The right to self-determination is one of the most contentious and threatening issues
of the post-Cold War era. While classical Western colonialism has almost come to
an end, minority groups across the world are increasingly legitimising their demands
for autonomy, separation or independence through the principle of self-determination.
In the absence of clear legal and political definitions of the temporary scope and
content of the principle however, claims for fulfilment of the right all too often
leads to violence, human rights abuse and civil war. This book examines the dynamics
of the principle of self-determination as an international legal norm and the dilemmas
of its application to minority groups living within sovereign states.
This book chooses as its case study the Tamil minority’s quest for self-determination
in Sri Lanka. It traces the evolution of the Tamil’s struggle from the demand for
parity of status to self-determination in the form of an independent Tamil homeland,
as a response to marked discrimination and oppression at the hands of the majority
of Singhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka. It revel as how the inherent conflict
between the Singhalese majority’s claim to the territorial integrity of the island
and the Tamil minority’s claim to self-determination has led to over a decade of
civil war, the death of over 50,000 Tamils and the flight of over 500,000 refugees.
Whilst this book focuses on the Tamils’ struggle for self-determination, its significance
spans across the national, regional and global landscape. It reveals the intransigence
and intolerance of the parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka which has led to bloodshed
and human misery, can only begin to be assuaged if the principle of self-determination
is broadened to meet the demands of minority groups living within independent states.
This would have far-reaching ramifications not only for the stability and security
of South Asia’s ethno-cultural mosaic, but also for the rest of the modern world.
Helena J Whall is a researcher at the Tamil Information Centre, London and is currently
studying for her Ph.D at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London University.
This book is available in print from many on-line bookstores throughout the world