The Dark Face of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka

by Thambu Kanagasabai – LLM [London] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 8, 2020

The pandemic Covid-19 which originated in Wuhan province, China sometime in December 2019 made its cruel impact as a globally deadly disease in January 2020 and was declared as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. It then spread to other countries causing fear, panic and deaths.

Currently more than 3.5 millions have been infected with about 240,000 deaths reported. Sri Lanka reported the first victim on January 27, 2020, a Chinese visitor in Sri Lanka as a tourist. The first Sri Lankan national tested positive on March 10, 2020. Since then more than 700 cases has been reported positive, most of them in the Western province particularly in the Colombo district including the Welisera Navy Camp totalling 360 while Northern and Eastern provinces reported only 24.

Sri Lankan government has set up quarantine centers where more than 3,500 suspected persons are under quarantine including 31 foreigners. Above all, 32 quarantine centers have been set up in the north. The details are as follows:

  1. Vadamarachi 10 centers
  2. Mullaitivu 06 centers
  3. Vavuniya 05 centers
  4. Mannar 04 centers
  5. Chavakachcheri 03 centers
  6. Kilininochi 03 centers
  7. Madu 01 centre

Most of the quarantine centers in the above areas have been set up in Colleges and Schools seized by the military to house the suspected Covid-19 personnel, mostly security forces who had been transported in buses from the South. More than 3000 Covid-19 suspected persons are said to be residing in these centers. It has to be stated that these centers being Colleges and Schools are located in areas where there is a density of Tamil population living in the surrounding areas.

However, the selection of Tamil areas and educational institutions in the North reveals a sinister, motivated scheme and hidden agenda being executed by the dictatorial President Gotabaya’s regime assisted by the military, which is slowly and steadily assuming control of civilians’ lives and administration ignoring and discarding the local administration. These high-handed, ruthless and arbitrary moves of the Government have been condemned by human rights activists but with no avail.

The emerging question is whether these unjustified moves constitute and fall within the definition of genocide as defined in the UN Convention 1948 and falling within the provision of said Convention which among others “Includes acts causing serious bodily or mental harm to member of an ethnic or racial group with intent to destroy or even a part of them.”

It can be perceived that these acts of militarization, seizure of schools and occupying them with a tarnished Security Forces and others mostly from the South were deliberately undertaken by the Government without any consultation with Health Officials and Local Authorities. The fact that an alleged war criminal Major Gen. Shavendra de Silva, is in charge of Covid-19 Relief Operations plainly confirms the genocidal motive of the Government which selected educational institutions in the North targeting the Tamil civilians.

The lethal consequences and harms which befall from these nakedly discriminatory actions would be as follows:

[a] The Tamil civilians and students living in the surrounding and adjacent areas of schools and colleges are forced to live in fear, insecurity and uncertainty due to the presence of the Security Forces alleged to have committed war crimes etc. A possible mingling and interaction with civilians could cause health hazards to them.

[b] The civilians are also unknowingly brought under surveillance while curtailing their freedom of movement and rights of expression.

[c] The risk of spread of Covid-19 by any infected member of Security Forces is high which could initiate a spiral of infections among the hitherto unaffected civilians.

[d] The risks of deaths of innocent affected civilians are also high due to absence of proper medical facilities and prompt attention and care in these areas.

[e] The fact that North and East reported less than 30 out of more than 700 positive cases of Covid-19   in Sri Lanka must have been taken into account by the Government before opening these quarantine centers in these locations to open up the risks of infections in these safe areas inhabited by Tamil civilians.

[f] Besides, the sufferings of the already traumatized Tamil victims of war who are yet to recover due to the lethargic handling of the government are further compounded by these ulterior moves of the Government.

[g] There are reports that the Governors in the Northern and Eastern Provinces are not approving the use of Emergency Funds by the Local Government Officials who have been forced to call upon the Civil Societies to provide relief to the starving civilians. It is also reported that those who offered assistance were obstructed, intimidated and even arrested by the Security Forces. This inhuman action is inflicted only to accelerate the death of Tamil civilians which is nothing but a genocidal crime.

[h] The sudden and unnecessary setting up of check-points in the North is another glaring and intimidation and discriminatory policy by the Government targeting the Tamils who would be subjected to mental harm and distress besides creating ill-will and hostility towards the Government. Furthermore these actions are providing opportunities for the Security Forces to harass and intimidate the civilians even with possibilities of detentions and arrests.

Undoubtedly, the Tamil civilians in the North and East are inflicted with mental and physical harm leading to serious health issues which eventually would hasten their deaths, the proximate causes being the militarization and quarantined centers occupied by suspected Covid-19 personnel living among them.  This is just another clear act falling within the definition of structural genocide which is being subtly and quietly executed by the Government with the assistance of the Military Officials as has been happening since 2009.

The other dark face of Covid-19 is its naked exploitation and utilization for political gains and mileage by the ruling government which appears to be steadily and slowly inching towards a militarized dictatorial government.

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