Prevention Is Better Than Cure – OpEd


If we analyse the political, economic, social and cultural events that have taken place over the past seventy-five years in Sri Lanka – since independence, we have a lot to learn: mistakes and lessons.

No matter where one lives today, his or her life and contribution to the island’s history is short – maybe a few decades. 

For the last thirty-three years (33) – I have been writing articles based on facts and reality to educate those who tell history in a biased or distorted way. Some who read my articles are furious, branding me with various labels to their convenience. They fail to look at the message rather than the messenger. There was a time when a serious accusation was made against me that ‘Interpol’ was looking for me and I had gone into hiding. I brought this matter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and she sought clarification from Interpol. Then, jointly with the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, she wrote a letter dated 11 August 2011 (Ref.  Reference: UA G/SO 214 (67-17) G/SO 214 (107-9) LKA 3/2011) to the Sri Lanka Ambassador in Geneva, stating that “Interpol reportedly holds no information concerning Mr. Kirupaharan in its files”. 

As far as I am concerned, anyone dedicated to human rights cannot work without facing slander. However, my reply to those who accused me is that “dogs bark and caravan moves on”.  

Within the last three decades of my task in the UN Human Rights Forums in Geneva, I have met hundreds of diplomats, VIPs, UN officials and others. In UN side-events, I have argued and debated with almost fifteen different Ministers and VIPs of various Sri Lankan governments, in the presence of international observers and participants. I would proudly say that no other person has acted in this manner in the history of Sri Lanka, speaking up and putting their own life at risk. These are matters well documented by the media, especially some print media in Colombo.

Some events

When we look at the sequence of events that have taken place since independence, linked to various governments and citizens, especially in the North and East, one notices how disturbing and frustrating life is. Here are some examples:

Following independence, the Up-country Tamils were stripped of their citizenship and voting rights. In 1949, when the Indian-Pakistani citizenship bill was voted in parliament, Mr. G.G. Ponnambalam who was then a minister, voted in favour of this bill.

There were five communal riots (1956, 1958, 1977, 1981 and 1983) against Tamils all over the island. In each riot – hundreds, thousands were killed and millions of rupees worth of their properties were destroyed and looted.

In 1956, the Sinhala only Language Act was passed in parliament. During that time Tamil leaders were violently attacked by thugs in front of the old Parliament in Galle face, Colombo. 

In 1959 democratically elected Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was assassinated by a Buddhist Monk. Following the signing of the Sirimao-Shastri pact in 1964, thousands of Tamils who had been living in the Up-country for more than a century were sent back to India.

The JVP began in 1967. In 1971 their attempt to take over the government by armed struggle failed and hundreds, thousands of youths from the South were killed and imprisoned.

In 1972, Sri Lanka was declared as the Republic of Sri Lanka. During the same year, ‘standardisation’ in education was introduced to limit Tamil students entering University. 

At the fourth Tamil Research Conference held in Jaffna in 1974, nine Tamils were killed. In 1978, Sri Lanka was declared a Democratic Socialist Republic and an Executive Presidential system was introduced.

In 1979 following the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act – PTA in Sri Lanka, a large number of youths were killed and imprisoned in the North and East. In 1981, the Jaffna Public Library was set on fire and destroyed. It had housed 95,000 volumes of books including culturally important and irreplaceable historical manuscripts documents were also destroyed.

In October 1982, J.R.Jayawardene was re-elected as Executive President of Sri Lanka. In this Presidential election, Vijaya Kumaratunga and T.B. Ilangaratne campaigned for the main opposition candidate Hector Kobbekaduwa. Both of them and a few others were accused as Naxalites and imprisoned under the Emergency Regulations.

In December 1982 a Sri Lankan national referendum was held, to extend the life of parliament by 6 years. Opposition parties described this as a dictatorial move by J. R. Jayawardene who was re-elected as the President in October.

In 1983, late Member of Parliament Vivienne Goonewardena carried out a demonstration against the US military base in Diego Garcia. She was physically assaulted by the Police.

The year 1983 marked the worst ethnic riot against the Tamils. Thousands of Tamils were killed. During the same period, 53 Tamil prisoners in Colombo’s Welikadai prison were murdered by fellow Sinhala prisoners.

At the same time, the Sixth Amendment act was passed in Parliament, preventing anyone from demanding external right to self-determination. 

Again in 1985-1989 there was an uprising of the JVP. In gross and massive human rights violations a huge number of youths – especially JVP members, academics, religious leaders, MPs, government forces and others were killed and ‘disappeared’.

On 21 April 2019, on Easter Sunday, 270 people including 45 foreigners were killed and more than 500 injured by suicide bombers in three churches and three hotels in Colombo and other areas.

Non-violent and Armed

The non-violent struggle carried out by the Tamil leaders for almost thirty years was continuously suppressed violently by different governments. 

It is history, that in 1957 the Banda-Chelva pact, and in 1961 Dudley-Chelva pact to grant Federal system to the North and East, were arbitrarily destroyed by SWRD Bandaranaike and Dudley Senanayke, due to protests carried out by politicians in the South and Buddhist monks.

