Response to the Open Letter of 22 December 2005 by Mme. Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Affairs

In answer to the massive demonstration and numerous petitions of predominantly Tamil refugees living in Europe against the travel ban of official LTTE delegations announced by the EU presidency on September 26, 2005, the EU commissioner for External Affairs, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner in an Open Letter of December 22, 2005 underlined the continued concern of the EU with the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils while stressing its balanced approach to the conflict in Sri Lanka. She renewed its pledge to help reach a peaceful settlement.

In contrast to the earlier EU-Declaration under the British Presidency which one-sidedly condemns the LTTE accusing it of terrorism, of the murder of Foreign Minister Kadirgamar and threatening it with listing as a terrorist organisation, Mrs. Ferrero-Waldner’s Letter is certainly welcome even though the difference is more in tone than in substance. For it is the LTTE that has been singled out for detailed reproaches, it is them that are put in the dock, they have to prove their commitment to peace, whereas the government of Sri Lanka is essentially left scot-free. This approach however does not hold water when the recent history and present situation in Sri Lanka is considered.

The Commissioner appears to have forgotten that

– it was the LTTE that had declared a unilateral cease-fire prior to the official CFA signed in February 2002 with the then government of Prime Minister Wickremasinghe; – it was also the LTTE that had made a major concession prior to negotiations on a peace settlement, namely to give internal self-determination a chance over an independent state. To struggle for Tamil Eelam had been the democratically expressed wish of the majority of Sri Lankan Tamils in 1976/7 after decades of discrimination and persecution, including pogroms, and tested in their decades long support for a war causing huge sacrifices in human life and material destruction; – it had been the LTTE that since 2002 had all along insisted on improving the life of the civilian population as top-most priority; and that precisely because no progress had been made on this score the talks were eventually suspended; – the LTTE withdrew its political unarmed cadres from the East because an increasing number of them had fallen victim to political killings if not directly by the armed forces, then by their paramilitaries.

By contrast, the Commissioner makes light of the omissions and commissions of the Government of Sri Lanka

– From the beginning (and no different from the past) the principal Sinhalese political parties did everything to undermine the peace-process. The then President and her party, the SLFP, together with the JVP and the JHU in addition to the Buddhist clergy, and important sections of the army opposed not only the cease-fire but even more so any type of concessions in matters of internal autonomy. – Independent observers, including officials from foreign ministries agree that the degradation in the situation on the ground can be directly traced to the then President’s unilateral decision to dismiss three ministers and eventually dissolve parliament within days of the proposals for an Internal Self Governing Administration by the LTTE even though they had been accepted as basis for discussion by the government. – No words are lost on the non-implementation of important obligations of the CFA such as vacation of educational, religious and other civilian institutions by the army, on the continued prevention of refugees to return to their homes, of fishermen to pursue their livelihoods. – Where are the protests of the Commission addressed to the two Sinhala majority parties which have always monopolised the government, including the position of executive president who concentrates the powers of head of a party, head of government, head of the armed forces, and head of state, when political murders are committed, violations of the CFA perpetrated in areas closely guarded by government security forces? The LTTE-ships sunk in international waters, the recent armed attack on the SLMM, the assassination of the reputed Tamil politician Pararajasingham during Christmas mass, to name but a few, instantly come to mind. This dead silence contrasts markedly with the immediate attribution of the murder of Mr. Kadirgamar to the LTTE without offering any proof whatever. Much more than the partial retraction in the Open Letter (‘the investigation of Mr. Kadirgamar’s murder has not yet been completed’) is needed to efface the impression of ‘deux poids – deux mesures’ or that a reason had been looked for to legitimize a decision that had already been taken.

