Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s 13th Amendment: A Controversial Pursuit of Power


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 13th Amendment Provisions

Mains level: Tamil Minority issue in Sri Lanka

sri lanka 13a

Central Idea

  • PM Modi’s recent call for Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitment to implement the 13th Amendment has stirred controversy within the political landscape.
  • The ruling party led by President Wickremesinghe, rejected the prospect, arguing that the President lacked the mandate for it.
  • Not much earlier, President Wickremesinghe had promised that the Sri Lankan government will “fully implement” the 13th Amendment.

Tamil issue in Sri Lanka

  • Violent persecution against the Tamil population erupted in the form of the 1956, 1958, 1977, 1981, and 1983 anti-Tamil pogroms in Sri Lanka.
  • Over 13 years since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and disappeared, survivors continue demanding justice and accountability for war-time crimes.
  • In the post-war years, Sri Lanka’s human rights defenders have frequently flagged concerns over persisting militarisation, especially in the Tamil-majority north and east; repression, and the shrinking space for dissent.

What is the 13th Amendment?

  • It is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed by the then PM Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene, in an attempt to resolve the ethnic conflict and civil war.
  • The 13th Amendment led to the creation of Provincial Councils and assured a power-sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern.
  • Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police are devolved to the provincial administrations.
  • Sinhala nationalists have resisted the full implementation of the 13th Amendment since its inception over 35 years ago.

Challenges to Full Implementation

  • Historic Demand: Sri Lanka’s Tamil polity maintains that even full implementation of the 13th Amendment falls short of addressing the historic demand for the right to self-determination.
  • Unfulfilled Promises: Successive governments have promised to implement the 13th Amendment fully but have failed to do so, further deepening the contentious issue.
  • UN Human Rights Council Resolution: The UNHRC resolution adopted in October 2022 urged Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments on devolving political authority for reconciliation and the enjoyment of human rights for all citizens.

Why is it contentious?

  • The 13th Amendment carries considerable baggage from the country’s civil war years.
  • It was opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE.
  • The opposition within Sri Lanka saw the Accord and the consequent legislation as an imprint of Indian intervention.
  • It was widely perceived as an imposition by a neighbour wielding hegemonic influence.
  • The Tamil polity, especially its dominant nationalist strain, does not find the 13th Amendment sufficient in its ambit or substance.
  • However, some find it an important starting point, something to build upon.

India’s reservations

  • Because of restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President, the provincial administrations have not made much headway.
  • In particular, the provisions relating to police and land have never been implemented.

Significance of 13A

  • To date, the Amendment represents the only constitutional provision on the settlement of the long-pending Tamil question.
  • In addition to assuring a measure of devolution, it is considered part of the few significant gains since the 1980s, in the face of growing Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.

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