In a significant political move, seven political parties mainly representing the Sri Lankan Tamils of the Northern and Eastern provinces have written a joint letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his help to fully implement the provisions of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. As is well known the Provincial Councils scheme was a consequence of the 13th Constitutional Amendment. The 13 A itself came into being due to the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 29th 1987.
The letter draft finalised on December 29th 2020 was approved by the 7 parties concerned on January 6th 2022. The seven parties who are signatories to the letter are the TNA, ITAK, TELO, PLOTE,EPRLF, TMP and TNP. The letter along with an annexure outlining key problems facing the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka will be sent to PM Modi through the good offices of the Indian High Commission in Colombo.
In view of its current relevance and importance this week’s column will be publishing the letter and annexure in full as a matter of record.. Comment and analysis will have to wait for another day due to space constraints.
Missive to Modi
29 th December 2021
His Excellency Shri Narendra Modi,
Prime Minister of India
Prime Minister’s Office New Delhi.
THE INDO-LANKA ACCORD AND THE POLITICAL ASPIRATIONS OF THE TAMIL SPEAKING PEOPLES FOR SHARING OF POWERS OF GOVERNANCE
Since Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948, the Tamil speaking peoples have been demanding meaningful power sharing from all the successive governments that came to power. The political leadership of the Tamil speaking peoples wanted a solution in accordance with internationally accepted principles recognizing their legitimate aspirations. Although many attempts were made to find a solution internally as well as with the assistance of the international community, the Tamil Speaking Peoples National Question remains unresolved to date.
The Government of India has actively engaged in this pursuit for the past 40 years and we are grateful for the firm commitment expressed by India to find a just and lasting solution that satisfies the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil speaking peoples to live with dignity, self-respect, peace and security. We remain committed to a political solution based on a federal structure that recognizes our legitimate aspirations. The Tamil speaking peoples have always been the majority in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
The Government of India offered its good offices in 1983, which was accepted by the Government of Sri Lanka and consequently the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed on 29th July 1987. Thereafter the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution was introduced, establishing a provincial council system that envisaged devolution of powers to the Provinces. But the Amendment was introduced into a Unitary Constitution making the exercise one of decentralization instead of devolution.
It is against this background that every effort made thereafter moved in the direction of surpassing the Thirteenth Amendment towards a federal structure. Several proposals and commitments warrant mention.
Proposals and Commitments
First, in 1993, the Mangala Moonesinghe Select Committee during President R. Premadasa’s tenure recommended devolution based on the Indian model. It suggested that the Concurrent List be either abolished or that most of the subjects in it be transferred to the Provincial List. It further proposed an Apex Council linking the Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils.
Second, the government proposals for constitutional reforms in 1995 and 1997 under President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, and the Constitutional Bill of 2000, all proposed extensive devolution of power, and abandoned the unitary state structure.
Third, in December 2002, talks were held between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in Oslo. At these talks, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government delegation was led by Prof. G.L. Peiris, who after reaching this agreement, said the following at a press conference: “Responding to a proposal by the leadership of the LTTE, the parties agreed to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka. The parties acknowledged that the solution had to be acceptable to all communities……And the parties agreed to, on that basis, discuss matters further.”
Fourth, in 2006, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed an All Party Representative Committee (APRC), and a committee of experts to formulate proposals for a new constitution. At its inaugural meeting, President Rajapaksa outlined their task in the following words: “We must explore past attempts from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact onwards…….People in their own localities must take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment. Central decision-making that allocates disproportionate resources has been an issue for a considerable time. In addition, it is axiomatic that devolution also needs to address issues relating to identity as well as security and socio-economic advancement, without overreliance on the centre. In this regard, it is also important to address the question of regional minorities…There are many examples from around the world that we may study as we evolve a truly Sri Lankan constitutional framework including our immediate neighbour, India… Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country given the background to the conflict.”
President Rajapaksa rightly pointed out that the Co-Chairs of this process, i.e. the European Union, Japan, the United States (U.S.), and Norway, did not condone separation. However, they also expressed their view with regard to what the solution should be. They stated:
“It must show that [Sri Lanka] is ready to make a dramatic political change to bring about a new system of governance which will enhance the rights of all Sri Lankans, including the Muslims. The international community will support such steps; failure to take such steps will diminish international support…The Tamil and Muslim people of Sri Lanka have justified substantial grievances that have not yet been adequately addressed.“
Meanwhile, one of the Co-Chairs, the U.S., also made some specific statements with regard to Sri Lanka. The Assistant Secretary of State of the U.S. for South and Central Asian Affairs, Mr. Richard A. Boucher, visited Sri Lanka on 1st June 2006, and stated:
“We also think the government should provide a positive vision to Tamils and Muslims of a future Sri Lanka where their legitimate grievances are addressed and their security assured. President Rajapaksa has spoken of ‘maximum devolution’. Previous negotiations have agreed on ‘internal selfdetermination’ within a federal framework. However the idea is expressed, it could offer hope to many in the North and East that they will have control over their own lives and destinies within a single nation of Sri Lanka. “
The multi-ethnic expert committee involved in the APRC process, in their main report, proposed an extensive power-sharing arrangement similar to the Constitution Bill of August 2000.
