Is LTTE the Sole Representatives of Tamils?


Professor Shantha K. Hennayake

About the Author - Shantha K. Hennayake obtained his B.A (1982) and M.A (1988) in Geography from University of Peradeniya.  His received Ph.D. in Political Geography from Syracuse University, New York. USA.  He is a Professor at the Department of Geography at University of Peradeinya and in 1993 he was a Visiting Senior Scholar at University of California, Los Angeles  researching on the “Federal Experience and Ethnonationalist Conflicts”. In 1994 he was awarded a Visiting Professorship by the Asia Center and Geography Department at University of Kentucky, Lexington USA.  Prof. Hennayake has been an active researcher and has been recognised in the field of ethnonationalism theory and ethnonationalist politics in Sri Lanka.  His theory of “interactive ethnonationalism” is widely used along with other prominent theories in understanding ethnonationalist politics.   He has published articles to a number of news papers, local and international journals and has published books on the subject in the vernacular language.  In addition to a researcher Prof. Hennayake has been a nationally known public intellectual arguing against political corruption, human rights violations, terrorism in both local and international for a.  Prof. Hennayake has been contributing to local newspapers on many aspects of the ethnonationalism in Sri Lanka. 

 The purpose of this short essay is to point out the fictitiousness of the LTTE claim that they are the “sole representatives” of Tamils. This “sole representative” cry was deliberately raised by the LTTE in the aftermath of the MOU signed by former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremasinghe and LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran.  MOU treated both the legitimate government of Sri Lankan and the terrorist group LTTE as equal partners!   The MOU was brokered primarily by Norway with the explicit approval of the “international community”.  Post MOU developments have amply proved that Norway is no “honest broker of peace” but naked supporter of the LTTE appeasing the latter.  In the name of keeping the MOU alive both Norway and former government have overlooked the continuation of terror by the LTTE even in the areas under the government control including the city of Colombo where the Norwegian embassy is located.   It is ironic  that the  LTTE’s hold on the Tamil society reached its highest under MOU era.  


Some speculate that Norway itself may have advised the LTTE to redefine itself as the “sole representative of the Tamils as Norway was a party to the discussions that lead to the preparation of ISGA which for the first time publicly declared this claim.  The primary reason for the invention of the claim “sole representative” of course is to ensure that LTTE and LTTE alone will be recognized and thus their demands or rather aspirations will have to be addressed and that LTTE will not be made accountable and held responsible for all terrorist activities i.e. torture and intimidation, murder and assassinations, child conscriptions, fratricide, illegal taxing, confiscating property against Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka. The claim  is nothing but hijacking a democratic concept and making mockery of it by a terrorist group unfortunately with the help of Norway and other members of the “international community”. 


(Note that this article doe not deal with any of the terrorist acts against the Sri Lankan state, the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups).   


Unrealistic Demands


Tamil ethnonationalist politics during both its democratic phase (1930s- 1980s) and terrorist phase (1980- to present) is crowded with unrealistic demands which contributed to the problem over the years culminating in the destruction of the Tamil society culturally, politically and materially by the LTTE terrorism.  The “50/50” demand which Karuna- Eastern Challenge to LTTE were designed to artificially inflate the political representation the Tamil minority in the legislature was rejected by the British constitutional experts in the mid 20 the century.  The “monolithic Tamil homeland” demand which limit the representation in the Northern and Eastern Provinces exclusively to the Tamils has been rejected by the Tamils in the Eastern Provinces as became evident from the most recent challenge by Karuna.  The “separatist state demand” which make Tamils the sovereign representatives of an imaginary Tamil state of Eelam has been rejected by the Sri Lankan state, US, India and the international community but also by the Tamils living outside the LTTE’s grip. Had the Tamil politicians in Sri Lanka been more realistic and less extremist and certainly respected democracy and human rights Sri Lanka would have resolved this crisis earlier and peacefully sparing the agony created by the LTTE terrorism in the country.  The latest in this series of unrealistic demands is the claim by the LTTE that it is the “sole representative of the Tamils”.  This is perhaps the most unrealistic claim made by the LTTE so far.


It is important to understand the sole representative claim is made by the present LTTE which is an internationally declared terrorist organization and not by a reformed LTTE which has practically renounced terrorism and embraced democracy.  Many a times during the last two years LTTE has threatened to revert to war –“LTTE’s own term for terrorism”.  The latest public threat on the resumption of terrorism was made by its London based theoretician (England too have declared LTTE as a terrorist organization!) in May 2004 in laying out conditions for the resumption of “peace talks”. 


