Dr Geeta Madhavan, a Chennai-based lawyer, is the first woman in Asia to be awarded a doctorate for her research on international terrorism, by the Hague Academy of International Law. A founder member of a non-partisan organisation called Centre for Security Analysis, she is also the visiting faculty at various universities.
The recent upsurge of opinion in certain political strata in Tamil Nadu by the conflict in Sri Lanka seems to have developed an ugly momentum of its own. Some sections of the media have not only initiated this but have also channeled it in a particular direction drawing into the vortex a selection of people allegedly espousing the cause of the Tamils. There is bound to be skepticism in anyone with a reasonable enquiring mind what all the sudden surge of passion and the vehement waving of the Tamil banner is all about.
When the almost defunct Cease Fire Agreement (CFA), which was often repudiated over an extended period of time, was formally abrogated by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government, the charade of mediation ceased and the conflict escalated in the island. What took the LTTE by surprise was the confidence with which the Sri Lankan government initiated the military strategy in the East in December 2006. That the LTTE was pushed out and the East "liberated" from them in July 2007 and elections were held in May 2008 did not augur well for the organisation either. Since then its image, as being an invincible guerrilla force, suffered a setback although it did not lose any of its deadliness. The LTTE also expected persistent military engagement by the Sri Lankan government to cause sufficient international outrage for the military action to be stopped.
The ban on the LTTE by 30 countries, including the EU countries where they had established their global proxy and illegal businesses was also a major blow to the LTTE. Besides tactical losses over a period of time, the LTTE has also suffered organisational losses with death of its key members and strategists. Despite some desperate and theatrical attacks by the LTTE, their leader, V Prabhakaran, had to face the fact that he was losing the earlier advantages he had acquired. There have always been some rabble-rousers who persistently espoused the cause of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu blatantly. Not much credence was given to their utterances by the established parties; so the question, why is it that at this precise moment in time such great interest has been generated in this issue?
The apparent rush to pledge allegiance to the Tamil population in the North brings three very important points to the fore. The first is the undeniable fact that runs contrary to all propaganda. While there is absolutely no doubt about the heavy civilian toll in the offensive by the Sri Lankan armed and air forces and the LTTE retaliation in the North, whether there is a deliberate and sustained effort to obliterate the minority Tamils needs to be examined pragmatically.
Senior minister and APRC chairman Prof Tissa Vitharana has reiterated the intention of the Sri Lankan government to provide safe passage out of the conflict zone to all persons fleeing from there. Civilians fleeing from the conflict zone in the North have the choice of either moving to these safety havens provided by the Sri Lankan government and if they lack confidence in the Sri Lankan government of ensuring of their safety there, their obvious choice would be across the waters to the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which has always been an preferred haven for them throughout this conflict.
Statistics available with the Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation (OfERR) indicate that there were large arrivals of refugees across the waters from May to October 2006, almost 2,000 persons per month with over 5,000 of them arriving in August 2006. In 2008, these arrivals were an average of 200 per month with the highest number in the month of May, about 500 persons.
There is no indication of major influx of refugees in 2008 as in 2006. It stands to reason therefore that if they are caught in the conflict and are unable to leave since the Sri Lankan offensive in the North, it is the LTTE that is retaining the civilian population as human cover for them ensuring they do not flee. It also provides them with enough civilian casualties to stoke the allegations of genocide. There have been earlier reports of the LTTE preventing the civilian population from leaving during intense fighting in the East. The apparent question is the Tamil civilian population caught in the conflict are whose victims? It is indeed distressing that a term like genocide, which carries with it the most abhorrent gruesome infliction on humanity, is used loosely by the LTTE to garner support for its activities and is bandied about loosely by some sections of the media and the rabble-rousers in Tamil Nadu.
Undoubtedly there has been constant clarification that the sympathy is for the suffering Tamil civilian population in the North and not the LTTE per se. But it is the LTTE that is still in control in that area and any cessation of hostilities will be a deemed a triumph for the organisation. Whether the LTTE really does still fight for the aspirations of the Tamils is up for inspection. The LTTE has systematically decimated all the moderate voices in Sri Lanka stymieing any possibility of reaching a peaceful solution.