The final APRC report meanwhile suggested important improvements to the Thirteenth Amendment including the abolition of the concurrent list.
Finally, following the conclusion of the armed conflict in 2009, the government made certain pledges to implement and build on the Thirteenth Amendment.
On 26th May 2009, President Rajapaksa issued a joint communique with the visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki- Moon stating:
“President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.
The very next day, on 27th May 2009, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which the aforesaid commitment by President Rajapaksa was incorporated in the following words:
“Welcoming also the recent assurance given by the President of Sri Lanka that he does not regard a military solution as a final solution, as well as his commitment to a political solution with the implementation of the thirteenth amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.”
It is noteworthy that in June 2010, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister of India made a statement with regard to Sri Lanka. He stated:
“The Prime Minister emphasised that a meaningful devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would create the necessary conditions for a lasting political settlement. The President of Sri Lanka reiterated his determination to evolve a political settlement acceptable to all communities that would act as a catalyst to create the necessary conditions in which all the people of Sri Lanka could lead their lives in an atmosphere of peace, justice and dignity, consistent with democracy, pluralism, equal opportunity and respect for human rights. Towards this end, the President expressed his resolve to continue to implement in particular the relevant provisions of the Constitution designed to strengthen national amity and reconciliation through empowerment. In this context, he shared his ideas on conducting a broader dialogue with all parties involved. The Prime Minister of India expressed India’s constructive support for efforts that build peace and reconciliation among all communities in Sri Lanka. “
This commitment was then repeated in May 2011 when External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris visited New Delhi. A joint press statement with the Minister of External Affairs of India stated:
…”the External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties. A devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.”
This commitment was reiterated once again in Colombo in January 2012. After meeting President Rajapaksa, visiting Indian Minister for External Affairs, Hon. S. M. Krishna speaking at a joint press conference with Minister G.L. Peiris, stated:
“The Government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based on the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and building on it, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers. We look forward to an expeditious and constructive approach to the dialogue process.”
PM Narendra Modi
Most notably thereafter, on 13th March 2015, Your Excellency spoke in the Sri Lankan Parliament and stated:
“Today, my top priority is to make the States in India stronger. I am a firm believer in cooperative federalism. So, we are devolving more power and more resources to the States. And we are making them formal partners in national decision-making process.”
On the occasion of the State Visit of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to India, on 29th November 2019, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi stated as follows:
“We also openly exchanged views on reconciliation in Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa told me about his inclusive political outlook on ethnic harmony. I am confident that the Government of Sri Lanka will carry forward the process of reconciliation, to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, peace and respect. It also includes the implementation of the 13th amendment. India will become a trusted partner for development throughout Sri Lanka including North and East.”
From all of the above, it is clear that the Government of Sri Lanka has on multiple occasions promised to fully implement the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. But it did not stop there. The promise also included the very specific undertaking to “build upon the 13th Amendment so as to achieve meaningful devolution.” Even though the Tamil speaking people do not expect a proper and full-fledged devolution under a unitary constitution yet such promises have mostly been given to India, quite appropriately, since it is with India that Sri Lanka has signed an international bilateral agreement, the Indo-Lanka Accord, in which these ideals were set out.
However, successive Sri Lankan governments have not only failed in full implementation of the provisions in the Constitution with regard to devolution and parity of status to the Tamil language, but have unilaterally reacquired powers and institutions from the provinces, which continues to date. In addition, lands belonging to the Tamil speaking peoples are continuing to be grabbed by the State under various pretexts, with a view to radically alter the demography of the North and East. This must be halted immediately, or else the provisions of the Indo-Lanka Accord will be rendered nugatory. In this regard, we enclose hereto the list of matters of serious concerns to our peoples namely North and East Tamils and Up Country Tamils for your Excellency’s information.
In this situation, we appeal to Your Excellency to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to keep its promises to:
fully implement the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution
implement the clear commitments made by all sections of government from 1987 onwards and enable the Tamil speaking peoples to live with dignity, self-respect, peace and security in the areas of their historic habitation, exercising their right to self-determination within the framework of a united, undivided country.
