Sri Lanka’s Successive Genocides Against Tamils

On Anniversary of Black July,
International Community Should Recognize
Sri Lanka’s Successive Genocides Against Tamils

Washington, D.C.; July 23, 2018 – On the 35th anniversary of the start of “Black July” 1983, PEARL remembers the Tamil victims, survivors, and generations affected by all of Sri Lanka’s atrocities against the Tamil people. Thirty-five years ago this week, the government of Sri Lanka sponsored a brutal anti-Tamil pogrom, tantamount to genocide, that killed more than 3000 Tamils. The government provided voter registration lists to Sinhala mobs so they could identify Tamils and attack them, their residences, and their businesses. The violence lasted for over one week and destroyed 5000 shops and 8000 homes, displacing more than 150,000 Tamils. The Sinhala mobs also raped hundreds of Tamil women and even burned some Tamils alive, including by throwing children into burning cauldrons of tar.

The genocide of “Black July” prompted the first large exodus of Tamils from Sri Lanka. Black July also marked the start of the 26-year-long war that culminated in the state’s genocide of up to 140,000 Tamil civilians in 2009. Toward the end of the war, the military targeted Tamil civilians with chemical weapons and the deliberate shelling and bombing of protected humanitarian zones. In light of Black July, the end-of-war atrocities of 2009 illustrate the latest iteration of Sri Lanka’s genocidal intent to destroy the Tamil population in whole or in part, despite successive regime changes.

During the war, the government disappeared 60–100,000 persons, mostly Tamils. The government still withholds the truth about the whereabouts and fates of Tamil detainees and surrendees from their mothers and families, who have been continuously protesting by the road for over 500 days in the North-East, demanding answers. During the war and since its end, security forces have tortured, raped, and sexually abused Tamil men and women civilians and detainees, many of whom fall outside the albeit limited protection of the law as disappeared persons. Pervasive militarization in the Tamil homeland of the North-East, with staggering rates as high as one soldier for every two civilians in Mullaitivu District, facilitates the security forces’ access to victims.

Sri Lanka’s impunity for systemic crimes against Tamils has prevailed for decades, with no justice for the genocides from Black July to 2009. These are only some of the many ways that the government has clearly indicated its lack of political will to promptly and effectively implement transitional justice measures. PEARL’s latest report found that Sri Lanka has repudiated its commitments made in UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 more than 30 times in the last 16 months.

In honor of the dead and in solidarity with the surviving victims of anti-Tamil pogroms and massacres, PEARL calls on states to recognize the Black July and 2009 atrocities as genocide. We ask states to exert pressure on Sri Lanka to demilitarize the North-East and implement strict vetting processes to keep known genocidaires and other human rights violators out of the security forces. We further urge states to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka until it establishes a special judicial mechanism with foreign judges, prosecutors, and lawyers to investigate and prosecute atrocities, including genocide, in accordance with its commitments made in Resolution 30/1. Importantly, trials should include all atrocities since the start of Black July. We also encourage states to exercise universal jurisdiction to ensure justice in the absence of domestic action. Until historical and recent genocides in Sri Lanka are appropriately punished, structural impunity and ongoing human rights abuses will persist and grow on the island.