"Keep the Cat Free"

Sri Lanka’s silent genocide

Oppression in Sri Lanka may lead on to more uprisings
Sri Lankan armed forces are accused of carrying out genocide

On Monday 21st November and Tuesday 22nd November Imperial’s International Tamil Society organised and ran a successful Breaking the Silence Campaign. They are one of eight different universities in London participating in the campaign. Their stalls quickly became overwhelmed with inquisitive passers-by, who were interested and, more often than not, shocked and infuriated at what they learnt at the stall. There was also a Krispy Kreme sale which helped raise £150 and will go towards those caught up in the final days of the war in 2009. For those of you who weren’t able to attend, or those who are further interested, this article details the message that Breaking the Silence is trying to convey.

Sri Lanka stands accused of war crimes by international human rights organisations for some of the most horrifying human rights violations in history. Despite the UN calling for an “independent investigation” into the bloody climax of the war in 2009, the Government has dismissed all international concerns as “preposterous”. In a little over a month, over 40,000 innocent civilians, who came exclusively from the Tamil community, which forms the island’s largest ethnic minority, were butchered, having been systematically shelled in public places. The Sri Lankan army, which is overwhelmingly made up of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Sinhalese, left no refuge untouched as they deliberately targeted hospitals, schools and even a governmentally declared “safe zone”. This so-called “safe zone” quickly became a killing field, with thousands of desperate Tamil civilians who had fled there (under the impression that they would be safe from the military’s indiscriminate bombing) being killed. Such a heinous act can only be described as genocide.

Worse still is the manner in which this genocide was carried out. In addition to aerial bombardment and artillery shells, the Sri Lankan army used cluster bombs and chemical weapons, which have been prohibited by numerous international agreements including the Geneva Protocol. These types of bombs, even if targeted at an enemy building, will wreak havoc on nearby civilians with devastating consequences. Using cluster bombs to target a guerrilla fighting force, who were defending thousands of civilians, suggests a deliberate attempt to inflict heavy civilian casualties. It will come as no surprises that Sri Lanka is not one of the 108 signatories of the Convention of Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use of cluster bombs. Given the Sri Lankan army’s recent, unrestrained use of such weapons, there remains a very grave threat of further use to crush any future uprisings.

Human rights organisations and political analysts have pointed out that future uprisings are inevitable if the government continues on its path of oppression. Despite the conclusion of the war over two years ago, and the government’s promises to rehabilitate and relocate all of the IDP’s (or internally displaced persons) by 2009, 20,000 of the 300,000 Tamil people originally illegally detained, without charge or trial within these camps, are still languishing. Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, described the camps as “the most appalling scenes I have seen.” Indeed Channel 4 have released videos showing people incarcerated with a severe lack of food and water, women separated from families and even sexual abuse. A leaked US embassy cable, courtesy of Wikileaks, described how the army ran prostitution rings, trafficked young girls, and sexually assaulted very young girls. Bodies of the dead were left where they were and even more were killed in stampedes to secure food from the insufficient supplies. Unsurprisingly NGO’s were denied access to these camps and journalists were strictly forbidden.

The Sri Lankan civil war has its roots in decades of discrimination against the Tamils by successive governments, voted in by the Sinhalese majority. Any attempt by Tamils to peacefully protests against the state’s discriminatory policies, resulted in numerous anti-Tamil riots, in which thousands were killed by mobs.

One of the first of such policies was the “Sinhala Only Act” in 1956. This made Sinhala the sole official language in Sri Lanka and forced almost all of the Tamil people working in the civil service to resign, due to a lack of fluency in Sinhala, making thousands of highly skilled and highly educated Tamils unemployed. The economic existence and career hopes of Tamil people were further dashed by the “Policy of Standardisation”, introduced in 1973, which saw Tamil students having to achieve significantly higher marks than their Sinhalese counterparts in order to enter university.

These ills were not met without resistance from the Tamil populace however. Thirty years of peaceful protests, met only with brutal violence and further oppression, resulted in the Vaddukoddai Resolution being signed in 1976 by the then major Tamil party, TULF (or Tamil United Liberation Front). This resolution, with no end to the discrimination in sight, demanded a separate state for Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka called Tamil Eelam, where Tamil people made up the overwhelming majority. The TULF won 18 out of the 23 seats they contested in the North and East and became the first time in history that a Tamil party formed the opposition. This unprecedented level of support reflected the Tamil nation’s aspiration for freedom. It was a demand that was given the mandate of the people, before the LTTE began its armed resistance.

