“Budget ignores collective will of Tamil Nation”-Sampanthan

[TamilNet, Thursday, 25 November 2004, 05:27 GMT]
Mr.R.Sampanthan, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentary group leader speaking during the Budget debate in Sri Lanka's parliament Thursday morning, said that it is outrageous that the Finance Minister did not even consult the legitimate representatives of Tamil Nation. "The right to internal self-determination has been consistently denied to the Tamil people. This budget is yet another manifestation of that denial...Nothing can be more humiliating to the Tamil psyche than the non-recognition of their collective will. This situation if continued can have serious repercussions," he said.

Full text of his speech follows:

Sampanthan"The composition of parliament is multi-national, multi-cultural, and multi-linguistic in character. We have Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim members. The language of the Sinhala members if Sinhala, the language of Tamil and Muslim members, in particular the Muslim members representing the northeast province is Tamil, their respective mother tongue.

Each of these peoples, the Sinhala people, the tamil people, and the Muslim people have their own history, their own culture, traditions and customs, and have historically inhabited certain parts of this country. The Sinhala speaking people have historically inhabited the regions outside the northeast province, while the Tamil speaking people have historically inhabited the northeast region. Constitutional and legal provisions recognize this reality. In fact, the northeast region has been accepted as the area of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people. Residence of different peoples, in different parts of the country, particularly for reasons of occupation, and for other specific reasons does not erode the historical reality that the northeast has been traditionally inhabited by the Tamil speaking people, and the rest of the country by the Sinhala speaking people.

In fact, from the dawn of history, there have been existed in this country, two distinct nations, the Sinhala Nation, and the Tamil Nation. This is an unquestionable reality, which no sensible person will deny. The Muslim people have a certain distinctiveness, which needs to be constitutionally protected where they live. In the northeast there is a great measure of understanding and acceptance today, of the imperative need to accord sufficient recognition to this distinctiveness, and other rights of the Muslim people.

We have in this country a unitary constitution. It is this unitary constitution, which is the cause of this country not being a united country. In practical terms what does a unitary constitution means? It means that in all arms of government the Legislature, the Executive, and consequently the Judiciary the majority people, the Sinhala people and their representatives have an absolute say. The hegemony of the Sinhala majority prevails in every branch of government. The other peoples live at the mercy of the majority Sinhala people.

The strenuous efforts made by moderate democratic Tamil political leadership, over several decades, to transform this unitary constitution structure of government into a federal arrangement within a united country, failed due to intransigence and obduracy of the Sinhala political leadership. This is well known.

This majoritarian hegemony assumed the proportions of majoritarian tyranny when blatant discrimination against the Tamil people in the matter of citizenship and language spread further in the field of economic, social and cultural rights; in the field of economic development, education, employment (even today, though the Tamil people constitute 18% of the country's population, not more than 3 % Tamils are employed in the public services) in the allocation of resources particularly and other State sponsored facilities even in the areas of their historical habitation. Non-violent protests by the Tamil people against these unjust measures led to physical violence being unleashed against the Tamil people. Such violent attacks against the Tamil people, took place in the `950's,the 1960's, the 1970's and the 1980's, - the attack in July 1983, assuming genocidal proportions. The State failed in its duty to give the Tamil people protection against such attacks. Frequently the security forces of the State were accused of complicity in such attacks against the Tamil people. On several of these occasions, the Tamil people were transported by the State in ships to their homeland in the northeast province.

These events led to the commencement of armed struggle by Tamil youths-the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which attained its acme in 1999-2000. Sri Lanka government having failed in its efforts, through the armed might of the State to suppress this armed struggle, accepted that there could be no military solution to the conflict and that an acceptable political solution had to be evolved with international facilitation through negotiations with the LTTE. A ceasefire agreement was entered into and the negotiation process was commenced, which most regrettably though not quite healthy is fortunately somewhat alive.

