The murder of Kethesh Loganathan marked the
first anniversary of the death of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement
(CFA), which occurred when Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated.
In retrospect, it should be clear that the murder of Kadirgamar
was the first shot in the Fourth Eelam War. Since then, there
has been a return to full-scale hostilities. Muslims, Tamils and
Sinhalese have been killed in large numbers, lakhs of people
have been displaced, ugly war crimes are routinely perpetrated
by all the armed parties. Who is to blame for this situation?
And how can we escape from the seemingly endless cycle of war,
ceasefire, and then more war?
The LTTE and its Tamil Supporters
The LTTE was never serious about peace, but
wanted to use the last ceasefire, like previous ones, to re-arm
itself and murder Tamil dissidents and critics. In other words,
they signed the ceasefire only in order to be able to wage war
more ruthlessly at a later date. They themselves have made it
clear that they will not stop fighting until they have
established their totalitarian rule in a separate state of Tamil
Eelam. Nor can the LTTE act otherwise, at least so long as
Prabakaran is at its head. He has sent so many thousands of
Tamils to their deaths in the name of Eelam that he cannot
withdraw from that goal without the risk of being lynched by his
This must be kept in mind for future reference.
At the moment, the LTTE does not seem to be interested in a
cessation of hostilities, but it is likely that at some point
they will again want a ceasefire. The recent ban by the EU, and
action against their proxies in the US, Canada and elsewhere,
should be welcomed, because they have increased the chances of
the LTTE returning to the negotiating table sooner rather than
When such a desire is demonstrated by the LTTE,
it should be taken as an opportunity to negotiate a new
ceasefire which includes watertight human rights guarantees. It
must be emphasised that negotiating a new CFA is the only way to
compel the LTTE to accept an international human rights
monitoring mission; maintaining the fiction that the old CFA is
still alive merely allows them to continue violating human
rights with impunity.
A new CFA, while essential for stopping the
carnage and displacement, is only part of the peace process. A
more important part is the discussion of a permanent solution to
the ongoing strife, which should include all political parties
and civil society groups, especially representatives of Muslims.
Paradoxically, the peace process in this sense can continue even
during the fighting; the war must not be allowed to be used as
an excuse to stop discussions on state reform.
Tamil supporters of the LTTE, including those in
Tamil Nadu like MDMK leader Vaiko, are among the worst enemies
of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. They support an organisation
that has been wiping out all that is best in Tamil culture in
Sri Lanka, and decimating the most distinguished leaders of the
community; an organisation that is responsible for bringing war
and death to Tamil people desperate for peace. The ban on the
LTTE helps the Tamil people by weakening one of their worst
oppressors. Helping to marginalise the LTTE politically is an
important way to help the beleaguered Tamil people of Sri
Lanka.However, the LTTE has allies who helped to start the war,
and they, too, must be identified and marginalised politically,
if we are not to repeat the same mistakes.
The UNF Government, Norwegians and SLMM
The other parties to the 2002 CFA should share
responsibility for the current bloodbath. They designed, signed
and implemented a ceasefire that catered to the LTTE agenda of
preparing for war. The way in which the Nordic monitors carried
out their mandate created a climate of impunity which paved the
way for the current wave of war crimes by the government forces.
Their silence over LTTE killings of Tamils,
conscription of children and driving away Muslims and Sinhalese
as part of its ethnic cleansing campaign makes their protests
against government killings of Tamils, and Sinhala chauvinist
ethnic cleansing drives, sound hypocritical. Human rights, after
all, are supposed to be protected without discrimination, and
those who condone violations by one party forfeit their moral
right to condemn violations by another. Statements by Erik
Solheim and others that it is the EU ban on the LTTE that has
led to the current violence stand history on its head: it was,
on the contrary, LTTE intransigence that led to the EU ban.
If the right of LTTE cadre to enter
government-controlled areas had been made conditional to their
obtaining a clean chit on human rights violations from an
independent and impartial monitoring mission, Lakshman
Kadirgamar, Kethesh Loganathan, and hundreds of other Tamil
peacemakers would still have been alive today, thousands of
children conscripted by the LTTE at home with their families,
and Sri Lanka without war. Such a clause must be incorporated
into any new CFA.
By their own admission, the Nordic monitors have
outlived their usefulness. The LTTE’s insistence that EU members
among them should withdraw has halved their strength.
Ineffective in protecting human rights at the best of times,
they are now completely useless during fierce fighting. In any
case, the CFA they brokered was torn up by the LTTE a year ago,
and is now being trampled by all the armed parties.
The UNP leadership is doubly to blame for the
current war, because they blocked earlier efforts to arrive at a
workable devolution proposal instead of participating in the
discussions in good faith. If they do the same again, they
deserve to be thrown into the dustbin of history. The statements
by some leaders that they are ready to support a political
solution are a hopeful sign.
