State-Sponsored Pogroms Against Tamils in Sri Lanka

And the need for a referendum in Tamils’ homeland [North & East of Sri Lanka]

by Kumarathasan Rasingam, August 23, 2020

It is high time and urgent need for the United Nations, UNHRC, ICC and the International Community to find remedial justice to the oppressed Tamils in Sri Lanka. The following facts prove beyond doubt that there was an institutionalized and systematic genocide of Tamils from independence in 1948.

  1. Disfranchisement of plantation workers of Indian origin .Within a year of independence, in 1948 parliament passed legislation which rendered the majority of Plantation Tamils both ‘stateless’ and ‘vote less.’ At first glance this episode poses a puzzle. If the government was genuinely multi-ethnic?
  2. Sinhala Only Act of 1956 the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956, commonly referred to as the Sinhala Only Act, was an act passed in the Parliament of Ceylon in 1956. The act replaced English as the official language of Ceylon with Sinhala. This Act completely deprived employment to Tamil youths; this is one of the reasons for the frustrated Tamil youths to take up arms.
  3. Pogrom against the Tamils in 1956:The 1956 Ceylonese riots, known as the Gal Oya riots, were the first ethnic riots between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils in the Dominion of Ceylon.[3] The worst of the violence took place in the Gal Oya valley, where local majority Sinhalese colonists and employees of the Gal Oya Development Board commandeered government vehicles, dynamite and weapons and massacred minority Tamils. It is estimated that over 150 people lost their lives during the violence. Although initially inactive, the police and army were eventually able to bring the situation under control.
  4. Pogrom against the Tamils in 1958. The 1958 anti-Tamil pogrom and riots in Ceylon, also known as the 58 riots, refer to the first island wide ethnic riots and pogrom to target the minority Tamils in the Dominion of Ceylon after it became an independent dominion from Britain in 1948. The riots lasted from 22 May until May 29 1958 although sporadic disturbances happened even after the declaration of emergency on 27 May 1958. The estimates of the murders range, based on recovered body count, from 158 to 1,500.
  5. Burning of Jaffna Library in 1981. The burning of the Jaffna Public Library took place on the night of June 1, 1981, when an organized mob of Sinhalese individuals went on a rampage, burning the library. It was one of the most violent examples of ethnic biblioclasm of the 20th century.[At the time of its destruction, the library was one of the biggest in Asia, containing over 97,000 books and manuscripts. [Nancy Murray – Director, Bill of Rights Education Project with American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a journal article in 1984 that several high -ranking security officers and two cabinet ministers were present in the town of Jaffna, when uniformed security men and plainclothesmen mob carried out organized act of destruction.
  6. 1977Anti Tamil pogrom. The 1977 pogrom in Sri Lanka followed the 1977  General Election where the Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalist Tamil United Front won a plurality majority Sri Lankan Tamil votes in which it stood for successions.
  7. 1983 Anti-Tamil pogrom: There had been growing tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities of Sri Lanka before the actual riots began. With the formation of rebel Tamil groups, there rose an anti-Tamil sentiment among the Sinhalese majority. Although the violence began as a spontaneous reaction by Sinhalese mobs who had gathered at the Colombo cemetery where the bodies of the soldiers were to be buried, they were later joined by elements associated with Sinhalese political activists involved in the organisation of the riots.[During the early stages of the riots, it is alleged that the local police and military stood by and did nothing.[ Numerous eyewitness accounts suggest that “in many places police and even military personnel joined the rioters”. However, by 26 July the police and army were out in the streets taking action against the mobs, and most of the violence died out. The government extended the curfew to prevent violence from spreading to other parts of the country. A brief spate of rioting broke out on 29 July, when police shot and killed 15 Sinhalese looters.
  8. The Sri Lankan government was accused from various corners of being complicit during the pogrom and of supporting and encouraging the Sinhalese mobs. President Jayewardene has been accused of failing to condemn the violence or to express sympathy to the survivors, blaming Tamils for bringing it upon themselves, failing to take any meaningful measures to punish the perpetrators of the violence, and praising the mobs as heroes of the Sinhalese people. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph on 11 July 1983, about two weeks prior to the riots, Jayewardene expressed the state’s complicity in the violence against the Tamils.
  9. Sri Lankan President J.R Jayawardene said: “I am not worried about the opinion of the Jaffna (Tamil) people now. Now we cannot think of them. Not about their lives or of their opinion about us. The more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… really, if I starve the Tamils, Sinhala people will be happy.” Even though some Tamil politicians accused the ruling UNP of not taking appropriate actions to prevent the riots, the government was adamant that it did take vital counter measures from the very early stages to combat rioters and to safeguard the Tamil community. Curfew was enforced immediately after the riots broke out. The attacks, according to the government, were carefully organised; and government properties such as trains, buildings, and buses were the initial targets. Prime Minister Premadasa formed a committee to organise shelter for, and feeding of, an estimated 20,000 homeless Tamils in Colombo. These temporary shelters were situated at five school buildings and an aircraft hangar. After the number of refugees increased to around 50,000, the government, with help from India, took measures to transport Tamils north on ships.[36]

Mobs armed with petrol were seen stopping passing motorists at critical street junctions. After ascertaining the ethnic identity of the driver and passengers, they set alight the vehicles, with the drivers and passengers trapped inside. Mobs were also seen stopping buses to identify Tamil passengers, who were subsequently knifed, clubbed to death, or burned alive. One Norwegian tourist saw a mob set fire to a minibus with 20 people inside, killing them all. According to eyewitness testimony of a victim who survived the riots, Buddhist monks were among the rioters.

