Today on Maaveerar Naal Tamils around the world gather in memory of those who died fighting Sri Lankan state oppression. Emboldened by the thousands that gathered at destroyed LTTE resting homes (Thuyilum Illams) last year, preparations this year have been on the largest scale since the end of the armed conflict. Tamils across the North-East have braved intimidation from the military and intelligence personnel to clear and decorate Thuyilum Illams. This November has like those past seen a deliberate campaign of fear-mongering by the police, justifying the deployment of extra officers through citing an alleged rise in gang violence, which conveniently seems to rear its head this time each year.
Sri Lanka’s former military commander General Jagath Jayasuriya stands accused of overseeing a litany of crimes during the island’s armed conflict. The charges are grave. The lawyer who filed the case, renowned prosecutor Carlos Castresana Fernandez, said the evidence is more abundant than against Argentine General Jorge Rafael Videla and Chilean General Augusto Pinochet. However, Jayasuriya’s hasty retreat to Sri Lanka, where the government has offered him staunch protection from prosecution, serves as a stark reminder that the island remains a haven of impunity.
On Sunday afternoon, Sri Lankan police shot dead a Tamil man in Jaffna. Though the facts around the killing are still not clear, with reports he may have been involved in illegal sand mining, what is known for certain is that Yogarasa Thines was completely unarmed. The police decision to gun him down, not only seems wholly disproportionate, but follows a sadly well-established pattern of Sri Lankan state violence against Tamil civilians, amidst a culture of impunity.
Today, Tamils across the globe will collectively light candles, lay flowers and bow heads in memory of those who gave their lives resisting state oppression. Marking the legacy of these heroes has become an integral moment of solidarity for the entire nation. In the Tamil homeland, commemorations have already begun this week, in a defiant series of events that have continued to grow since the armed conflict ended. Sri Lanka’s response to these moves at remembering the lives lost, alongside its continued targeting of Tamils, reveals a failure to tackle the deep-rooted issues of Sinhala nationalism on the island - a stark contrast from the promise of reconciliation when it came into power almost two years ago.
Seven years after the armed conflict ended in May 2009 and the height of Tamil genocide by the Sri Lankan state, Tamils this year mark May 18th with the weight of a UN report behind them. Detailing the extent and sheer horror of the atrocities committed, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, targeting of hospitals, sexual violence, torture and the extrajudicial killing of LTTE cadres, the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka report validates the visceral outcry of the Tamil nation which blockaded diasporic capitals, deploring the ensuing massacre and demanding international intervention, as well as validating the call for justice that has emanated from the diaspora and the North-East ever since. Seven years on however, meaningful change in the circumstances that led to the armed conflict, and the tangible prospect of true justice continues to elude the Tamil people.
Sri Lanka’s new government has managed to make progress in regaining what it believes to be its rightful place in the international community, since taking power in January last year. By engaging foreign governments on issues that have been high on the international community’s agenda, such as accountability and democratic reforms, the Sirisena-government appears to have returned to the international fold to an extent not seen since before the end of the armed conflict. However this renewed positive engagement on trade, reform and, albeit limited, military relations, has not resulted in significant progress on a credible accountability mechanism for mass atrocities.
The past months have seen Tamil victims of Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict meet with ambassadors from across the world. The recent visit to the North-East by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Al Hussein held particular significance. It symbolised the continued international focus on the future of the North-East and renewed hopes that justice and reform is beginning to take shape, to those who continue to suffer from the consequences of repression and military occupation. Mr Hussein’s visit came as victims in the North-East saw both the Sri Lankan president and prime minister...
On November 27th candles were lit in an unprecedented number of events, commemorating those who died taking up arms for the Tamil liberation struggle. The events, in locations across the North-East, were on a scale not seen since the armed conflict ended more than 6 years ago. Braving state reprisals, many honoured the memory of lives lost in daring acts of public remembrance. Many more though were forced to keep their remembrances secret. Yet, every lit flame and bowed head symbolised a deep resistance to Sri Lanka’s repeated attempts to quash the memory of the dead. It was a reminder that...
The adoption of a UNHRC consensus resolution on the UN report into Sri Lanka’s atrocities (OISL) has been welcomed by many as the first step in a long process to move Sri Lanka towards an era of justice and reconciliation through genuine accountability, together with the Sri Lankan foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera’s opening address to the Council , which appeared a much welcome reprieve in the state’s hostile attitude towards engagement with the Council and addressing accountability. However, the Sri Lankan government’s own actions and statements made to its Sinhala majority electorate...
The release of the long awaited OHCHR investigation into Sri Lanka (OISL) report last week is a monumental moment for the victims of mass atrocities on the island and all those who continue to work towards seeing justice served. The crucial document, which was mandated by a UN resolution, meticulously outlines the gravity of the crimes perpetrated, and lays down the path towards accountability for them. Clear decisive action must now be taken to follow it.