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
majority.

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
reads:

"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
concluded:

"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