Discourses of Victimization in Sri Lanka’s Civil War

Collective Memory, Legitimacy and Agency

by Rachel Seoghe, ‘Social and Legal Studies,’ UK, January 8, 2016


This article explores the availability of discourses of victimhood to political actors who aim to justify violence and mass atrocity in the name of those victims. Arguing that the label of the ‘victim’ is equally available for distortion and political capitalization as the label of the ‘criminal’ or the ‘terrorist’, this article reflects on the role of the victim in violence and processes of criminalization. Examining the rhetorical tendencies and strategies of both the state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the Sri Lankan civil war, this article describes how the victim was categorized by both sides. This article argues that these categorizations, which simultaneously draw on respective collective memories of victimization are crucial to the manner in which the state’s purported process of post-war ‘reconciliation’ is created and politicized and how victims are included in such a process. Interrogating the post-war landscape of militarization and repression in the country’s Tamil-dominated Northeast, this article also examines new configurations of Tamil victim discourses and their potential as a tool of political agency.

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