Tamils commemorate war dead amid surveillance, restrictions

Despite intense military surveillance and severe restrictions by the government authorities, the Tamils in Sri Lanka's north Thursday commemorated their loved ones who were massacred in thousands during the final months of the war in 2009 at the shores of Mullivaikkal in Mullaitivu.

Several hundreds of war survivors gathered at Mullivaikkal today and took part in moving commemoration events even as the police and military intelligence personnel, both in uniform and civvies, made their threatening presence felt, taking pictures and videos of the participants.

The Tamil civil society activists involved in this year memorialisation work have been repeatedly visited and interrogated by police and military intelligence operatives over the past month.

On Tuesday ( May 16), at least two civil society activists, including Rev. Father Elil Rajan of the Tamil Civil Society Forum (TCSF), were summoned to the Mullaitivu police station and questioned about their work on a memorialisation project, particularly carving the names of Tamils killed in Mullivaikkal on stones.

In addition, uniformed police officers and a truck have been stationed outside the venue of the commemoration. The stone carver was summoned to the police station on Tuesday to make a statement and asked to hand over the list of the names of the dead.

As concerted efforts by police and intelligence operatives to intimidate the members of the civil society and clergy to give up their preparation for mourning the war dead at Mullivaikkal east went futile, the authorities successfully sought the judicial intervention to ban the event near St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mullivaikkal East.

Mourning: 'A threat to national security'

Issuing a stay order, the Mullaitivu Magistrate's Court on Wednesday said that the memorialisation event organised by the TCSF was a 'threat' to the "unity and national security” of the country.

Sri Lanka's State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardena Wednesday (17) went one step further and publicly accused that commemorating and mourning the war dead were an attempt to discredit the "war heroes" of the Sri Lanka armed forces. Charging that the Tamil politicians were paid by Tamil diaspora groups "to stage this drama", he warned that the attempts to discredit the military would not be tolerated.

This is clearly the continuation of the policy by the previous Rajapaksa regime to espouse and promote the notion that May 18th - a day of mourning for Tamils as the day of celebration of military victory.

The TCSF and the Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research (ACPR) on Thursday morning, however, filed a counter motion in the court seeking it to review the stay order on the commemoration event.

After almost two hours of argument, the Mullaitivu Magistrate's Court allowed prayers to be held at the St Paul’s Church premises. But the court has stressed that the commemoration inside the Churchcan be held "without those attending the commemoration having access to the stones carved with names of the war dead" which include children and elders.

Slamming the efforts by Maithri-Ranil government to ban the Mullivaikkal commemoration events, the ACPR said that "these efforts have clearly not changed under the post-January 2015 national unity

"This repression of May 18 commemorations of the tens of thousands of Tamils killed is a massive infringement of the Tamil community’s right to collectively mourn and is contrary to the path of good governance and reconciliation the Sri Lankan government continues to state it is on to the international community," it said.

"The government’s opposition to memorialisation underscores the lack of political will they have for accountability and reconciliation efforts and once again points out the government’s double-speak".

Sign of ongoing repression: ITJP

Condemning Sri Lanka's attempts to ban the events by Tamils to mourn the war dead, a Johannesburg-based Human Rights organisation said that remembering the dead "is a fundamental right of the culture of every people" and questioned "how weeping parents, remembering their loved ones, can threaten national security?”

“The ban on the basis of national security is based on spurious grounds and is a sign of the ongoing repression and militarisation that continues to affect the Tamil community in the north and east of the island. It is also a call to action to human rights activists in the whole country to oppose this outrageous action,” Yasmin Sooka, the Executive Director of the International Truth and Justice Project(ITJP) said in a statement.

Stressing that the right to mourn "is integral to being human”, Ms Sooka said memorialization was also a central element of the transitional justice programme that the Government of Sri Lanka has committed to but so far failed to implement.

The present situation is nothing but a reflection of the ground reality that even eight years after the end of the bloody war, the Tamils in the north-east are still not permitted to openly and freely commemorate their loved ones killed in the war, during which war crimes and crimes against humanity had been widely committed.

In the absence and denial of justice, truth and accountability, the Tamils are left to weep and mourn silently under the pretext of "genuine reconciliation".☐ 



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.