SRILANKAN TAMIL ISSUE
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Context: India voiced concern over the “lack of measurable progress” in Sri Lanka’s promised political solution to the long-pending Tamil national question, while making an unusual reference to the crisis-hit island nation’s “debt-driven” economy in the context of its current crisis.
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- In its statement at the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, India said it has always believed in the responsibility of states for promotion and protection of human rights and constructive international dialogue and cooperation” guided by the UN Charter.
- In this regard, the Indian delegation notes with concern the lack of measurable progress by Government of Sri Lanka on their commitments of a political solution to the ethnic issue — through full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest.
- The terms of Sri Lanka’s nine provincial councils expired about three years ago, and they have remained defunct since.
- India’s statement comes ahead of a resolution on Sri Lanka that will likely face a vote at the Council. Since 2009, India has voted thrice in favour of the UN resolution on Sri Lanka — two were critical — and abstained twice, in 2014 and 2021.
- Irrespective of its vote, India has consistently underscored the need for a political settlement “within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, ensuring justice, peace, equality and dignity for the Tamils of Sri Lanka.
- Over 13 years since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and disappeared, survivors continue demanding justice and accountability for war-time crimes.
- In the post-war years, Sri Lanka’s human rights defenders have frequently flagged concerns over persisting militarisation, especially in the Tamil-majority north and east; repression, and the shrinking space for dissent.
- In her latest report on Sri Lanka, the UN Human Rights chief said “embedded impunity for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes and corruption” were among the “underlying factors” that led to the country’s “devastating” economic crisis.
- India has extended nearly $4 billion crucial assistance to Sri Lanka this year but has not made any public remark on the island’s economic choices so far.
- However, at the ‘Interactive Dialogue’ segment of the ongoing Council session, India said Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis “demonstrated the limitations of debt driven economy and the impact it has on the standard of living”.
- China, Japan, and India are Sri Lanka’s three main bilateral creditors, while the island nation owes the biggest chunk of its foreign debt to International Sovereign Bond holders.
- It is in Sri Lanka’s best interests to build capacity of its citizens and work towards their empowerment, for which devolution of power to the grass roots level is a pre-requisite.
- In this connection, operationalisation of Provincial Councils through early conduct of elections will enable all citizens of Sri Lanka to achieve their aspirations for a prosperous future.
- Making a statement at the session, China said it “firmly supported” Sri Lanka to “safeguard its sovereignty and independence”, maintain social stability and achieve economic recovery.
- The majority of Sri Lankans are ethnic Sinhalese, a group of Indo-European peoples that had migrated to the island from northern India in the 500 BC.
- The Sinhalese had contacts with the Tamils who were settled in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent.
- A major migration of the Tamils occurred between the 7th and the 11th centuries CE especially during Cholas.
- When the British started ruling the country in 1815, the approximate population of the Sinhalese was roughly 3 million and the Tamils numbered up to 300,000.
- During this time, they brought nearly a million Tamils to work in the coffee, tea and rubber plantations in the island nation.
- The British also set up good educational and other infrastructure in the northern part of the country, which was where the Tamils were in a majority. They also favoured the Tamils in the civil service.
- All this naturally fostered ill-feeling among the Sinhalese.
- Sri Lanka attained independence from the British on 4 February 1948.
- After attaining independence, the new government initiated many laws that discriminated against the Tamils.
- Sinhalese was declared the sole official language which effectively eliminated the Tamils from government service. A law was also passed that simply barred Indian Tamils from getting citizenship.
- The Tamils started demanding equal rights in their homeland. In 1972, the Sinhalese changed the country’s name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka and made Buddhism the nation’s primary religion.
- The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) was formed in 1976 by Prabhakaran with the intention of acquiring a homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka in the north and east parts of the island.
- The initial days of the LTTE were focused on fighting other Tamil factions and consolidating power as the sole representative of the Sri Lankan Tamils. This was achieved by 1986, the same year it captured Jaffna.
- When war between Sri Lankan Tamils and the Sinhalese majority erupted in 1983, India took an active role.
- Indo-Sri Lankan Accord was signed in 1987 to provide a political solution to Sri Lanka’s conflict. It proposed the establishment of provincial council system and devolution of power for nine provinces in Sri Lanka (also known as The Thirteenth Amendment). Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) was sent to the island in the hope of bringing about peace.
- IPKF was later withdrawn after three years amidst escalating violence. In 1987, Rajiv Gandhi decided to intervene in the situation mainly because of separatism issues in Tamil Nadu and also to avoid the potential swarm of refugees from Sri Lanka to Indian shores, setting a new stage for India-Sri Lanka relations.
- This move proved to be a terrible disaster. Instead of negotiating a settlement between both parties, the Indian troops ended up fighting the Eelam group. About 1200 Indian men died in the war.
- The war went on with numerous counts of atrocities and brutalities perpetrated by both sides. The civilians also suffered terribly. Lakhs of people were displaced in the protracted war.
- Finally, the government decided to come hard on the LTTE in an extreme offensive starting in 2007.
- The violent conflict was ended in 2009