Peaceful methods to achieve this state failed. Those who participated in the protests had their skulls cracked by bayonets and rifle heads. Protesters were stamped on before eventually being dispersed by shooting. However in 1983 one of the saddest moments of the war occurred. Sinhalese mobs, backed by the Sri Lankan military and police force, descended upon the homes and businesses of Tamil people in Colombo. Over 3,000 ordinary Tamil people were killed in just a few days, thousands more injured and 18,000 businesses burnt. Rioters were overtly helped by the government, who handed them voter lists in order to identify Tamil households. No one has ever been charged in relation to this slaughter.

Since that moment, the Sri Lankan Armed Forces have committed many heinous war crimes and human’s right violations. However, as in Rwanda and Srebrenica, the World chose to stand back and watch in 2009. Please do not let murderers and war criminals go unpunished. Please help us break the silence.

You can help by signing the e-petition, titled “Independent, international investigation into war crimes in Sri Lanka” on http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/. We also recommend watching the acclaimed Channel 4 documentary “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” if you are further interested.

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Comments (34 comments)

Visakan Balakumar (Author)

Saturday November 26 2011 01:16

Dear Anonymous, I understand your point.

However the LTTE has been eliminated and so it is no longer a threat to any civilians from either side of the ethnic divide in Sri Lanka. On the other hand, the government is still assassinating journalists, arresting people without trial and conducting "white van abductions". The Sri Lankan military too have been terrorising communities via "grease devils". I reference this article from "tamilnet": http://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=34338.

Furthermore an independent investigation into war crimes will reveal what crimes, if any, were comitted by the LTTE as well as the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. This is why it is so important the UN conduct this inquiry and soon.

Thank you for your comment and I hope this has answered your question.


Friday November 25 2011 16:34

It is disgusting that 'humans' are willing to commit such actions. I genuinely hope those responsible have to account for their actions.

Please sign the petition, people!


Friday November 25 2011 18:14

It is truly shameful what the sinhalese government did to the tamil people BUT why do you not equally mention the what the LTTE did to the tamil and sinhalese people.

I fully support an independant investigation into the war crimes.

Personally I have family from the Tamil and Sinhalese communities and I cannot understand why we can't all get along. At the end of the day WE ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS.


Friday November 25 2011 23:01

i do beleive that the tamil tigers are all responsible for the casualties. you cannot give a bias opinion that the sinhalese are the bad people in srilanka as many of my friends are sinhalese. us tamils havnt got the ability to live with other races and i think that is one porblem. the other problem is that the sinhalese politicians are so coprrupt which i fully agree. but tamil tigers should be blames and i think it is right that they were abolished during the war otherwise the people of srilanka would have had to suffer so much more


Saturday November 26 2011 01:00

I would encourage anyone interested in finding out more to watch channel 4 documentary 'Sri Lanka's Killing Fields': http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sri-lankas-killing-fields/4od


Saturday November 26 2011 10:53

"us tamils havnt got the ability to live with other races and i think that is one problem."

First of all, I highly doubt you are a Tamil.
Secondly, Tamils have assimilated into many cultures around the world after having been displaced by the war including across Europe, the Americas and Australasia. It is misleading to say that Tamils haven't got the ability to live with other races. Perhaps you missed the bit in the article that mentioned the Sinhala Only Act of 1956 or haven't come across 'standardisation' where Tamils required much higher grades to get into university? Those alone are enough to create ill-feelings!

I don't support a lot of the actions committed by the LTTE, but the overriding point here is that genocide has been committed by the SL government against Tamils. The LTTE formed as a result of the government's actions.

Tamils and Sinhalese people get along well in Sri Lanka and outside. The issue is not between the races, but between the Tamils and SL govt.


Saturday November 26 2011 12:19

i am a tamil as u highly doubt

but i know a lot of people here in the uk who do not mingle with sinhalese at university, at school or anywhere else.

can u please answer that ?


