Language policy in Sri Lanka

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Dec 17 15:18:23 UTC 2005

SLDF Calls on Donor Co-Chairs to Push for a Southern Consensus on a
Permanent Political Solution and Reform of the Sri Lankan State

The Sri Lanka Democracy Forum (SLDF) is alarmed by the escalation of
violence in the North and East, which threatens the possibility of
reaching a negotiated political solution to the conflict. The LTTE has
consistently violated the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and is responsible for
human rights violations and attacks on democracy throughout the ceasefire.
In writing to the Sri Lanka Donor Co-Chairs on 15 September 2005, SLDF
called on them to support a redesign of the peace process that would
"address issues of continuity, inclusivity, democratisation, the
protection of human rights, as well as the root causes of the conflict and
its consequences." In their statement on 19 September 2005, the Co-Chairs
called on the LTTE "to take immediate public steps to demonstrate their
commitment to the peace process and their willingness to change. An
immediate end to political assassinations by the LTTE and an end to LTTE
recruitment of child soldiers are two such steps."

However, the LTTE has intensified its attacks on democracy, human rights
and has further jeopardised the ceasefire. In essence, the LTTE is holding
Sri Lanka's peace process and prospects of a negotiated solution hostage
to the constant threat of resuming their "struggle", a euphemism for
returning to war. Indeed, the recent spate of claymore mine attacks in
Jaffna and the East is tantamount to the LTTE waging an "undeclared war."
It is imperative that the LTTE's belligerence should not become an excuse
for the Sri Lankan State and Southern political formations to ignore
minority aspirations and the need for a permanent political solution. SLDF
calls on the Sri Lanka Donor Co-Chairs to take the lead within the
international community in applying further sanctions on the LTTE, while
pressuring the South to reach a consensus on a permanent political
solution, and to support reform of the Sri Lankan State.

Attacks on Democracy and the Muslim Minority

In the 2005 Presidential election, the LTTE disenfranchised almost all
Tamils living in the North and East by creating an atmosphere of terror
and repression through the calculated use of violence. Both local and
international election monitors have documented the intimidation and
violence of the LTTE's enforced 'boycott' of the elections in the North
and East. Furthermore, in its attempts to control the population of the
North and East, the LTTE has taken the dangerous step of targeting Muslim
civilians to foment inter-ethnic violence and destabilize the East. Its
disdain for human dignity was evident in its attack on the Akkaraipattu
Grand Mosque on 18 November 2005, a day after the Presidential elections.
During the last two weeks, the LTTE has been attacking soldiers and
policemen performing their duties in an attempt to provoke war. There have
also been a number of documented cases of killings by the Karuna faction
and strong allegations against State complicity in killings, each of which
should be condemned in the strongest terms and checked. However, the LTTE
can not hide behind a rationale of retribution - its killings over the
last few years have been of a qualitatively and quantitatively different

Indeed, through its actions during the ceasefire, and its attacks in the
last month, the LTTE has consistently demonstrated a lack of commitment to
democracy, human rights and inter-ethnic co-existence, and that it is not
a committed or credible partner to a principled peace process. The Donor
Co-Chairs should take the lead in the international community to expand
sanctions and penalties, until the LTTE is willing to abide by norms of
human rights and democracy crucial for any serious peace process.

Consensus for a Permanent Political Solution

The LTTE's gross intransigence must not divert the Co-Chairs' engagement
with the South in Sri Lanka towards a permanent political solution. There
are concerns regarding the new Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's
commitment to a political solution that adequately addresses minority
aspirations. The Tokyo Declaration, which was signed by the international
community and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL), is particularly relevant
at this moment when the LTTE is threatening to return to war. The
Co-Chairs mandate and their role in the Sri Lankan peace process was
articulated through the Tokyo Donor Conference, which the LTTE boycotted.
At this time, the Co-Chairs should reiterate their commitment to the Tokyo
Declaration - which urged the LTTE and GOSL "to move expeditiously to a
lasting and equitable political settlement. Such a settlement should be
based upon respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law" - and
hold the GOSL to the principles therein.

SLDF calls on the Co-Chairs and the international community to insist that
the GOSL stand by its obligations to meet the humanitarian and economic
needs in the North and East, which were not only articulated in the Tokyo
Declaration but also constitutes the duty of any responsible government to
all its citizens. Further, the Co-Chairs and other governments,
particularly India, should pressure the GOSL and other political
formations to reach a consensus in the South on a permanent political
solution that realises the aspirations of Tamil and Muslim minorities
through the substantial devolution of power. Such a consensus will be
necessary to move forward on a peace settlement either unilaterally or
with the LTTE, provided it chooses to commit itself to principled