It is in this background that this budget has been presented. It is being presented under Sri Lanka's unitary constitution and under Sri Lanka's unitary structure of government. The two main political parties in the country, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the United National Party have accepted that this form of government needs to be changed. Both parties have publicly stated that there needs to be a federal form of government. The Tamil National Alliance, the Tamil United Liberation Front, the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi, the All Ceylon Tamil Congress a, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization, and the Eelam Peoples' Revolutionary Liberation Front, all of whom function together today, under the banner of the Tamil National Alliance, have rejected the existing constitution. The Tamil people of the northeast have through their democratic verdicts rejected both the 1972 and 1978 constitutions at successive elections. Other parties representing the minority peoples support constitutional change in the structure of government. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress with vital interests in the northeast is supportive of such change.

Let us look at the results of the Parliamentary Elections held on 2nd April 2004 in the northeast. The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi, under which banner, the tamil National Alliance contested polled 55.65% of the total vote cast in the northeast, despite the extensive Sinhala colonization that had taken place in the past fifty years, in violation of pacts entered into with Tamil political leadership. The Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact of 1957, and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam pact of 1965 had clear provisions to terminate Sinhala colonization. It would be relevant to assess what percentage of the Tamil vote was polled by the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi in the northeast. Given the fact that the only other Tamil political party which contested the elections in the northeast, the E.P.D.P. polled a paltry 2.14 %, it could be safely concluded that the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi polled over 90% of the Tamil vote cast in the northeast. The SLMC which supports constitutional change in the structure of the government polled 16.40 of the total vote in the northeast, the UNP which is for such constitutional change polled 8.56 % of the total vote in the northeast, and the non-JVP component of the total vote polled by the UPFA in the northeast, which was 15.48 % would be at least50% of that vote, and the resulting position is that on the basis of the policies enunciated by the political parties, I have referred to, the vast majority of the people who have exercised their franchise in the northeast would be supportive of change in the structure of government. As I said before over 90% of the Tamil people do not want the present structure of government to continue. I would request the Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP) to take cognisance of this reality in the interest of the country.

It cannot be claimed that the Budget represents the will of the people of the northeast. The vast majority of people in the northeast, particularly the Tamil people want autonomous self-rule in the northeast region. In the interim, they want a self-governing arrangement until a final solution is negotiated. In the context of the unequivocal verdict delivered by the people-particularly the Tamil people of the northeast, at the last general elections can the Finance Minister justify making budgetary proposals, which also encompass and have an impact on the northeast? The Finance Minister of one nation presents budgetary proposals for two nations against the will of the Tamil Nation and even without at the least, some form of consultation with the legitimate representatives of the Tamil Nation. This is outrageous. If the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, the results of the General Elections held on 2nd April 2004, in the northeast clearly demonstrated that the will of the Tamil nation, is clearly not the basis of the authority of the present government in the northeast. On the basis of the votes cast in the northeast, in favour of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi, representing the Tamil National Alliance, 22 members were elected to Parliament. This represents 2/3rd of the total number of 31 members of parliament entitled to be elected from the northeast. The mandate granted to the elected members on the basis of the manifesto of the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchchi was that an interim self-governing authority should be set up in the northeast, on the basis of negotiations with the LTTE, and that the right of self determination of the Tamil nation-political autonomy-in its areas of historical habitation-the northeast-should be recognized. In fact, political autonomy based on the right of self-determination in the northeast, has been the trend of electoral verdicts for over the past four decades.

These contradictions between the will of the people, particularly the Tamil people in the northeast and the actions of the successive governments, has continued for quite long and surely cannot indefinitely. The concept of sovereignty being vested in the people, has no meaning as far as the Tamil people are concerned, if their will as expressed at successive elections does not give them, an effective say in the governance, in keeping with the will expressed. The will of the Tamil people is that their right to internal self-determination in their area of historical habitation-northeast be accorded due recognition, so that they can pursue their political economic cultural and social development in keeping with their own wish. The right to internal self-determination has been consistently denied to the Tamil people. This budget is yet another manifestation of that denial. Despite the clear expression of their will, at successive elections they continue to be powerless in regard to the management of their own affairs. Nothing can be more humiliating to the Tamil psyche than the non-recognition of their collective will. This situation if continued can have serious repercussions. It is relevant to recall the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the case relating to the secession of Quebec. The court ruled I quote " the International Law right to self determination only generates at best a right to external self-determination, in situations of former colonies; where a people is oppressed as for example under foreign military occupation; or where a definable group is denied meaningful access to Government to pursuer their political, economical, social and cultural development. In all three situations, the people in question are entitled to a right to external self-determination because they have been denied the ability to exert internally their right to self-determination" unquote.

