5th March 2000
The LTTE and the ex-Tamil militant group PLOTE have been held responsible for a large number of disappearances in Sri Lanka, according to an annual human rights report prepared by the United States State Department.
The 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices has also criticised the increasing rate of assaults on journalists and discrimination based on race, sex and religion.
It says that the HRC however, has no mandate or authority to enforce respect for human rights among these militia groups. "When the HRC office director in Vavuniya complained about PLOTE activity, he received death threats and eventually left the country," the report stated.
While the HRC says that it is difficult to determine the number of victims due to the secrecy with which they operate, they accused the government of not taking steps to stop these militants' actions.
"The LTTE was responsible for an undetermined number of civilian disappearances in the north and east of the island during the year. Although the LTTE has denied taking any prisoners from several of its battles, it is known to be holding 12 civilian crew members of vessels it has hijacked since 1995, along with 15 security personnel. The LTTE has not informed the ICRC of any new security forces personnel taken prisoner since 1994," the reports stated.
In expressing concern over the non-adherence to international standards they say that prison conditions generally are poor and do not meet the minimum international standards because of overcrowding and lack of sanitary facilities. An increase in detentions associated with the war with the LTTE caused a significant deterioration in already poor standards in short term detention centres as well as in uncleared detention centres run by pro-government Tamil groups such as the PLOTE, according to the Bureau of Democracy, Human rights, and Labour of the U.S. State Department.
"In spite of the government's announcements that it would close all secret detention centers, there were continued reports that the security forces held persons for short periods of time in smaller camps for interrogation before transferring them to declared places of detention," it said.
The government justified the arrests on security grounds, but many Tamils claimed that the arrests were a form of harassment. In addition, most of those arrested were innocent of any wrongdoing and were sometimes detained in prisons together with hardened criminals.
Over 340,00 persons principally in the Wanni region remain displaced in the past several years of fighting.
The government refused to permit relief organizations to provide medical attention to wounded LTTE fighters, although it has offered to treat any LTTE wounded entrusted to government care. During the course of the year there were verifiable instances of wounded LTTE cadres surrendering to the government and receiving appropriate medical care.
Clearance procedures were applied to everyone including the elderly and the very young. While the government had a legitimate interest in identifying LTTE infiltrators, it also appeared reluctant to allow displaced Tamils to travel to Colombo where they might contribute to unemployment and other social problems. About 14,000 of these displaced persons continue to live in substandard conditions in camps in Vavuniya and Mannar.
Under the subtitle of Freedom of Speech and Press, they have criticized the recent government attitudes to publications. They state that it has failed to reform the press law and privatize government owned media as promised during the 1994 election campaign.
Regarding assaults on journalists it states that a journalist who regularly reports on defence matters including corruption in military procurements, was attacked in his homes by armed men in February '98. He and his family were threatened at gun point before the attackers fled. A formal indictment was handed out early in the year against the accused and the case was due for trial in November; however, the trial was postponed until May 2000.
Referring to lack of press freedom they stated that the Editor of a leading national newspaper who was found guilty of defaming the President in 1997 has since appealed the verdict. After many postponements the appeal is scheduled for early 2000. Another defamation case filed by the President in 1995 and three others filed in 1997 — all against Editors of major newspapers, either critical of the government or the opposition — were still pending and unresolved. These cases were viewed by journalists as frivolous and intended only to intimidate and harass the media.
In terms of the economy the US State Department has expressed concern over the declining growth rate in Sri Lanka. The gross domestic product per capita is approximately 850. The economy's growth rate was 4.7 % in 1998 and growth for 1999 was expected to be less than 4.0% due to the declining strength of the garment industry and a contraction in the market for tea.
Anton Balasingham,the LTTE theorist has proposed conditions for the forthcoming 'talks' between the LTTE, Government and UNP with Norway as the facilitator. He wants all parties to accept as a pre-condition to the talks that the Tamils are historically a separate nation. Once accepted and talks are in progress, this condition can be altered, if necessary he said.
This is part of the survivalist strategy the LTTE has adopted throughout the 'so called peace talks' over the years (e.g. in 1985 Thimpu talks it laid down four pre-conditions). This condition that the Tamils are a distinct nation is a prerequisite to justify their terrorist existence. The idea is to validate in the eyes of the international community that a Tamil State existed throughout history, that the Tamils have a legitimate and historical right to a separate Tamil homeland and finally that the LTTE is the sole representative of the Tamils.
The strategy adopted by the LTTE for peace talks was always two fold. On one hand it trotted out abstract theoretical arguments like Tamils as a distinct nation had a right to self determination. On the other it called for an environment conductive to peace talks. This condition includes a cease-fire, removal of army camps, free arms movement for Tigers and provision of food and medicine for the people. In 1985, 1989 and 1994 the government unhesitatingly agreed to these conditions and they are appearing to do so once again. The government has been taken on this peace merry-go-round too many times.
Let us look at the concept of Tamils as a separate nation and what conditions have been fulfilled by Tamils of Sri Lanka to call themselves a nation.
Sociologists and Anthropologists differ in their definition of ethnicity, nationality and nation. Marxists and Liberalists accept that national consciousness can be constructed through a social evolutionary process. They accept that a tribe is constructed on blood relationships, ethnicity through common social conditions, nationality through common language and homeland or nation through a common economy. So nation can be regarded as a political necessity rather than a historical phenomenon. The universal definition for nation was presented to the council of nations after the first World War and a more developed definition was presented to the UN after World War 11. The general definition is that if a community is entitled to historical justification then, they have a right to self determination and they can form their own sovereign nation state.
In the case of Sri Lanka Marxists, Liberalists and Modernists agree on one thing i.e. that Sri Lanka is not yet a nation state. There are only conflicting nationalities like Sinhalese Tamils Muslims etc. Therefore they can only be reconciled by means of a federal state. However those who try to solve the civil conflict in Sri Lanka in the line of an European model must realise that the world is no longer Eurocentric.
Anthropologists on the other hand recognise primordial nations and nation states such as China and Sri Lanka (Sinhale) which have existed for thousands of years long before Western modernists created nation states within Europe.
The question is are the Tamils of Sri Lanka a primordial nation ? Several attempts have been made to show that it is. Historical facts clearly show that it was only from the 13th to 16th century that a provisional "Tamil Kingdom" existed in the Jaffna peninsula which by no means can be called a primordial nation or nation state. So therefore the so called Tamil nation and nation state has been conceived in the barrel of a gun and not in the precincts of history.
Tamils are definitely an ethnic group with a separate language and identity. However there are over 8000 such ethnic groups in the world. If Eelam is based on this then at least 8000 nation states would have to be created.
What Sri Lanka needs today is a formation of a true modern nation state based on historical realities, such as China who developed from a primordial nation to modern nation. Let us follow such Asian examples and build a truly powerful nation state.
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