|PM’s Keynote Speech at Thamilar Sangamam
With the permission of the Tamil Thai I am delivering my speech in English.
Brothers and sisters, first of all let me thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about the plans, strategies and policies of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam as a new and rapidly emerging political formation representing the voice of the Diaspora Tamils.
We remember, eighteen months ago to this day, when more than 60,000 Tamils were killed by the use of heavy weapons and artillery by the Sri Lankan armed forces- an army made up of 99% Sinhalese, and the Tamil victims perished solely on account of their Tamil ethnicity in violation of article II (a) of the Genocide Convention. Eighteen months ago, hundreds of thousands of Tamils were deliberately subjected to serious physical and mental harm in violation of Article II (b) of the Genocide Convention. Eighteen months ago, by the systematic denial of the basic needs of food, shelter, and medicine, the conditions were created for bringing about the Tamils’ physical destruction, in whole or in part in violation of Article II (c) of the Genocide Convention. Today, more and more evidence is emerging to prove that Tamil women were subjected to forceful abortion and sterilization in violation of Article II (d) of the Genocide Convention. What happened in Vanni during those dark weeks and months last year was nothing but genocide, pure and simple. What happened in Vanni was the continuation of the structural genocide which the Tamil nation has been subjected to for the past 30 years.
The Sri Lankan government’s act of genocide not only resulted in the massive destruction of the Tamil nation in the island, but it also destroyed the political space which was engaged by the Tamils in the island. Since the independence of Ceylon, the exclusionary policies of the Sinhala leaders, pervasive racism and brutal repression of the Tamil nonviolent resistance coupled with the sixth amendment to the Constitution which prohibits peaceful advocacy of an independent state in violation of fundamental human rights; namely, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom of assembly, denied Tamils effective participation in the political process in the island. There was no political space for Tamils to articulate their political aspirations. Under these conditions, the Tamil nonviolent struggle had over time transformed itself into an armed struggle in the absence of national and international mechanisms to resolve national conflicts. The de facto state of Tamil Eelam emerging through this phase of the struggle became the rallying point for Eelam Tamils and it also provided the political space for the Tamils. With the destruction of the de facto state and the resultant political space, the situation has reverted to the status quo ante. That is, the situation reverted to a lack of political space for the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka.
Given the above, the pragmatic necessity and moral imperative was to create a political space outside of the island of Sri Lanka. While the Sri Lankan government’s brutal and barbaric military operation was an act of genocide inside the island, it has had the opposite effect of consolidating the Tamil Diaspora’s resolve to continue to struggle for freedom. The Sri Lankan operation of annihilation has made the flame of freedom among the Diaspora to burn more vigorously. Thus, the Tamil Diaspora stood up to the responsibility for creating a political space for the Tamils outside the island of Sri Lanka. Since the Diaspora Tamils’ physical existence, and their social and cultural interactions are predominantly transnational, their political space must also be transnational. One prominent outcome of all this thinking has been the setting up of the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. While there are transnational institutions such as the Catholic Church in existence for a very very long time, and multinational corporations and International NGOs, Human Rights, Feminists and environmental movements that have been operating for years, the formation of a government of the transnational kind is a pioneer movement taken up by Eelam Tamils. A political science scholar remarked recently that the TGTE was indeed the Tamil’s contribution to social and political theory. Not surprisingly this week I received an email from an international think tank which stated that (and I quote),
“Was very inspired by the news and developments of the Transnational Government. Hope this could be a significant and groundbreaking international instrument that can resolve not only the Tamil's challenges, but also assist the Kurds, Palestinians and many others.” (end quote)
The concept of Transnational governance has been around for some time. However, the kind of Transnational Government that was much talked about and articulated revolved around how nation-states can internationally formulate a model of governance in the era of globalization. Nation-states are the basic units of this model. What we proposed and attempting to build is something different.
It calls for a new kind of civic mode of politics. It is an innovative model. While there are centers for innovative governance in some parts of the world, those institutions talk about the relationship between states and international institutions. The transnational government established by us is seen clearly as a vehicle for a subjucated national entity to articulate their political aspirations in the global governance system through the transnational political and social practice. The present international system, including the international institutions such as the United Nations, are clearly biased towards existing states. There is no room for subjucated nations and peoples in these international system. The existing armed conflicts in various parts of the world are a testimony of the failure of the current international system. Perhaps the only way for the subjucated national entities like Tamils, Kurds, Palestinians and others is to create a powerful civil movement of Transnational Government that would lead us into right direction.