It is clear that there was never any intention to work towards any solution for the betterment of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka as it has never used any of the advantages that it held at different periods of time to negotiate - negotiating was not on its agenda. Driven by an insatiable desire for a separate Eelam state, the LTTE ensured that all other Tamil leaders were systematically decimated by various methods to constantly project itself as the sole upholder of the Tamil cause. Losing international support and sympathy the LTTE, with its dwindling manpower, is now drumming up partisan feelings in Tamil Nadu playing the card of Tamil chauvinism. Those responding are not unaware but are busy shoring up their own support for the political advantage.
The other issue is the one that is pushed farthest and obviously has no relevance to the marching mob. To expect one sovereign nation to reign in another sovereign nation is unacceptable. Grave concerns can be expressed about violations of rules of engagement, worsening humanitarian conditions and gross infringement of human rights by any member of the international community on events in another State. However, no sovereign nation will allow any other nation to impose upon it any proposition that will thwart any of its strategy against forces, which threaten its sovereignty and national integrity. Therefore, India has persistently sustained its stand that any solution for the ethnic question in Sri Lanka has to be found within the united structure of the nation.
Seeking to divert this equitable policy maintained by India, by political pressure exerted by clamouring in Tamil Nadu in an attempt to force the Indian government to prescribe the methodology to be followed by the Sri Lankan government does not bode well for regional relations. Foreign policy of nations are driven by placing self interest of the nation uppermost. Therefore, call for any action that places India in a dilemma and leads to destabilisation of the political establishment within India can be construed as an action against the sovereignty and national integrity of India.
In the wake of the latest development, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh (on October 18) expressed that he is deeply concerned about the "deteriorating humanitarian situation" in the war-torn island and has urged the Sri Lankan Government to protect Tamil civilians caught in the conflict. The request to the Sri Lankan government to exercise greater caution was addressed by the Sri Lankan President in the statement that assured the Indian Prime Minister that Sri Lanka is "mindful and appreciative of the concerns of India regarding the situation in the North, and aware of the context in which these matters have been raised". Any further prescription by the Indian government will be viewed as tacit support for the LTTE and will negate the good bilateral relations between the two countries.
The role that is deemed worthy of India is, when the need eventually arises, to play a pro-active part in the restoration of the economic and social conditions in the North. Basic infrastructure for economic growth of the region will have to be revived and educational establishments, medical facilities and other amenities rebuilt. It is here that India can play a major role and not in the capacity that some elements are now urging the Indian government.
The final issue is the status of minority in Sri Lanka and whether Tamil interests will be safeguarded eventually. Despite the LTTE's pronouncements of a Sinhala backlash after its destruction and its projection that it is the single power keeping the majority Sinhala government at bay, there is a different scenario being observed after the liberation of the East. Minorities in any country (including our own) tend to be insecure because of their statistical disadvantage and real or perceived notions of marginalisation.
There is sufficient evidence that in the past successive Sri Lankan government have not followed any policy to appease the Tamil minority. However, to use the past events to abrogate all attempts to find a lasting solution is the ploy of the LTTE to ensure its own existence. That there have been some statements coming out of the Sri Lankan establishments that the minority cannot use their status to gain undue advantage has been read as a threat to the existence of the minority. However, a demand by any minority within a sovereign nation under the guise of self-determination for a separate homeland cannot be treated lightly.
India, too, has been grappling with this problem in several pockets within its territory that threaten the national integrity. Self-determination does not always mean territorial acquisition. "International law provides no right of secession in the name of self determination," (R Higgins-Peoples and Minorities in International Law, Martinus Nijhoff, 1995 p 33). The UN Charter inter alia does not approve of any changes in the territorial integrity and political independence of its member states. However politically convenient secession may seem, self determination was a principle upheld during the era of colonial rule but post de-colonization, the clamour for self determination has to be compatible with the question of state sovereignty.
The rule is that self-determination cannot involve changes of existing frontiers other than by agreement by the states concerned. It is apparent that a state is well within its sovereign power to prevent secession under the concept of self-determination. It does place on the state a duty to address the issues of the minority and it is this context that India can play a role in ensuring that Sri Lankan government addresses the relevant issues genuinely after it has rid the north of secessionist forces. The conflict has not reached the final denouement yet and there is serious speculation from analysts as to how soon the end will come for there is no doubt that the end will come.
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