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Sri Lankan High Commission decries recognition of Tamil genocide within Canada

Sri Lanka’s High Commission in Canada has released a statement decrying the presentation by “certain parties in Canada” of the final phases of the armed conflict as a genocide against Tamils, claiming that it would disrupt the “social harmony” of Sri Lankan Canadians.

The statement was released a week after the Ontario Provincial government announced the funding of mental health workshops for 3,000 Tamil students on stress management from the COVID-19 pandemic and educating youth on understanding and unpacking the intergenerational trauma from the Tamil Genocide.  During the announcement, MPP for Scarborough – Rouge Park, Vijay Thanigasalam, thanked Ontario's Education Minister Stephen Lecce for his support in the passage of Bill 104, Tamil Genocide Education Week.

Stephen Lecce speaking at the conference noted that "we are very deliberate in our choice of words that we recognise a genocide that transpired against the innocent Tamil people” and “a genocide that has left over 140,000 innocents perished at the hands of the regime in Colombo”.  

Speaking on the passing of Bill 104, Lecce added "We are here recognising as a first principle that there was genocide, recognising that there was harm done, inflicted on a multitude of generations".

The funding allocation Lecce noted, "will provide students with information tools, resources and mental health support to cope with the stress of the trauma of this most disturbing experience of genocide".

In response to the declaration of mental health support for the Tamil Genocide and the passing of Bill 104 last year, the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canada has claimed that the Tamil Genocide is a "spread of fallacies". The statement goes on to note that Tamil civilian casualties during the final phases of the armed conflict were an "exaggeration of numbers" and that Sri Lankan military action was "justifiable and proportionate". It then goes on to discredit the methodology of the United Nations Generals of Panel of Experts report, which estimated that there could have been at least 40,000 deaths during the final phases of the armed conflict. 

"Some parties, including LTTE remnant groups and sympathisers, have seized on hypothetical figures of civilian casualties contained in certain seriously flawed reports commissioned by the UN, to push a claim of genocide of Tamil people in Sri Lanka during the final stage of the military conflict. ...Groups espousing the claim of genocide have seized the claim, made without any proof" the statement claims.

The OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) report noted that it is was “concerned by serious allegations that SLA may have destroyed evidence after the end of the conflict, including by digging up and burning bodies that had been buried in the conflict zone”.

“In addition to those who died in hospitals, multiple witness testimonies recount burying civilian family members or seeing others bury individuals killed in the shelling before they hurriedly fled. There has been no systematic recording of the exhumation of graves since the war. Extensive forensic anthropological expertise will be required to examine those bodies that were buried and may be exhumed as part of investigations. “

The OISL concluded,

“The patterns of commission of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, the indications of their systematic nature, combined with the widespread character of the attacks all point to the possible perpetration of international crimes. These allegations must be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated and those responsible should be brought to justice.”

Read more extracts from the OISL report here.

A report produced by the International Truth and Justice Projects (ITJP) examined different sources, including the United Nations, census figures and World Bank data looking into the number of Tamil Civilian casualties. ITJP found that the highest estimate of those killed during that final phase could be as large as 169,796.

Read more: How many Tamils were killed in 2009?

The statement by the Sri Lankan ministry omits reference to the numerous governmental and NGO reports investigating the final phase of the conflict as well as the overwhelming evidence which includes first-hand accounts, leaked footage and satellite and drone recordings.

During this final period, the Sri Lankan military engaged in a brutal assault on the Tamil homeland which saw the repeated attack on no-fire zones despite warnings of the high civilian casualties. The latest statement from the Foreign Ministry claims that in the North "the total number of persons who died of causes other than natural causes, was 9,283" and that "the vast majority would have been LTTE cadres or those directly involved in hostilities". This is disputed by reporting which details the deliberate restrictions on food, medicines and humanitarian access by the Sri Lankan period across this period.

The US State Department has reported that:

"An organization’s sources expressed their belief that the GSL was deliberately preventing delivery of medicine to the NFZ and reported that ―over the last week, at least 20 people have died due to starvation and lack of medication"

The OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) report further notes that

“There are also reasonable grounds to believe that a number of LTTE cadres, such as those belonging to the political wing, and other individuals not or no longer taking direct part in hostilities, including children, were also extrajudicially executed".

Hospitals hit by Sri Lankan army 

Additional reports detail the sexual violence, enforced disappearances, summary executions conducted by Sri Lanka’s armed forces, and the repeated shelling of hospitals. Human Rights Watch reported at the time that there were “at least 30 attacks on permanent and makeshift hospitals in the combat area since December 2008”.

Read a breakdown of the final stages here: 12 years today - A massacre in Mullivaikkal

See more at: REMEMBER MAY 2009

The statement then concludes by claiming that "the allegations of genocide impacts Sri Lanka’s relations with the international community at a time when it is engaged in a long-standing cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and the UN Human Rights Council and is delivering on its commitment to address accountability and reconciliation". This comes despite the government having withdrawn from its co-sponsored resolution and reneged on numerous promises, including the establishment of a hybrid mechanism of justice to examine crimes committed at the end of the armed conflict. The statement's release comes during a time where a number of Sri Lankan military personnel, including high ranking officers have been sanctioned for committing war crimes and campaigns to impose sanctions on Sri Lankan military personnel are steadfast across the UK.

Read the statement here

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