Moreover, our transnational government is a grassroots based collaborative effort where the representatives are elected directly from the people. We also hope and believe that this transnational model of governance will force reforms in the existing governmental system. We believe that our Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam will bring positive changes in the international system and, as hoped by many, will also help address the aspirations of other subjucated nationalities.
In order to ensure that the TGTE represents the popular aspirations of the people, and in order to ensure grassroots participation, we instituted the highest mode of democracy, namely, direct elections which were held in May 2010. Since the representation of the TGTE has been chosen through a process of direct elections, the democratic credentials associated with TGTE endow it with the legitimacy to articulate the political aspirations of the Tamils.
We functioned according to a schedule set in place 18 months ago, and we held the elections in a number of Diaspora locations on the 2nd of May 2010. Following this, our first Assembly was convened in the historic city of Philadelphia, at the very same location where the Founding Fathers of the USA gathered 223 years earlier to create a new government.
Philadelphia was also the site where the US Declaration of Independence was debated and signed all those years ago. We chose to hold our Assembly there on May 17th-19th this year to recommit to our collective memory the anniversary of the Mulliavaikkal massacre a year ago. In our view, the Assembly served not only as the first gathering of elected Tamil representatives but also as symbolic of the message we wanted to give to the Sinhala extremists, the message that the Tamils’ spirit had not been broken, and that the Tamils’ quest for freedom had not been extinguished. The Constituent Assembly that went to work following Philadelphia reconvened four months later at the UN Plaza Hotel in New York and ratified the new Constitution. The TGTE’s Constitution should be viewed not only as an arrangement for separation of powers among the TGTE members, but also as a prelude to a polity which we envisioned about creating. Needless to say, a considerate amount of time and energy was dedicated by the members of the TGTE. During the three days’ of sessions, we argued, debated, differed, and reconciled on a range of issues. We witnessed ‘democracy in action’ at the conference hall. In my opening remarks to the gathering, I quoted an observation made by Theodore Herzl in his diary following the First Zionist Congress held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, which reads,
“If I were to sum up the Congress in a word – which I shall take care not to publish – it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today I would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it”
That was indeed the sentiments of the TGTE members when they met in Philadelphia and New York.
To say a few words about our Constitution, we incorporated a clause from Article 1 of the Post War Constitution of Federal Republic of Germany, which proclaims that human dignity is inviolable. With respect to the eligibility criteria for voters and members of the TGTE, we did not simply restrict it to Tamils born in Eelam or just to anybody with a connection to people from Eelam. Instead, our aims were global, and we embraced anybody who identified herself or himself as an Eelam Tamil. This way we have given meaning to Eelam Tamil identity as one which reflected a nationalism alongside globalism, in the same sense the Sangam Tamil poet Kaniyan Poonkunran sais two millennia ago as ’Yaathum Ure Yaavarum Kelir’[Every country is my own, all people are my kinsmen’].
Two weeks ago, we announced the Cabinet for the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. This Cabinet may appear similar to the Cabinet of any other government and its task is to direct and expedite the many functions at hand for the Diaspora. Even though we have designated the positions as ministers, deputy ministers, and a Prime Minister, as one of our members Honorable Jeyasankar Murugiah observed, underneath all those titles we are all servants of the Eelam Tamil people and we are also protectors of our Nation. I would also like to recall at this point the observation made by the Tamil National leader to cadres during the peace process that they were not only fighters but at the same time also public servants.
