Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

34 Years of Emergency: 29 to Suppress Tamil Rights


(Established in 1990)

Ref: GO7ER/PR/2005 7 September 2005

Out of 34 years of state of Emergency in Sri Lanka, 29 years have been used for suppressing the rights of Tamils

"So long as governments set the example of killing their enemies, private individuals will occasionally kill theirs." - Elbert Hubbard (American editor & publisher 1856-1915)

Since TCHR was established, we have maintained the policy of condemning all killings in any part of the world.  TCHR has also always urged for impartial and independent inquiry into any killing, murder, assassination or other human rights violation.

In the recent past we have highlighted and condemned several cold-blood killings, including those of many members of civil society - prominent lawyer Mr. Kumar Ponnambalam (January 2000), journalists Mr. Richard de Soysa (February 1990), Mr. Mylvaganam Nirmalarajan (October 2000), Mr. Nadesan (May 2004) and Mr. Sivaram (May 2005) and former parliamentarian Mr. Chandra Nehru (February 2005) are a few of them.  Most of the killings highlighted left ample evidence to trace the assassins, but until today have not had proper investigations, nor have any culprits been brought to book and punished. 

The culprits of these political killings still remain in service unpunished and political killings continue with impunity.

As with the above-mentioned cases, we are concerned about the killing of the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was assassinated on 12 August 2005.  The Colombo print media and various electronic media continue to publish various stories on the assassination of Kadirgamar.  Some media even went to the extent of saying that, " Kadirgamar actually died of a heart attack while swimming in the pool and his death is being used by the government with ulterior motive as a political assassination," while another media said, "he was shot dead by someone close to him within his own house."  It is obvious that many stories are fabricated, each with a different motive, and that only one story is true.

It can be said, however. that any loss of human life is more important than the cause of death.  But to members of civil society and law enforcement agencies - the cause and the circumstances of death and the measures taken afterwards - are important in every loss of life.

TCHR strongly believes that the post-death measures taken regarding any political assassination are vitally important in order to establish the other factors.  When we compare measures taken after Kadirgamar’s assassination, along with many other above-mentioned political killings, one can establish how the government of Sri Lanka and its law enforcement agencies acted soon after the death of Kadirgamar – Tamil youths were arrested, claims to have established the killers were made and the President declared a state of emergency.

The BBC World Service on 12 August, 2005 at the European time of 9.00pm, broadcast the news that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka had been shot and taken to hospital.  At midnight the same station broadcast that Mr. Kadirgamar had passed away in the hospital and reported that police had arrested three people on suspicion.

As far as the political killings in Sri Lanka are concerned, it is well known to everyone, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial and Arbitrary Killings and international human rights organisations, that killings in Sri Lanka in which the government has been suspected of involvement, have neither been properly investigated nor have the culprits been brought to justice.  When Kadirgamar was killed, immediate action was taken and much happened within hours of his death.

If the state of emergency is analysed in broader terms, the seriousness of it can be understood. What is a state of emergency?  A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend certain normal functions of government, may work to alert citizens to alter their normal behaviours, or may order government agencies to implement emergency preparedness plans.  It can also be used as a rationale for suspending civil liberties.  Such declarations usually come during a time of natural disaster, during periods of civil unrest, or following a declaration of war.

In other words, a "state of emergency is a period of exception from the normal applicability of Civil and Criminal law and of human rights norms."

During the 57 years since the independence (1948) of Ceylon, governments have used the "state of emergency" for nearly thirty-four years, as one of its weapons of rule, giving unlimited powers to its security forces.  We wonder whether Sri Lanka has already entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the number of times a state of emergency has been declared.

Noteworthy periods of emergency rule in Sri Lanka :

No. From To
1 12 August 1953 11 September 1953
2 27 May 1958 26 March 1959
3 25 September 1959 03 December 1959
4 17 April 1961 04 April 1963
5 05 March 1964 04 April 1964
6 08 January 1966 07 December 1966
7 19 December 1966 18 January 1969
8 26 October 1970 25 November 1970
9 16 March 1971 15 February 1977
10 29 November 1978 28 May 1979
11 03 July 1979 27 December 1979
12 16 July 1980 15 August 1980
13 03 June 1981 09 June 1981
14 17 August 1981 16 January 1982
15 20 October 1982 20 January 1983
16 18 May 1983 11 January 1989
17 20 June 1989(July) December 2001
18 05 November 2003 28 April 2004
19 13 August 2002 To date

Since independence, Sri Lanka has seen one coup d'etat by the military on 27 January 1962 and two class struggles by the Singhalese youths in the South (4 April 1971 & 1987-1989).  In other words, if the declared state of emergency in Sri Lanka had been to prevent the fall of government to the insurrectionists - Sinhalese youth in the South and coup d'etat, it would have been only for a period of four to five years out of almost thirty-four years of emergency rule.  The remaining twenty-nine years of state of emergency have been used in Sri Lanka to suppress "the right to self-determination" of the Tamil people. 