In 1976, the Tamil United Liberation Front – TULF was formed. In the parliamentary elections held in 1977, the TULF contested the election with a manifesto for establishing the external right to self-determination for the North and East. The TULF overwhelmingly won this election, and even became an opposition party in parliament.

In 1972 Tamil militancy began with minor incidents. In 1984 it came to the stage of a war between Sri Lankan security forces and militant groups. In 1985, the ‘Thimbu talks’ took place in the capital of Bhutan, between all factions of the Tamils and representatives of the Sri Lankan government. These talks were unsuccessful. Since then, several talks have taken place but nothing produced any fruit.

In 1987 the Indio-Lanka accord was signed. The Indian Army (IPKF) arrived in the North East and the same year the war started between the Indian Army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  Thousands of people were killed in the North and East and their properties were looted by Indian soldiers. 

The IPKF was withdrawn from the North and East in 1990. In 1990 an economic embargo to the Jaffna peninsula was introduced and gross human rights violations took place. The LTTE administered a de-facto government equal to the government of Sri Lanka, until the war ended in Mullivaikal in May 2009.

Where are we now?

On 13th February 2023, Mr. Pala Nedumaran, a senior politician of Tamil Nadu who was an associate of late Prime Minister Gandhi announced that the leader of the LTTE, Pirabaharan, who was presumed dead in May 2009 is alive and will come into public soon. I wrote an article regarding this matter in August 2016.

My article was about what was said by India’s retired naval officer, Professor Kagil Subramaniam. During his visit to Colombo, on 13 September 2015, he gave an interview to an English print media saying that ‘it could not be Pirabhakaran’s body that was photographed and telecast to the public’. The professor said, “There were no chances of Pirabhakaran shooting himself as many are claiming now. If so there would have been a proper fingerprint and a DNA test conducted.”

The two reasons cited by him are: 1) that no ‘death certificate’ of his death has been issued by Sri Lanka to India and 2) the statement given by Sri Lanka to India was on the request of the Attorney General. The Colombo High Court had stated ‘presumed dead’ and no ‘genetic analysis’ (DNA) had been conducted either in Sri Lanka or India. Also, his fingerprints had not been examined.

Prof. Subramaniam said that the statement given by Sri Lanka to India read as follows:  “LTTE leader Velupillai Pirabhakaran was presumed to have been killed on the last day of the Eelam War IV at Mullivaikkal in Nandikadal on 17 May 2009 and no evidence exists for him being alive, therefore, he is presumed to be dead judicially”.

In this interview, Professor Subramaniam also stated that Pirabaharan was said to have died on May 17, 2009. But his death was officially announced on May 19.

In my article of August 2016, I questioned why the Sri Lankan government, the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya, Mahinda, Sarath Fonseka and others never came forward to object to Professor Subramaniam’s statement, after all it had been published in one of the Colombo newspapers.

But now, after thirteen years, especially after Mr. Nedumaran’s statement on 13 February, the spokesperson of the Sri Lanka Army claims that they have the ‘DNA’ of Pirabaharan. However former naval officer, Minister and the Member of Parliament Sarath Weeraseka said to the BBC on 13February: “this is our problem, why should we give DNA to others?”

Whoever, one should “tell the truth and live uprightly”. In my articles I always say: “when the facts are delayed, lies take the space”. Now huge confusion has been created among the people. 

Current situation

If we examine the current political situation of the North and East – the South has completely forgotten the consequence of thirty years of the ethnic bloody conflict and also the ‘de-facto state’ that was in existence in large parts of the North East for more than two decades. 

The war was won with the support of the international community on a promise that as soon as the war came to an end, there would be a political settlement – not simply on the basis of the 13th amendment, but it would be an enhanced solution called ‘13th plus’.

Now thirteen years have passed. There is no light of any political solution to the bloody conflict. It is surprising why now some Southern politicians are objecting and Buddhist monks are demonstrating against the 13th amendment which has been part of the constitution for more than three decades. 

It is a mystery why, during the war, these politicians and Buddhist monks never demonstrated against the government, which was telling the international community that, ‘it will not be the 13th amendment, but it will be the 13th plus’. Significantly, Ranil Wickremasinghe agreed to the Oslo declaration which endorsed, “ …the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka”. 

There are politicians in the North and East who have claimed that the 13th amendment is no solution to the ethnic conflict. Here we can see a parallel between extremists in the South and the North and East. If so, what will be the future of Sri Lanka?

It has been a miserable story for the last seventy-five years. The people in the North and East are frustrated and losing patience….. so, do the extremists in the South expect another bloody conflict in the island? Is there any way to prevent it and live peacefully as equal citizens? Do the extreme elements pave the way for this?

Now it seems that the time has come for all to think very carefully and get into action rather than continue to fuel hate among innocent citizens

S.V. Kirubaharan

S.V. Kirubaharan is the Founder General Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR.

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