Four Years On, Genocide Continues Off the Battlefield

by Kumaravadivel Guruparan & Sivakami Rajamanoharan, ',' UK, May 20, 2013

On the anniversary of the 26-year civil war, the Sri Lankan state celebrates its 2009 victory while Tamils mark the bloody nadir of the campaign to systematically dismantle the Tamil nation – one which continues today.

In May 2009 as the armed conflict between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the government of Sri Lanka came to a harrowing end, Sri Lanka’s genocidal offensive against the Tamil population of the North-East reached a peak. Four years on, as the Tamil nation – scattered worldwide through decades of oppression and armed conflict – remembers the massacre that took place, the prospect of a stable and secure future remains bleak. Sri Lanka has long proven itself both incapable and unwilling to deliver accountability and justice to the Tamil people, yet the international community too has failed to instigate a credible process towards it. But most of all, the systematic destruction of the Tamil identity continues, unchecked.

It is increasingly evident that the mantra of granting Sri Lanka time, space, economic support and international engagement is not leading to a process of accountability, reconciliation or peace for the Tamils. Torture, disappearance, rape and murder prevail; the economic and political fabric of Tamil society is repressed. What the Sri Lankan government celebrated as the defeat of one of the world’s largest ‘terrorist’ organisations has not brought security to the Tamil nation.

The true extent of the destruction that took place in 2009 remains unknown. UN estimates of the numbers of Tamil civilians killed range from 40,000 to over70,000 (notwithstanding the 146,679 unaccounted for). A panel of UN experts,citing ‘credible allegations’ of war crimes and crimes against humanity on both sides, concluded that the vast majority of Tamil deaths were caused by government shelling. The panel accused government forces of ordering Tamil civilians into designated ‘no-fire zones’ only to shell the areas with heavy artillery, as well as intentionally targeting hospitals. Those Tamils who survived found themselves pressed into government territory and detained in militarised camps for months afterwards. UN experts stated they were deliberately and systematically deprived of humanitarian aid, food and sanitation in these camps through the government’s intentional deflation of numbers.

Beyond the constraints of the outdated Genocide Convention and the burden of proof of ‘genocidal intent’, to Tamils, there is no doubt that the terror unleashed upon them was genocide. The Tamil use of the term is not hyperbole; it is instead a bold stand of the Tamil nation not to shy away from expressing its self-understanding of its own lived experiences. Crucially, only the term genocide encapsulates the sociological and political treatment of the Tamil nation by the Sri Lankan state over the past 60 years.

Continuum of genocide

History makes clear that atrocities on this scale do not occur in isolation. The massacre of Tamils in 2009 came as the predictable zenith of 60 years of escalating oppression and persecution of the Tamil nation by successive governments. Previous measures such as the Citizenship Act, Sinhala Only Act, standardisation in education and the new republican constitution of 1978 were calculated to undermine the Tamil nation’s place in the island and consolidate Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony. Open attacks on the nation were unleashed – the crucible of Tamil history and literature as the Jaffna library was burnt, peaceful Tamil protests were violently crushed and thousands of Tamils were murdered in state sponsored pogroms. It was from this backdrop that the Tamil call for independence in 1976 and armed Tamil resistance advocating secession emerged.

Equally, the mass slaughtering of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians by the ethnically pure Sinhala military in 2009, could not have taken place without the collusion of the Sinhala majority: the competitive chauvinism of the Sinhala polity, active endorsement by large swathes of the media, complicity of the judiciary and the silent apathy of wider Sinhala society.

Whilst the absence of armed conflict has halted overt slaughter, the Sri Lankan state has escalated the dismantling of the Tamil identity in the North-East, deconstructing the very basis of the Tamil assertion of nationhood, homeland and the right to self-determination. Through the appropriation of privately owned Tamil land using dubious ‘legal’ measures and wholesale militarised seizure, the state-sponsored resettlement of Sinhala families and the establishment of militarised ‘high security zones’, the ethnic demography of the North-East is effectively being re-engineered. Sinhala resettlement was later used as justification for a string of other measures including changing place names from Tamil to Sinhalese and erecting Buddhist stupas while Tamil places of worship such as temples and churches remain destroyed.

It is not chance that the recent accelerated land grabs come as the government, succumbing to international pressure, announced a provincial council election in the North. Though the elections serve no purpose – the provincial council system cannot provide any solutions to the immediate problems of the Tamil people nor form a basis through which a political solution can be explored – the government is actively working to ensure that the Tamil nation is denied control of even a vacuous body like the Provincial Council. The government’s introduction of a carefully vetted pool of ‘rehabilitated’ Tamil electoral candidates, its active endorsement of paramilitary parties and increasing attacks against members of the Tamil nationalist polity and press, strikes at the very heart of Tamil political power – forcibly dissipating its voter base and installing fear within the electorate.