The court further ruled and I quote " that such exceptional circumstances are manifestly inapplicable to Quebec under existing conditions" unquote.

In Sri Lanka, however unlike in Quebec, a definable group, the Tamil Nation is being consistently denied meaningful access to Government to pursue their political, economic, social and cultural development. That was the clear impact of the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, which in the face of the demand by moderate democratic Tamil political leadership for a federal arrangement entrenched the unitary character of the Sri Lanka State. The Tamil Nation had at successive elections democratically expressed their wish for a federal arrangement that would have given them meaningful access to government. The unwillingness or the inability of the Sri Lanka state to meaningfully restructure powers of government for a period of over fifty years only reinforces and accentuates such denial. This budget represents a further manifestation of such denial.

In the context of the will expressed by the Tamil Nation, it would be futile in my opinion to discuss the merits and demerits of budgetary proposals until there is tangible recognition of the right to internal self-determination of the Tamil Nation. This is a priority, which cannot be superseded by anything.

We remain committed to the negotiated resolution of the Tamil question in keeping with the will of the Tamil Nation.

A brief review of the recent past would be relevant. The LTTE for certain stated reasons suspended participation in peace talks, in April 2003, without withdrawing from the ceasefire agreement or the negotiation process. Amongst the reasons stated by the LTTE was the lack of progress in the restoration of normalcy in the northeast. The complaint was that the Tamil people in the northeast were not receiving the dividends of the ceasefire and the peace process. This complaint was perfectly justified and continues to be so. Hundreds of thousands of Tamil people, men, women and children continue to be refugees and homeless. It was in this background that views were exchanged in regard to the setting up of an interim body for the northeast. In response to proposals made by the then government, the LTTE submitted detailed proposals for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) on 30th October 2003.

The concept of an interim body for the northeast is not new. Following the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement on 29th July 1987, resident Jayawardene on 30th September 1987 announced the appointment of a twelve member interim administrative council. Seven out of the twelve nominees including the chairman were to be nominated by the LTTE.

In late 1994, early 1995 discussions took place between the first Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge government and the LTTE in regard to the setting up of an Interim Administration for the northeast. The thinking was that the LTTE would be given a significant presence in the interim administration. The constitutional proposals of August 2000 of the Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge government contained provisions for the setting up of an Interim Council for the northeast, for a period of five years. There was to be Board of Nine Ministers, and in the normal course, the majority people in the North East would have had six in the northeast would have had six of the nine positions on the Board of Ministers. I wish its' to be recorded that the TULF did not participate in the discussions pertaining to the setting up of an Interim Council. It will thus be seen that the two major parties the Sri Lanka Freedom party and the United National Party have accepted the concept of an interim body. The JVP, I would urge to follow, in the interests of the country.

{President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, unambiguously told the parliamentary group of the TNA at the meeting held on June 10th that though she had reservations in regard to some of the ISGA proposals forwarded by the LTTE, and that though initially she wanted to discuss the ISGA proposals with the core issues, more time being devoted to the former and lesser time to the latter, she had become flexible, and that she was prepared to discuss only the ISGA proposals with the LTTE.

The LTTE has now made it clear that once discussions commence on the ISGA proposals, discussions could also take place on any proposal the government may bring to the negotiating table pertaining to the ISGA. The LTTE has also made it clear that once talks on the ISGA have been concluded, talks could be commenced on the final solution.

The United National Party has publicly stated that the Government should commence talks with the LTTE on the ISGA proposals, and that it would unconditionally support any agreement arrived at between the Government and the LTTE.

The Government is assured of a 2/3rd majority in parliament for any such agreement arrived at with the LTTE.

Any agreement interim or final has to be within the framework of an undivided country.

