Unitary Ceylon was an error: British Politician

[TamilNet, Monday, 02 March 2009, 15:45 GMT]
A Conservative Party politician in the United Kingdom, Dr. Rachel Joyce, apologised Sunday for the error of Colonial Britain in making a unitary Ceylon out of two nations, the Tamils and the Sinhalese. “The Tamil people have lived on the island currently called Sri Lanka for millennia - in their own contiguous, distinct, geographical territory. They lay claim only to the territory they have historically lived in. In fact, the 3 million Tamils of the island constituted a self governing nation until invaded and occupied by Colonial powers – in particular Britain, who amalgamated them with the Sinhala nation purely for convenience. In retrospect, this cultural naivety was a mistake that has caused problems since independence,” she said in a meeting held at Harrow, where Bruce Fein, a constitutional expert from the United States was the guest speaker.

Mr. Bruce Fain who led a lengthy interactive session, explained the basis of his case filed against genocide of Tamils.

Liberal politician and solicitor Christopher Noyse was another speaker in this first of a series of public meetings attended by a packed hall of audience of more than 200.

Full text of the address of Dr. Rachael follows:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank you very much for the opportunity to speak at this event, which is dealing with such important issues.

I would like to thank Bruce Fein for his ………………… speech. [very moving]. I would also like to thank Gopal who invited me here today.

Dr. Rachel Joyce
Dr. Rachel Joyce
Bruce Fein, UK meeting
Bruce Fein, UK meeting
I would like to extend my sympathies to any of you have family who have been killed, hurt or otherwise affected by the conflict. In particular today I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family of Murukathasan Vanakulasingam, who, as we know, committed suicide on Friday, February 13, in a desperate attempt to draw the world's attention to the plight of his fellow Tamils in Sri Lanka. I cannot condone the loss of such a young and promising life, but my heart goes out to his family.

Acts such as this suicide are committed when people feel desperate, powerless, and feel they have virtually no avenues left for their people.

The Tamil people have lived on the island currently called Sri Lanka for millennia - in their own contiguous, distinct, geographical territory. They lay claim only to the territory they have historically lived in. In fact, the 3 million Tamils of the island constituted a self governing nation until invaded and occupied by Colonial powers – in particular Britain, who amalgamated them with the Sinhala nation purely for convenience. In retrospect, this cultural naivety was a mistake that has caused problems since independence. I would like to apologise for the British part in that error.

At the time of independence in 1948, both 3 million Tamils and 17 million Sinhalese inherited a reasonably healthy state. Sri Lanka’s prosperity could have been set, with a good geographical position for trade, a strong and productive economy, and a beautiful setting for a tourist industry as well.

Unfortunately, since then there has been an increasing catalogue of cultural and human rights atrocities. The chances for the two peoples to continue to live side by side, as two distinct, though not antagonistic cultures, has continually been threatened. Why did the government on the island, as one of its first acts, make 1 million Tamils of Indian origin stateless? Many of these Tamils were 6th generation and had no other home. Why also did they opt for the ‘Sinhala Only’ Language Act in 1956?

And, 25 years later, what could possibly be the logic of Sinhala police torching the Jaffna library and its ninety seven thousand rare historical books and manuscripts in 1981?

These acts of cultural disrespect and vandalism have been condemned before, but I condemn them again now.

Since then a raft of atrocities have been committed. In the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Tamils were forced to flee the island, many coming here to Britain. There are also hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people people within the island. Every aspect of normal life has been affected. The closing of the A9 highway effectively trapped nearly half a million Tamil civilians.

A year ago, the Sri Lankan government unilaterally withdrew from the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire, and under the leadership of its hawkish President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, embarked on this current campaign. All the evidence suggests that unless the international community acts very soon, about a quarter of a million people could be caught in a bloodbath. The Sri Lankan government has asked Tamil civilians to come over to their side for “protection”, but there is an understandably deep fear of such a move. The Tamil people have seen so much death and destruction. They are terrified of Sri Lankan troops and their "holding camps", with all the stories of assaults and rape.

On the other side there are stories suggesting that the LTTE has, or might, shoot anyone who tries to escape from the areas that remain under their control. But none of this is verifiable. The Sri Lankan government restricts all journalists and independent observers from entering the conflict zone. The reports from the few remaining aid or humanitarian agencies still allowed in the area are dismissed by the Sri Lankan authorities as propaganda.

Amnesty International, who is impartial to any political agenda, and only campaigns on human rights, has called the recent alleged sustained bombing of the Vanni hospital a “despicable act”, in fact stating that such an attack could constitute a war crime. They also say the so called ‘welfare villages’ violate the international prohibition on hostage taking.

Can Amnesty International and United Nations workers all be lying? Are the horrific pictures of bombed-out hospitals and lines of dead men, women and children all be fake?

It is clear that the majority of the Tamil people do not trust the Government of Sri Lanka to safeguard their lives or their futures.

And the British government could do much more to help. This is not just diplomatically – in the UN, in the Commonwealth, and through direct pressure on the government. In a debate in 2007, it was revealed that Britain licensed £7 million worth of weapons and military equipment for export to Sri Lanka that year alone. What on earth were they thinking?

Part of the problem here ironically is the democracy in Sri Lanka. I am a strong supporter of democracy, but there are different degrees of democracy. The Economist labels Sri Lanka a "flawed democracy" in its 2006 rankings. This is because there is a minority – the Tamils – who will always be at a significant disadvantage electorally. If Scotland wanted to leave the United Kingdom, and voted to do so, they would not be stopped by the rest of the British people. Perhaps the very fact that they could leave if they wished to has meant that their minority rights have always been protected in the UK, and is probably the reason that Scotland do not actually want to leave the union.

Foreign Policy ranks Sri Lanka 25th (ie Alert Category) in its Failed States Index for 2007. Sri Lanka was considered one of the "world's most politically unstable countries" by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank in 2004. However, Sri Lanka, according to the US State Department in 2005, was classified a "stable democracy" – but only when there was a ceasefire period, which shows how a peaceful solution could be so advantageous to both sides.

I know the British Tamils Forum have requested that the UN and the International Community:

  1. Call for an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka and initiate peace talks;
  2. Require that Sri Lanka allow all necessary humanitarian assistance and access by international humanitarian organizations and UN Agencies to the Vanni;
  3. Put the Sri Lanka issue on the Security Council’s Agenda; and
  4. Urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow an international human rights monitoring mission under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

I fully support those points.

Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

This woman will not do nothing. I can give you my commitment that I will do what I can to lobby for a peaceful solution to the conflict to the best of my ability. Any just and lasting solution MUST be acceptable to the Tamil people. All options must therefore be on the table for discussion.

I will raise this issue at the highest levels within the Conservative Party, and with the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. If elected, I will join the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils. In the meantime, I commit to you that I will do what I can to lobby on behalf of the people of Tamil Eelam.


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