Governance and State Reform

A sustainable and just political solution requires constitutional reform;
it also requires the revitalization of Sri Lanka's democratic institutions
in order to address the root causes of the ethnic conflict. Without such
State reform and rejuvenation of governance any political settlement
between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE will be precarious and will
not create an environment that restores the faith of all communities in
the country's democratic institutions. The reforms should address not only
the legacy of Sinhala majoritarian policies, but also the broader decay of
the State and its institutions. The Co-Chairs and the international
community can assist such a reform process by providing technical and
programmatic support for issues such as those that follow:


Sri Lanka will need assistance in implementing bilingualism and an
inclusive language policy. Language policy has been a key spark behind the
current ethnic conflict, as evinced by the implementation of the 1956
"Sinhala-Only" policy. "Sinhala Only" consigned the Tamil and Muslim
communities to the periphery of Sri Lankan governance due to the official
non-recognition of the Tamil language spoken by 30% of the population and
served as the foundation of Tamil militancy. In 1987, the Sri Lankan
government passed the 13th Amendment to its Constitution making Tamil an
official language along with Sinhala, with English as a link language.

However, the wider implementation of this new policy has not extended
beyond the higher levels of governance, where again Tamil is neglected. An
inclusive language policy will not only address the concerns of
Tamil-speaking communities in the entire country, but also those of the
Sinhala-speaking communities in the North and East, and could act as an
adhesive to bind the communities and regions together.

Law Enforcement and Security

The failure of the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies to protect the
lives and properties of citizens, particularly of minority communities,
has contributed to the escalation of the conflict. The climate of impunity
that escalated in the late seventies with rule under Emergency Regulations
and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, led to the further loss of confidence
in the State and its ability to purvey justice for minorities. In 1983,
the anti-Tamil riots and Welikada prison massacre were carried out with
State complicity and led to the immediate escalation of the conflict. Two
decades later, the Supreme Court's ruling this year that acquitted all
remaining defendants of the Bindunuwewa massacre of Tamil detainees in
2000, is a stark reminder that minorities lack any substantive recourse to
justice through Sri Lankan institutions, even in a time of 'peace'.
Deterioration of the State's law enforcement and security institutions
also affects the majority community, as is evident from the disappearances
during the JVP uprising in the late eighties and the continuing cases of
police torture and brutality in the South. Reform of the prisons, police,
security forces and strengthening of the human rights mechanisms,
including the Human Rights Commission and the National Police Commission,
are essential steps for the State to recover its legitimacy.

Non-discrimination and Concerns of Economic and Political Marginalisation

One of the major failures of governance in Sri Lanka is its legacy of
marginalising minority communities and rural populations. This led to
Tamil, and to a lesser extent Muslim, youth resorting to armed struggle
and to two very costly insurrections in the South. The Sri Lankan State
needs to address issues of structural discrimination and marginalisation
in State institutions and in the private sector. Political marginalisation
needs to be addressed through adequate participation in governance at all
levels of the State institutions. There is a need for mechanisms that
ensure participation and accountability to prevent the lack of good
governance and the resultant marginalisation of vulnerable communities.
The lack of proper recourse to address the failure of local governance
with regard to tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts was a
valuable lesson.


The peace process has reached an impasse, and the CFA is facing its
severest test at present. Following the presidential election of November
17, a new President has assumed office with a different perspective and
policy approach to the peace process. His Government is seeking a review
of the CFA and its operation, and has requested Noway to renew its
facilitation. But it is understood that Norway would want both parties,
the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the LTTE to agree to certain
"conditions" before it resumes its facilitatory role. The LTTE leader, in
his recent Heroes' Day speech has rehearsed the organisation's basic
demand of "self determination, national liberation and the establishment
of self-government in our homeland". He also declared, "The new government
should come forward soon with a reasonable political framework that will
satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people.

If the new government rejects our urgent appeal, opts for a hard-line
position and adopts delaying tactics, we will, next year, in solidarity
with our people, intensify our struggle for self-determination, our
struggle for national liberation to establish self-government in our own
homeland." This has been interpreted by many as an ultimatum by the LTTE
leader to resume war at any time in the coming weeks or months. Though the
LTTE says that it is committed to the CFA, the regularity, frequency,
scale and intensity of the grenade and land mine attacks in recent weeks
in which scores of police and military personnel and civilians have been
killed gives one the impression that the LTTE has already commenced an
"undeclared war". In the meantime it has also intensified its campaign of
targeted assassinations of its political opponents. In recent weeks, the
attacks on members of the Muslim community in eastern Sri Lanka have
increased and there are fears of mounting communal clashes between the
Tamil and Muslim communities.

Throughout the nearly four year period of the ceasefire, while both sides
have been held by the SLMM to have committed breaches of the CFA, over 90
percent of the violations and the most serious of these violations
involving gross violations of human and democratic rights have been
committed by the LTTE. These have included countless number of politically
motivated killings and a continuing campaign of child conscription.

Harold F. Schiffman

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