Two and a half years have passed since the armed conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Government of Sri Lanka ended, but Tamils have seen neither justice nor freedom from the Sri Lankan state’s deliberate and systematic destruction of the Tamil nation – a genocide.
Despite the deaths of an estimated 40,000 civilians in 2009 and the compelling evidence of war crimes against humanity that continues to emerge, Sri Lanka remains both incapable and unwilling to bring justice to the Tamil people. Dismissing any calls for an international investigation in order to bring accountability to the island, the state has instead relentlessly pursued its oppression of the Tamil people in the North-East. The colonisation of the Tamil homeland, the widespread rape of young Tamil women and girls, and the targeted abduction and murder of young Tamil men, continue to this very day, aided by the heavy militarisation of the North-East. The structural genocide did not end in 2009. It continues unabated, as the regime attempts to consolidate the Sinhala-Buddhist fascism that has plagued the island for decades.
The traditional homeland of the Tamils continues to be held in a vice-like grip by the Sri Lankan military, which acts with impunity in the Tamil areas. Civilians have described the Tamil homeland as an open prison. The abduction, murder and rape of Tamil civilians remain a daily occurrence in the North-East. Sri Lanka has the second highest number of disappearances in the world, after Iraq. Thousands of civilians are missing, either from army-run camps or abducted from their homes.
Dissent is not tolerated. Brave outbursts of peaceful Tamil protests against government discrimination have been crushed through intimidation, abductions and the killing of activists. Media freedom is severely curtailed and there have been various attacks on journalists speaking up against the government, including the attack on the editor of the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna earlier this year.
Vast swathes of the North-East of the island – including homes, schools and places of worship – remain off limits to civilians under the pretext of ‘High Security Zones’ and the ‘clearing of mines’. Whilst colonisation of the Tamil homeland continues relentlessly, with many Tamils being refused permission to return to their villages, Sinhalese families, including those of members of the security forces, continue to settle in Tamil regions. This is a blatant attempt by the government to break the continuity of the Tamil homeland and dilute Tamil political power in the Tamil provinces.
There may be further, more sinister motives to the denial of the Tamil people’s right to return to their land. Rumours of mass-graves in the restricted zones have dogged Sri Lanka. These rumours have been further exacerbated by the government’s abject refusal to allow international monitoring groups to observe these areas. With thousands of civilians dead and no signs of their bodies, there is a real possibility that instead of clearing mines, the government is actively clearing evidence of war crimes from the former war zone. Evidence that would be crucial, given a UN expert panel’s report released earlier this year, detailing allegations of abuses committed by both sides during the conflict. The panel estimates over 40,000 civilian deaths by indiscriminate government shelling, including attacks on the so-called No Fire Zones and on hospitals.
Yet in the face of such damning evidence, the Sri Lankan Government not only continues to dispute the figures quoted, but also refuses to allow an independent international investigation into the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Unable to withstand the growing international call for a credible investigation, the government commissioned its own internal report, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The commission was appointed by the Sri Lankan president to investigate the government and present its findings to him, which was understandably described as ‘flawed on every level’ and ‘biased’ by Amnesty International. As Human Rights Watch highlighted, the LLRC is the latest in a long line of commissions and inquiries organised by the state that are yet to yield any results.
As expected, the LLRC report, released this month, dismisses any notion of Sri Lankan armed forces intentionally killing Tamil civilians. This is not the result of scientific evidence or criminal investigation. The LLRC authors themselves point out that Sri Lanka does not have the technical expertise to conduct such an investigation, but instead, the LLRC concludes that the deaths of any civilians were down to a few renegade soldiers and the LTTE.
Not only is the massacre of 40,000 civilians a crime that warrants an adequate investigation, responsibility for crimes against humanity committed during the war requires investigations into all levels within the chain of command. Moreover, killings on a scale of forty thousand individuals are not the actions of a few, rogue individuals.
Sri Lanka’s failed attempt at accountability, the government’s culture of impunity, and the state’s long-standing failure to provide justice for crimes committed against the Tamil people, prove that the state is incapable and unwilling to conduct a truly independent investigation into all sides. The Sri Lankan state – that has failed in the fundamental duty of any state, to protect its own civilians – cannot and will not provide the justice and accountability the Tamil people have a right to. Instead, the government continues to showcase its intent to destroy the Tamil nation.
The historical root causes of the conflict continue to be ignored by the government. The discrimination, oppression, persecution and ultimate genocide of Tamils led to peaceful protests, and the demand for freedom, security and independence emerged. The Tamil nation’s call for an independent state of Tamil Eelam was mandated in a widespread referendum in 1976 (the Vaddukkoddai resolution) and subsequently ratified through an election the following year. Yet when the nation’s legitimate demands for independence and peaceful protest against continued oppression were met with brutal state terror, the armed struggle became inevitable.
During the armed conflict, the Sri Lankan state was able to conveniently mask its genocide with the ‘war on terror’ cover. Now, the persecution continues under the guise of reconciliation.
Without accountability and justice for crimes committed against the Tamil people, peace will only ever be enjoyed by the Singhalese. The very soldiers, shown to kill prisoners of war and civilians in the Channel 4 documentary ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’, will continue to serve on active duty, bringing ‘security’ to the North-East.
Impunity feeds on apathy, and fuels crime. Only an immediate independent international investigation into all sides of the conflict, examining the perpetrators of the crimes – as called for by human rights organisations and the Tamil diaspora groups worldwide – can bring justice to the victims.
Photograph: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
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