Reports on documentation and memorialisation launched at Jaffna University

A booklet on human rights documentation in a post-war context and a report on memorialisation amongst Tamils in the North-East were launched in February at a panel co-hosted by the Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research (ACPR), People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), and the Forum on Contemporary Issues at the Department of Law at the University of Jaffna.

PEARL launched the Tamil translation of their report “Erasing the Past: Repression of Memorialization in Sri Lanka”, which was published in English last year. ACPR launched their booklet “Human Rights Documentation in a Transitional Justice Context”. It was launched in Tamil, English and Sinhala for the use of civil society organisations on the island.

The launch featured a panel discussion including Dr Nimmi Gowrinathan of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at City College, New York, Mario Arulthas, Advocacy Director for PEARL and Shalin Uthayarasa, journalist based in the North-East, moderated by the Research Director of ACPR, and Head of the Jaffna University Department of Law, Kumaravadivel Guruparan.

Speaking on the way information and research is collected for documentation in Sri Lanka, Dr. Gowrinathan critiqued the search for “authenticity” that she had become a focus in research, stating that the search for an “authentic” voice becomes a burden for marginalized communities. She also critiqued the categorization of women noting that it lacked acknowledgment of intersectionalities. “In Tamil areas of Sri Lanka you have categorization of women – combatant vs. non-combatant, female headed household, etc.” she said, adding, “When a woman’s entire identity is fixed on a moment of trauma and defines how she gets aid, it’s a problem.” Dr. Gowrinathan noted that the research agenda needed “to be set by local organizations like ACPR, not imposed from outside.”

Mr. Arulthas spoke about PEARL’s recent report and the importance of permitting broad and open memorialisation in the North-East. Referencing the large commemorations for Maaveerar Naal in 2016, he said, “[t]alking about this is controversial but remembrance is a critical component of accountability processes and moving forward as a society”.

Speaking about the obstacles and difficulties Tamil journalists face in the North-East, Mr. Utharayasa spoke at length about the extensive surveillance that is conducted by military intelligence. He spoke about how victim communities remain reluctant to provide information to the media, due to fear of retributions in the future.

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