It is sometime alleged that the LTTE's proposals are maximalist. Most of the LTTE's proposals are what obtains in federal arrangements in other countries. Australia, Canada and Switzerland could be cited as example. In any event everything is up for discussion and the final formulation in regard to the interim authority, would depend upon the agreement arrived at between the parties. Both parties retain their options, but seriously search for the agreement initially in regard to an interim authority. Neither party can be expected to give up its options before agreement.

An interim body is an imperative need for the northeast. It is such an Interim Body that could sustain the ceasefire agreement and become the vehicle for movement towards a final negotiated solution.

An interim body is essential to build confidence amongst both the Tamil people, and LTTE cadres that a final negotiated solution is achievable, and that such a final negotiated solution would be implemented.

It must be realised that the commencement of the talks could result in many doubts being resolved. The fact that the LTTE has come up with written proposals for the first time must not be disregarded. If the LTTE was not interested in a negotiated solution, it need not have come up with proposals in writing. Having tendered its proposals, the LTTE wanted dates to be fixed for the commencement of talks. The LTTE thereby clearly indicated its willingness to remain in the negotiation process. It would be irrational to draw any other inference.

No progress has been made since that point of time-31st October 2003. Many events have taken place between then and now. Despite all such events the LTTE has not reneged its commitment to the peace process. If the LTTE wanted to get out of the peace process it had many an opportunity to do so. But it has not dome so. The LTTE strongly feels that moderate Tamil political leadership had many a time been taken for a ride. They are determined that this should not happen to them. This is understandable and justifiable.

If a clear agenda can be agreed upon for talks to commence on the ISGA, talks would commence. In fact it would appear that the facilitators are keen that talks should commence on the basis of a definite agenda based upon mutual agreement between the parties. We are not privy to the messages conveyed by one party to the other.

One matter, however about which we are aware is that the LTTE is prepared to commence talks, whenever the Government is prepared to do so, on the basis of the ISGA proposals submitted by the LTTE on 31st October 2003. The LTTE is also prepared to discuss any further proposals that the Government may bring to the negotiating table pertaining to the ISGA. There is total clarity on the LTTE side in regard to this matter.

I would like to raise what the Government's position is in regard to this matter. It is true that President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge told the TNA parliamentary group when she met us on 10th June that she was prepared to commence talks only on the basis of the ISGA proposals submitted by the LTTE without linking such talks to any other issue. If that indeed is the position even today, there can be no reason whatever for talks not to start immediately. We however hear strident voices from within the Government against the commencement of talks on the ISGA proposals. There are threats from this very source within the Government that the Government will be brought down, if such talks commence. The parliamentary group leader of this segment within the government is engaged in an island wide campaign with the national Patriotic Front against the commencement of such talks. What is the message that such conduct on the part of the powerful alliance partner of the government sends to the Tamil people and the LTTE? In a situation of deep distrust that prevails, is such conduct helpful at all. In this background is it possible for the Government to send a credible message to the LTTE. It is not my intention to be critical in an unproductive way. But it is certainly my duty, to seek clarity in regard to the Government's position relating to the commencement of talks. We would earnestly request the Government to come up with a clear and consistent position in regard to the commencement of talks so that the talks can start. We want the talks to start, because we want the immense suffering of the Tamil people to be brought to an end.

There is yet another matter, which I need to refer to. Does the government have another agenda, relating to some aspects of constitutional reform, to which this government wants to give priority over the peace process? If the government is unable to credibly demonstrate its capacity to muster the support of all segments within the Government to commence talks on the ISGA proposals, can the Government simultaneously take forward both the peace talks and the constitutional reform proposals? The constitutional reform proposals would have the support of the whole government also perhaps for reasons of political expediency. Is not there a serious contradiction, which deters commencement of talks on the ISGA proposals? This undoubtedly a dilemma the government faces.

We would strongly urge the Government to give priority to peace talks-to commence talks on the ISGA proposals. We have had respite from war, for the longest period since the armed conflict commenced. No one wants a return to war and its horrendous consequences. The peace process is too precious to be sacrificed on grounds of political expediency. We would earnestly request the Government to commence talks on the ISGA proposals and take the peace process forward."


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