Militarisation Of Governance, Cultural Genocide & The Future Of Democracy In Sri Lanka

By Brian Senewiratne –

Dr. Brian Senewiratne

The armed forces of Sri Lanka consist of the Army Navy and Air Force. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies February 2019, “The Military Balance”, the Sri Lankan military has 255,000 active members. This is larger than the United Kingdom (146,390), Israel (168,550), France (203,910), and Saudi Arabia (227,000).

PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Lanka) a Tamil advocacy group based in Washington DC, USA, and ACPR (Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research) a think-tank in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, in an outstanding publication, Normalising the Abnormal: The Militarisation of Mullaitivu, October 2017, estimated that there were 60,000 members of the Sri Lankan Army in Mullaitivu -1 soldier for every 2 civilians making it one of the most heavily militarised regions in the world. 

Unlike the Sri Lankan Army, there was no publicly available information on the numbers of military personnel in the Sri Lankan Air Force and Navy in Mullaitivu, so that the number of members of the Sri Lankan military is larger than the 60,000.

The question that everyone, in particular Sri Lanka’s aid givers have to ask is “What is the need for such a massive military? The militant Tamil Tigers have been crushed, “Who is the enemy?”Until this question is answered there should be no aid going to Sri Lanka.

The same publication states a very relevant fact. “Despite calls by numerous international bodies and repeated calls by Tamil politicians and communities, the Sri Lankan government has yet to undertake a comprehensive process to demilitarise areas in the North-East. As a result the North-East remains under a military occupation that represses fundamental freedom and contributes to on-going ethnic conflict”.

What is the military doing in an area where there is no war? This, and the very important question of  the effects of the military on civilian life in the Sri Lankan North-East have been answered by another outstanding publication by PEARL – “Delayed or Denied? Sri Lanka’s Failing Transitional Justice Process” which is a must-read publication. The second half of this article titled “The Effect on the Victims” is what everyone wants to know.    One does not need to go to the Sri Lankan North and East. PEARL researchers sent their research staff from Washington to the Sri Lankan North and East to stay there and see what is going on.

The last paragraph is alarming. “The growing protest movements across the North-East reflects the fact that despite Sri Lanka’s grand promises in Geneva many Tamils feel that nothing has changed for them. Are we even in a transition? queried one activist, echoing comments made by numerous interviewees. Others spoke of the possibility that the increasing anger within the Tamil community might spark violence. “Our children are talking about taking up arms. Many suggested that the failure to grapple with victims and survivors’ grievances is endangering the prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka”.

Then came the crucial sentence, “If the government doesn’t listen, there needs to be other action. If that doesn’t happen, Tamils will take up arms. This is how it all stated”.

Cultural Genocide

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

1. Killing members of the group

2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

4. Imposing measures to prevent births within the group

5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The Sri Lankan government has done most of these to the Sri Lankan Tamils in the North and East. As such, the requirements to constitute Genocide have been met.

The spectrum of Genocide

Although the Genocide Convention focuses on physical genocide there is a lot more to it. There are different types of genocide.

1.Physical Genocide – which has been clearly defined in the Genocide Convention

2.Cultural Genocide – such as the destruction of the Jaffna public library with more than 90,000 books, and material, some of which dealt with Tamil culture. What is going on today is as serious. Tamil children in the Sri Lankan North-East are being taught by Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) military who know nothing of Tamil culture or even the language (Tamil).

3.Educational Genocide – destruction of schools and preventing children from going to school

4.Economic Genocide – preventing Tamil people in the North-East from setting up businesses much of which is in the hands of the Sinhalese military, or earning a living (fishing and agriculture) by land-grabs and the relocation of Tamil people eg relocating fishermen where there is no sea.

5.Religious Genocide – Destroying Hindu temples and Christian churches and replacing them with Buddhist temples This has been very well documented in a publication by the British Tamils Forum: Proliferating Buddhist Structures in Tamil Homeland- Sowing the seeds of disharmony.

6.Structural Genocide –destroying anything built by the Tamils, and settling Sinhalese from the South in the Tamil homeland (“Sinhalisation”).

All of this (and more) the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) government has done and is continuing to do with  increased zeal, determination and alarming speed. 

Is the word “Genocide” important?

Is it important to establish that “Genocide” of the Tamil people has happened and is continuing to happen in Sri Lanka to this day? Yes it is. It is not just a matter of words.

Genocide constitutes clear grounds for the application of R2P (Responsibility to Protect). The UN was very clear about this in the Report of the Inquiry into the Actions of the United Nations during the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda UN Document s/1999/1257

“There can be no neutrality in the face of Genocide”

Responsibility to Protect – R2P

Following the genocide in Rwanda and the failure of the international community to intervene, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan asked the question “When does the international community intervene for protecting populations?”

