Marking the eleventh anniversary of the Mullivaikkal Massacre, People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka (PEARL) have released a statement mourning the loss of approximate 70-140,000 Tamils during the finals stages of the war but also maintaining that the “liberation struggle lives on”.
The collective trauma of Mullivaikkal
In remembering the events of Mullivaikkal, PEARL states that “the collective trauma of Mullivaikkal has left an indelible mark on the psyche of Tamils across the world”.
During the final months of the war, credible accusations of war crimes and genocide against the Tamil people arose as the Sri Lankan military intentionally and indiscriminately shelled designated safe zones and hospitals. An estimated 70,000-140,000 Tamils were killed, 300,000 Tamils were forcefully displaced and a further 25,000-30,000 were injured. Access to vital good such as medicine and good was intentionally restricted. State soldiers committed horrific acts of sexual violence, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings which continue to plague Sri Lanka.
Despite the passage of over a decade, there has been no accountability for these atrocities and soldiers who engaged in such conduct have not only been pardoned but actively promoted.
The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa
With the election of accused war criminal Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who oversaw the final offensive on Mullivaikkal as Defence Secretary, PEARL notes that the international community failed not only to protect the Tamil people during the height of genocide but also to keep Sri Lanka accountable to their international commitments.
In March 2020, the Rajapaksa administration withdrew from its co-sponsored UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 (2015) which was agreed to by the previous government. In rejection a resolution which aimed towards transitional justice and reconciliation, the Rajapaksa administration maintained the need to protect “war heroes” who were credibly accused of war crimes and have not faced any accountability for their crimes.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has seized control of the government so as to drive forwards securitisation and militarisation of Sri Lanka which has meant not only pardoning war criminals but appointing them to high-ranking political, military and diplomatic posts.
Despite the on-going violence, threats and impunity, Tamil resistance survives.
COVID-19 is utilised to repress Tamils
PEARL further notes the manner in which the Sri Lankan government is seizing upon the current COVID-19 pandemic to further repress Tamils.
The current response to the coronavirus is being led by credibly accused war criminals, Shavendra Silva and Kamal Gunaratne. It is under their watch that an increased military and surveillance presence is felt on the Tamil homeland. Such forces have routinely harassed Tamil civilians, threatening to send those commemorating the genocide to quarantine centres or to kill those lighting lamps.
PEARL also states that the “brunt of economic challenges caused by COVID-19” are faced by Tamils who are pushed to the point of starvation. Restrictions are imposed to ensure that those suffering are denied “their right to memorialize the dead and to seek justice”.
The struggle for self-determination continues
In concluding their statement, they note that whilst the struggle for self-determination has undergone various changes the “dedication and resolute bravery has always been a central tenet of our struggle.” They pledge to continue advocacy for “political and legal genocide recognition, accountability for mass atrocities, and self-determination for the Tamil people”.
Read PEARL's full statement here.