‘Sri Lanka firmly committed to full provincial autonomy’
Social Welfare Minister Douglas
Devananda meeting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon
Addressing the widely publicized UN world conference against racism
and racial discrimination under the theme ‘United against Racism, Unity
and Justice for all’, currently under way in Geneva, Sri Lanka’s most
senior ethnic Tamil Cabinet Minister said that Sri Lanka’s President
Rajapaksa was firmly committed to the full implementation of the 13th
Amendment to the Constitution which gives substantive autonomy to the
provinces. He also called upon the international community to put
pressure on the LTTE to allow the civilians in its captivity to leave
Below is the full text of the address by
Social Welfare Minister Douglas Devananda at UN Anti-Racism Conference
I am a Sri Lankan who is also ethnically Tamil, representing the
North, a province populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Tamils. It also had
many Tamil speaking Muslims, such as my colleague Minister Rishad
Bathiudeen who is with us today, after being internally displaced
himself by LTTE terrorism.
Sri Lanka has four major religions Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity
and Islam, and three distinct major communities, Sinhalese, Tamils and
Muslims, and three languages Sinhala, Tamil and English. This diversity
has made for coexistence as well as conflict.
The sources of conflict lie in factors related to our deliberations
here. They are also related, as in many places, to colonialism. Though
post-colonial Sri Lanka saw legislative changes which made Tamils feel
they were being treated unequally and discriminated against, the
majority Sinhalese felt Tamils got disproportionate advantages during
colonial rule. Redress was thought necessary but the Tamils felt those
actions were discriminatory.
Tamils started agitating against the discrimination and demanded
equality and power sharing in areas where they lived in substantial
numbers. In the early period these agitations were democratic and
non-violent. However, the next generation reacted to the state machinery
crushing the non-violent acts of the Tamils. They took up arms against
the State through many militant organizations. I was the leader of one
The flames of conflict should have been doused by the Indo-Lanka
accord of 1987, brokered by the Prime Minister of India at the time,
Shri Rajiv Gandhi, who was later murdered by the LTTE.
It paved the way for a power sharing arrangement. The agreement also
required the militants to lay down arms and join the democratic main
stream, and almost all of us did so at the time.
Due to the fanaticism of the LTTE, which rejected the Indo-Lanka
Accord, the full implementation of the provincial council system has
been blocked. The LTTE has been waging war with the ultimate aim of
creating a separate State, Tamil Eelam. They are not only waging a war
against the State, they also annihilate any democratic Tamil forces that
would not be subservient to them.
Minister Devananda addressing the
Durban Review Conference.
As a young man in my twenties, I was a survivor of the massacre of
Tamil political prisoners in the Welikada jail, in July 1983 by a
majority racists mob.
However, I had not foreseen the evil of the racism and terrorism of
the minority. When I gave up armed struggle and entered the democratic
mainstream in 1987, I was regarded as a traitor by the Tigers.
The US State Department reports I have survived eleven assassination
attempts by the Tigers.
My sight is impaired in one eye due to a spike driven into my skull
by Tiger detainees when I visited them in prison to improve their
conditions of detention. But my perspective is clear.
Our President took action to curb LTTE terrorism after his attempts
at negotiation were rejected. Now the Sri Lankan security forces have
almost crushed the Tigers. However the Tigers use innocent civilians as
These are my people, Mr President, from the island’s North; people to
whom I belong; people to whom I am tied by common ancestry and place.
Though over 70,000 of those held initially succeeded in getting away,
despite being shot at by the LTTE as they escaped, there are still a
large number held in captivity. Yet even as I speak today, thousands
managed to get away to refuge with the government.
If the international community can pressurize the LTTE to surrender
or at least to release the rest of these civilians unconditionally, that
will go a long way in ending the suffering of the Tamil minority.
President Rajapaksa is committed to full implementation of the 13th
Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution which ensures substantive
The political process has already started.
Elections were conducted for the Eastern provincial council in May
A Task Force for the development of the North under my Chairmanship
was established to oversee activities until normalcy is established in
the province and elections are held. In the meantime, an All Party
Representative Committee is finalizing proposals, including necessary
constitutional amendments, to address grievances of the Tamils.
We refer to this as ‘13th amendment Plus’, that is, deeper provincial
autonomy than currently in the Constitution.
This will include a Second Chamber based on Provinces.
Mr. President, this being the current situation in my country, we
entered wholeheartedly into commitments at the conference in Durban.
This was a landmark event in the struggle against racial discrimination
Sri Lanka is party to major international human rights instruments
and has acceded to the International Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Since language rights are perhaps
the most important issue of contention in Sri Lanka, we have taken
measures to enforce bilingualism in administration while improving
training in this field.
We have also taken steps to ensure recruitment of Tamil speaking
persons into our defence forces.
Mr President, I call on all member states to cooperate in achieving
the objectives of the World Conference and implementing the DDPA.
My experience with racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia is
real. In the struggle against these, I have been imprisoned, lost close
family and friends, shed my blood, risked my life and had my sight
But I have learned through struggle and sacrifice, that it is Racism,
Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance that are our
enemies, not one another.