Testimony before LLRC
Kumar Rupesinghe warns that a small terrorist group can cause havoc post-LTTE

Kumar Rupesinghe says a small group of terrorists can cause havoc, though the LTTE has lost its conventional military capability.

Regarded as a one-time favourite of the Norwegian peace facilitators, Rupasinghe told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission on Wednesday that the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008 is a case in point.

While warning of the possibility of non-state actors developing lethal weaponry, Rupasinghe emphasised the need to meet the legitimate rights of the Tamil speaking people.

Rupasinghe, who is now on a collision course with the Norwegians, is in the process of working on a book which will deal with the Nordic country’s role in the peace process.

He said: "I have had a long and abiding interest in the ethnic conflict and its resolution for over 30 years. In 1972 – 1976, as the director of the National Youth Council, I was privileged to travel to Jaffna often and to see for myself the signs of deep youth unrest and rebellion at that time. The unrest and bitterness was due to the standardization policies adopted by the then United Front Government in 1974 and also the neglect of the concerns of the Tamil people.

"Some of you may also be aware that I initiated two newspapers, Janavegaya and Janavegam, with the full concurrence of the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike, to highlight key reforms that were necessary at that time. One of the key issues that we consistently addressed was to draw attention on the deep rooted unrest among Tamil youth and the need for reconciliation and understanding of the impending disaster which was to befall the country particularly after the defeat of the JVP-led insurgency.

"At that time I predicted that a violent movement would emerge in the north, based on the example of the JVP insurrection but also with inspiration from South India and abroad and the deep feelings of humiliation experienced by young people in the north. In 1977, I had the opportunity to appraise President Jayawardene of my concerns, that a political solution was necessary. JR. Jayawardene did try to resolve the issue, but by that time the intransigence of the TULF, which had won a mandate from the people for a separate state of Tamil Eelam, was in no mood to respond to JRJ’s overtures.

"I am sure you would read the report of the Commission appointed by Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga on the causes which led to the unfortunate incidents of July 1983, where the commission in its findings blamed the causes of the 1983 events to state sponsored violence. It is an important document and should be studied for unfortunately the lessons learnt by that commission and the recommendation suggested by the commission was never implemented. One key lesson which was learnt was that the unfortunate events of 1983 should never be repeated.

"Whilst the war is over, and the guns are silent, there are still forces outside who are still hell bent on Tamil Eelam and division. As you are well aware if we examine modern terrorism, a small group of people with lethal weapons can create havoc in a country. Military analysts are now drawing attention to 5th generation warfare.

"The issue of mass scale hostages is another issue which will face the global community. Using hostages as an instrument of war, the law of war or humanitarian law does not pay adequate attention to this issue. Major cities in the future could be vulnerable to hostage taking of large numbers of civilians. The hostage crisis of over 300,000 refugees and citizens used as an instrument of war by the LTTE is a good example of this.

"It is my view that the politics of humiliation were the root causes of the conflict. In Sri Lanka the most import form of humiliation was the language policy and the denial of the Tamil language.

"I wish to remind you of the early warning provided by two astute politicians in the debate on the Sinhala Only Act in 1956. The words of Colvin R. d. Silva when he addressed parliament and warned of a one language policy saying that this policy could lead to one language, two states or two languages one state. J.R. Jayawardene, in his address to the parliament in the same debate suggested that the one language policy could lead to a civil war and a blood bath. How prophetic these words seem today.

"The Foundation for Co-Existence undertook a study of the implementation of the Tamil language in 2005. The results are not very heartening. Some of the key findings of the report is that whilst Tamil is an official language in the country that there are glaring discrepancies in its implementation. The report gives many examples of humiliation as a result of the lack of implementation, ranging from sign board only in Sinhalese, letters written by public administration only in Sinhalese, hospitals in Nuwara Eliya where the majority of people are Tamil, where the majority of people working there are Sinhalese and police stations in the north taking complains only in Sinhalese etc. These are the day to day interaction which enhance the feelings of humiliation, fuel resentment and anger.