1.R. Sampanthan, MP- Leader - Tamil National Alliance(TNA)
2. Mavai Senathraja-Leader - Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi(ITAK)
3. Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, MP- Leader – Tamizh Makkal Kootani(TMK)
4. A. Adaikalanathan MP- President -Tami Eelam Liberation Organization(TELO)
5. Dharmalingam Siththadthan MP- President -Democratic People’s Liberation Front(DPLF?PLOTE)
6. K. Premchandran-President-Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Libertion Front(EPRLF).
7. N. Srikantha- Leader - Tamil National Party(TNP).
Annexure to Letter
Matters of urgent serious concerns to the Tamil speaking people in Sri Lanka
1. Thirteenth Amendment and Provincial Councils
a) To bring back all provisions relating to Law and Order, Finance, Land, Education, Agrarian Services etc. derogated so far from the original provisions agreed upon under the Thirteenth Amendment consequent to the Indo Lanka Pact. This would include Presidential undertakings given by Sri Lanka.
b) As per assurances given by the Sri Lankan Government to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms, to call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to pave the way for the Election Commission to hold the Provincial Council elections.
2. Language Rights –Sixteenth Amendment
a) The provisions of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed by the Parliament on 17th December 1988 soon after the enactment of the Thirteenth Amendment must be implemented in word and spirit.
b) The use of Sinhala and Tamil as languages of Governmental use and recognition of both languages as National languages and English as the Link language in the Thirteenth and Sixteenth amendments must be given full effect to, in word and spirit.
c) The provisions of Chapter-iv of the Constitution containing Articles 18 to 25 A dealing with National languages, their implementation in administration, legislation, Judiciary and as medium of instruction in schools as per the constitution of Sri Lanka shall be fully implemented in word, form and substance.
3. Demography, Land Grabbing and De Limitation or Gerrymandering
a)All attempts to systematically change the demographic pattern of the North and East, acting contrary to the provisions and spirit of the Banda-Chelva Pact (1957), Dudley-Chelva Pact (1965) and the Indo-Lanka Accord (1987) shall stop forthwith.
b)All activities and attempts by the Archaeological Department, Mahaweli Authority, Forest Department, Wild Life Department, Tourist Board and the Defence/Internal Security Ministry to destroy and pervert evidences that confirm the Historical Habitation of North and East as the traditional Homelands of the Tamils must immediately cease.
c)The Archaeological Department must recognise the antiquity of the Tamils from pre Buddhistic times, accept that it was the Tamils who received Buddhism (Tamil Buddhists) into Sri Lanka and act accordingly instead of perverting and prevaricating history.
d)Tamil villages in the border areas between Northern and Eastern Provinces are altered by either attaching them to Sinhala areas or bringing Sinhala Villages into Tamil areas thereby altering ethnic composition to make Tamils minorities in their own areas. This will prevent Tamil people from obtaining political representation in Local Councils, Provincial Councils and in Parliament. Such pernicious practices must be discontinued.
4. Citizenship and Equality
Purpose and spirit of the Nehru-Kotelawala (1954), Sirimavo-Shastri (1964) and SirimavoIndira (1974) Pacts between Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and Government of India (GoI), both of which pledged full-fledged citizenship that implied equal rights to Sri Lankan Tamil people of recent Indian Origin in the fields of right to land, right to housing, livelihood, education, health and political representation are being discriminatively violated and ignored. This denial of equal rights and discriminations shall change forthwith towards full-fledged equal citizenship.
5. Prisoners under the Prevention of Terrorism Act
The PTA which is used mainly against the Tamils and Muslims must forthwith be repealed and all those held under the PTA should be released.
6. Electoral Reforms
With a view to get adequate representation to racial and political nationalities and minorities living scattered in the Island whether Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or any other minorities within the multi- party democratic framework prevalent in this Island, small political parties representing such interest groups must be enabled to enter Parliament or Provincial Councils. Hence the Proportional Representation method must be continued electorally and the Government must be requested to accept that method into its Electoral system.
7. One Country One Law Concept
a)The Presidential Commission on “One Country One Law” has been appointed to eliminate or prevent existence of any other legislative bodies within the country other than the Central Government and prevent any meaningful devolution.
b) It will prevent Tamils and Muslims practicing their customary laws and preserving their culture, customs and practices. Such Commission must be done away with and the distinct identity and rights of all Nationalities in Sri Lanka must be recognised by the Sri Lankan Government. (ENDS)