The International Movement for a Just World (JUST) joins civil society groups all over the world in urging the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the Tamil civilian population trapped in the country’s war zone is provided safe passage to sanctuaries that will protect life and limb. The government has a moral responsibility to protect Tamil civilians who are after all citizens of Sri Lanka. This should be the government’s highest priority.
According to some independent sources civilian casualties have been mounting. A conservative estimate places the number of civilians killed since January 2009 at 4,200 persons. One Red Cross official on the ground has described the plight of the Tamils as “catastrophic.”
The Sri Lankan government should realize that there is no military solution to the decades old conflict. Even if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are defeated in combat, it is quite conceivable that the remnants of the LTTE will re-group and launch fresh attacks against government forces in the future — as long as the fundamental causes of the conflict are not resolved. The LTTE too should acknowledge that the use of violence has not advanced its cause. The very fact that it is fighting for its survival today proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that force as a strategy has its limits.
The international community should persuade both the government and credible leaders of the Tamil community to resume negotiations immediately. Over the years Sinhalese and Tamil leaders — and peacemakers from outside Sri Lanka — have made various proposals on how the conflict can be brought to an end. Greater devolution of power from Colombo to the regions, including the Tamil ‘homeland’ of Jaffna, which would bestow these regions with genuine autonomy, has to be an important dimension of any solution. While the position of the Sinhalese majority should be respected, the rights and aspirations of the Tamils and other minorities such as the Muslims, should be safeguarded at all costs.
There is no alternative to a politically negotiated settlement. The Sri Lankan tragedy illustrates the utter futility of resorting to violence to overcome ethnic problems. More than a hundred thousand people — Tamils, Muslims, Sinhalese and others — have been killed since the conflict took a turn for the worse in 1983.
How many more Sri Lankans will have to die before peace returns to Sri Lanka?
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar,
International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
23 April 2009.