The ongoing genocide against the Eelam Tamils by the Sri Lankan state is finally attracting condemnation – both internationally and, more significantly, within Sri Lanka. On 27 January the Northern Provincial Council (the elected regional authority of the north and east of the island) adopted a resolution condemning the killing of more than 100,000 Tamils during the civil war. The ethnic cleansing carried out by the Sri Lankan state was described as equivalent to genocide.
Just one week earlier, the judgment of the second session of the Peoples’ Tribunal on Sri Lanka was released in Geneva. It found the Sri Lankan state guilty of genocide, with the complicity of the UK and US.
I was one of 11 judges who formed the panel for this second session of the Peoples’ Tribunal, held in Bremen, Germany, in December, which considered the accusation of genocide filed jointly by the International Human Rights Association Bremen and the Irish Forum for Peace in Sri Lanka.
Guilty as charged
The Bremen tribunal took up the charge of genocide, as requested by the first session of the Peoples’ Tribunal, held in Dublin in 2010, which found Sri Lanka guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The tribunal focused on the crimes committed during the last months of the war, which culminated in the attempted physical extermination not only of the government and armed forces of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), but also of the hundreds of thousands of Eelam Tamils who had sought refuge in cynically named “no fire zones”.
An enormous amount of written documentation was submitted to the tribunal, supplemented by video footage and testimony from more than 30 eyewitnesses. Evidence was provided on acts that could be determined to constitute the crime of genocide, as well as on the legal and historical background.
Repression against the Tamils escalated from 1956, when the Sinhala language was declared to be the only official language, after which pogroms took place in response to non-violent resistance from Tamils. Successive waves of pogroms were accompanied by at least 149 massacres and numerous assassinations and disappearances of activists and intellectuals (including prominent journalists, parliamentarians, priests and civil society leaders).
The details of the all-out war against the LTTE, especially from the collapse of the peace process in 2006 up to the final phase of the civil war in May 2009, were covered in the Dublin tribunal.
In Bremen, the judges unanimously found Sri Lanka guilty of the crime of genocide against the Eelam Tamil people, as a national group protected under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
The tribunal found that genocide against the Eelam Tamil group has not yet achieved the total destruction of their identity. While the genocide reached its climax in May 2009, it is clear that the government’s project is to erase the Eelam Tamil identity. The genocidal strategy changed once the perpetrators gained control of the territory.
The killings are being transformed into other forms of conduct, but the attempt to destroy the group and its identity continues through land seizures, militarisation, Sinhalisation and other measures, including widespread rape and sexual violence, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the Eelam Tamil group.
Without the substantial political and military assistance from its external accomplices in the West, the Sri Lankan state would not have been able to conduct its extermination campaign. The tribunal found that UK complicity in the genocide during the period of the armed struggle and its repression was overt and explicit and qualifies as “‘aid or assistance’ furnished by one State for the commission of a wrongful act by another State”.
The events of 2009 are the logical outcome of the structural genocide that had been put in place during the colonial period by amalgamating the traditional Tamil and Sinhala areas and then engineering historiographical, archaeological and anthropological constructs that laid the basis for the creation of an “Aryan Sinhala Buddhist” identity amongst the Sinhala people, presenting India as an invader and the Tamils as the “descendants of the invaders”.
Active US complicity in the genocide arose not only from its sustained efforts from as early as 1951 to increase the power and effectiveness of the Sri Lankan military, but from its role in blocking and even reversing political and diplomatic initiatives for peace as well as blacking out information on the unprecedented worldwide protests by Tamil communities in the diasporas.
These military and non-military actions constituted “the provision of means to enable or facilitate the commission of the crime” under international law.
In the same week as the resolutions were adopted by the Northern Provincial Council and the judgment of the Bremen session released, thousands took the brave step of demonstrating publicly in Colombo against the repressive actions of the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa, including the killing of at least 15 journalists and disappearances and forced exile of almost 100.
Condemnation of the Sri Lankan government has been building since the November 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo. Rajapaksa’s planned public relations exercise to whitewash his repressive government backfired, boycotted by the prime ministers of India and Canada and drawing an enormous amount of media coverage and exposure of the genocide against the Eelam Tamils.
This crescendo can be expected to continue in the coming weeks in the lead-up to the 2014 session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where the genocide charge will be firmly on the agenda.
[The full text of the judgment can be found at: idh.uv.es/es/noticias/226-peoples-tribunal-on-sri-lanka.html.]