To speak candidly is to speak openly and frankly. The fuel blockade imposed on the
Jaffna peninsula in early January must be seen for what it is. It constituted a near
genocidal attack on the Tamil people.
The ostensible reason for the blockade by the Sri Lankan government, was the
announcement of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that they intended to make
arrangements for the civil administration of the peninsula - a civil administration which
had fallen into disarray and which badly needed reconstruction.
But, whatever may be the ostensible reason, that which is relevant is that in July
1983, long before the LTTE announcement, President Jayawardene had set the frame for his
government's response to the claims of the Tamil people for justice, by declaring in his
now famous interview with Ian Ward of the Daily Telegraph:
"...I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna people now...Now we cannot
think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us...The more you put
pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here...really, if I starve
the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy..."
And the fuel blockade imposed in early January this year seeks to starve the Tamils
Independent observers of the Sri Lankan scene will therefore, be forgiven if they take
the view that the recent actions of the Sri Lankan government which have caused untold
misery and deprivation amongst the Tamil people, were in fact, actions intended to
translate into reality the words uttered three years ago by an elected President about the
'lives and the opinions' of a section of his electorate. They will also be forgiven if
they link the fuel blockade in early January with the massive military offensive launched
later in January, against the Tamil people both in the North and in the East of Sri Lanka.
More than two hundred Tamil civilians have been killed in recent weeks and these
included 21 Tamil employees in a Batticaloa seafood farm who were allegedly lined up and
shot dead by the state security forces. In a telegram to President Jayawardene, the
Batticaloa Citizens Committee pleaded that Tamil 'males were being systematically killed'
by the armed forces.
It was a telegram reminiscent of the communication sent by Paul Nallanayagam some 18
months ago about a similar incident and for which he was arraigned before the High Court
of Colombo for publishing false rumours - a charge of which he was acquitted after a
prolonged period of detention and trial.
But then, it is unlikely that telegrams such as those sent by the Batticaloa Citizen
Committee, cause much concern to the Sri Lankan government. After all, to the Sri Lankan
government every Tamil is prima facie a 'terrorist' and therefore qualified for
The words of National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali uttered in Parliament in
December 1984 spring to mind:
" Who is a terrorist? Is he the person who uses a gun? Or is he also not a
terrorist who accompanies a terrorist with a gun? Is he not also a terrorist who gives a
house to a person who has a gun and who wants to kill? Is he also not a terrorist who
watches the movement of the army and then goes and tells a terrorist: do not go that way,
the army is around?"
On that occasion the Minister went on to advise the Tamils in the Northern Province
to take a 'holiday' with their relatives in other parts of the country, so that
presumably, the armed forces would be able to identify those who remained as the real
terrorists. Today, it seems that a concentrated military offensive has been launched on
all those Tamils who did not act on the Minister's advice and take a holiday from their
The recent killings by the state security forces follow a pattern that had already been
set. It was a pattern that had emerged long before 1983. In July 1983, more than 50 Tamil
civilians were killed by the state security forces, on the streets of Jaffna and Orville
H.Schell, former President of the New York City Bar Association, was moved to comment in
the New York Times on the 24th of August 1983:
"I believe that recent killings by security authorities follow a pattern
previously set...The government must bear full responsibility for these breaches of the
right to life and other violations of human rights, especially in light of the wide powers
that in recent years it has given the security forces...".
Despite the concerns expressed by international human rights organisations, the
murder of Tamil civilians has continued in 1984 and thereafter. In respect of the massacre
in Chunnakkam in March 1984, Amnesty International concluded 'that there is strong
evidence' that the people 'died as a result of deliberate random shootings by air force
personnel And the Sri Lankan army shot at random not only in Chunnakkam but elsewhere in
Jaffna as well.
In May 1984, the London Times commented:
"...in the past two months at least 100 Tamils in the northern province of Jaffna
have been killed by security forces - the official explanation is that these people were
all 'terrorists', but this is contradicted by the accounts of every independent observer
who has visited Jaffna..."
In June 1984, Amnesty International continued to be 'greatly concerned' 'that the
government has permitted its security forces' to commit 'grave abuses of the right to
life, that it has failed explicitly to condemn these abuses and to halt their occurrence'.
And, yet again, in January 1985 Amnesty International referring to allegations 'of
widespread killings in the Mannar area' 'by personnel of the security forces' pointed out
that 'the scale of these killings' was 'unprecedented' and that it was alleged that 'at
least ninety unarmed civilians, nearly all Tamils, many of them old men, women and
children, were shot dead'.
According to another independent observer of the Sri Lankan scene, Trevor Fishlock,
writing in the London Times in January 1985,
"the Sri Lankan forces were conducting a harsh and remorseless campaign of
intimidation among the island's Tamil minority - by means of random murder, indiscriminate
shootings, beatings, torture and plunder".
Senator A.L.Missen summed it all when he declared in the Australian Senate on the 13th
of March 1986:
"...some 6000 (Tamils) have been killed altogether in the last few years. These
events are not accidental. It can be seen that they are the result of a deliberate policy
on the part of the Sri Lankan government.."
And, it was a policy which the Sri Lankan government did not hesitate to publicly
declare, from time to time. Kuldip Nayar reported in the Island on the 17th of February
"...The President conceded that 'terrible things' were happening in Sri
Lanka...asked if he would set up an inquiry commission to go into the atrocities committed
by the army against the Tamils, he said: 'Did the British appoint a commission during the
The Sri Lankan government has not been without its moments of frankness. It was frank
when it declared that it was no longer 'worried' about the 'lives or the opinion' of the
Jaffna people. It was frank when it declared that in its perception 'the Sinhala people
would be happy if the Tamils are starved'. It was frank in advising the Tamils to take a
holiday from their homelands, so that those who remained may be identified as 'terrorists'
and dealt with as 'terrorists'. It was frank when it declared that it was 'at war' with
the Tamil people.
And, it is important that the Sri Lankan government should be taken at its word. The
Sri Lankan government is engaged in a war to subjugate the Tamil people. But the
process of subjugation is not without difficulty. The victim will not quietly submit. He
screams for help. He seeks refuge and becomes a refugee. And, he even has the temerity to
resist and retaliate.
In an increasingly small world, injustice anywhere begins to affect peace and stability
everywhere. In the end, it is this which has given rise to the increasing international
concern for securing human rights. Today, there is a need for informed opinion everywhere,
to recognise that the continuing violations of human rights by the Sri Lankan government
are not some accidental happenings - they have come as the deliberate response of the Sri
Lankan government to the claim of the Tamils to be recognised as a people.
The Sri Lankan government seeks to intimidate the Tamil people by threatening genocide.
To paraphrase the words of Professor Leo Kruper, in his prize winning booklet
'International Action Against Genocide' there is today, an urgent need to refine the norms
for 'humanitarian intervention for the exercise of the
of self determination' of a people.
This is the positive area of human rights work, to which, both governments and non
governmental agencies, concerned not merely with mouthing platitudes but with securing
justice, should increasingly give their time and energies. Otherwise,
genocide will continue to be a scourge and human rights more
often than not, a mere exercise in rhetoric.
It is in this context that we welcome Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's initiative in
calling upon the Sri Lankan government to lift the fuel blockade, desist from the
continued military onslaught on the Tamil people, and to get to the negotiating table.
Hopefully, the Sri Lankan government will recognise that peace will not come by
killing more and more Tamils and by seeking to starve the remainder into submission - it
will come only through a negotiating process firmly founded on the recognition of the
Tamils of Eelam as a people, as a nation. It is around reason that peace will grow.