NGO and Sinhalese Liberal Supporters of LTTE
Sinhalese liberals and NGOs that supported the
LTTE’s claim to be sole representative of the Tamils of Sri
Lanka deliberately turned a blind eye to the fact that the LTTE
sought to establish itself in this position by killing off all
rivals and critics. They thus became accomplices in the murder
of Kethesh and hundreds of others who were fighting for peace
with dignity for Tamils within a united Sri Lanka. The greatest
irony is that while claiming to act in the interest of peace,
they assisted in the brutal extermination of a large number of
Like the Norwegian mediators and the SLMM, they
are also guilty of ignoring the very existence of the Muslims of
the North and East, and refusing to acknowledge the horrific
atrocities this community has been subjected to by the LTTE.
They participated in establishing a culture in which the human
rights of Tamils and Muslims could be violated with impunity.
Thus, part of the blame for the hundreds of Muslims and Tamils
being killed today, falls on these people.
If they are genuinely interested in a just and
durable peace, they need to reconsider their cavalier attitude.
If they oppose the ban on the LTTE by various governments and
are silent about its abuses of human and democratic rights, they
cannot hope to be taken seriously whenthey denounce similar
abuses by government forces. Only those who stand up for human
rights, regardless of who is violating them, can apply pressure
on the government in this situation.
Sinhala Chauvinist Allies of the LTTE
Sinhala chauvinists were in the past responsible
for the creation of the LTTE, and today play a key role in
giving it credibility. Sinhala nationalists in the Defence
Ministry and the JVP and JHU have been doing their best to help
the LTTE try to justify its claim that Tamils are oppressed by
the state in Sri Lanka, and there is no alternative to
separation. In the current circumstances, they are the biggest
obstacle to political defeat of the LTTE and to a durable peace.
The role of President Mahinda Rajapakse is
unclear. If he himself is not a Sinhala chauvinist hardliner, as
many journalists describe him, then he is a weak president
unable to control his hardline supporters. If Sinhala
nationalists who kept a low profile during the Kumaratunga
presidency are now crawling out of the gutters in large numbers,
it is because they see him as giving them the green light to
proceed with their violent and undemocratic agenda. Various war
crimes such as rape, torture, disappearances and extrajudicial
killings have come to tarnish the image of his government.
If he is uncomfortable with the image of a
war-monger, he must ensure that all those who are guilty of
intentional attacks on Tamil and Muslim civilians are arrested,
tried, convicted and put behind bars, and provide full
compensation to the victims or their relatives. If Tamil and
Muslim civilians have accidentally suffered in the course of
attacks on the LTTE, he must apologise to them and compensate
them too for their losses, guaranteeing their security and
providing assistance for rebuilding their devastated lives. If
all this were being done in a credible manner, the government
would not be arresting Tamil refugees fleeing to Tamil Nadu, nor
compelling Muslim refugees to return to Muttur and Thoppur,
because the conditions for a voluntary return of refugees to
their homes would have been created.
The government must formalise its relationship
with Karuna by wresting guarantees of human rights from the
outfit so that its large number of human rights violations will
cease to be. And it must proceed firmly and rapidly with plans
to move towards maximum devolution within a united - not unitary
As head of state and the armed forces, the
President cannot evade responsibility for the crimes committed
by his armed forces and allies. Sinhala chauvinists must realise
that Sri Lanka is not situated on some other planet and
therefore its government is subject to international
humanitarian and human rights laws. It is the President’s and
government’s duty to implement such laws.
International actors who have proscribed the
LTTE can help in this regard. As a matter of urgency, they
should ensure that a UN-sponsored human rights monitoring
mission, which several human rights bodies - including those of
the UN - have called for, will be set up in Sri Lanka. They
should pressure the government to accept and cooperate with this
mission, which should threaten sanctions as a deterrent. The
refusal of the LTTE to cooperate with such a mission is not an
excuse for the government to do the same. They should also
pressure the government to move more rapidly towards state
reforms. However, in the final analysis it is only the Sinhalese
people of Sri Lanka who can ensure the marginalisation of
Sinhala chauvinists claiming to act in their interests. They
need to stage demonstrations calling for the protection of Tamil
and Muslim civilians.
They need to demand an independent and impartial
international human rights monitoring mission. They should
recall that the last time they allowed large-scale state
violations of the human rights of Tamils in the 1980s, tens of
thousands of Sinhalese were the next to be killed. They need to
demonstrate in front of JVP and JHU headquarters, threatening
that not a single Sinhalese will vote for them if they block
progress towards devolution and peace. They need to call on the
President to bring them peace as he promised.
Finally, it would help if journalists stopped
insulting Marx and Marxism by referring to the JVP as ‘Marxist’.
Their Sinhala nationalism is more akin to the National Socialism
of the Nazi Party than the internationalism of Marxism, which
calls upon workers to unite irrespective of their ethnicity,
language, religion or nationality. Genuine Marxism can be part
of the solution to the current crisis.
Lessons for the Future
Our country is in a mess right now: there is no
doubt about that. But this is partly because we did not learn
from our mistakes in the past. If we do so at least now, and
ensure that they are not repeated, we can break the sinister
cycle (of war, ceasefire, and then more war). The majority of
people in Sri Lanka, from all communities, would be in favour of
a democratic solution to the current conflict.
If we ensure that their will prevails, by
marginalising hardline Sinhala and Tamil nationalists, there is
still hope for the future.