The Tamil Guardian lists more eyewitness testimonies from various sources:

London’s Daily Telegraph (July 26) wrote:

“Motorists were dragged from their cars to be stoned and beaten with sticks. Others were cut down with knives and axes. Mobs of Sinhala youth rampaged through the streets, ransacking homes, shops and offices, looting them and setting them ablaze, as they sought out members of the Tamil ethnic minority. A mob attacked a Tamil cyclist riding near Colombo’s eye hospital. The cyclist was hauled from his bike, drenched with petrol and set alight. As he ran screaming down the street, the mob set on him again and hacked him down with jungle knives”.

In his book, The Tragedy of Sri Lanka, William McGowan wrote:

While travelling on a bus when a mob laid siege to it, passengers watched as a small boy was hacked ‘to limb-less death’. The bus driver was ordered to give up a Tamil. He pointed out a woman who was desperately trying to erase the mark on her forehead—called a kumkum—as the thugs bore down on her. The woman’s belly was ripped open with a broken bottle and she was immolated as people clapped and danced. In another incident, two sisters, one eighteen and one eleven, were decapitated and raped, the latter ‘until there was nothing left to violate and no volunteers could come forward’, after which she was burned. While all this was going on, a line of Buddhist monks appeared, arms flailing, their voices raised in a delirium of exhortation, summoning the Sinhalese to put all Tamils to death.

The London Daily Express (29 July) wrote:

Mrs Eli Skarstein, back home in Stavanger, Norway, told how she and her 15 year old daughter, Kristen witnessed one massacre. ‘A mini bus full of Tamils were forced to stop in front of us in Colombo’, she said. A Sinhalese mob poured petrol over the bus and set it on fire. They blocked the car door and prevented the Tamils from leaving the vehicle. ‘Hundreds of spectators watched as about 20 Tamils were burnt to death.’ Mrs. Skarstein added: ‘We can’t believe the official casualty figures. Hundreds, maybe thousands, must have been killed already. The police force (which is 95% Sinhalese) did nothing to stop the mobs. There was no mercy. Women, children and old people were slaughtered. Police did nothing to stop the genocide.’

The Times of London reported on 5 August that “…Army personnel actively encouraged arson and the looting of Tamil business establishments and homes in Colombo”, and that “absolutely no action was taken to apprehend or prevent the criminal elements involved in these activities. In many instances army personnel participated in the looting of shops.”

The Economist of 6 August wrote: “…But for days the soldiers and policemen were not overwhelmed; they were un-engaged or, in some cases, apparently abetting the attackers. Numerous eye witnesses attest that soldiers and policemen stood by while Colombo burned.”

Paul Sieghart of the International Commission of Jurists stated in Sri Lanka: A Mounting Tragedy of Errors, two months after the riots, that:

Clearly this (July 1983 attack) was no spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred among the Sinhala people – nor was it as has been suggested in some quarters, a popular response to the killing of 13 soldiers in an ambush the previous day by Tamil Tigers, which was not even reported in the newspapers until the riots began. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed

The estimates of casualties vary. While the government initially stated just 250 Tamils were killed, various NGOs and international agencies estimate that between 400 and 3,000 people, believed to be Sri Lankan Tamils or Hill Country Tamils, were killed in the riots. Fifty-three terrorism suspects alone were killed in the Welikade prison massacre. Eventually the Sri Lankan government put the death toll at about 300 dead.

More than 18,000 houses and numerous commercial establishments were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Tamils fled the country to Europe, Australia and Canada.[Many Tamil youths also joined the various Tamil groups, including the Tamil Tigers.

Sir John Foster, QC “The Tamils are a community of over two million who flourished under the British., but has suffered discrimination since they hey have now lost confidence in their treatment by the Sinhalese majority, and are calling for a restoration of their separate national status, which they had for many centuries before the British came.”

A presidential commission appointed during the subsequent People’s Alliance government estimated that nearly 300 people were killed and 18,000 establishments, including houses, were destroyed. The commission recommended that restitution be paid. Thus far no restitution has been paid nor have any criminal proceedings begun against anyone involved

In the 37 years Since BLACK JULY.The Tamil community in Sri Lanka and Tamil Diaspora has commemorated the event every year, remembering those who died untimely in the most horrible manner. The Tamils have not forgotten the perpetrators, many of whom who still walk among us, and continue their campaign of hatred.

July [BLACK JULY] has become a time of mourning and remembrance amongst the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora around the world, which comes together to commemorate the loss of Tamils. This has happened in countries such as Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, France, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.

It is now in the hands of the United Nations, UNHRC, and International Criminal Court to take prompt and punitive measures to force Sri Lanka to oblige and implement the UN recommendations.




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