Saturday November 26 2011 15:44

I think that that is a very subjective matter. I know for a fact that this is not true at Imperial as our Sri Lankan society supported our campaign and went as far as coming to help us set up the stall on both days.

This is a generalisation and it would be unfair to speak for all tamils when you say this.

Furthermore, I think it would be unfair to assume that people seek out or even reject friends based on their ethnicity. Friendship depends on numerous factors: personality, similarities and so forth. I highly doubt that a person's ethnic origin would precede either of these things.

If such allegations are true, I'd just like to emphasise that friendship is a matter of personal choice, and for this reason we cannot answer for their decisions, but we can say that it is wrong to generalise and assume that all Tamils think in a similar manner based upon this.

Kind regards

Velupillai Prabhakaran

Saturday November 26 2011 16:38

It would be nice to see a balanced view from a number of different sources. Being a proud Tamil with fully Sri-Lankan heritage, this looks a bit like tamil propaganda. Tamilnet is hardly an unbiased source. I am very keen to know the real truth about what happened. The Channel 4 documentary was really eye-opening as to the horrors which occured, but I would like to hear more in-depth views from people themselves from both communities. Something which wasnt really apparent in the documentary and Tamilnet.


Saturday November 26 2011 22:04

The fact that in the petition page the Sri Lankan army were not even mentioned in relation to the war crimes (never mind wholly blamed for the warcrimes) highlights the heavy bias of this article. How are we to know that LTTE committed no such war crimes. How do you explain the recruitment of children by the LTTE and employing civilians as a shield, tactics the LTTE used in the war (UN panel has cited during its evaluation)? I could go on with further questions on what we do and don't know. This is why I'm fully behind an independent enquiry on the war crimes and have signed the petition. As a person born (in colombo), bred in Sri Lanka during the time of the war, I find this the viewpoint that the Sri Lankan army is wholly and entirely to blame for the war crimes deeply unsettling and offending. No side is innocent in my opinion and both the army, the government and LTTE are to blame. Nevertheless, I agree the Sri Lankan goverment have been treating Tamils unfairly for decades.


Saturday November 26 2011 23:31

very true tamil net is very biased

Nishanth Sivarasan

Sunday November 27 2011 09:40

The petition is for a full independent investigation into war crimes, irrespective of the perpetrator; be they LTTE or Sri-Lankan government forces. The emphasis on government-led war crimes is owing to the fact that the LTTE were militarily defeated in 2009 and it is therefore impossible to bring to justice whatever crimes they may have committed. The government on the other hand are still in power and must therefore face the full force of an independent investigation and the consequences thereafter.

@an: I would like to emphasize that it has been 2 years since the LTTE were defeated, but white-van abductions, torture and rape still occur in and outside of the IDP camps in Sri-Lanka where 20,000 people are still detained, this leaves only one culpable source: the government.

Anyone who has read the 200 page UN report will find that there is damning evidence of war crimes in Sri Lanka and this petition must be signed to investigate this further, irrespective of your allegiances.


Sunday November 27 2011 12:39

Both sides are bad. The LTTE have gone but now Rajapaksa has to answer. Most people in Sri Lanka want to live in peace. This can only be achieved by Rajapaksa and co leaving. I only pray to God that he gets put on trial under a UN war crime tribunal.

Anonymous I share the same feeling as you. Well said.

Why can't we all live in peace and the end of the day we're all brothers and sister and we come from such a beautiful country. Lets embrace that not tarnish it...


Sunday November 27 2011 21:29

Hi all!

Reading the article was absolutely horrifying, and I have heard of the way the government used to discriminate against the Tamils in old times. I agree with most of the posters that an unbiased international inquiry is a good idea, but I also agree that the LTTE is accountable for half of the blame.

If you are looking for an unbiased documentary try and find one titled 'The Truth That Wasn’t There'. It is very middle ground.

I hope we can all unite as Sri Lankans and help heal each other. As long as we are divided the wounds deepen and the heartaches worsen. People from all ethnicites were affected by this war and I hope we can come together as Sri Lankans and fight against injustice, instead of seperated as different groups. We will be so much stronger.


