Media & Culture

Sri Lanka's Secrets: How the Rajapaksa regime gets away with murder

Sometimes you come across a book that kicks so hard in the stomach that you simply become numb.

‘Sri Lanka’s Secrets’ is such a book.

Although travel agencies depict the tropical island country to be one of Asia's most exciting new destinations with wondrous secrets for visiting tourists to discover, this book is a different kind of eye opener.

Sri Lanka’s secrets solely refers to the systematic and unspeakable war crimes as well as the ongoing genocide committed by the current Rajapaksa regime towards its ethnic Tamil population.

These are horrible crimes that have been committed by an elected government. This leaves the reader totally perplexed and shocked as to why and how such serious crimes can be kept in the dark.

There is a saying that the murder of one person is a news story, but when thousands and thousands are butchered and there is no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence is spread. This is exactly what happens in Sri Lanka while the world is looking the other way and tourist agencies simply praise the island’s ‘wonderful beaches’ and ‘luxurious hotels.’

Through sobering photos and 15 well-documented chapters, Trevor Grant takes the reader through a typhoon of madness that is the only way to describe the recent history for Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority, the Eelam Tamils.

As you read through the chapters, one understands how war crimes and Genocidal plans were carefully designed and put into action - and also how this is possible today, less than 15 years after the UN gave it’s solemn ‘Never Again’ promise – with reference to Rwanda.

For nearly 3 decades, there was a civil war between the Sri Lankan government and theTamil Tigers (LTTE), firstly described as freedom fighters but later to be branded as a terrorist organization threatening the very existence of the unitary state structure in the island. The combat was an unequal one, for the Sinhalese with their numerical superiority was in possession of all political power and the exclusive control of the State. The Tamils had primarily the justice of their cause on their side and a formidable guerrilla force to sustain the struggle.

The government forces were operating within the framework of the global “war on terror” which also meant that evidence of LTTE actions towards the end of the war were tarred with the same brush as the government-directed bombing and shelling of tens of thousands of innocent civilians who were lured to their deaths by the promise of safety in a no fire zone. The qualitative distinction between the atrocities committed by the State and those committed by the LTTE were rarely drawn.

In this climate, it was seemingly easy for the Rajapakse regime to get away with mass murder. When crimes begin to pile up, they seem to become invisible and when sufferings become unendurable, the cries are no longer heard.

This is why Trevor Grant’s book is so important – and a must read for those who want to know how vulnerable a people and in particular minority groups can be.

Trevor Grants writes with extraordinary elegance and force when he takes the reader through the island’s recent colonial history until today through many excruciating accounts from surviving witnesses. These are stories and testimonies from those who basically try to survive within the country and from those who have fled through the open sea in small insecure vessels in an attempt to carve out a better future for themselves and their loved ones.

Once again the reader is left ashamed when realizing how the Western countries and Australia in particular systematically rejects people fleeing for their lives.

The UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay has stated that Rwanda’s: “Never Again” lessons were not implemented in Sri Lanka. Western countries seem to have forgotten their duty to protect and the demand for justice.

The only way this makes sense of this is by recognizing the complicity of the world’s superpower. Too many have blood on their hands: and this seems to explain why Sri Lanka is allowed to keep its secrets.

Trevor Grant shatters the glorified misconceptions and reminds us of the fact that what distinguishes genocide from other kinds of mass killings is the specific ‘intent’: The crime of “wanting” to make a people extinct. This idea itself is a crime.

And this is why genocide is the responsibility of the entire world. 

© JDS


Beate Arnestad is an award winning Norwegian documentary filmmaker and journalist with over twenty years experience at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). Her films include, Where the Waves Sing (2002), My Daughter Terrorist (2007), Telling Truth in Arusha (2010) and Silenced Voices (2012).