The Commissioner considers the LTTE’s call for abstention in last autumn’s Presidential election as completely undemocratic. While at places individuals may indeed have been prevented from voting, this does on no account explain the massive abstention of the Tamil electorate precisely also in government controlled areas. This, more than anything else, should have given the Commissioner cause for concern because it reflects on a fractured dichotomized society: apparently the Tamils felt that they had no longer a stake in the Sri Lankan polity, because whatever the outcome it would make no difference to their situation.

And did they not have ample cause? What kind of peace dividend did they obtain? Despite all its promises what material progress did the Wickremasinghe government, partner to the CFA, deliver to them? Was not every advance at the negotiating table eventually sacrificed in the intra-Sinhala fight for supremacy at their expense. Where was the UNP when the P-TOMS were in fact suspended leaving the people in the Northeast though the most severely affected victims of the Tsunami to essentially fend for themselves despite huge foreign funds waiting to be disbursed among them? Did not the eventually successful candidate of the SLFP not only enter into a pre-election alliance with the JVP and the JHU making common cause with the hard-liners in the rejection front of the CFA and opponent of any power sharing? But did he not and even worse reject outright the notion of a Tamil nation thus denying the basic principles for any talks? And as to the UNP candidate, the former PM, signatory to the CFA and negotiator for peace? Did not one of his closest advisers, Mr. Moragoda, only days before the election canvass for the former PM extolling his unfailing commitment to the Sinhala nation by revealing his Machiavellian double play, i.e. to have overtly engaged in peace talks with the LTTE while covertly actively encouraging the break-away of the militant Karuna faction? If democracy means participation, people’s sovereignty, empowerment and influence in decision making, the Sri Lankan Tamils and for that matter all other minorities are essentially objects, no subjects of politics in Sri Lanka. Looking behind the facade, there simply is neither democracy nor pluralism in multi-cultural, multi-national Sri Lanka.

The demand to renounce violence before any negotiated settlement has been reached and lasting security for the Tamils been assured appears rather disingenuous. With an almost totally Sinhalized army responsible for massive human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, disappearances, rape and torture, occupying so-called High Security Zones in civilian populated areas and working hand in glove with murderous paramilitary groups, is not a demand for peace but a one-sided demand to surrender.

The implicit call for the monopoly of violence as belonging solely to the state, is to forget that this is depended on certain conditions. Unfortunately, successive governments of Sri Lanka have failed to comply with them. In contrast to the stipulations of the UN Friendly Relations Resolution, the Sri Lankan state is neither representative of all the peoples of the country nor has it guaranteed that most basic right of all, the right to security for all its citizens. Numerous reports and documents of the UN Human Rights Commission testify to the systematic collective discrimination committed in a ‘climate of impunity’ by agencies of the Sri Lankan state against the Sri Lankan Tamils.

If the EU wants to gain credibility as an international force for peace and justice, if it wants the LTTE to transform itself from a military organisation into a political party, if it wants democratic discourse replace violence, it should reconsider its present attitude, adopt a truly ‘balanced’ approach. Given the history of race relations in Sri Lanka, the causes of the war and the events leading to the present impasse together with renewed threat of war, the EU instead of singling out the LTTE as the party to blame, imposing travel bans and envisaging its listing, should first of all put pressure on the government of Sri Lanka with the aim

– to honour in full its obligations under the CFA, including disarmament of the paramilitaries; – while channelling aid to the tsunami victims in the Northeast, to withhold all aid to Colombo until an administrative structure for the distribution also in LTTE controlled areas has been achieved; it is simply not enough to verbally regret the wreckage of the P-TOMS; – to insist on the Oslo agreement for negotiations for a federal solution; given the absolute paramount place that parliament has in legislation, including constitutional matters, in Sri Lanka this is a purely political decision to be taken by the Sinhala Buddhist majority parties.

Once a perspective for a just and lasting peace with security and the promise of development have been established the demands of the EU concerning violence, political killings, child soldiers, and pluralism, a process that had already been entered into, will be solved. They are not pre-conditions for peace and negotiations but their typical results.

Professor John Neelsen – Germany – 29.01.06