This year marks four decades since the genocidal violence of Black July. With the backing of the Sinhala Buddhist State, Sinhala mobs, armed with electoral rolls and transported by government-owned vehicles, unleashed a torrent of bloodshed killing over 3,000 Tamils, burning down thousands of Tamil homes and businesses, and displacing an estimated 150,000.
Last week, thousands of Tamils, from the political strongholds in Jaffna, the militarised heartlands of the Vanni, to the allegedly contested territories of Amparai, lit up destroyed LTTE cemeteries to pay tribute to those who laid down their lives in the armed struggle. Since 2016, when Tamils reclaimed the Kanagapuram Thuyilum Illam in Kilinochchi to hold Maaveerar Naal publicly for the first time since 2012, when Tamil students were beaten by the Sri Lankan army for attempting to mark the day, the commemorations have been growing in scale each year, disrupted only by the lockdowns of the global pandemic. This year was the largest yet, with events reported in at least thirty locations across the eight districts of the North-East.
Illustration by Keera Ratnam / waves of colour This month in the northern city of Kopay and the eastern city of Mullaitivu, plain-clothed Sri Lankan officers photograph Tamil civilians clearing their desecrated memorials for the LTTE. This surveillance has become routine. It is often followed in rapid succession with threats, intimidation, arbitrary detention, and abuse – a pattern all too familiar for Eelam Tamils. In the most militarised regions of the island, Tamils are prohibited from remembering the sacrifices of their loved ones for a free homeland. Under the threat of Sri Lanka’s...
The latest draft United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on accountability for massacres in Sri Lanka shows yet again the ineptitude of the international system to deliver justice for crimes committed more than 13 years ago. Following years of growing militarisation, crackdowns on civil society actors, and ongoing human rights violations, the latest resolution asks victims and survivors to place their faith in the Sri Lankan state. This is the same Sri Lankan state that the former UN High Commissioner acknowledges has actively reversed progress on accountability by appointing war criminals to head government ministries. The latest draft falls far short of what has been needed for years.
As the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council nears, Sri Lanka’s Sinhala leaders scramble to present the country as on the verge of a democratic breakthrough. Plans to reform Sri Lanka’s draconian counter-terrorism legislation, decriminalise same-sex relations, and delist select Tamil diaspora organisations have been met with broad scepticism across the island. An illusion of a liberal bastion is impossible to maintain amidst a brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. Such gestures are nothing but a desperate smokescreen. In the past, Sri Lanka managed to stave off international...
On July 9, thousands of protestors stormed the residence of Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in what appeared to be the climax of months of protest over the economic crisis on the island. Photos and videos that quickly made headlines around the world showed demonstrators rummaging through his wardrobe, working out in his personal gym, and splashing around in his private pool. Less than three years after Rajapaksa won a commanding majority among the island’s Sinhalese, the unimaginable had happened - the Sinhala Buddhist strongman, whose war crimes aided rather than impeded his rise to power, was being forced out of office.
Yesterday was Tamil Genocide Day, a day of solemn remembrance and collective mourning. Across the Tamil homeland and around the world, millions commemorated their kith and kin who were deliberately and systematically massacred by the Sri Lankan state. This year, as flames were lit and flowers laid across the North-East, political turmoil continues to rage across the South. Whilst Colombo’s politicians tussle for power, international focus remains on whether Sri Lanka will be able to climb out of the crisis in which it has landed. May 18, more than any other day, served as a reminder that unless deep-rooted structural changes are enacted and the Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism confronted, it never will.
Sri Lanka is in crisis. Protests have spread across the South, demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It marks a remarkable turnaround in popularity, with demonstrations from the same electorate that less than two years ago delivered Rajapaksa a two-thirds majority in parliament. The speed in which protests have spread and the fury in which they arose, have led the South to believe this is a moment of revolution that offers an opportunity for a definitive break from the island’s turbulent past. Tamils, however, are sceptical.
This week, after almost 2 years in detention, Hejaaz Hizbullah was finally allowed to walk out of Sri Lankan jail . It was a welcome sight. However, the lawyer is not yet a free man. Hizbullah was only released on bail and still has an uphill battle against charges that are widely seen as trumped up. Like so many other Muslims and Tamils across the island, he remains at risk of being imprisoned again under Sri Lanka’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The draconian legislation has been a key weapon in furthering the state's Sinhala-Buddhist authoritarianism since its inception decades ago. It must be repealed.
Last week China's ambassador to Sri Lanka made his first visit to the North-East, in an interesting venture to the Tamil homeland. Qi Zhenhong went to great lengths to ingratiate himself with the Tamil people. The ambassador's efforts ranged from visiting the historic Jaffna Library where he donated laptops and books, to speaking with Tamil fishermen in Mannar, and baring his chest whilst dressed as a traditional devotee at the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple. Faced with the turmoil of the Rajapaksas in the south of the island, Beijing seems to be on the lookout for new partners in the North-East...