The right to self-determination is a democratic right of peoples, accepted in international law, based on the International Covenants on Human Rights.

The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) also remains.  However, the Cease-fire Agreement signed on 21 February 2002, article 2.12 prevents the security forces from carrying out search and arrests under this act.

Clearly, the culprits responsible for the killing of Kadirgamar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, should be brought to book.  Does this mean that a state of emergency should be declared to investigate his killing?

Past experience has shown that the declaration of emergency in Sri Lanka paves the way for shocking increases in human rights violations committed by the security forces.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, visited Sri Lanka in 1996 and stated in his report :

"Of particular concern are the emergency regulations governing arrest and detention procedures and those governing post-mortems and inquests when deaths have occurred in custody or as a result of the official action of the security forces. The regulations still provide for indefinite preventive detention on renewable, three ­monthly detention orders. Sri Lanka has been under an almost continuous state of emergency since May 1983…. Official emergency measures override the safeguards contained in the normal law and have granted sweeping powers to the security forces. In addition, there have been repeated allegations of intimidation of lawyers, relatives and others attempting to take remedial action through the courts". (Excerpts, CN.4/1998/68/Add.2 - 12 March 1998 para 73)

The UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, stated

"the Committee remains concerned that Sri Lanka's legal system still does not contain provisions which cover all of the substantive rights set forth in the Covenant, or all the necessary safeguards required to prevent the restriction of Covenant rights beyond the limits permissible under the Covenant. It regrets in particular that the right to life is not expressly mentioned as a fundamental right in chapter III of the Constitution of Sri Lanka." Excerpts - CCPR/CO/79/LKA. (Concluding Observations/Comments, 1 December 2003)

According to the information received by TCHR since the (13 August) declaration of state of emergency in Sri Lanka,

(1) in the capital Colombo and its suburbs, the law enforcement agencies are carrying out cordon and search operations,

(2) nearly a thousand Tamils of all age groups have been questioned and nearly a hundred have been taken in to custody,

(3) large groups of special commandos heavily equipped with weapons have entered many Tamil houses in Bambalapitiya, Wellawatta, Dehiwela, Mount Lavinia and Ratmalana.  Several expatriate Tamils on holidays in Sri Lanka from Australia, Canada, Europe, and USA have been harassed and, in some instances, lump sums of money have been demanded,

(4) in Pettah, Maradana, Kottahena and in surrounding areas some members of the Law enforcement agencies in civil attire have entered private lodges and harassed Tamils and extorted money from them,

(5) so far the law enforcement agencies have not released any names of people who have been held in detention since 13 August 2005.  This has caused members of civil society in Colombo to fear that these arrests may lead to further disappearances, similar to those which preceded the murder of 27 Tamil youths in Bolgoda and other lakes in September 1995 in Colombo.

It is well known that, whenever cordon and search operations are carried out by the law enforcement agencies in Sri Lanka, a quota system is maintained to arrest a certain number of innocent people, to be given as an account to their superior officer and to satisfy the government.  After all, when state of emergency is declared, the law is in their hands.

During the last few months, Sri Lanka security forces have once again started to harass and arrest Tamils in various parts of Sri Lanka.  In the meantime, the declaration of state of emergency indirectly shows that war has been declared in Sri Lanka.

TCHR and other human rights bodies have consistently condemned the severe human rights violations taking place under the cover of Emergency Regulations in Sri Lanka – a warning that serious contraventions of Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law are taking place.


Tamil Centre for Human Rights - TCHR/CTDH

9, rue des Peupliers - 95140 Garge les Gonesse - FRANCE

Contact person : S. V. Kirubaharan – General Secretary

Tel/Fax: + 33 1 42 67 54 36 - Email: /



Contact person : Deirdre McConnell – Director International Programme

Fax: + 44 161 860 4609 - Email: /


TCHR-NETHERLANDS Tamil Centrum voor Mensenrechten- TCHR

Contact person : Sinniah Indiran

Fax : + 31 - 72 - 57 15 801 -Email :


TCHR-SWITZERLAND Tamilen Zentrum fur Mensenrechten - TCHR

Contact person : Thabirajah Genegatharan

Email :


Posted September 13, 2005