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Enduring resistance

Seven years after the armed conflict ended in May 2009 and the height of Tamil genocide by the Sri Lankan state, Tamils this year mark May 18th with the weight of a UN report behind them. Detailing the extent and sheer horror of the atrocities committed, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, targeting of hospitals, sexual violence, torture and the extrajudicial killing of LTTE cadres, the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka report validates the visceral outcry of the Tamil nation which blockaded diasporic capitals, deploring the ensuing massacre and demanding international intervention, as well as validating the call for justice that has emanated from the diaspora and the North-East ever since. Seven years on however, meaningful change in the circumstances that led to the armed conflict, and the tangible prospect of true justice continues to elude the Tamil people.

Despite the current Sri Lankan government’s pledge at the UN Human Rights Council last September to implement a judicial mechanism with meaningful international involvement, it is yet to openly accept and acknowledge the simple fact: tens of thousands of Tamil civilians were killed by state forces.  The acceptance or rejection of this glaring truth is the deepest fault line dividing and distinguishing the Tamil and Sinhala nations today. It is what determines whether the 18th of May is a day of mourning and remembrance, or one of victory and celebration. The current government, formed of a coalition of both main Sinhala parties with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) as its opposition, could not be in a more opportune position to begin the admittedly difficult process. Yet rather than leading the call for justice, the current government continues to pander to the whims of Sinhala nationalists, re-framing a judicial process as a means of clearing the Sri Lankan army’s ‘good name’ as well as obfuscating the inclusion of international judges and other experts. If now is not that time, it is difficult to envisage a more opportune moment.

Promises to address key Tamil concerns remain unfulfilled. Tamil demands for the removal of the military from the North-East, publishing a list of detainees, the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and a halt to the Sinhalisation of Tamil areas have not occurred. Instead Buddhist temples are being unveiled, military intelligence continues to intimidate peaceful political activists, and the very same military accused of mass atrocities continues to dominate life in the North-East. Just this month photographs emerged of pre-school children wearing uniforms with army emblems, Sri Lankan navy officers were seen photographing a peaceful protest, UN experts concluded that torture continues to be used and former LTTE commanders, released after the government’s ‘rehabilitation’, were re-arrested via white van style abductions. That the re-arrests of such senior LTTE figures occurred in the run up to May 18th is of no coincidence. It is a brazen effort to instill fear into the Tamil people ahead of planned public remembrance events. Attempts to dismiss the arrests as that of ‘army informers’ denies the reality of being a former LTTE cadre in the Sri Lankan state - detained and released at the whim of the military, and at their mercy for even basic employment.

It was precisely these issues, such as state violence against Tamils, state sponsored Sinhalisation into the Tamil areas and arbitrary detention of Tamil youth that led to the Tamil people’s call for an independent state of Tamil Eelam long before the rise of the LTTE. This is of particular significance today as this week Tamils also mark the 40th anniversary of the passing of the Vaddukoddai resolution. As the resolution details, it was for these very reasons Tamils no longer believed their nation could be safeguarded within the Sri Lankan state. Forty years on, each and every one of the grievances raised remains. That the passing of four decades and several governments has brought no significant change in the Tamil nation’s sense of security is of no surprise given the unrelenting Sinhala ethnocracy ruling the island. What is remarkable however, is the unwavering Tamil resistance to it. Even when faced with the unfathomable losses of 2009, the Tamil voice only grew louder, embarking on a long and arduous journey to seek international recognition of the sheer scale and extent of the atrocities that that took place as well as justice for the crimes. Seven years on one milestone has been reached, but the struggle for justice, and ultimately the nation's security goes on.