Eelamists will never be happy with what Sri Lanka does. Eelam is the answer and human rights is just another stick to beat Sri Lanka over the head with. That’s why they never seem happy with incremental change or, indeed, with an entire change of government. They don’t want to be governed by a pluralist democracy at all. They want a Tamil Eelam.
Their campaign for a separate, racially-based state is not a campaign for equality or civil rights. Indeed, equal rights for people in Sri Lanka makes the prospect of a separate Eelam less likely, at least by the methods the LTTE and modern Eelamists are trying.
It’s important to understand this and persevere with improving Sri Lankan democracy and unity nevertheless. There is a certain segment of the diaspora and people here that will never be happy with Sri Lanka. There is a certain segment of the international community that will believe them. As Taylor Swift says, haters gonna hate. This government and Sri Lanka in general needs to shake it off and keep stumbling towards equality.
The G Word
While Eelamists use the language of law and human rights, they generally use it in bad faith. No resolution of those particular issues would make them happy, and it’s not like they wanted those standards applied to the LTTE. They already know the answer and the answer is Eelam. The questions are disingenuous. They’re not even listening.
Take the word genocide. Genocide under the UN means acts committed with intent to destroy a group, in whole or in part. It different from other types of conflict in that one group is trying to eliminate the other.
However, since being truly discriminatory starting in 1956 and peaking in 1983, Sri Lankan governments have been trying all sorts of things (repealing racist laws, amending the Constitution) to be more inclusive. Successive governments have still be horrible, but it’s important to note that they were horrible to Sinhalese southerners in the JVP insurrections as well and it is not clear that there’s an ongoing intent to destroy the Tamil people.
The Northern Provincial resolution on genocide doesn’t say anything negative about the LTTE, but it was clear that the end of the war was a proportional military attack against that terrorist group and not conducted with the intent to destroy the Tamil people. Indeed, it was the LTTE trapping and executing civilians that tried to leave. When the LTTE was eliminated the fighting stopped.
You can talk about abuses during that time – detentions, disappearances – but to say that the whole campaign against the LTTE was a genocide against the Tamil people is just wrong. Unless, like the LTTE, you care more about being righteous than being right.
Radhika Coomaraswamy talks about this issue quite cogently in her piece ‘Beyond Genocide‘.
Why are we going there? Well some Tamil nationalist lawyer has suddenly woken up to the fact that if we use the “G” word then there is a legal case for a separate state. This of course is a delusion of theoretical lawyers. In the modern world separate states are only created at the height of humanitarian intervention and only if a big power wants it.
Accountability for war crimes and human rights violations is a completely different frame of action than the claim for a separate state – at least in the Sri Lankan case. (Beyond Genocide)
As you can see, the genocide charge is a means to an end (Eelam) and not A) a serious charge or B) a discussion of actual human rights issues. If you know the answer is Eelam you don’t need to ask pesky questions like, you know, whether 2+2=5.
Since LTTE times, these disingenuous tiger tears have made it hard to engage with the actual issues. Plus the fact that the LTTE actively killed anyone that tried. They were actually happier when things got worse because that made the case for Eelam more clear.
But now you won’t risk death for actually trying to solve human rights issues, and the current government is also far more open to reconciliation and change. This is why Radhika Coomaraswamy’s piece is well worth a read.
What the Tamil community needs (and I have been to Jaffna) are politicians who move away from rhetoric to adopt a practical, problem-solving mind-set. We as a community have had enough of all this name-calling- genocide, traitor, nation – all that is just unnecessary hyperbole at this time in our history. There are so many problems that have to be solved through discussion and dialogue that affect people in their every day life for eg:-what is the “credible mechanism” on accountability going to look like? Can we draw up a time table and a plan working with the governor, and the military for the release of land, release of detainees and a rearrangement of army camps and find solutions acceptable to everyone? These involve discussion and dialogue, not unilateral declarations.
Thankfully, as fake as Eelamists are, they no longer have the power of life or death over people that disagree with them. They can no longer prevent people from voting or murder politicians or conscript children or blow up buses to polarize the country and drive people apart. There is room for change now and we all need to work through the pressure and bullshit to make it happen.
For further reading I recommend Internal Political Power Bashing In The Name Of Justice For War Victims by Rajan Hoole, N. Sivapalan, Ahilan Kadirgamar and K. Sritharan.