Implications of the claim “Sole Representatives”


Let us first examine the meaning and broad implications of this claim to Sri Lanka and the world?  It first and foremost legitimizes terrorism of the LTTE as it has not yet renounced terrorism.  Then, threats and intimidation, murder, assassinations, child conscriptions and violation of human rights will not only be institutionalized but also be accepted as legitimate means of governance of the Tamil society in Sri Lanka.   Second, resulting from the first, violence will continue to engulf the Tamil society as those Tamils opposing LTTE will have no other means but to resort to violence to express their own concerns as already happening in Batticaloa (Over 300 Batticaloa Tamils have been reported killed by the LTTE). Third, it sends a very positive signal to world terrorists that terrorism pays when the rest of the world (except perhaps Norway as revealed by Svik organization based in Norway) is actively trying to de legitimize terrorism and eliminate it from the face of the world. It is ironic that when countries like Afghanistan which helped nurture intentional terrorists now actively collaborate with the international community to establish democracy and human rights, countries like Norway allow their own soil to nurture and support terrorism!  Fourth, it simply denies to the Tamil people democratic freedom and freedom of expression both of which are projected as the hallmark of modern democratic societies.   Fifth, it creates a dual society in Sri Lanka where Tamils will have to live under authoritarianism and gun culture while others enjoy democracy and a civilized life. Sixth, it will send wrong and dangerous signal to the rest of the world where minority ethnonationalist politics is intensifying in general and to India in particular proving that legitimacy can be derived from the barrel of a gun and terror if it invokes ethnicity/religion. Seventh, it simply make the international community which preaches high morals and democracy to the rest of the world a bunch of jokers and hypocrites who have willingly reduced the Tamils to second rate human beings as if they don’t deserve democracy and  human rights.  Eighth, it will ensure the establishment of  a permanent armed group  within the Sri Lankan state creating a potentially dangerous and explosive situation in the country. Ninth, it will create and internal “hate boundary” manned, womened, chldrened by the armed LTTE carders.   Tenth, it will also create an LTTE will  resort to ethnic cleansing as they have done in the past in the areas under their control.  Tenth, and lastly, it could instigate a mass exodus of people – to and from Tamil areas – similar to the post partition experience in the sub-continent.  Those who are blindly supporting the LTTE’s claim for sole representativeness should thus be held responsible and accountable for all these potential negative implications.   


LTTE is not a Representative Body


The general meaning of a representative is “a person or thing enough like the other in its class or kind to serve as an example or type”.  (Webster’s Dictionary).  Going by this it will be an insult to the Tamil people to consider LTTE as their sole representatives.  There are definitely enough differences between a gun wielding terrorist and an ordinary Tamil citizen of Sri Lanka and it is highly unlikely that given the opportunity the peace loving ordinary Tamils would parade an armed LTTE terrorist or a suicide bomber as an example of a typical Tamil person in Sri Lanka.  















The political meaning of a representative is “a person duly authorized to act or speak or another or others; specify, a) member of a legislative assembly b) a salesman or agent for a business firm” (Webster’s Dictionary).  The concept of representativeness is thus rooted in democracy and it should not and cannot be associated with terrorist leaders or organizations: Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida are not representatives let alone sole representatives of Islamic world.  Representatives are duly elected and  free and fair election is the only means of electing representatives and if the world has forgotten, the Tamil people did not elect LTTE to its current dominance in Tamil society. LTTE established its dominance by decimating the rival groups (a conservative estimate put the number over 8000 -9000) and assassinating democratic political leaders such as the founder of TULF, Mr. A. Amirthalingam and the world renowned constitutional expert and TULF parliamentarian Dr. Neelan Tiruchelavam.   Terror, intimidation are the only means by which LTTE maintains its power and hold in the Sri Lanka Tamil society.   In this context, LTTE has no moral right to claim any Tamil representativeness let alone sole representativeness of Sri Lanka Tamils.  


