The current report is centered on the East and raises issues, which we think are central to the political future of this country. Our inquiries were made mainly on the stretch of the east coast from Vantharumoolai, north of Batticaloa, to Komari, near Pottuvil. In the course of preparing this report, we received invaluable help from some human rights activists in the South, who also gave us accounts of recent massacres of Sinhalese peasants in parts of the Moneragala district bordering the East. Through discussions with them, we were able to gather something of the feelings of Sinhalese settled in the East. At the cost of some repetition of material from earlier reports ( No.5, and Special No.3 ), our final chapter attempts to clarify the issues surrounding state aided colonization.
Some of the areas covered in Special Report No.3 were revisited. This time we had the benefit of several cordial conversations with Muslims living in the region from Eravur to Akkaraipattu. This helped us to correct some of the imbalance that readers of Special Report No.3 complained of.
The current report is fairly detailed, as some of the earlier ones have been, and may deter the average reader. Given our situation and our capacity, our primary purpose is not only to make an immediate impact. By leaving behind a historical record, we hope that it would influence the development of healthier politics in the future.
We have argued in our reports that at the root of the present political crisis and the spate of human rights violations, lies the degrading feeling of powerlessness which the different communities feel in the face of forces who not just impose upon them, but are often ready to resort to massacres. Though the protagonists, whether the state or a militant group, may temporarily gloat over the powerlessness of the victim, it also turns the alienated young into militant potential that could be moulded. It becomes all the more explosive in a culture where it has become respectable to be insensitive. It has become fashionable in our universities to tell students not to talk about political issues, while young men and women, peasants, soldiers and even children, are giving their lives by the hundreds. For the, perhaps small, minority of students who are keenly aware of the tragedy of their own village, are unable to talk about it in a sympathetic environment, and feel angry about it, secret societies and covert activity become the only outlets.
We have also constantly argued that the state, with its legal obligations and material resources, must make a bold political initiative based on human rights, to break the ideological blockade, remove the feeling of powerlessness among people, and give them confidence, instead of being trapped in its ugly actions.
Being university teachers rooted in Jaffna, through the experience of our own tragedy, we have found it a necessary part of our special obligation to question those ideological predilections, prejudices and hypocrisy on the part of our own community that have also contributed to this tragedy. Though such unorthodoxy has caused unease, as we have explained earlier, it is a necessary part of the unfolding. Also, we on our part, regard it as meaningless to record violations without going into the context.
The East : Sadly today, despite the government's claims to have restored a semblance of normality, there are constant reminders of the state's brutality, potential and actual. Following the incident in Iruthayapuram, a northern suburb of Batticaloa, at the end of March, when 12 civilians were massacred in reprisals, the regional police chief reassured the citizens' committee. He did not refer to any inquiry or disciplinary action. The police officers involved, he said, were being transferred to Mannar, that was incidentally being prepared to receive a refugee influx from India. A month later, end of April, civilians passing a police check point in the area, witnessed two beheaded corpses 50 yards away. Routine experiences of Easterners are variations on the same theme.
In dealing with such a government, in massacreing Sinhalese and Muslim civilians, the Tigers have been prepared to pay the price of utterly discrediting themselves as a liberation group, and greatly diminishing the dignity and security of Tamils, in return for longevity.
A climate of terror now prevails among all communities in the Moneragala district, following massacres of Sinhalese civilians. Reprisals against hill country (estate) Tamils in the area, appear consistent with some security officials in the area giving the impression that attacks on Sinhalese were carried out by estate Tamils.
With the government proceeding thus in a political vacuum, we need to take serious alarm at the prospect of escalation. Sheer anger and alienation, rather than any tangible gain, may push many estate youth towards a cause which would only use them cynically.
The North : In their state of helplessness and degradation, the Eastern Tamils tend to look admiringly at their Northern counterparts as forming a bastion of resistance. Little do they understand that what obtains in the North is a community with its moral sensibilities shrivelled, groping at survival. Through manipulation and playing on its weaknesses, the community does not question why young children are sent on a suicidal course to give their lives. But in the little room allowed for it to manage some survival tasks, it can show considerable will power and resistance. People set themselves immediate goals such as : take son to Colombo, arrange to stay or go abroad. Come back to Jaffna. Secure house from takeover. Collect son's documents, testimonials, leaving certificate etc. Go to Colombo and so on. Irritation resulting from punitive delays at LTTE and Sri Lankan army check points in Vavuniya, can elicit both strong protest as well as some harsh counter action. The task of catching that day's train to Colombo can be so all consuming, that beating the queue by ignoring warnings of minefields would appear natural.
Persons may carelessly remark that now with the army camp at Mankulam demolished, if the same is done to that at Elephant Pass, the route to Colombo will then be clear. This shows the differences in perception between ordinary civilians on one hand and the children who are giving their lives for what they think would be a separate state. The obsession of many is with having a clear route to Colombo, which existed before the war, and not to Trincomalee or Batticaloa. Driven to such a level of existence, the community earns increasing contempt from all armed parties.
