policies that sought to establish significant parts of the island, including the territorial homeland of the Tamils, into a free trade zone. With land grabs, tax-free foreign investments, and labour laws becoming relaxed, the Sri Lankan state expedited privatization and militarization. However, Dr. Fernando reminded the audience that the conflict in the island is a “modern human made product of colonialism and imperialism and therefore if it is human made it can also be unmade”.
Dr. Fernando observed how in spite of the successive momentum of the peace talks, the decision by the United States to marginalize and exclude the LTTE from the donor conference in Washington seriously undermined the Tigers’ confidence in the peace process. In contrast, the decision by President Clinton to allow Gerry Adams into the United States to meet with the Irish Diaspora helped to bolster the confidence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the peace process.
Dr. Fernando declared that had this happened with the Washington conference, hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved and the peace talks could have been successful and thus, ethically and politically, the United States is as blameworthy for the 2009 massacre. Dr. Fernando argued that the actions of the United States were contrary to the basic principles of conflict resolution to not engage in harm to any party that is ready to engage in talks.
Similarly, the United States as a Co-Chair to the peace talks could have played a responsible role in deethnicizing the conflict by agreeing to put funds into the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (PTOMS) because all communities in the island were equally impacted by the Tsunami. Instead the US Ambassador in Colombo met with the ultra nationalist parties and agreed not to allocate funds into the joint mechanism. Subsequently, the JHU and JVP were emboldened to file an injunction in the Supreme Court against the joint agreement on the grounds that it violated the constitution.
To make his point clear about the US colluded in destabilizing the successful peace talks, Dr. Fernando referred to parts of a 2005 leaked document handed over to the Sri Lankan Secretary of Defense by US military officers which stipulated that Trincomalee Harbor would have to be captured from the LTTE to win the war. This military and strategic advice from the US—an international actor in the peace process–came at a time when neither the Sinhalese or Tamil polity were ready for war and this was demonstrated by the active participation of civil society to establish a negotiated political solution.
Dr. Fernando also argued that the 2006 EU ban of the LTTE helped to bolster the explicit military solution of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and its ultra nationalist election alliance. He referred to the proceedings of the Dublin Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka and the testimony of Brigadier General Ulf Henricsson, head of the Nordic observer mission in Sri Lanka, who suggested to the Tribunal that although there were minor violations of the ceasefire, it did not in any justify a resumption of war.
Henricsson revealed that the ban of the LTTE did not happen in the European Parliament but in the coffee shops of Brussels under extreme British-American pressure. Dr. Fernando said that the 2006 EU ban was the key moment of dismantling the parity of status between the warring parties in the island and gave the ultra nationalists bent on a military solution to the conflict with a moral boost to engage in a bloody onslaught.
Dr. Fernando also discredited the claim that the final war was a war without witnesses. He argued that day by day every major diplomat in Colombo knew about the grave violations of international law being committed by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. During the killing fields, the Co-Chairs had a serious five-hour discussion and some of the countries of the Co-Chairs prepared to make a strong statement against the Government because of its heavy bombardment of the supposed “safe zone.”
That decision was ultimately reversed to instead pressure the Tamil Diaspora to tell the LTTE to lay down their arms and come into government controlled areas. The tactic employed by the Sri Lankan government and aided and abetted by the International community was to bomb the Tamil people until they were “reduced to a survival instinct” but not to the human instinct of asking for freedom. In this light, the entire reality of the 2009 genocide has been misconstrued and misrepresented to the world as simply a military operation against terrorism.
On the contrary, the peace process itself confirmed that the Tamil national question is a legitimate political question and not a terrorist problem. It is on this political legitimacy that the Tamil Diaspora must explicitly make their demands. This political question was at odds with the geopolitical interests of elements of the Co-Chairs led by the US-UK axis.
Coming to the contemporary post 2009 scenario, Dr. Fernando said that although the armed phase is over, the struggle for Tamil freedom is far from over. Referring historically to internal colonization by the Sri Lankan state in the 1920’s and the experience of the 1980’s with advise from Israeli experts to create border villages and arm Sinhala civilians as home guards, Dr. Fernando said that today the third phase of colonization is happening with Buddha statues and shrines. Thus, according to Dr. Fernando the “war continues through other means.”
Finally, Dr. Fernando criticized certain elements of the Diaspora leadership for being deceived by the US sponsored resolution in Geneva. Dr. Fernando said that the resolution was “not a warning to Sri Lanka but in fact a warning to the Diaspora “to accept the LLRC which does not oppose or mention the root causes of the national question at all, accept that it is legitimate to wage a war to protect the sovereignty of the state (while at the same time denouncing war crimes), and absolutely no mention of the internal process of colonization.”
Dr. Fernando warned the Tamil Diaspora against the two mechanisms used against them. The first is to depict the Diaspora as disconnected from the ground realities of their homeland. On the other hand, there is a mechanism to pressure the Diaspora to acknowledge the futility of their legitimate claim to self-determination as a nation in their historic homeland.
The US-British axis prefers to deal with a helpless set of victims in the North-East and a politically impotent Diaspora who will not organize themselves for national liberation so that the Tamils’ political demands can be controlled by the US-British led axis, he opined.
Dr. Fernando declared that it is the helplessness of the Tamil nation in the North-East today that gives the Diaspora moral and political power. Instead of trying to align itself with international powers, the Diaspora must stand on its own two feet and say that the aspirations of the Tamils uncompromisingly remain the same based on the principles of nation, homeland, and self-determination. Dr. Fernando concluded his lecture by saying that is the historical imperative of the Tamil Diaspora today and that “the struggle for justice amongst the Tamils will determine the outcome of democracy amongst the Sinhalese.”
Dr. Fernando reminded the audience that the conflict in the island is a “modern human made product of colonialism and imperialism and therefore if it is human made it can also be unmade” and that “the struggle for justice amongst the Tamils will determine the outcome of democracy amongst the Sinhalese.”
The moderators of the event were Dr. Aparna Sundar (Ryerson University) and Ali Mustafa (an eye witness to the Egyptian Revolution).The Co-sponsors of the lecture include: University of Toronto Student Union; Canadian Peace Alliance; National Council of Canadian Tamils; Philippine Solidarity Network; Socialist Project; Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid; The Tamil Workers’ Alliance; Canadian Peace Alliance; Toronto Coalition to Stop the War; Tamil Youth Organization (Canada); and No One Is Illegal