As a rule of thumb a party should receive the consent of at least 50% of the voting population  to claim the representativeness in a democracy.  Needless to say “sole representativeness” is a practical contradiction in terms in a democracy as 100% consent for a single party is simply unattainable in any democracy.  Even if we accept the result of the election of 2004 which was blatantly rigged by the LTTE, the LTTE cannot claim sole representativeness for a number of reasons (see Table 1).    First the LTTE proxy party ITAK received only 36% of the total registered voters in the two provinces which they claim as the “Tamil homeland”.  Only in Batticaloa ITAK was able to barely surpassed the 50% mark of the total registered voters and in all others including Jaffna where LTTE launched a massive election rigging campaign.  Second, a large percentage of people (registered voters) have not  voted at the election at all.  The figure is 31% for the entire region while it reached the highest in Jaffna. This can be explained in two ways. First that a significant number of people have clearly stated by deliberately refraining from voting for ITAK that LTTE is not their sole representative.  Second, if the absenteeism is due to the fact that people have left LTTE controlled region, then their very action is a proof that they do not want to live under LTTE rule.  Either way, the Tamils in Sri Lanka has rejected the LTTE claim that they are the “sole representative” of the Sri Lanka Tamils.

Table 1 - ITAK Performance at the 2004 Parliamentary Election







Total NE

Total Registered




























ITAK % of

Total Registered







ITAK % of

Total Polled



















(Computed from Election Commissioners Official Results).

Third, Eelam Peoples Democratic Party won a Parliamentary seat in Jaffna securing 6.55% of the votes against all odds and violence perpetrated by LTTE.  Fourth, a number of election monitoring missions as well as the Election Commissioner have clearly stated the extensive nature of election rigging and malpractices in Jaffna for which LTTE is primarily responsible.  Two court cases have been filed by EPDP and the President of  TULF  Mr. Anandasangari  who contested Jaffna as an independent candidate to nullify the election result in the North and East due to LTTE atrocities.  Mr. Anandasangari complained to the Supreme Court LTTE and ITAK intimidated the supporters of his Independent Group during the election campaign.  The petition said that the electoral registers in Jaffna were last revised in 1983 and thus the youngest voter in Jaffna would be over thirty five years of age at present. However, LTTE has been impersonating many voters with people as young as fifteen years of age.  The Returning Officer for the Jaffna District was unable to prevent the election offences committed by the LTTE and the ITAK supporters. He alleged that the LTTE made several death threats against him, his candidates and his supporters even before the nomination.  He also stated that the LTTE had intimidated and blocked the campaigns of the other parties especially the EPDP and alleged that the LTTE illegally forced the people of the two districts to vote for the ITAK.


   The simple question one need to ask here is why would Sri Lankan Tamils political leaders go to court and some people are willing to testify against the LTTE taking a grave chance to annul the election results in Northern and Eastern province where LTTE’s proxy party TNA apparently won, if LTTE are the sole representatives of the Tamils?  


LTTE does not and cannot represent Tamils


“Tamils”, “Tamils in Sri Lanka” and “Sri Lankan Tamils” are three distinct and separate categories. Often these terms have been used confusingly by most who are ignorant on ethnopolitics Sri Lanka.


Tamils are a distinctive ethnic group concentrated primarily in Tamilnadu province in India.  The area falling within present Tamilnadu in India has been the historical homeland or cultural hearth of Tamils from ancient times.  Tamilnadu has developed its own ethno politics since 1947 and today it is an integral part of larger Indian national politics.  Tamil politics in Tamilnadu has been essentially democratic and the Tamils have not allowed it to deteriorate into terrorism.  LTTE has little to do with Tamil politics but India has always feared of the possibility of LTTE potential to expand across the Palk Straight into Tamilnadu.


In contrast to Tamils in India, Tamils in Sri Lanka is a general term encompassing three distinctive socio-cultural groups (Sri Lanka Tamils, Indian Tamils and Colombo Tamils) and two prominent regional groups (Jaffna Tamils and Batticaloa Tamils).  Sri Lankan Tamils are the descendent of the Tamils who had migrated to the island from South India throughout the history as meticulously argued by the famous Sri Lankan Tamil historian, Prof. Indrapala. However their permanent settlements in the northern littoral of the island date back only to the 12th century.  They are also called Jaffna Tamils.  During the immediate pre colonial and colonial periods, some Sri Lankans Tamils migrated from Jaffna into the East and they came to be known as eastern or Batticaloa Tamils with a strong regional sentiments in opposition to Jaffna Tamils.  