The most important and immediate task in our hands is the prevention of the aggressive colonization of the Tamil homeland by the Sri Lankan State. The Sri Lankan government is bent on destroying the nationhood of the Tamils by appropriating their traditional homeland. By denying the Tamils their traditional homeland, they can reduce the Tamil nation to a status of a minority. With respect to this new form of colonization, the Sri Lankan Government’s argument that “if Tamils could settle in the south, so also the Sinhalese could settle in Tamil areas” is far too simplistic in outlook. In reality, members of a numerical minority as the Tamil community settling down in Sinhala dominated areas cannot in any way change the ethnic balance at all in those places. At the same time, if settlement by the majority Sinhalese takes place in areas where Tamils live as a numerical minority already, it could easily wipe out the identity of the Tamils. As an academic observed, this is similar to the “Big fish theory”. Assuming that there was a law that stated that one fish could swallow another, the possibility would be that only the small fish will always be swallowed, and not the big ones. Therefore, it is inappropriate, in this context, to implement the concept of “equality of fish” as a provision within that law. In fact, what the Sri Lankan government is engaged in is ‘colonization as an act of genocide’ through changing the demography.
The TGTE will engage in discussions with foreign governments and will try to find ways and means to stop and revert the colonization of the traditional Tamil areas.
Other immediate tasks facing the TGTE are how to address the immediate and urgent humanitarian needs of the Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka. The government of Sri Lanka and its allies view the current situation as a “post-conflict situation”, rather than as a ‘post-war situation’. Instead of addressing the root cause of the national conflict, the government of Sri Lanka is using the slogan of ‘development’ in order to destroy the Tamil identity. The government of Sri Lanka is attempting to hoodwink the world that the concept of “development” could be applied in a depoliticized manner. This is not true and has never been true in Sri Lanka. We firmly believe that development should occur from the grassroots level, and for that the people concerned should have the political power that they can exercise. The plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is far way from that reality. Given this situation, the Tamil Diaspora is faced with a number of questions today. ‘Will participating in the “development” process before a political resolution hamper our freedom struggle? Will participation in “development” enable the government to maintain its power?’ On the other hand, if struggling with such dilemmas means turning a blind eye to the pathetic situation of our kith and kin back home, that amounts to an abandonment of our moral responsibility. This begs the question whether independent and individual contributions towards rehabilitation should be encouraged, and if relief and rehabilitation through the government’s involvement should be shunned. Presently, the TGTE’s position is to address the rehabilitation and reconstruction through the actions of foreign governments. However, very shortly we intend to release a white paper raising the questions mentioned above, and have an informed discussion on this among the Tamil Diaspora at large.
The TGTE’s political goal is has clearly been the establishment of an independent and sovereign state of Tamil Eelam. This goal was not reached through an emotional outburst, but rather based on the democratic will of the Tamil people expressed so clearly and the last time ever in the 1977 General Elections, the same aspirations then expressed through the sweat, blood and tears of thousands and thousands of Tamils for the last 30 years, and then through the referendum on the national question conducted recently in a number of countries the Diaspora lives. Our goal is also based on international law, namely in the right to self determination. As the Canadian Supreme Court held in the Quebec case, when a nation is denied effective participation in a political process, the right to self determination can be enforced through the establishment of an independent state in accordance with the General Assembly’s Resolution 2625, which is considered a customary international law. At this juncture, I would also like to point out that the argument that territorial integrity and the right to self determination are contradictory to each other has no basis. As the International Court of Justice recently stated in the Kosovo case, the principle of territorial integrity applied only between states, whereas the right to self determination applied between people and states. In other words, both principles apply in different planes, and they are not mutually contradictory. This has been the position consistently advanced by some of the students of international law, including myself, since the early 1990s.
However, given the recent events of genocide against the Tamils we have witnessed, our primary basis for the right of an independent state is one of remedial action. Pursuant to theories advanced by philosophers Buchanan and Fernando R. Teason, Tamils in the aftermath of the Genocide campaign have a stronger argument for the creation of a state of their own as a remedial measure, as a measure for self preservation, as a measure for self defense, and as a measure of correction of gross injustice.
The moral justification, the demand for the establishment of an independent state to preserve the Tamil community disseminated by Genocide present the same compelling cogency as the creation of the state of Israel following the Holocaust.
Article VIII of the Genocide convention provides that, “any contracting party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such actions under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of Genocide.” Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter coupled with the above article provide a legal basis for the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam.
The international community which failed to prevent the Genocide of the Tamils has a moral as well as legal obligation to support an establishment of an independent Tamil state for no other reason than to ensure, “never again”.
During the Kosovo case, the ICJ observed the remedial session, but did not address it, since it held that it went beyond the scope of the question which was presented to them.
