So how does a state successfully commit war crimes, and get away with it? Simple, by ensuring silence. Like a parent guilty of abusing their child, the best way to escape prosecution is to ensure that the child keeps their mouth shut, keeping school teachers and peers utterly oblivious to the daily atrocities which the child is subject to.
While it is wholly questionable that the international community were oblivious to the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka that reached a peak in 2009, it is clear that the Sri Lankan government has taken a similar approach of silencing the voices of the Tamil population. Intimidation, the use of sexual torture, and complete state control of the country’s press have ensured that the silence has been maintained since.
Pogroms, destruction of homes and attacks against places of worship all culminated in a bloody civil war which began in 1983 and only ended in Sri Lanka as the government ordered the ruthless massacre of Tamil rebels and civilians alike with over 75,000 murdered in 2009 alone. A country whose history is marred with a lengthy record of genocide and ethnic discrimination, Sri Lanka has flown under the international radar for years, using their famed tourist landscapes as a beautiful veil.
However, in recent times, this void in information surrounding the crimes taking place daily in Sri Lanka has been decreasing due to the hard work of a number of people and organisations. The pressure on the Sri Lankan state to be prosecuted for these human rights violations has been growing and one of the most vital and often underplayed components behind this growing pressure is the voice of the international student body.
Students in Sri Lanka and across the world have all done their part to expose these crimes, through campaigns and protests, and students at the LSE have followed suit. LSESU Tamil Society are for a second year running both an exhibition and student-led discussion to raise awareness of the 2009 genocide and detail the ongoing human rights crisis in the country.
Following this, at the upcoming UGM, a motion will be brought to condemn the Sri Lankan state for their mistreatment of civilians in the North East along with supporting sanctions against the state for their lack of cooperation with the ongoing UNHRC investigation. We hope that through this we can encourage other university unions to pass similar motions and come together to show that students across the UK want change. The UGM will take place this Thursday 4th of December and we at LSESU Tamil Society encourage all students to vote online to get this motion passed.
While an exhibition and discussion may seem somewhat insignificant in the fight against human rights violations, the power of awareness should never be underestimated. Silence strengthens all criminals, from petty robbers to genocidal states. Thus, the aptly named ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign which we are taking part in fights to prevent that. We must ensure that the hard work of students across the world to reveal human rights violations does not go in vain and that we continue to use our positions to benefit those who are forcibly prevented from speaking for themselves.