Sunday November 27 2011 23:34

Okay firstly this article is well written and the comments are all valid but the problem is not going to be resolved by targeting the government and all these war crime tribunals because the government can refuse and this process will forever continue. The uk government are simple not interested because even after the numerous amounts of protests and events nothing has been discussed because the MPs only have limited information and their knowledge will not be as strong when discussing this situation.

After the civil war, I personally have visited many areas affected by the problems and people were happy with the development of roads and houses that the government are doing in the last few years. These changes are happening in the north of the country so children are able to go to school and women and men are able to live a happy life. Many people emphasised that they are happier now than ever before.


Sunday November 27 2011 23:49

Continuing from the above comment...basically what's happening right now with all these student groups and things are people are focusing on the past and everything that's happened and trying to resolve these problems which makes the situation worse because the government that destroyed the LTTE are still in power so these things just add fuel to the fire. The people back in Sri lanka would emphasise that the more there are internationally interferences, the more the people will get affected. This doesn't mean that the international population remains quiet and forgets all these events it's more work for a better brighter future.

The only way to succeed in politics is to get involved in politics, not by standing outside the walls of parliament or signing petitions but by using intelligence and getting into discussions. This means educating people and getting MP representatives for local areas who can then talk in parliament. This already happens but I'm saying get Tamil MPs...


Monday November 28 2011 00:00

Continuing on....basically the aim is not short term but everyone needs to think in the long run. UK government or any other one for that instance will not get involved in this because it's over and now everyone is seeing the country under development and economic growth, which is good for any country. The other problem is even if the current government are replaced this does not mean there will be a Tamil/Sinhalese government because of the majority of votes. The aim of the international community should be to get Tamils or Sinhalese into the foreign governments so that they can discuss these matters further.

Jeevan Kulandren

Monday November 28 2011 00:18

I agree with the comments made above and think that the foreign Tamils are making it worse for people back home. All of the people out of the country have a roof, food and all the basic needs of life but people back home are struggling so the guy that wrote this article,well done to you but stop focusing on the negative side of it all cause I'm sure you don't have the slightest of clue what actually is going on back home apart from reading websites.

Look at how the remembrance for fallen soldiers has been spread over many venues it's more of an exhibition and corrupt system. All these universities having exhibitions is just unnecessary...firstly because the people standing representing the cause don't actually know about their homeland but get the information from biased sources. Money raised at these events are all going to the wrong places. This is a fact-'foreign tamil people are becoming rich' because money is not actually going to the right causes.


Monday November 28 2011 02:16

Jeevan well said mate.


Monday November 28 2011 06:57

Judging from the comments I can see a lot of people are looking at this as a Tamil Singhala issue.
The article is about promoting awareness of a crime that is being ignored. Drawing attention to a heinous method of 'solving' internal problems, which, if ignored, could be used by other countries with simiar problems. It is also about stopping Sri Lanka from sliding further into a dictatorship.
The Govt of Sri Lanka is using threats as a way of controlling the journalists, opposition politions and the citizens of Sri Lanka that the govt is supposed to 'serve'. The disappearances or even muders are never investigated properly and a countless number of 'suspects' have died in suspiicious cirmustances while in police custody. If the govt is not taken to task, the situation will worsen. So far it has been the Tamils, journalists, beggars and slum dwellers,who have at the receiving end, but soon it will be everybody other than the govt and its goons.


Monday November 28 2011 17:39

I fully support that there should be an investigation, it is the only way to find out the truth about the atrocities caused by both the government and the LTTE. You have written about how the government have done wrong, but you have not mentioned the LTTE. The Breaking the Silence Events being held across universities are aimed at remembering the Tamil lives lost caused by the government but there is no mention of Sinhalese lives lost. It would be nice to see events organised where Tamil and Sinhalese people can come together to remember all the lives lost, instead of seeing each other as ' the other side'. The Sri Lankan community needs to come together as a whole and help each other. Until then biased articles like this will just cause more hatred, with the consequences suffered by those back home.