Tamil ethnonationalist politics in Sri Lanka has always been sphereheaded by Jaffna Tamils as the so called grievances and the aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils are in reality those of the Jaffna Tamils. Tamils and the LTTE itself is very largely a Jaffna Tamil phenomenon. Batticaloa Tamils have over the years developed a contempt for the “Jaffna domination”  and have always questioned the efficacy of Tamil nationalism of Jaffna Tamils as most recently manifested by the LTTE’s eastern commander Karuna’s challenge to the Jaffna dominated LTTE leadership.  At the last election which was marred with rigging by the LTTE, the performance of the LTTE proxy TNA  in he Eastern Province was 41.4 per cent while those who opposed LTTE obtained 58.6 per cent votes.  


Indian Tamils were the descendents of the indentured laborers drawn from the poorer and lower caste segments of Tamil society in South India to work in the British plantations opened in the central highlands after forcibly confiscating the land from the Sinhalese in the 19th century. Still most of the Indian Tamils live in plantations but a large number of them have migrated into the cities in the rest of the country.  Indian Tamils have over the years evolved their own political parties and have well integrated into the mainstream politics. They have held cabinet portfolios in all governments since 1970s. Indian Tamils have rejected the separatist politics of the LTTE.  Colombo Tamils are the descendent of the Tamils who came from Jaffna to reside in Colombo after they were recruited by the British to work for them in the colonial administration and related services in the government.  Some Tamils came to Colombo to take advantage of the expanding economic opportunities. These professional and business classes together comprise Colombo Tamils.  Colombo Tamils have always voted with the two major political parties and have openly rejected separatism.  


Then, LTTE simply cannot be the sole representatives of “Tamils” simply because Tamils live in Tamilnadu India. The LTTE is cannot be the sole representatives of the Sri Lanka Tamils as the Batticaloa Tamils have openly defied the LTTE.  LTTE cannot even claim to be the sole representative of the Jaffna Tamils as a significant number of Jaffna Tamils have voted against the LTTE.  The mere sharing of the same language by the LTTE and other Tamil groups in Sri Lanka does not qualify the former to be a representative let along the sole representative of Tamils. Thus, the claim that LTTE is the sole representative of Tamils is simply in error and a total fantasy without supportive empirical basis.  The only argument in support of their claim is the baseless claim itself maintained by sheer intimidation and terror!


How LTTE (Mis) Treats Tamils in Sri Lanka



Many have argued that LTTE is a political reality in Sri Lanka today.  Yes LTTE is a political reality in many ways yet  representing Sri Lanka Tamils is the least of them.   What are the facets of political reality of LTTE?  First they do control some territory of the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  Second, they do control the life of the Sri LankaTamil people living under their territory.   Third, the LTTE largely control the politics of Sri Lanka Tamils in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.  LTTE continue to murder any Sri Lanka Tamil who question or opposes its agenda.  Fourth, LTTE continue to recruit Sri Lanka Tamil children as young as 12 years to their terrorist cadre.  Fifth, LTTE has been taxing the Sri Lanka Tamils in their territory and those who passes through their territory to fund the organization and its war/terror machine. Sixth, LTTE does not allow or tolerate any other independent Tamil political or social organization or institution to emerge among the Sri Lanka Tamils.  Seventh LTTE does not allow any free expression political or otherwise among  the Sri Lanka Tamils.  Eighth, LTTE have violently repressed and ideologically subdued the Sri Lanka Tamils living within their territory to force total and unconditional support for them.  Ninth, LTTE does not allow any potential political leadership to emerge from among the Sri Lankan Tamils.  LTTE has simply assassinated the potential independent leaders among them.  Tenth, LTTE in the name of “Tamil nationalism” has determined that violation of human rights of Sri Lanka Tamils as both necessary  and essential and LTTE sympathizers both local and international have simply endorsed it and even encouraged it. 


Who can better testify who their representatives are other than those who said to be represented?.  In this case the Sri Lanka Tamils themselves.  Given below are a few statements made by political and non-political organizations of  Sri Lanka Tamils themselves which have braved the LTTE threats and intimidation.   It is important to note here that not only the LTTE but also their local and international supporters and legitimizers have conveniently overlooked these Tamil voices as they do not subscribe to the LTTE as the “sole representative of Tamils” thesis.  Their very presence undermines the LTTE’s claim.


