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
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
Dear Anonymous, I understand your point.
It is disgusting that 'humans' are willing to commit such actions. I genuinely hope those responsible have to account for their actions.
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 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
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
"us tamils havnt got the ability to live with other races and i think that is one problem."
i am a tamil as u highly doubt
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.
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.
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.
very true tamil net is very biased
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jeevan well said mate.
Judging from the comments I can see a lot of people are looking at this as a Tamil Singhala issue.
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.
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.
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.
Brrruvvvv I just crashed my car init
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.
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.
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.
The petition calls for an investigation into both sides.
Also, great insightful piece! Sri Lanka has got to be classed with Darfur and Srebenica.
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.
I think it's about time people learnt to drive their cars safely.
Of course it's not needed, neither was the holocaust, but that's what happened.
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.