Fifty-third session
Item 10 of the provisional agenda

The War in Sri Lanka

Written statement submitted by
International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project
a non-governmental organization on the Roster

1. The war in Sri Lanka is between the forces of the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and has existed since the period immediately following the massacre of Tamils in Colombo in 1983. By 1986 the Finance Minister questioned how elections could take place when the country was "engulfed in a civil war." In 1987 the Commission called on the parties to the conflict "to respect fully the universally accepted rules of humanitarian law".

2. In July 1987 India and Sri Lanka signed of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord to "resolv[e] the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka", to enable India to protect itself from "foreign military and intelligence personnel" and to prevent Trincomalee harbor or other Sri Lankan ports from being used by foreign powers for military purposes. In October 1987 India began military operations against the LTTE.

3. Since the withdrawal of Indian forces, Sri Lankan forces have been almost continually engaged in military operations against the LTTE, with both sides claiming some military victories. The Riviresa campaign in the Fall of 1995 by the Sri Lankan army pushed into Jaffna and the LTTE retreated to other areas under their control.

4. On the LTTE side, in July 1996 the LTTE overran Mullaitivu Army Camp and arsenal, killing about 1200 Sri Lankan troops. The LTTE sustained about 250 casualties, including a large number of women combat troops. The LTTE also captured many arms and ammunition in an ambush of a Sri Lankan army unit at Thenmaratchi on July 28, 1996. The LTTE "Sea Tigers" sunk five vessels of the Sri Lankan navy in Trincomalee in April and October 1996.

5. A fundamental principle of the Hague body of humanitarian law is that combatants in a war are entitled to combatant status, codified in Article 1 of the Hague Regulations of 1907. Because there is a war in Sri Lanka between the government forces and the LTTE, the LTTE have combatant status and all the rights of combat. This status is inconsistent with a label of "terrorist" used by the government of Sri Lanka to refer to the LTTE -- a terrorist has neither combatant status nor the right to engage in combat.

6. The war in Sri Lanka is a war of national liberation based on the Tamil's exceptionally strong claim to self-determination. The three main elements of a claim to self-determination -- historic self-governance in an identifiable territory, a distinct culture and a national will and capacity to govern -- are all present in the Tamil case.

7. The Tamil people have a centuries-old tradition of independence on the island of Ceylon dating from the 6th century B.C. and referred to in the great Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Early kings founded the ancient capital Anuradhapura. By 1214 A.D. the Tamil kingdom of Jaffna extended into current Tamil lands in the North and East. A 1789 map of the area by the cartographer Du Peron clearly indicates the territorial divisions of two kingdoms on the island -- the Tamil in the north and east and the Sinhala in the west and south.

8. The colonial period began in the early sixteenth century when the Portuguese captured the Sinhalese kingdom. The Tamil kingdom remained free until 1621, more than 100 years later, when the Portuguese captured the Tamil king Sankili. The Portuguese were defeated by the Dutch in 1658, to be replaced by the British in 1796, who by 1833 governed both Tamil and Sinhala kingdoms under unitary colonial rule.

9. The first British colonial secretary, Sir Hugo Cleghorn, attested to profound cultural, linguistic and religious differences in the two kingdoms. In his now-famous Minute he wrote:

10. The third element of self-determination -- national will and capacity to govern -- is also exceptionally strong in the Tamil case. At the close of the colonial era, the British sought to preserve a unitary state and political power was consolidated in the hands of the Sinhala politicians due to the fact that the Sinhala people outnumber the Tamil people by about 5 to 1. The Sinhala leadership chose the old symbol of the Sinhala kingdom -- the lion -- for its national flag. Other anti-Tamil measures deepened a growing rift between Tamil and Sinhala.

11. By the mid-1970s the three leading Tamil politicians -- Ponnambalam, Chelvanayagam and Thondaman -- formed The Tamil United Front and advocated self-determination. Running on a separatist plank, Chelvanayagam won a huge majority in a 1975 election. In May 1976 the Tamil leadership passed the Vaddukoddai Resolution calling for a separate Tamil state. In the 1977 general elections, the Tamil parties ran on a platform of Tamil "sovereignty in its homeland on the basis of self- determination" and won 18 out of the available 19 seats. During this period the LTTE was formed from a TULF youth group, and adopted the tiger symbol of the Tamil kingdom.

12. Each year of the war has seen more and more organization among the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and in the diaspora in favor of self-determination. For example, in an impassioned speech at a major peace conference in Australia, The Rev. Dr. S.J. Emmanuel, Vicar General of the Diocese of Jaffna stated:

13. As in all wars, the international community has a right to investigate compliance with humanitarian law in the Sri Lanka- Tamil war. The violations of human rights that the Commission's Working Groups and Rapporteurs have documented are also violations of the rules of war or violations of humanitarian law (war crimes) when they occur in the context of the war as most of them do.

14. Verification of violations of the rules of war is a serious problem in the Sri Lanka - Tamil war, in part because the Sri Lankan government denies access to international, impartial monitors. This situation has allowed the government to make wild accusations against the LTTE in an attempt to damage the international acceptance of the LTTE and to reinforce its labeling of the LTTE as "terrorist". This climate of hostility makes the task of those investigating alleged humanitarian law and human rights violations even harder.

15. IED/HLP urges the Commission to address seriously the Sri Lanka - Tamil War and to offer its services to the parties to achieve a lasting resolution of this long conflict.