Eelam Peoples Democratic Party


This is the only political party which had survived all threats, intimidations, assassination attempts by the LTTE.  Formerly a guerrilla group, EPDP entered democratic politics renouncing terrorism in early 1990s and have been represented in the Parliament ever since.  LTTE find this democratic political party and its democratically elected Parliamentarians “traitors” of the Tamils cause!  At the last election EPDP won 24, 955 votes and secured a single seat in the Parliament thus politically and democratically defeating the LTTE claim to the ‘sole representativeness”.  EPDP win become more revealing and meaningful when viewed in the context of total voter intimidation and threat by LTTE to vote for its proxy ITAK and election rigging by the LTTE.  EPDP has filed an election petition at the Court of Appeal complaining of intimidation of EPDP electors by the LTTE, in the Batticaloa district.  


EPDP now represented in the Cabinet has by rejecting  the concept of LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil people arguing that.  "No section has the right to claim to be the legitimate representatives of the people of the North -East,".  It  further said that legitimizing this concept is not only incorrect and undemocratic and but also it could lead only to the setting up of a dictatorship under LTTE in the Tamil areas (see the EPDP Website). 


EPDP has published in its website the LTTE atrocities directed against the ordinary Tamils as well as  Tamil political organizations since the commencement of the ceasefire in early 2002. EPDP argues that since then  hostile acts by the LTTE against democratic Tamil parties have systematically increased in intensity and form. What commenced with intimidation, threats, assaults, and forced conscription have now advanced to attacks, abductions and assassinations”. Under what political system, can these acts be considered the activities of a sole representative of a people? The executive summary of the EPDP report is worth quoting extensively as it provides a comprehensive summary of the activities directed against the Tamil people in general and other Tamil political organizations in particular by the LTTE.  


“This report covers 598 incidents of hostile acts by the LTTE against civilians, including democratic Tamil parties. In respect of the EPDP, members, activists and supporters of the party, and even their family members have suffered 50 cases of attacks or assaults, and 20 cases of abductions or attempted abductions. They have suffered 15 deaths. In addition, there have been 33 cases of intimidation. 


 In respect of the EPRLF too, members, activists and supporters of the party, and their family members have suffered 26 cases of attacks or assaults, and 18 cases of abductions or attempted abductions. They have suffered 12 deaths. In addition, there have been 2 cases of intimidation. 


In respect of the PLOTE also, members, activists and supporters of the PLOTE, and their family members have suffered 14 cases of attacks or assaults, and, 1 case of abduction. They have suffered 4 deaths. 


The records in respect of civilians are in no way complete. Nevertheless, the information provided in this report is quite revealing, pointing to not less than 775 cases of child conscription, 199 cases of adult abductions, 197 cases of attacks or assaults, and, 91 cases of death.  


The LTTE threat and intimidation and killing has not spared women and children, young and old, educated and less educated, farmers and government employees, and politically neutral and active.  The common denominator in directing violence, intimidation and terror is simply the direct or indirect, real or assumed threat to the LTTE.  These acts hardly reflect those of a sole representative of the Sri Lanka Tamils. If at all they reflect the acts of a sworn enemy of Sri Lanka Tamils!   



The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka


The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka led by a Sri Lanka Tamil woman made the following observations regarding the LTTE.   The relevant sections are reproduced as they are self explanatory and revels that LTTE behavior is anything but representative of the Sri Lanka Tamils.


“Since the ceasefire agreement and up to September 2003, there have been 38 so called political killings which relatives of the victims attribute to the LTTE. ..The victims of these political killings have been identified as members of Tamil political  groups opposed to the LTTE and Tamils working with the Sri Lankan security forces”


With regard to continuing killing of Tamils by the LTTE the Commission stated “ This situation led one of those who made representations to the Commission to say “the killings of Sinhalese have stopped but there is no ceasefire for the Tamils”…. The impunity for these crimes following the ceasefire has serious human rights implications.  The right to life is the most fundamental  of all human rights and if that right is taken away arbitrarily and violently without due process of law, the most basic of all rights is violated”


On the issue of child conscriptions the Commission report states the following. “ Of the 600 cases (of ceasefire violations reported by SLMM), 25% of the cases (around 150) related to  chilled abductions.  The SLMM also pointed out that their investigation lead to the conclusion that only 10% of the actual cases are reported to them.  This is confirmed by the UNICEF figures that around 709 children have been known to be recruited by the LTTE in the past year.”


The Commission also highlighted the abduction of adult Sri Lanka Tamils.  “ The abduction of children is also augmented by the abduction of adults, either for ransom or punitive treatment.  The SLMM records around 130 such complaints of adult abductions for 2003.  The Batticaloa office of HRC received complaints of 58 adult abductions for the year 2003….. As a result there is a great deal of insecurity and fear among the people living their daily lives, especially if they are from the middle class”.


