TAG Statement on Sri Lanka's Violence Against Tamil Students

By TAG Advocacy, Friday, November 30 2012
 
30th November 2012
 
VIOLENCE AGAINST TAMIL STUDENTS, JAFFNA, 27 - 28 NOVEMBER 2012
 
Tamils Against Genocide (TAG) condemns the violent repression of Tamil freedom of expression by the Sri Lankan military and police forces and the accompanying destruction of collective history.
 
The violence against Tamil students, journalists and civilians in Jaffna on the 27th and 28 Nov 2012, occurred around the Tamil National Remembrance day, a day of remembrance for soldiers who have died in the war. This day is known in Tamil as Maaveerar Naal which translates to ‘Great Warriors Day’.  The 27th November has been widely marked as Tamil Remembrance day since the 1980s. It is often the culminating day of a week of mourning.
 
The Sri Lankan government has forbidden all forms of private and public mourning for those who died in the war, including any memorial or religious services as well as the private or public lighting of lamps or candles. This follows the widespread physical demolishing of tombs and cemeteries of fallen Tamil soldiers in the past 3 years in the Sri Lanka military occupied Tamil homeland.
 
This year the 27th of November coincided in the Tamil almanac with the ancient Tamil festival of lights ‘Kartikeya Villakudu” meaning the ‘Lighting of lamps for the god Kartikeyan (Murugan)”.Thus this religious festival was also banned by the government.
 
However to drive the point home the Sri Lankan army organised a competing Sinhala Buddhist celebratory festival of Katina Perahera, replete with Kandyan Sinhala dancers and elephants in the mourning period in the Tamil homeland. Perahera has never been historically celebrated in the Tamil homeland.
 
Nevertheless on November 27th Tamil people across Sri Lanka lit oil lamps and rang temple bells as cultural expressions of remembrance.
 
On the evening of 27th November, we understand that the army entered Jaffna university and stood guard throughout the male student dormitories to prevent the lighting of lamps. Lamps were seen lit in the women student dormitories whereupon soldiers entered the dormitories and attacked the young women.
 
The following day Tamil students from the University of Jaffna assembled to peacefully protest the previous day’s attacks on students. The students were violently attacked without justification by the military and some have been taken into custody.
 
Journalists and parliamentarians who sought to report and/or intervene to prevent further military violence were themselves violently attacked by the Sri Lankan army. The journalists attacked included the editor of the well known Tamil paper Uthayan.
 
The violent response by Sri Lankan state authorities against the observance of Remembrance day by students and civilians comprises a brutal attack against the fundamental right to freedom of expression.
 
The attacks on the 28 Nov against a non-violent protest are reminiscent of the repeated historic crushing of the Tamil non-violent Satyagraha movement in the period following the 'Sinhala-Only Act' and other discriminatory state policies implemented from 1956 onwards. 
 
The attacks against journalists and parliamentarians in the prelude and aftermath of November 27 illustrate the state of repression forced upon the Tamil population in Sri Lanka.
 
As with the burning of the Jaffna library by the Sri Lankan army in past decades, the demolition of cemeteries and the banning of religious festivals and remembrance is an attempt to destroy the collective history of the Tamil people.
 
Further, in its attempt to deny the Tamil right to remember and mourn, through violently imposing a state of amnesia, the Sri Lankan Government is attempting to whitewash its recent war crimes and crimes against humanity.
 
It is critical that these latest instances of State perpetrated violence be seen not in isolation but in the context of the systemic and structural persecution by the Sri Lankan State.  
 
These acts of violently destroying national memory may be viewed as one of the ‘different coordinated actions’ referred to in Raphael Lemkin’s definition of genocide. Lemkin defines genocide as a ‘a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups.,. (where) The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups’
 
Whilst it is imperative that this latest instance of repression be condemned, it is also necessary that it be analysed within the historical context - the pattern of violence and wider genocidal intent of the Sri Lankan State. 
 
In this context, TAG requests Sri Lanka’s foreign donors to demand the immediate release of all students taken into custody following Tamil Remembrance Day and to with-hold further economic assistance and military cooperation until the government allows Remembrance Day to be marked by the families of the dead.