Sri Lanka And Feudal Democracies: Human Rights And Accountability – Analysis


By Ravi Sundaralingam

The beginning of May brings yet another period remembrance, pain, feeling of inadequacy, anger, and regret to the tortured lives of the Sri Lankan Tamils. This year however, the publication of the UN Report on the events in May 2009 has brought in a sense of satisfaction for the ‘international recognition’ of their sufferings, along with it a feeling of responsibility of having to ‘do something with it’.

Perhaps, they are grateful for finally seeing a document about the events after two years of denials and heavy lobbying against it by the Sri Lankan government and, the promises, prevarications, and ‘change of approaches’ by the international community. Hitherto suspected of being the friends of Colombo authorities, Ban Ki-Moon and his UN officials are now reviled by the government.

What has happened to the Sri Lankan Tamils, especially to those held hostage by their supposed liberators and, the young men and women voluntarily or forcibly inducted into the LTTE at the hands of the state have been portrayed entirely (1) in the context of a war and (2) as a matter between the Sinhala government and the Tamils.

While the intervention by the ‘international community’ on behalf of the Erased Tamil lives, is a recognition that Tamils are disadvantaged as a people to receive justices from the state, the UN report itself is seeking justification for only the last days of Tamileelam war, devoid of any socio-political context.

This only allows for two logical options, (1) retribution for the perpetrators of the crimes, and (2) deals to close the loops so that the first option is no longer available.


The decision to (1) ‘handed over’ the Tamils’ struggle for democratic rights to the LTTE, (2) maintain the balance of forces between the state and the LTTE, (3) supply material, surveillance and political support for the state to eliminate the LTTE, (4) avoid resolute actions to prevent the last stages of the last dark days, and finally (5) appoint a UN panel to investigate the Tamil Holocaust were all made elsewhere, by the ‘international community’, and Tamils communities in any continent had no way of influencing them.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Thus, “what the Tamils can do with the report” is an empty, spurious question. It is an extraordinary suggestion for a people, who miserably failed to convince their own organisation the LTTE, to correct its ways, to move away from terrorism, to even hope for a say in the real-politics of the region.

“What can they make of the report and, how to make some part of it their own and get a handle on it” would be the ‘intellectually honest’ question.

In need of a regional Human-rights framework

For we know the fires sweeping the Middle East and the burning issues in the Subcontinent, and many other parts of the developing world are about the (a) rights and belonging of peoples and individuals, and (b) the accountability of the feudal institutions that dominate the masses.

The market led globalisation has elevated the entire base of the population in some cases or at least that of the educated classes to newer levels. In the absence of alternatives and decades of oppressions by their rulers they have developed a natural affinity with the ‘Western values’ of democracy and human rights.

On the other hand, we are also aware the ‘powers’ that decide the eventual status of these feudal states, at present want to consolidate ‘states’ as the regulator of the micro-economies, and they very rarely see the advantage of splitting up these administrative arrangements.

Therefore, the rights of a people, as a distinct entity with historical belongings and rights, need to be rehashed within this framework, and the guidelines provided by the regional foreman of the global economy.

In this respect, what is lost as an opportunity to become a self-regulating self-secured people can be recovered from a broader regional politico-economic program and, a wider rights-charter and a framework to ensure its practice in a region.

This is a kind of ‘safety deposit box’, for every nation big or small, existing or aspirant, where collective and individual sovereignties can be trusted for safekeeping, and for actual guarantee of delivery. Such an opportunity provided by the EU was not lost on the Provisional-IRA, which ended its military conflict with the UK.

Eventually, such a framework, enshrining the rights and belonging of the people, can also serve as a basis of democracy and pluralism in the region.

Why does a developing region need a rights-framework?

(1) They are socio-political-economically and political-culturally feudal.

(2) Except for the old societies, Egypt, China, India, and Iran their states are colonial arrangements.

(3) Their institutions are ‘left-behind tools’ by socio-technologically advanced societies, now submerged into the feudalism of the lands.

(4) Except for China and India they are no guarantees against military and political interference from superior powers.

(5) The West take as its right to kill, maim, even torture what it regards as suspects, associates with impunity, and death of their family members are just unavoidable collateral damages. It makes war and reduces the towns and cities to rubble in these feudal states for democracy, human-rights, and anti-terrorism campaign.

(6) Human-rights of the citizens of the advanced societies are a fiercely defended property, which act as a shield and a geographical boundary therefore, an important weapon in their foreign policies and strategies.

(7) Socio-economic transitions in among the developing regions have seen the emergence and merging of many people or nations. These changes need a stable political and economic background to nurture the process and progress without having to resort to the wars and internal strife belonging to 17th or 18th Century Europe.

(8) Proliferation of new independent states cannot be the answer for the issues caused by these non-uniform social advancements. Invariably, they belong to minorities and, inevitably the tools that didn’t belong to the feudal state, now politicised and in the hands of a ‘majority’ community, will be used to annihilate them, as it is their way of completing process of ‘unification of a country’.

(9) The proposing liberators are no suitors, as feudalism asserts control over their organisations, they become politically and morally confused and corrupt, and eventually aggressive abusers themselves of the rights they are supposed to defend.