On the issue of illegal taxation, the Commission observed the following.  “Until recently the government servants allegedly had to pay 5% of their salaries as taxes to the LTTE. .. with regard to agriculture they had to pay between 500-1000 Rs. Per acre per season, Rs.10-15000 a month for tractor use during the harvest season.  Laborers have to pay Rs  25/= a month a part of their salary. Businessmen and fishermen also have to pay taxes on the goods they transform and on their earning and fisherman have to pay taxes on their catch.  The arbitrary and unreasonable deprivation of property is a human right violation. (Taxes) They are also sometimes so  exorbitant, crippling the economic and social life of the community” .  Given these accounts of the LTTE, one is compelled to ask the question how could  a sole representative of a people engaged in a systematic violation of all conceivable human rights of that people.


On the issue of political freedom and freedom of expression the Commission report observed the following.  “ Complaints to the Commission from the eastern province, both written form and oral communication, point to a ear of harassment for voicing independent opinion as asserting one’s freedom of speech or association.  And in the Commission concluded with the following statement; “ The LTTE displays a tendency to want to control all activity and programs in the areas under its authority with a tenaciousness that is  very disturbing.  This has major implications not only for the human rights of individuals living in these areas


University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)

The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) was formed in 1988 by a group of  Tamil intellectuals at the University of Jaffna. Its activities came to a standstill with the assassination of Dr. Mrs. Rajani Thiranagama, a key founding member, in September 1989 by the LTTE. Since then other UTHR(J) members were forced to leave Jaffna due to threat from LTTE. The following statement of UTHR (J) is a telling indictment against the LTTE’s claim to be the sole representatives of the Sri Lanka Tamils.

 “By combination of internal terror and narrow nationalist ideology the LTTE succeeded in atomizing the community. It took away not only the right to oppose but even the right to evaluate, as a community, the course they were taking. This gives a semblance of illusion that the whole society is behind the LTTE


A 2001 UTHR (J) report titled clearly states how and why LTTE has decided to make the sole representative claim.  Given the behavior of LTTE within the Sri Lanka Tami community, the human right activist perceived LTTE as an ”oppressor” an appellation that directly contradict the LTTE’s claim to the “sole representatives of  Sri Lanka Tamils”.


It has become clear that the LTTE will turn against any peace negotiations that do not recognize it as the sole legitimate representative of the Tamil people while giving unconstraint control of the North East. The LTTE's politics is primarily defined by its ideologically-driven military agenda and its ideology rather than by any concern for the civilian well being. 


The LTTE has eliminated all opposition and exercises total domination in the regions it controls - i.e., it appropriates or directs the efforts of all organized forms of civil society-through an organic surveillance system. As a result, in their areas of control, sustained independent protest and public dissent has become impossible. 


It appears the trend has intensified over the years to the extent that even the democratic political parties too have succumb to LTTE domination as clearly revealed by the performance of ITAK now in Parliament.   UTHR (J) continued with a few questions to those who are too willing to accept the LTTE claim of sole representative of Sri Lanka Tamils.



Accordingly, NGOs pursuing peace must recognize the consequences of this climate of internal terror in the North and East, of the near complete control the LTTE exercises over all civil society activities within its domains of control. We need to face difficult questions: What political space is available for local participants in peace conferences who wish to continue to function in their respective regions, to engage in a free exchange of views? If we want to hear the views of the ordinary people of that region, how can we counter the climate of internal terror that already manages the stage and writes the script? What structures/mechanisms must be instituted in such conferences to best produce a map of representative views? What is our responsibility when those we proclaim to be our sole representatives are denying this democratic space by engaging in activities ranging from forced child recruitment to political killings?


UTHR (J) further explains how LTTE tries to maintain its dominance among Sri Lanka Tamils both in Sri Lanka and abroad. 


We recognize that the LTTE as a group is rooted in narrow nationalist ideology bent on asserting its dominance through internal terror. It is a group that has made a virtue of political and internecine killings; It is a group that has successfully established a robust international network that can provide resources for relatively long periods; It is a group that has extended its terror among the expatriate community to silence the dissidents and, most importantly, it has perfected suicide politics to a point where, the resulting ambience of fear, works subtly on decision-makers in the region.