Alongside the dismantling of Tamil society and polity, the deliberate suppression of the North-East economy ensures that the character of the Tamil people as a nation, with a sustainable homeland, is meticulously erased. Sri Lanka’s rhetoric of ‘development’ belies the state-sponsored transfer of farming lands to Sinhala farmers, curtailment of Tamil fishing opportunities and the military’s encroachment on an array of employment sectors including transportation, housing development and tourism.

Need for accountability

Crimes of this magnitude necessitate accountability and justice. Since 2009, the Tamil calls for an independent, international investigation, as the only means to this end, have been unanimous and unwavering. From Tamil political representatives such as the Tamil National Alliance and the Tamil National People’s Front, to Tamil civil society groups in the North-East and the diaspora, there is a resounding consensus: Sri Lanka must not be left to investigate itself. In over 60 years there has been no historic precedent of Sri Lanka delivering justice to Tamils for crimes committed by the state or its stooges. Emboldened by this endemic impunity, it has instead habitually stalled, producing a litany of failed reconciliation initiatives and rejecting external suggestions of improvement. Against a backdrop of intimidation, white-van abductions, and assassinations, it routinely silences anyone attempting to unearth the truth.

From the outset, Sri Lanka responded to credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity with outlandish assertions: ‘zero-civilian casualties’ and a ‘humanitarian rescue operation’. Its rejection of international calls to investigate both sides was followed by histrionic accusations of neo-colonialists and terrorist proxies levelled against advocates of an international investigation. Sri Lanka’s eventual response to pressure, the internal Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), in line with its predecessors, resolutely fails to credibly address accountability or justice. From its stated objectives (including to “clear the good name of the army”) and formation, to the context of militarisation and intimidation in which it took place, the LLRC has proved the opposite of a credible, independent inquiry.

That it was appointed by the President to investigate crimes that he, as Commander in Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and his brother as Defence Secretary, were primarily implicated in, underscores its inconsequence. Crucially, this lack of will reverberates outside the ruling government, into the wider Sinhala polity and Sri Lanka’s influential Buddhist clergy, as well as the judiciary and press. Given this, the international community’s continued calls for Sri Lanka to investigate itself reveal a dismaying lack of commitment to deliver justice to Tamils.

In the context of an ethnic conflict, a collective sense of closure is vital for any prospect of reconciliation and lasting stability to resolve deep-rooted feelings of anger, resentment and mistrust. In the case of Sri Lanka, closure could not be further away. Four years on, Tamils continue to find themselves at the mercy of those who celebrate the pinnacle of their torment as a ‘victory’, and are actively destroying the very fabric of the Tamil identity. Anything short of an international inquiry – be it ‘truth and reconciliation’ commissions or political settlements in exchange for blanket amnesties – will not only continue to grant impunity and embolden an already brutal regime, but will fuel simmering resentment, and pave the way for yet more intractable conflict on the island. The suggestion that Tamils must trust in the future good will and reformed ways of today’s perpetrators and their assenters – who, as numerical superiors within a unitary state, will always remain democratically unchallengeable – is repulsive.

On a global level, the international community’s abysmal failure to uphold its own much-touted adage of ‘never again’ in 2009, has already inspired the macabre propagation of the ‘Sri Lankan model of counter-terrorism’. The continued failure to deliver justice for crimes such as genocide will inspire tomorrow’s perpetrators worldwide.

Enduring contradiction

The marking of May 18th embodies the enduring contradiction at the crux of the island’s ethnic conflict. Amidst heavy restrictions on Tamils in the North-East to exercise their right to memory, the Tamil nation comes together to remember the nadir of the genocide it has faced and that which it continues to face; the Sri Lankan state meanwhile marks its greatest victory. The images of death and suffering that form the collective Tamil memory of 2009 are irreconcilable with the images of triumphant soldiers parading their ‘success’ and a jubilant Sinhala nation waving the Sri Lankan flag.

Images of Tamil suffering and the expression of collective agony, though not in itself celebrated, have failed to provoke the collective conscience of the Sinhala nation. When Tamils took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands, to protest day and night against events unfolding, the Sinhala nation applauded the military’s progress. What the Tamil nation mourned as the crushing of resistance against oppression was embraced by the Sinhala nation as the restoration of the natural state of Sinhala Buddhist rule across the entirety of the island.

Four years on, the contrast is no less profound. Running directly counter to Sri Lanka’s determination to reject an international inquiry, is the Tamil campaign for it. As rallies that took place this May 18th and Tamil attempts at legal action against travelling Sri Lankan military officials reveal, the passing of time has only strengthened the Tamil demand for accountability and justice. Assertions that the quest for justice is being pursued only by the ‘disconnected and radicalised’ diaspora, whilst the Tamils in the North-East only desire ‘development’, are evidently false. Instead, as recent prosecutions of aging Nazi criminals illustrate, the gnawing ache of injustice felt by those who faced persecution does not diminish with time. It cannot be reconciled with truth alone, and it will not be pacified by economic prosperity. Rather, only everyday security and normalcy can form the foundation on which the quest for justice can be launched. As the Tamil nation takes stock this May 18th, acutely mindful of the on-going structural genocide, the need for justice and accountability is reinforced – and so too the Tamil nation’s resolve to pursue it.

