Right To Self-Determination

Struggle for Tamil Eelam

Kumarathasan Rasingam

The idea of “self-determination” continues its hold on the hearts and minds of peoples yearning to breathe free. Kosovo, for example, established its independence in 2008, making it the world’s second-youngest country (after South Sudan, officially established in 2011). The landslide winner of Kosovo’s parliamentary elections in February 2021 was the Self-Determination Party (Vetëvendosje), which made Kosovo a rare Muslim-majority, leftist-governed country.

Self-determination is the freedom to choose one’s own acts without external compulsion. The term is generally associated with the freedom of the people of a given territory to determine their own political status.

The ratification of the United Nations Charter in 1945 at the end of World War II placed the right of self-determination into the framework of international law and diplomacy.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 15 states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no one should be arbitrarily deprived of a nationality or denied the right to change nationality.

Tamils of Ceylon by virtue of their great language, their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of independent existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for several centuries … and above all by their will to exist as a separate entity ruling themselves in their own territory, are a nation distinct and apart from the Sinhalese.

The longest struggle for self-determination in post-independence Sri Lanka is that of the Ceylon Tamils. It began in earnest in the mid-1950s as a response to discriminatory language policy and was fuelled by further discrimination in access to state employment and higher education. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, the Ceylon Tamil national movement sought self-determination within the framework of the existing state. The principal objective was to establish a federal government structure through which the Ceylon Tamil nation could defend its rights in a power-sharing arrangement with the Sinhalese.

At this stage, the Ceylon Tamil national movement focused on non-violent resistance and launched a series of satyagrahas (peaceful protests) in the Gandhian tradition. The coalition government (1960-1965), led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), struck the first violent blow against the Tamil national movement when the predominantly Sinhalese armed forces were deployed in the Jaffna peninsula in 1961 to repress these peaceful protests.

After the non-violent struggle for self-determination was crushed by the mighty Sinhala Military Tamil leaders unanimously adopted the Vaddu-koddai Resolution calling for the “restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular, socialist state of Tamil Eelam”.

The Eelam Tamil people endorsed the resolution at the 1977 parliamentary elections and voted en masse for the TULF to fight for independent Tamil Eelam.

Meanwhile, a new generation of young Ceylon Tamils, economically marginalised by discrimination in employment and higher education and brutalised by state repression, saw no way forward without armed resistance. The militants formed five major guerrilla organisations in the middle to late 1970s, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and launched their campaign to establish Eelam throughout the Tamil-speaking majority districts of north and east Sri Lanka.

The Tamil claim to self-determination is one of the strongest in the contemporary international scene.

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Vol 54, No. 52, Jun 26 - Jul 2, 2022