The questions before us are: how can the TGTE, being outside Sri Lanka, bring an impact inside the country of Sri Lanka? How can it reach the establishment of an independent Tamil state in the island of Sri Lanka? Even though the TGTE is distinct from an exile government, there are many similarities between the two in terms of their respective political strategies. The TGTE considers the processes of globalization and emerging power dynamics in the Indian Ocean region will provides an opening for the establishment of an independent Tamil state. In the context of globalization, the destiny of countries, especially small countries, is determined by external factors. Being an external force, the TGTE can influence the course of events inside the island. The USTPAC/Sanjam economic boycotts are actions in that direction. Today, globalization is not only limited to capital movement. Today, we also witness judicial globalization, and security globalization, among others. The establishment of the International Criminal Court and the recognition of universal jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are evidence of judicial globalization. Thus, by bringing action against the Sri Lankan genocidal regime for its acts in the past or the perpetuation of those acts, we believe that not only would justice be given to the victims, but that it would also bring an impact over the course of events. In this regard, we applaud the actions of the Tamils Against Genocide (TAG). The TGTE, in collaboration with the Human Rights Clinic of the American University, has submitted a proposal to the UN war crimes panel. In this paper, we identified the legal basis resting on the UN Charter and the Security Council’s precedent decisions and have urged the panel to make a recommendation that condoning impunity threatens stability in the region, thus bringing the matter to the UN Security Council under Chapter 7 and requesting the Security Council to refer the matter to the International Criminal Court. At the same time, we also believe that bringing action in domestic tribunals invoking universal jurisdiction will produce results quickly.
One other arena where the TGTE can influence the course of events in Sri Lanka is in the context of emerging power dynamics in the Indian Ocean. The late Taraki Sivaram, in his presentation in 2004, pointed out the strategic location of the island of Sri Lanka, namely, the central position of the island between the straits of Malacca and Hormuz. He also talked about the importance of sea lanes which account for half of the planets container traffic and carry two thirds of the petroleum of the States in the Indian ocean.
Sivaram’s views have been echoed in Robert Kaplan’s book published last month titled , ‘Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power’. In the book, Kaplan predicts that the rivalry between India and China will play a big role in defining the geopolitical character of Eurasia in the 21st century. I would also like to point out here the aggressive position taken by China with respect to its claim in the South China Sea. The TGTE will issue series of discussion papers and will start a national dialogue in the process of its foreign policy making.
Working with the international and regional powers and finding a common ground does not mean succumbing to the pressure of those powers. It is also pointed out that when the Baltic countries initially called for independence, the administration of Bush Senior dismissed it as “suicidal nationalism”. However, within a few years, the West embraced the Baltic nations. Along this line, the TGTE will maintain its independence and work hard in convincing the international community how both interests can converge. In a recent press release on the tribunal reviewing the ban of the LTTE in India, we argued for the necessity to provide protection for those who would attend the tribunal, which is testimony to the fact that the TGTE will maintain its own independence. However, the TGTE would like to convey to the international community our willingness to play an active and just role to bring peace and stability in the Indian Ocean.
While we are aware of the opportunities, we are also mindful of the obstacles faced by TGTE in advancing its goals. The present international system, as I mentioned earlier, is ´built on the relationships between states. In other words, the present international institutions are primarily clubs of states. Thus, each member of the club has a vested interest in preserving the status quo. To penetrate such a system and to establish an independent state is a formidable challenge. However, the recent developments, starting from the former Yugoslavia to Southern Sudan are encouraging. We hope, with justice on our side and with the popular support and through hard work, we can realize our goal. Justice has always been on our side, we have not stopped working hard and we need to muster the necessary popular support in order for the TGTE to reach this goal. Only through popular support can the TGTE become the power center it ought to be and it wants to be. So, while calling for the support of all of you gathered here, and that of all of you spread across other countries in a true transnational sense, I like to conclude by paraphrasing our great national leader, Mr Velupillai Pirabakaran: We call upon our people to help rebuild our nation, bringing together our abundant intellectual, material, monetary, and other resources in the service of our nation, and ask that all of you stand with us in the coming decade in continuing our freedom struggle.
‘Thamilarin Thaakam Thamil Eelath Thaayakam’