No Responses to “Four Years On, Genocide Continues Off the Battlefield”

  1. Vibhushana

    Gays and lesbians have effectively re-defined marriage. This version of genocide is also similar. Genocide was used in the past for example Rwanda with deliberate attempt to physically wipe out a culture. I suppose the meaning here is Tamils will be forced to forget their culture when mixing with Sinhala culture. If a Sinhala guy settles down next door will the Tamil guy forget his Tamil? I am not sure. 60 million Tamils and this can lead to Tamil Genocide? Who knows! anything is possible, weirder things have happened.

  2. Angela

    Another narrow response! You never get tired, huh? Along with your suggestively negative view on gay marriage, your genocide one is inconsistent. Essentially, there is cultural assimilation, cultural genocide, and physical genocide. Cultural assimilation is when someone of a minority (or even someone of a majority) assimilates and identifies within a wider and often dominate culture of a society (or any culture for that matter). People who have a culture associated to them at birth and assimilate into another culture usually have dual identities and can live harmoniously with two cultures associated to them, but there is most of the time an imbalance as to which culture they mainly identify with, with the main one within the society they are living in. An example would be Tamils living in Colombo and understanding Sinhala and the culture, however, only a small group of Tamils actually live solely among the Sinhalese. Tamils live mainly with other Tamils within districts of Colombo, and often form smaller clades of communities within the dominant culture, which is not strange as most people tend to live with those they identify with. Now, there is cultural assimilation where the minority member has completely abandoned a culture that, perhaps, their parents were associated with and have adopted one, or have been born into and not learned of their parents culture, culture to live by, which is the dominant culture of society. These individuals may not assimilate into the minority culture on account of socio-economic and/or political disadvantages or stigma attached to the culture and even ignorance. They may be taught to hate the other culture, or don’t have a chance of adopting their “nascent culture”. Examples are Tamils living abroad who were born into the dominant culture that their parents have adopted but not made their own, but unlike them their offspring have made the foreign culture their own (keeping in mind that some born into or immigrated to other countries have taken up both and live harmoniously with two identities) and Aboriginal people in their countries. Cultural genocide, which is what is happening in Sri Lanka at the moment and has happened before as well, is when a dominant culture or any culture for that matter deliberately and systematically suppress and destroy institutions and aspects of importance to a culture that help it flourish, so it can become marginalised and oppressed to the point that eventually it will die out or assimilate into a broader culture. Considering Sri Lanka is already run by the Sinhalese and institutions concerning their culture are actively protected and not in danger of marginalisation, indeed having many Sinhalese neigbours around you can ultimately overshadow and marginalise a cultivated minority culture from which survival depends solely on the unification of its adherents. I’m not saying that having a neighbour will change your culture, which can be demonstrated in multicultural countries where all culture is mostly valued and even in Sri Lanka in ancient times, but the procession by the government of destroying things of importance and changing names and as well as signs and denying the very institutions to ensure survival of the culture is actively a cultural genocide. A type would be ethnic cleansing, which was carried out by both the government and the militant groups. Overtime a migration en masse, which would result in a demographic change, can result in whether a specific culture still exists or has completely died out. These migrations are not voluntary and are driven by the government unlawfully and unethically for this very purpose. I can only imagine the fandango about to unravel at the apparent elections to be in September. The culture moving in is that of the government as well, so I can very well see what can become of this in the future. Finally, physical genocide is the extermination of a specific group of people, which has had significant reduction of its numbers or a considerable part of it and/or the entire group. It’s kind of like saying that sexism isn’t sexism until its full-blown and affects women physically as well as societally, when in fact it permeates most aspects of societies and social structures. The Tamil genocide indeed is something you can define as genocide. It happened insidiously for the past thirty years by the government while against the militants, while using the war as a justifiable excuse to kill civilian populaces in villages including children of orphanages who were not even in the area of the LTTE. The 2009 events were the worst of them all, almost eerily reminiscent of the Srebrenica massacre in former Yugoslavia. Sixty million Tamils, but I can say honestly that most in other countries have lost or are losing touch with their language. Sri Lanka hardly has its population from before. Considering the deaths of many and the emigration of many, the population there is probably less than a million. Since you’re speaking about Tamil culture being prevalent already, I’m wondering if now you are going to reference the Dravidian parties of south India for the this preservation, because apparently you thought they were dumb and ignorant for what they do. Tamils in India are just like their Lankan counterparts in so many ways, only they managed to politically express their desire to maintain their identities through state cultivation in the face of dominant north Indian culture (already prevalent in many south Indian states, though Tamil Nadu is vociferous about it).