by Kumarathasan Rasingam, October 3, 2020
The Universal Declaration for Human Rights [UDHR] was adopted on 10th December 1948 by the United Nations at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The UDHR contains thirty Articles. Articles 1 and 2 outline the philosophical claim of the UDHR and emphasise that human beings are born free in equal dignity and are entitled to all rights and freedoms without any kind of discrimination.
Considering the emphasis of articles in the UDHR, it is important to analyse how far the UDHR has been respected by the successive Governments of Sri Lanka regarding the human rights of Tamils in the island of Sri Lanka.
Very partial, but emblematic list of UDHR violations since independence from the British in 1948:-
1948: The Citizenship Act Disenfranchising Tamils of Indian origin plantation workers who were brought from South India by the Bruisers to work in the Tea and Coffee plantations in the country, more than 100,000 Tamils were victimized [Violation of UDHR Article 21]
1956 The Sinhala Only Act was passed in the Sri Lankan Parliament, this Act made Tamils as second class citizens in the island. Tamils staged protests in Colombo and Gal Oya. More than 150 Tamils were burnt alive or hacked to death, more than 3000 were made refugees and their properties were looted by Sinhala mobs. [Violation of UDHR Article 2, 3. 5, 12 and 17]
1958: Anti-Tamil pogrom against the Tamils, massacre of Tamils. 25,000 Tamils were made refugees, more than 500 Tamils were hacked to death or burnt alive and more than 200 Tamil women raped, Tamils properties were looted and set on fire.
1961: Tamils peaceful non-violent civil disobedience [Satyagraha] organized and executed by late S.J.V. Chelvanayagam demanding justice to the oppressed Tamils was disrupted by the Security Forces by beating the peaceful protesters and arresting them by force. [Violation of UDHR Article 5, 9 & 20]
1964: Srima-Shastri Pact – between India and Sri Lanka to evacuate the Tamil plantation workers of Indian Origin was signed. This act was signed without any consultation with the Tamils or their leaders. 650,000 Tamils became stateless persons [Violation of UDHR Articles 4, 15 and 23]
1972: Equal education opportunities for Tamil students were denied, Standardization on University admission was introduced. [Tamils students to score more marks to get admission into the University.] [Violation of UDHR Article 26]
1974: The fourth International Tamil Research Conference held on 10/01/1974 in Jaffna was disrupted by the Police C0mmiting genocidal act.1977: In July, Tamil United Liberation Front – TULF contested and won overwhelmingly at the Parliamentary election with a mandate to exercise the “Right of Self-determination and establish Tamil Eelam in the North and East of Sri Lanka.
1979: July – The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA} was introduced in Sri Lanka. This Act gives a free hand to the Security Forces and Police to arrest, detain, torture, rape, kill and dispose bodies with impunity Arrested people could be detained for three months without being produced in Courts. [Violation of UDHR Articles – 2, 3, 5, 6. 7, 8, 9 10,11 and 12]
1981: The Jaffna Public Library containing 95,000 volumes was completely destroyed in a fire set by a group of Police officers who went on a rampage in the Jaffna city on May 31, 1981, Most of the rare old manuscripts were lost. The UNP Government later apologized for this sin.
1983: The Government masterminded anti-Tamil pogrom in July 1983. More than 6000 Tamil’s were killed by the Sinhalese mobs in the South. Tamils houses and business establishments were looted and set on fire and destroyed. Tamils living the capital Colombo and in the South were sent to the North as refugees in ships for their safety. More than 250,000 were made refugees. 2500 Tamils were hacked to death, more than 500 women raped, in addition more than 53 Tamil political prisoners were brutally murdered in the maximum security Welikada prison on 25 – 27 July. [Violation of UDHR Articles 3, 4. 6. 188.8.131.52.13.14, 17,23, 24, 25 & 26]Apart from these violations there were several sporadic arrests, massacres, torture against the Tamil civilians.
1985: Valvettithurai massacre – This massacre happened on May 12, 1985. 70 Tamil civilians from the town of Valvettiturai were rounded up by the Sri Lankan Army and forced to go into the town library and then the library was blown up by the Sri Lanka Army killing all of the 70 civilians.
1991: Kokkadocholai Massacre This massacre happened on June 12, 1991. 152 Tamil civilians were killed. The Sri Lankan Government instituted a Presidential Commission to investigate the massacre. The Commission found the Commanding Officer negligent in controlling troops and recommended that he be removed from office. The Commission also identified 19 members of the Sri Lankan military as responsible for mass murder. In a Military Tribunal that followed the Presidential Commission in Colombo, all the 19 charged soldiers were later acquitted.
1995: Navaly Church Bombing this bombing happened on July 09, 1995. The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Navaly in the Jaffna peninsula by the Sri Lankan Air Force during the Sri Lankan civil war. It is estimated that at least 147 civilians, who had taken refuge from the fighting inside the church, died as a result of this incident. The victims included men, women and children.
1985: Kumuthini boat massacre This massacre happened on May15th 1996 when 23 Tamils = men, women and children were on a ferry boat named Kumuthini sailing from island of Delft to the island of Nainativu were killed by Sri Lankan Navy personnel.
1996: Kimarapuram massacre This massacre happened on February 11, 1996 Tamil civilians including 13 women and 9 children below the age of 12 were massacred and another 28 Tamil civilians were severely injured as well. The government arrested a number of soldiers and home guards and a court case was started/ On July 27 2016 The court acquitted the six Army Corporals.
2006: Trincomalee massacre of NGO workers This massacre happened on August 4 2006 when 17 Tamil employees of the French NGO Action Against Hunger [Action Contre la Faim or ACF] were shot at close range in the city of Muttur.
Full list of massacres listed in Wikipedia
Genocide of Tamils
Sri Lankan Government’s full scale war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] from 2006 – 2009 caused the death of approximately 70,000 Tamil civilians. Father Rayappu Joseph noted to the LLRC Commission that the 147,649 people must be accounted for in that period.
Sri Lanka*s killing fields
The UN Human Rights Council passed Resolutions 30/1, 34/1 and 40/1 urging Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made for a transitional justice process. Sri Lanka after so many years is now refusing to honour the UNHRC Resolutions and threatening to withdraw from co-sponsoring further Resolutions.
It should be noted that the Tamils inhabited the island of Ceylon [now Sri Lanka] for over 2500 years. When the Portuguese occupied the island in 1505, there were separate Kingdoms for Tamils and the Sinhalese; the Portuguese ruled the territories as separate units. Later the Dutch [1658 – 1796] maintained this status quo. The British occupied the island from 1796 and in 1833 and merged the Tamil and Sinhala nations into one unit for administrative convenience.
In 1948, the British left the island with a Westminster style political representation despite protests from the Tamils who made up almost 30% of the population. This made the Tamils a permanent minority, rendering their parliamentary representation meaningless, thus, the seed for today’s conflict was sown.
The majority Buddhist Sinhalese successive governments since independence in 1948 started colonization schemes in Tamils’ homeland and brought Buddhist Sinhalese from the south to settle in Tamils areas, thereby the demography of Tamils areas started to shrink.
The sufferings and misery of Tamils is due to the failure of the British to hand over the Tamils’ state to the Tamils. And Great Britain is duty bound to find remedial justice for the oppressed Tamils in Sri Lanka.