UTHR (J) also warns the consequences of the acceptance of LTTE as the sole representative of the Sri Lanka Tamils in the peace negotiations. 


However, if a peace process primarily aimed at negotiations for a political settlement and opening up space, is not a feasible agenda for peace groups, and civil society organizations in the Tamil community remained totally subservient to the LTTE, then peace is going to be a pipe dream. That would leave only the international community, if they so desire, to make the State and, particularly, the LTTE, accountable.


In a  more recent report titled “The Worm Turns and the Elections Where the People will Not Count” UTHR (J) describes “both clear cases of political violence aimed at silencing electoral challenges to the LTTE’s claim to be the Tamil people’s “sole representative” as well as details of its ongoing campaign to root other less obvious challenges to LTTE authority”.  Sri Lanka’s donors have encouraged the LTTE expansion under the misguided premise that the group could be eased into a democratic process; and they have failed to take responsibility for the abuse that has occurred as a result”. 


The LTTE has been able to push its theory of “sole representative “ purely by terror.  UTHR (J) contextualized this very convincingly in arguing that “Might is right has been the basis on which the Norwegian brokered MoU was framed. Repeated appeals by other that it  needed revision because it in effect gave open sanction for the LTTE to consolidate its terror in the government controlled areas went unheard.  Those who had to flee their homes into the abject misery owing to the LTTE’s violence or to protect their children form its abduction gangs, were simply ignored”. 


It is sad indeed, if power hungry politicians within Sri Lanka and now international community all accept LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils and continue with legitimizing  and appeasing the LTTE purely to keep the so called peace process and MOU totally disregarding violence and terrorism perpetrated by LTTE on the Tamils.  This tantamounts to denying the Sri Lankan Tamils democratic freedoms and even the basic human rights.   The so called “sole representatives” of the Tamils have stolen the soul of the Tamil society with the open concurrence of the Sri Lankan political leaders  and the international community as represented by such countries as Norway which has openly supported the LTTE.  A future democratic Tamil political leadership should hold not only the LTTE, the two Sri Lankan governments of the UNP and SLFP but also Norway and other members of the so called international community which flirted with the LTTE responsible for the injustice done to the Tamil society by legitimizing a terrorist rule and denying democracy.




In conclusion, the claim by the LTTE to be the sole representatives of the Tamils is flawed and untenable for a number of reasons.  First, the “sole representatives” is a far fetched concept that cannot hold true even in the most repressive political systems in the world.  Thus the concept cannot exit but in theory and fantasy.  Second, LTTE is not an elected body and thus it cannot be representative let alone sole representative.  Third, LTTE cannot be respected with a title of a representative given its long record of human right violations of Sri Lanka Tamils.  Fourth, the LTTE cannot be representatives as they maintain their supremacy within the Tamil society only through sheer threats, intimidation and terror.  Fifth,  a number of Tamil political parties and human rights organizations have openly and successfully challenged the LTTE claim to be the sole representatives of Tamils.  LTTE is better qualified to be identified as sole repressors than sole representatives of the Sri Lanka Tamils.   Given this reality if an individual, organization, or a country continue to support the LTTE’s claim to be  the sole representative of the Sri Lanka Tamils, they are doing the greatest injustice to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.




Indrapala, K. (1965) Dravidian Settements in Ceylon. Ph.D. Thesis submitted to the University of London


Report of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka- Human Rights situation in the Eastern Province:  Civil and political rights: — allegations against the LTTE


Reports of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Human Rights Situation in the Eastern Province. Civil and Political Rights:- Allegation Against the LTTE.


The Island


The Island


The Island


The Daily Mirror


UTHR (J) Briefing No. 4: Date of Release :  4th December 2001:Peace activism, suicidal politics and civil society (


Back to SPUR Latest News Page


Sri Lanka: Broadening the Discourse on Peace and Security - Some critical facets

Prof. Shantha K. Hennayake, Department of Geography, University of Peradeniya

Currently Visiting Professor of University of Kentucky 


This is the text of the presentation made by Dr. Shantha K. Hennayake, Visiting Professor of University of Kentucky at the Panel Discussion on Sri Lanka: Broadening the Discourse on Peace and Security organized by the Sigur Center for Asia Studies of the Elliott School of International Affairs of the George Washington University in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held on April 9, 2004 in Washington D.C.  Karl F. Inderfurth, former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs inaugurated the session and it was attended by scholars on Sri Lanka and diplomats from US and India (Read Full article in SPUR)