(Open Eyes series)
(Tamil Civilians In Sri Lanka Concentration Camp 2009)
It had been nearly 65 years since the last concentration camp constructed by the Nazis was liberated when Sri Lanka decided to give into international pressure. The camps that were in question by the world community were "squalid" by polite definitions. In reality these camps had been used in much the same way as the Nazi's had used their camps. The people inside were intended to die from exposure, disease, malnutrition, and direct abuse from Sri Lanka officials. The 26 year war that had been used as an excuse for these camps had ended and yet the non-combatants were still behind barbed wire. Nearly 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz and Dachau, Sri Lanka was able to establish and run concentration camps without international intervention.
On July 23rd of 1983 the Tamil of Sri Lanka were targeted in one of the worst pogroms the region had witnessed in recent history. An estimated 3,000 Tamil civilians were massacred in what would become known as "Black July". It was an orgy of violence, looting, rape, pillage, and slaughter that would last for about a week. Yet the armed conflict it would spawn would drag on for 26 miserable years. Millions of lives would forever be altered by the horrific consequences of this pogrom. And from what began as an anti-Tamil riot would come the all out genocide of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka.
This bloodbath of 1983 was just the spark. It found it's fuel in decades of prejudice and the hatred which permeated Sinhalese culture. The divide between the Sinhalese and Tamil people was one that needed only a few drops of innocent blood to create a tidal wave. In 1983 it was the successful ambush of a Sri Lanka Army by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). For the deaths of 13 national soldiers the Tamil people would pay endlessly in their own blood. This was the depth of the hatred that infested Sri Lanka.
Once the violence began that July the signs of organized effort in establishing and sustaining mobs showed up for the world to see. The mobs were well equipped and supplied by local officials and military personnel. Leaders of the mobs were given voter registration list that highlighted Tamil homes and businesses. If the Tamil family fled the mobs would make return trips to try and capture anyone returning to gather their belongings. Ammunition, knives, and kerosene were supplied by police, politicians, and Sri Lanka's criminal networks. Everything about this violence showed the foreign onlookers that it was premeditated and well organized. Yet no media outlet, foreign or domestic, dared say as much.
The government of Sri Lanka showed it's willingness to allow the massacres of Tamils most blatantly with the Welikada Prison Massacre of 1983. Following the influx of rumors from the outside, the Sinhalese inmates were allowed access to Tamil prisoners by Sri Lanka's prison guards. The prison, which had been separated into four distinct units, had made habit of segregating the two ethnic groups. However on the two days where 53 Tamil inmates were killed, the prison guards did next to nothing to stop the violence. On the first day of the attacks 35 Tamil inmates were killed by a Sinhalese mob. The next day 18 more Tamils were killed before prison guards decided to separate the inmates once again. No guards or even the prisoner assailants have ever been charged over the deaths of these 53 Tamil inmates.
By the time Black July came to close the divide between Sri Lanka's majority and it's Tamil minority appeared to be impassable. Open conflict between the rebel militants and the Sri Lanka Army were being conducted as Sri Lanka told the world these were "efforts to end rioting". Those who dug deeper past the lies that Sri Lanka's politicians put forward could see clearly that what was happening was far more sinister than just mere riots. The sustained effort on the part of Sri Lanka's government to crush the spirit and culture of the Tamils was on full display... but only if you were watching.
In slow grinding genocides like that of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka the flash points which trigger events like the Black July riots are the only parts of the genocide that gain media traction. When several thousand innocent lives are stolen by ethnic hatred the world media churns out a handful of their best reports. Then within days, or even hours, the stories stop and the consequences of these violent acts are widely ignored. The ethnic violence that followed Black July was the unreported consequences of the 3,000 estimated Tamil deaths. Instead of reporting the atrocities that became the hallmarks of the 26 years of war, the outside world largely looked the other way. In slow grinding genocides like this one we tend to forget our promise of "Never Again".
In the case of the Tamil genocide the world exploited the fact that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were well known for committing war crimes of their own. We largely ignore however the reason for the formation of militant groups like LTTE in the first place. By overlooking the abuses and repression inflicted by Sri Lanka's government we tip the scales in favor of one side over the other without any real level of critical thinking. While no excuse can be given for the excesses of the Tigers, no excuse can be given for a national state committing genocide.
And yet today, after nearly four years of relative peace, the world continues to put it's finger on the Sri Lanka side of the scale. By ignoring the countless lives lost through direct actions taken by the Sri Lanka government we white wash the genocidal efforts of a government and it's leaders. This results in the lost opportunity to cease war criminals and charging them with crimes against humanity. It means that we fail once again to bring those who perpetrate genocide to justice.
We gave the victims of the Holocaust a taste of justice at Nuremberg. We have tried to restore a sense of justice to the victims of the Serbs in the ICC. So why is that we ignore the opportunity to bring some justice to the victims of Sri Lanka's crimes against humanity?
In future post we will be taking a more in depth look at the crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka and the leaders which helped create the genocide of the Tamil people. In this new series we will attempt to "open eyes" to the genocide itself and the crimes committed while the world looked the other way. This is just the start of Alder's Ledge's attempt to understand this genocide and raise awareness of it. This is just the first "scream" in a long series of screams.
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(note: not all sources listed)