A new wave of protest has erupted in the Tamil homeland as a monument dedicated to the tens of thousands massacred in Mullivaikkal was razed from the Jaffna University campus under the cover of night. Students and locals gathered outside the campus gates while Sri Lankan Special Task Force (STF) troops stood guard, blocking their entry and allowing the destruction to take place unhindered. Although many have been left reeling from the sheer cruelty of the destruction, this act is not one without precedent. In 2017, a priest and the community he served in Mullivaikkal were harassed exorbitantly by Sri Lankan police for a memorial campaign in which the names of genocide victims were carved into stones. Jaffna University itself was affected in the wholesale destruction of monuments to the Tamil liberation struggle, with the initial destruction of its own Maaveerar memorial, and constant obstruction of other memorial events. Dozens of LTTE cemeteries, which housed the graves of thousands of cadres, remain as mounds of rubble or have been paved over entirely. Since the advent of the ‘victor’s peace’ in 2009, Sinhala triumphalism has dictated who can be remembered, and how. While Tamil memorialisation, public or private, to combatants and civilians alike, has been criminalised, Sinhala war victory monuments dominate the landscape of the North-East, an ever-present reminder to Tamils of their trauma and oppression. There is not one government-constructed memorial to Tamil civilians on the island. Attempts to attribute the current destruction to a bureaucratic dispute, that it was built without permission, ring hollow when compared to the erection of Buddhist shrines and military structures in the Tamil homeland, with no consideration for legality, due process, or permits from locally elected authorities.
Art by Shaumya The Sri Lankan state has doubled down on a particularly cruel policy this month, continuing to forcibly cremate the bodies of Muslims who have died from suspected coronavirus infections. The practice, which runs deeply against Islamic belief, has caused a great deal of pain across the island and consternation around the globe. Sri Lanka though has refused to budge. Instead, the regime has defied pleas from Muslims, calls from UN Special Rapporteurs and directly contradicted guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO). The continuation of this practice, which has no...
For the first time in decades there will be no mass gatherings across the world today, as Eelam Tamils commemorate Maaveerar Naal. In the Tamil homeland, the return of the Rajapaksas has plunged the North-East back into a familiar repression. Many will be marking the day in secret, fearing the threat of Sri Lankan military reprisals. Pandemic restrictions around the world have also meant that the well-established large scale events held by the diaspora have been moved to virtual spaces. This relative absence of public display, however, does not detract from the solemnity of this day. Instead, the will to overcome these obstacles and commemorate the sacrifices demonstrates the tenacity of the Tamil nation.
The prospect of a Biden-Harris administration at the White House has brought both hope and trepidation around the world. In Sri Lanka, some in Colombo’s polity are nervous. Amongst the Tamils, there is both wariness and tempered optimism about what the new administration may bring. A hope that come January, there will be opportunities to help address past failures.
As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Colombo last week, Sri Lanka’s leaders will have breathed a sigh of relief. The much-anticipated tough talk on human rights and accountability did not materialise. Instead, the US diplomat spoke on the two government’s “friendship” and how to drive American investment to the island, with only a cursory mention of justice for mass atrocities. That this was done whilst posing for photographs with Sri Lanka’s war crimes accused president sends worrying signals - for the future of the island and for the direction of US foreign policy.
As US Secretary of State Mike Pomepo lands in Colombo today, close attention will be paid to his meetings at Temple Trees, where he will meet with Sri Lanka’s war crimes-accused president and prime minister. The Sri Lankan government will no doubt spin this as an US attempt to court the regime in Colombo or even as international applause for how the Rajapaksa siblings have ruled since they returned to power. The Secretary of State must make clear that this is far from the case.
Sri Lanka’s president has wasted little time in getting to work. Within weeks of his party sweeping parliamentary polls, Gotabaya Rajapaksa rapidly produced the long-promised 20 th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution, which seeks to further concentrate power into the executive presidency he occupies. As expected, there are few checks on his power and with a super-majority in parliament, a determined Rajapaksa looks set to steamroll it through.
As the island heads to the polls today, a victory for the Rajapaksas seems almost inevitable. Their brand of militarised Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, which has always held support amongst the southern polity, has taken their popularity to new heights with a simple majority all but assured. Indeed, a two-thirds majority, which would grant the regime the power to make constitutional amendments, is now within reach. Regardless of whether that is achieved today or not, the polls will nevertheless see the Rajapaksa’s brand of Sinhala supremacy on the island strengthened.
Even before they returned to power in Sri Lanka last year, the Rajapaksas never sought to cloak their brash espousal of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. As defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa ran a ruthless offensive that massacred tens of thousands of Tamils, which his brother Mahinda oversaw as president, with what he called “a sense of quiet joy”. Now, more than six months have passed with the Rajapaksa siblings back in power and occupying the island’s highest offices. And whilst global attention has been focussed on controlling the coronavirus pandemic, the regime has used the crisis to unleash Sinhala supremacy with an even greater ferocity.
Today marks yet another year when Tamils across the island, and around the world, light candles, lay flowers and bow their heads to commemorate the massacres at Mullivaikkal. Eleven long years have now passed since the atrocities that marked the zenith of Sri Lanka’s genocide. Yet with no justice, no accountability and no political solution, the wounds of 2009 remain fresh.