Tuesday November 29 2011 10:54

I also tend to agree that these breaking the silence events are aimed mostly at tamils. Imperials Tamil soc could have worked in conjunction with their Sri Lankan soc but his doesn't seem to be the case, and same with a few other of the participating universities.
More sinhalese people than you realise would also support an independent investigation because it would bring to light the crimes committed by both the government AND the LTTE. Similarly, the remembrance events, I thought, were aimed at all the people who lost their lives in the war, but the way they are being promoted, this doesn't seem to be the case. It seems only to be focussing on the lives lost due to the governments actions. In a time of remembrance especially, there should shouldn't still be a divide.

Nirmal Prashanthan

Tuesday November 29 2011 20:02

I strongly believe that both communities are not against each other and the politicians in both sides do play game in order sustain their political career and its benefits.

Laxmipathy Balaji

Wednesday November 30 2011 14:31

Brrruvvvv I just crashed my car init

Balayoganathan Ramamuthusawami

Wednesday November 30 2011 14:33

This article is extremely biased and I think its difficult for anyone to appreciate the real situation unless theyve spent time in the country and understood what is occuring on a first hand basis.

This has been taken for an extremely unreliable source and therefore the integrity of this article has to be questioned.


Wednesday November 30 2011 21:02

The article mentions events that took place in Sri Lanka, I should know as I have lived in Sri Lanka for thirty years. There have been government sponsored pogroms against Tamils in 1956, 1977 and 1983. Thousands were killed and a lot more lost their properties and livelihoods. Jaffna library, one of the largest in Asia, was burnt down, with the tacit approval of the security forces. The library had irreplaceable ancient palm leaf scripts, which were lost in the fire.
Jaffna, a city in the north of Sri Lanka, where I used to live, was under frequent aerial and artillery bombardment by the Government forces since the 80s. Most of the time, the north also was under economic embargo, items such as petrol, box of matches and even soap were not allowed in. If living in the north and east were difficult, life in the capital Colombo was a torture. Tamils lived in constant fear as they knew that they could be arrested, just because they were Tamils.

Mani - contd

Wednesday November 30 2011 21:03

But all this pales into insignificance compared to what happened during the final days of the civil war. I met up with my neighbours, who survived the ordeal a few months later in India. To describe their experience as horrific would be an understatement.

We need to ensure that the war crimes allegations are investigated by an independent International body and appropriate action taken. If not, there are a few other countries that would use the ‘Sri Lankan’ method to eradicate citizens that they consider troublesome.


Thursday December 01 2011 00:15

The petition calls for an investigation into both sides.

Why are some people here opposing it?!


Thursday December 01 2011 00:16

Also, great insightful piece! Sri Lanka has got to be classed with Darfur and Srebenica.


Thursday December 01 2011 14:52

I do not think people are opposing the investigation. They are just saying that when an article is biased like this one, it comes across as tamil vs singhalese which is not needed as the Sri Lankan community as whole need to work together. Talking just about the wrong doing of the government and the hardship faced by us Tamils just creates a greater rift between the communities. All over the country people have suffered and it is a time for everyone to come together and not look at this as two opposing sides anymore.


Thursday December 01 2011 17:33

I think it's about time people learnt to drive their cars safely.


Saturday December 03 2011 04:49

Of course it's not needed, neither was the holocaust, but that's what happened.
Regardless, the majority of the Sinhala population celebrated on the final days of the war, while the majority of the Tamil population grieved.

Now all we are asking for as an independent investigation to find all those guilty of war crimes and genocide.

Crimes on this scale cannot happen and go unpunished, both for the future of international justice and for the island.

So let's all come together and get justice :)


Wednesday December 07 2011 16:26

I think it is fair to say that a few years ago, should an article similar to this be published, a lot of people who discredit it as being biased and call it Tamil propaganda. Now, however, the saying "what you can't hide is genocide" is true. Look at the UN report for a start.

It is ridiculous to suggest that those affected should "just move on"- so many people have been PERSONALLY affected so of course the wounds are still open and not ready to heal.

I agree with TK: Regardless, the majority of the Sinhala population celebrated on the final days of the war, while the majority of the Tamil population grieved.


Wednesday December 07 2011 16:29


so you can see why breaking the silence events etc are going to highlight the plight of the tamils that were affected. I'm sure if the IC Sri Lankan society wanted to create awareness then there are many people who would be happy to help them.

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