"Another survey was done by the Foundation for Co-Coexistence (FCE) in 2009 and I would like to share some the findings with you. In 2009, the FCE commissioned Social Indicator to conduct a knowledge, attitudes and practices survey on the impact of the official languages policy on Tamil speaking people and the public service in the delivery of their services. A sample of 818 respondents was selected from the areas of Nuwara Eliya, Badulla, Trincomalee, Puttalam, Ampara, Colombo and Kandy. These are some of the key findings:

=         33% of the public service and 43.9% of the general public interviewed believe that only Sinhala is the official language in Sri Lanka...

=      61.5% of the public service and 20.4% of the general public know of the official languages policy

=         49.5% of the public service knows of the public’s right to deal with government institutions in the language of their choice, while 7.3% believe that the public should deal with government in Sinhala. 30.5% of the general public knows of their right to deal with the government in either Sinhala or Tamil.

= 47.6% Sinhala speaking respondents and 75.3% Tamil speaking respondents said that public officials should know both Sinhala and Tamil.

=  54.2% Sinhala speaking respondents and 76.9% Tamil speaking respondents said that the public service couldn’t deliver an efficient service due to the inability to speak a second language

=  61.7% public service officers strongly agreed that the official languages policy should be a high priority for government institutions

=   54.2% Sinhala speaking respondents and 87.2% Tamil speaking respondents felt that the OLP should be a high priority for government institutions

=  44.5% public service officers do not think that the OLP is implemented properly, while 30.8% are not sure. 32.1% of the general public too don’t believe that the OLP is fully implemented, while 49.3% are not sure

=  37.2% public service officers believe that the government has taken the necessary steps to implement the OLP, while 37.8% disagree. 24.3 % of the public – say yes, while 24.5 say no to this issue.

=   71.6 % public service officers and 54.6% of the general public agreed that the full implementation of a bi-lingual policy is important for peace and reconciliation

I have dwelt at length on these findings for it is the perception that matters, and overwhelming majority of people do feel that the implementation of the official languages act is a key foundation for reconciliation.

=  The official languages act does not address the types of language rights violations nor the remedial action that must be instituted to give effect to compliance with the law. The current act also does not address the fact that very often the rural citizenry have little or no access to the OLC which is centralized and based in Colombo and as such are often silent victims.

=   In terms of s. 35 (1) of the official languages act, the complainant cannot take any legal action against the commission for its failure to take any remedial measures. The proposed bill holds the official languages commission liable for its inactions and omissions by permitting the complainant to file action against the commission for its inaction.

 =  The existing Official Languages Commission Act does not specify as to which actions constitute language rights violations. The act gives discretion to the commission to determine whether any act constitutes a language rights violation. the proposed bill specifies the language rights violations in its section 4 and also makes provisions for the minister in charge to add more language rights violations that will be identified in future by way of making regulations.

 =  the provisions in the Official Languages Commission Act facilitates the lethargy of public officials to not take any language rights violations seriously and refrain from taking action on complaints made by the general public until such member of the general public loses interest in the matter. The proposed bill strengthens both the commission and the litigant to take actions against public officials who willfully take no action to remedy omissions that have taken place on their part.

 Another vexed issue I would like to highlight is the problems of young people in the plantations.

a.    the numbers of plantations Tamils entering university is still below 1% out of 400,000 graduates in the country only 1,000 are from the estate sector

b.    Out of 25,000 who enter university only about 100-150 have come from the plantation sector.

c.    Out of 1% who passes A Level each year only 001% is from the estate sector.

d.    Identity cards and voter registration is a serious problem in the plantation sector. Only about 40 % have identity cards and voter registration.

e.    there are 650 IAB schools for GCE advanced level and only about 15 in the plantations sector, and there is very little infrastructure.

f.     There is no university for this entire region although there have been promises by various governments and politicians.

The third issue which I wish to dwell on is the Muslim question.

=  The Foundation for Co-Existence together with the Muslim Rights Organization, undertook a major survey of the lands appropriated by the LTTE in the north and the east.

=  18,000 families who lost their agricultural land to the LTTE in the East, this loss of land were recorded by M.I.M. Mohideen who has appeared before the Commission...

=   The mass exodus of Muslims from the north instigated by the LTTE and the loss of lands were also recorded.

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