The people must also ignore the experience of 1987, reinterpret the contrived tragedy of the East, and go in for hallucinations, in order to believe that the LTTE is protecting them from the vindictive ire of the Sri Lankan army. Many would argue that the policemen massacred by the LTTE last June were killed by Sri Lankan forces, The Eastern Tamils continue as refugees because they are lazy as usual, and so on. The politics needs to encourage such illusions.
We have pointed out that it would be a grave mistake for anyone to take satisfaction in the reduction to such a state, of this or any other section of this country. Jaffna has much potential to be tapped for the good of the whole country. Nothing is gained by a politics that turns a section of the people into gelignite.
It must also be mentioned that persons with diverse vocations in Jaffna feel the urge to speak out at considerable risk. One speaker said at a recent public seminar in Jaffna:
"Is it good to lose one's inner freedom and survive for the sake of existence? The war has created a sense of powerlessness which has led to helplessness. Are we being used as pawns in a game of chess? Are the people being victimised?"
The speaker constantly referred to the social impact of the American veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars, to illustrate what was going on in Jaffna.
Glimmers of hope amidst a sea of despair. In the light of experience over the past decade, and the existing political vacuum, what we face now is surely frightening. Looking back over the war, there have been a few initiatives, often by individual officers, which can be utilised to improve the situation.
We have recorded in this report the case of an army unit at Kaluwanchikudy which had set high standards and also a police OIC in Akkaraipattu who attempted the same. Such attempts did help to usher in a benign atmosphere.
There is also the case of the Brigadier who was brought in after a bad experience in Mannar. He promised civilians in Mannar that there would be no further disappearances and that detainees would be treated according to normal rules. His intentions were not doubted, and by comparison elsewhere, his promise was largely kept.
Bombing in Jaffna was mostly stopped when the new defence minister took charge on 6th March. It helped to soften in civilian minds the vindictive face of the government.
We have also seen that good officers can enforce a high level of discipline. Civilian life in Mannar town now goes on normally while injured soldiers are brought to hospital ‑ something unique in the annals of the Sri Lankan army. Things were also helped by the interest taken by the UNHCR, the ICRC and the Indian Government.
But all these are largely isolated instances in a political vacuum. An officer who rises above the general level of political culture deserves high praise. In this situation, which lacks clarity regarding goals, the work of a few good officers and the effect of isolated initiatives soon wear off at the slightest fraying of tempers.
Over the traditional New Year there was some senseless bombing and shelling in Jaffna resulting in civilian casualties. The recent bombing of the repaired ferry at Puneryn had no purpose except to give vent to anger.
When 4 civilians were hacked to death in the Mannar sector on 17th February, even the well‑meaning Brigadier became party to a cover up.
There is no momentum leading to disciplinary action against offenders in order to move ahead with confidence building measures. There is thus no option except to lauch a bold political initiative. Once the momentum is generated, we are certain that everyone concerned will be pushed into responding positively.
The Demands : We put forward the following demands pertaining to some urgent issues raised in this report.
1. Create institutional machinery using locally and internationally based organisations to further and monitor the observance of human rights. There is an urgent need for the security forces to respond positively to complaints by civilians.
In this connection, a press summary of 'Human Rights in Civil War ‑ the case of El Salvador, a statement issued by the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka, is given in Appendix 1. The statement deals with the agreement of July 1990 between the two parties to the Salvadorean conflict laying down a detailed framework for UN participation in the maintenance and monitoring of Human Rights. This precedent opens creative possibilities for both sides to the Sri Lankan conflict. It, more importantly, provides for space to enable ordinary people to express their aspirations.
2. Take all necessary steps to convince Tamils and Muslims living in the East that the state has no agenda of its own to change the demography of the North‑East.
Halt the ongoing process of resettlement of a particular community with state patronage. Ensure that all three major communities feel that their specific needs will be taken into consideration in resettlement and rehabilitation programmes.
3. Appoint a committee consisting of persons from all communities to study the question of land settlement and to propose a solution acceptable to all three communities living in these areas, respecting the multi‑ethnic and multi‑cultural nature of our society. The committee should probe into:
(i) The history of re‑colonisation and the demographical changes that took place as the result of manipulation by the state.
Whether the nature and the working of the present state machinery is biased towards any particular community.
(ii) Social changes resulting from transfer of lands to particular communities, with no state involvement, and the social forces behind such transfers.
(iii) Social changes resulting from a neglect of economic development in the North‑East, such as emigration of a large section of the middle class, and the resulting sense of isolation and vulnerability.
4.The government should come out with a clear equitable policy statement on land settlement, and should take positive action at a high level to ensure that any built up inertia of the state machinery to favour a particular community is broken.[Top]
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