In September 2000, the Canadian government established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) 

In February 2001, at the 3rd round table meeting of ICISS in London, Gareth Evans (former Australian Foreign Minister and later the CEO of the International Crisis Group) and others suggested the phrase “Responsibility to Protect”. 

In December 2001, the ICISS released its report “The Responsibility to Protect”. This stated that sovereignty was not a right but a responsibility, and that the international community had to prevent mass atrocities. Economic, political and social measures were to be used along with diplomatic engagement. Military intervention was to be used as a last resort.

R2P included bringing security and justice to the victim population and finding the root cause of the mass atrocity.

It is time that this failure is addressed, and R2P applied in Sri Lanka, since the Tamil people in the North and East need “protection”. All four cardinal features of R2P – Genocide, War crimes, Crimes against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing – have occurred in Sri Lanka and disturbingly continue to occur.

In considering Genocide in Sri Lanka, it is important to look at the Srebrenica massacre. The slaughter of 7,000 Muslim males in Srebrenica has been declared as ‘Genocide’ by an International Criminal Tribunal. Yet the slaughter of ten times that number of civilians in Sri Lanka has not been taken up. It is time that it is taken up.

After a visit to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s internment camp, the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said “I have travelled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes I have ever seen”.

What did Ban Ki-Moon do? He spent 15 minutes in the camp, was garlanded, he smiled and left. Did he take this up with the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa or his murderous brother? I have no evidence that he did. 

The future of Democracy in Sri Lanka

There is no democracy in Sri Lanka, in particular in the Tamil North and East . This entire area is under the military (99% Sinhalese) and police (95% Sinhalese).It is a military/police state where those who run the area can do what they want with no accountability. It s not a democracy, it is a military dictatorship.

The previous President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have repeatedly stated that there will be no reduction of in the military. In other words, the Tamil North and East will permanently be under the military.

The recent election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President has made a bad situation much worse. His advisors are all military men (see below). He has indicated in no uncertain terms that he is taking the country to a dictatorship assisted by the military. As such, there is no future for democracy in Sri Lanka.

The Tamil Homeland in the North and East

This will cease to exist because the agenda of the Sri Lankan government is that it wants the land (the North and East) without people (Tamils and Muslims). They will populate the area with Sinhalese from the south. This is ‘Sinhalisation’. The aim is to make Sri Lanka a Sinhala-Buddhist land. What then happens to the people who have been there for hundreds of years? They can 1) Leave the country as asylum seekers, 2) Stay as 2nd or 3rd class citizens, 3) End up in prisons or detention centres or 4) Be killed. This is Genocide.

Sri Lanka is completely bankrupt

Professor Nimal Sanderatne, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, has recently written a comprehensive article “Sri Lanka: Horrendous economic consequences of the corona pandemic”. It is a must-read document.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa

I do not need to write about Gotabaya Rajapaksa since Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project South Africa has already done an excellent job. I only need to quote what she has written. Here it is:

“President Rajapaksa’s inner circle, which now includes six Generals and Brigadiers from the President’s Gajaba Regiment, whom he has put in key positions like Commander of the Army, Chief of Defence Staff, Secretary of Defence and Chief of National Intelligence. Two of the Generals from the Gajaba Regiment served directly under Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 1989 in Matale District, when official records show at least seven hundred Sinhalese disappeared in army and police custody while he was the District Military Coordinator. Fourteen military and police officials now holding crucial official roles served under Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the civil war while he was the powerful and much feared secretary of defence. 

Sri Lanka is now run by a collection of military officers many of whom will have to answer in a court one day for their complicity in the alleged killings of tens of thousands of their citizens in both 1989 and 2009, as well as alleged corruption”.


China, is ever willing to give (more accurately, lend) the Rajapaksas as much money as they want.

The best example of how money from China is used is the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport built when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. US $209 million was spent, nearly $200 million from China. 2,000 acres of forest were cleared displacing some 200 elephants. Hundreds of people were employed to chase the elephants away. Migratory birds that frequent the area have collided with aircraft. Due to these hazards and a low demand many of these airlines stopped flying to Mattala. In June 2018 there were no scheduled flights. It has been called “The World’s Emptiest International Airport”.

Can anything be done?

Yes it can be done but it is in the hands of the donors. If the donors say “Aid will come your way only in exchange for restoration of democracy” then something positive might be achieved. Let us be clear about this. The Sri Lankan government will not address the humanitarian disaster in the North and East of the country. It has not done this for the past ten years and will not do it for the next ten or even hundred years. It will have to be done by those outside Sri Lanka. Hence the crucial importance of the donor community.

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