This year marks 38 years since Black July: the anti-Tamil pogrom where thousands of Tamils were killed by brutal state-supported Sinhala mobs. It was a week of violence that saw Tamils murdered, tortured and displaced. It remains a premeditated and meticulously coordinated act of genocide. The remnants of this pogroms however, still reverberate across the island to this very day. Recent months in particular, carry concerning parallels to the period leading to 1983’s explosive violence, as Sri Lanka returns to patterns of the past with press suppression, arbitrary and racist detention, military occupation and unchecked state violence running devoid of consequence.
Across the North-East, a crackdown is in full effect. Despite a renewed international focus on the island’s human rights record following the passing of yet another UN resolution on Sri Lanka, the state has decided to respond by doubling down on its repression. The expansion of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), the proscription of hundreds of Tamil diaspora members and the brazen arrest of Jaffna Mayor Viswalingam Manivannan show that Colombo will not respond to calls for reform. These actions, whilst shrouded in the rhetoric of national security, lay bare the intentions of the Sri Lankan state, not only to block justice for genocide and mass atrocities but also to deny even the slightest degree of autonomy to Tamils.
Art by Sagi Thilipkumar 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...
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.