Their fronts and personalities championing human-rights of their people will not and could not reform even if they are western educated, as they were apologists and justifiers of the crimes and sworn to their feudal ways in private and public lives, despite their language. For many, ‘human-rights’ is merely a tool to continue in their merry way with the failed program, if not for self-importance.

(10) Corporations and business interests in the regions are becoming more powerful than the feudal states and threatening the dominant communities, not just the minorities already endangered by their states.

(11) Issues of belonging and rights of any people cannot be sorted without a regional settlement, which includes a common economic program, when the corporate, national and regional interests competing for predominance.

What do these have with our ‘intellectually honest’ question?

“(a) What can they make of the report and, (b) how to make some part of it their own and get a handle on it?”

Almost four decades of struggle has left the Tamils as a society (a) that has to be physically submissive to the majority and (b) broken and spread over the Western world.

However, even in this ‘defeat’ there are many positives Tamils can draw strength and satisfaction from.

They are left with (1) the LTTE’s monumental achievement, the MoU as a legal basis for their ‘statehood’, (2) many vibrant, survivalist, prosperous Expatriate communities, and now (3) a little recognition for their existence, nothing more, a UN Report, inadvertently achieved by the folding LTTE leadership, and by the torturous murders of our brave, beautiful, and precious young men and women, who dedicated their lives in service of others.

So, what could the Tamils make of the report?

(1) It is neither theirs, nor for them.

(2) They have no real influence over its outcome.

(3) It confirms what they already know; Sri Lanka as an institution cannot guarantee their existence.

(4) It also confirms the unpalatable truth, their liberator the LTTE, and all other pretenders only to join the state against the LTTE, cannot be trusted with their safety or their human-rights.

How can they make some part of it their own, and get a handle on it?

(1) Work towards a wider human-rights framework for the region that accounts for the feudal nature of the societies as well as the rulers for the entire region. Every state in the region is heavy human-rights abuser, irrespective of its strategic or economic status. As a first step, broaden the campaign to include those killed or disappeared during the wars between the state and the JVP.

(2) Work towards a political position for conflict resolution through a step-by-step time targeted process of reconciliation, and avoid retributions and thought of prosecutions of the guilty, unless they have own means.

(3) Work towards a regional agenda that has the interests of the people in the region, where trusts for their future safety can be deposited, and avoid the temptation to exchange what they do not possess for a deal.

What they should be wary about?

Not the motives or some of the personalities and groups in the forefront of the campaign.


(1) The issue is not being assessed or investigated according to the Tamil standards, but to the international standards agreed by the ‘powers’ (2) If the LTTE’s power of persuasion wasn’t enough for the International Community, and it can be reduced to zero, those working under the ‘supervisions’ of various governments will never be allowed to achieve the hold the LTTE had on the Tamils or other Sri Lankan communities. (3) What LTTE did was the betrayal of their trusts and hopes, but the events in Mulliavaikkal were the most recent of a state organised program to reduce Tamils as a people in the island. (4) Despite their pain, many Tamils have learned to have a sense of proportion about the conduct of the rulers and proposed liberators in among the feudal states, without diluting the values of human lives and rights by crude comparisons.

Therefore, what transpires at the end of the pursuit is more important for them than the individuals or groups involved in the pursuit.

However, the real concern should be about those opposed to the idea of pursuing justice for the unaccounted lives either as a denial of the Tamil Holocaust or as an infringement of the sovereignty of a region or country.

Sense of generosity by our understanding of the feudal nature of the state and the peoples, could excuse those who actually perpetrated those heinous crimes; those in the armed forces and the political executives even if they hide behind phony arguments.


(1) Without the go-ahead from the ‘international community’ to eliminate the LTTE, the Tamil Holocaust could not have happened. (2) If there had been any safety mechanism in the region, which looked into the specific issue of rights and values of lives, the crimes could not have happened. (3) Those actually committed the crimes could one day be rejected by the Sinhala people therefore, ‘have own sell by dates’ or rehabilitated by the international community.

We may note, the International community may deal with or appoint dictators, autocrats, and families to look after their interests. It may fund, support and provide cover for those who could perform the dark deeds that it wanted done. But if the history has taught us anything it rarely continues a prosperous relationship with those who done the dirty deeds for them. Therefore, the worry should not be about yesterday’s men, who had done the dark deeds.

But, real concern should be about those not directly implicated yet, continue to deny the Tamil Holocaust, for personal gains or in the name of the Sinhala people. To convince yourself watch the carnage created by the Wahhabist-Sunnis in Pakistan.


(1) They perpetuate the conditions to deny any opportunity for conflict resolution and reconciliation. (2) They continue to fan the arguments for the hegemony of one people over all others. (3) They prevent the people in the island ever breaking out of the feudal strangle hold, to hope and yearn for better values and outcome. (4) They maintain the conditions for political, social, economic corruptions and discriminations to fester that prevent inward flow of capital from outside, particularly from the minority expatriate communities. (5) It is they who tempt the worst qualities of the neighbours to be practiced on all the people. (6) They prevent a regional settlement and possible common frameworks on rights, economy, etc, by evoking ‘nationalism’ or threatening to bring ‘outsiders’ to take care of their local difficulties.

(The writer is a London based expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil and the The Academic Secretary of ASATiC. He can be reached at E-Mail:- [email protected])


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *