Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home Whats New  Trans State Nation  One World Unfolding Consciousness Comments Search

Tamilnation > Tamilnation Library> Eelam Section > Democracy in Peril: Sri Lanka a Country in Crisis - Patricia Hyndman


  • Democracy in Peril: Sri Lanka a Country in Crisis
    Report to Law Asia Human Rights Standing Committee, June 7, 1985.

Patricia Hyndman, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of New South Wales Sydney, Australia, LAWASIA Human Rights Standing Committee



I. Escalating Violence

A. Grievances Between the Two Communities and Related Background Factors

I) The Status of Tamils "of Recent Indian Origin"
II) University Education and State Sector Employment
III) Problems Caused by the Existence of two Major Languages
IV) The Status of the Tamil Language
V) Colonisation
VI) Decentralisation
VII) The Demand for 50:50
VII) The 1948, 1972 and 1978 Constitutions
IX) The Identification of Buddhism with Sinhalese Nationalism
X) The Minority Syndrome - As Perceived by Different Groups within Sri Lankan Society
XI) Growing Tamil Militancy and the Demand for a Separate State

B. Some Measures Taken by the Present Government in its attempts to Curb both Tamil Militancy and the Demand for a Separate State 34

I) The Prevention of Terrorism Act

II) Mass Arrests of Young Tamil Males

III) The Passage of the Sixth Amendment

IV) Press Coverage, Propaganda and Censorship Regulations

V) The Emergency Regulations which Establish Prohibited and Security Zones In The North and East

VI) Other Emergency Regulations

VII) The All Party Conference

VIII) Government Response to Earlier Recommendations that Enquiries be Held into Various Aspects of the Communal Disturbances of July, 1983

C. Reprisal Attacks By Members of the Security Forces Upon the Civilian Population of The North and East

D. Government Actions Indicating a Commitment to Human Rights Principles and A Willingness to Improve Relationships With The Tamil People

E. Some Examples of Initiatives Within Sri Lanka to Re-Establish Discourse and Trust Between The Different Communities

II. Erosions of Democracy and The Rule of Law

A. The 1978 Constitution and the Powers it Confers Upon the President
B. Amendments to the Constitution
C. Changes in Electoral Laws
D. Proscription of Opposition Parties
E. Threats to the Independence of the Judiciary
F. Other Incidents which Have Tended to Encourage Lawlessness

III. Concluding Comments

The Communal Violence, July 1983


I. Factual Account of the Communal Violence which occurred in Sri Lanka during the week commencing July 23

The ambush of July 23
Events in Jaffna following the ambush
Incidents at the Kanatte Cemetery
Commencement of the violence in Colombo
Violence in centres other than Colombo
The violence and the course it took
The role played by the security forces
The Welikade prison massacres
The events of July 29
Direct results of the violence
The circumstances of the Indian Tamils during the week of disturbances
Some specific incidents suffered by individuals and families during the week of violence

Incident A
Incident B
Incident C
Incident D
Incident E
Incident F

Censorship regulations
Government response
Theories Explaining the behaviour of the security forces
Relationship between the security forces and the population of Jaffna
Theories as to the reasons for the violence

II. The Circumstances of Displaced Persons and Their Treatment and Situation

The displaced persons' camps
Transportation facilities
Success of the measures taken both in the camps and regarding transportation
Missing persons
The Rehabilitation of Property and Industries Authority
General Impressions

III. Constitutional Justification for the State of Emergency in the Circumstances that Arose in Sri Lanka in July, 1983.

Sequence of events prior to the proclamation of the State of Emergency
Proclamation of a State of Emergency
The Sixth Amendment

IV. Assessment of  the Actions of Governmental Authorities at Political, Administrative and Military Levels During and after the State of Emergency and the Behaviour of Non-Governmental Groups Immediately Before and During the State Emergency in Terms of the Ten Basic Principles of Human Rights Adopted by the Lawasia Human Rights Standing Committee.


(1) Actions of Governmental Authorities at Political, Administrative and Military Levels

(a) The occurrence of the attacks on the Tamil people
(b) Steps taken to punish perpetrators of the violence
(c) The circumstances of the displaced persons.
(d) Legislation:-

i) Curtailment of freedom of speech and the expression of political opinion
ii) The curfew
iii) Supervision, search, arrest and detention
iv) The disposal of bodies under Regulation 15A

(2) The Behaviour of Non-Governmental Groups Immediately Before and During the State of Emergency

a) The Tigers
b) The Political parties

i) The T.U.L.F.
ii) The C.W.C.
iii) The S.L.F.P.
iv) The leftist parties

c) Religious groups
d) Citizens' groups
e) The mass media

V. Other Breaches of Human Rights

(a) Prevention of Terrorism Act
(b) The circumstances of Tamils of recent Indian origin

VI. Conclusions and Possible Courses of Action

(a) Legislative measures taken during the State of Emergency

i) Emergency regulations
ii) The Sixth Amendment

(b) All Party Conference to achieve 'solution to communal conflict
(c) The conduct and role of the security forces.
(d) Investigations into the July disturbances

i) Investigation into the causes and events of the July 1983 disturbances
ii) Investigations into breaches of duty by the security forces
iii) The Welikade prison massacres

(e) Rehabilitation of, and assistance for, displaced persons and their protection while in camps
(f) Some background causes underlying the communal disturbances:
(i) University admissions and employment in the government sector
(ii) School education
(iii) Education generally
(iv) Language
(v) Separation and decentralisation
(vi) Terrorism


Introduction to the Communal Violence, July 1983

Saturday, July 23rd, 1983, marks the beginning of a week of violence in Sri Lanka that shook the nation, and indeed the entire world. Sri Lanka is widely regarded as a country which has an excellent reputation for upholding democratic principles, respecting human rights and in which the rule of law prevails, so that the fierce outbreak of communal violence against a minority group which took place was all the more shocking for these reasons.

The violence was directed against the Tamil population of the country, hundreds were killed, thousands were displaced from their usual places of residence, very many of them losing everything they owned, there was great property damage and scars were inflicted which will take time and concentrated effort to heal.

In Sri Lanka the population is predominantly Sinhalese, these people comprise 74% of all the people in the country. Just over 7% of the population is made up of Muslims, and 0.7% were described as "others" in the 1981 census figures. Tamils form 18.2% of the population, of these 12.6% are Sri Lankan Tamils who have been in the country for many hundreds of years, and 5.6% are Indian Tamils, who were brought over from India by the British during the last century to work on the plantations as indentured labour.

it is important to note that, while these figures show the overall composition of the Sri Lankan population, Tamils (Sr: Lankan and Indian) form 97.7% of the population in the district of Jaffna, 89.9% in that of Mullaitivu, 73.5% in Vavuniya, 72%

Batticoloa, 63.8% in Mannar, and 36.4% in Trincomalee. (See the map of Sri Lanka, showing the distribution of population according to the 1981 Census, annexed as Appendix II.) In order to reach a true appreciation of the country's ethnic problems both these sets of figures have to be borne in mind. Ethnic minorities distributed uniformly throughout a population tend not to develop the same group identity, or to experience the same difficulties, as do those minorities which live in concentrated bodies in particular regions.

In this section the events of the last week in July 1983 are recorded. First, there is an account of the incidents which took place in Jaffna, the ambush of the thirteen soldiers on July 23rd, and the revenge which the armed forces took on the civilian population of that region on July 24th and the days following. Secondly, the arrangements for the burial of the soldiers at the Kanatte Cemetery are recorded, as is the violence which began there and which then spread to other parts of Colombo and then different centres within the country.

Thirdly, the course which the violence took and the actions of the security forces are outlined. Next the July 25th and July 27th massacres of Tamil political prisoners in Welikade prison are documented. Then the events of Friday, July 29th, "Black: Friday" are recorded, followed by an enumeration of some of the direct consequences of the disturbances. The effect upon the Tamils of Indian origin is briefly noted, and some specific incidents affecting individuals and their families are recounted.

This is followed by an account of government censorship, the statements and response to the week of disturbances by government ministers, and the promulgation of the Sixth Amendment. Finally some of the theories as to both the reasons behind the behaviour of the security forces and the causes of the outbreak of the disturbances are listed.

The ambush of July 23rd

The Jaffna peninsula, which is at the northernmost tip of the island, is the region of Sri Lanka with the greatest percentage of Tamils in its population. The 1981 census shows that 97.7% of its inhabitants are Tamil people, 95.3% being Sri Lankan Tamils and 2.4% Indian Tamils.

In Jaffna late in the evening of Saturday, July 23rd, thirteen soldiers were killed in an ambush. Those interviewed had no doubt that this was the work of Tamil terrorists, often referred to as the "Tigers". Several terrorist groups, comprised of disaffected Tamil youth, have been operating in the north since the mid-1970s. They wish to secure a separate state, which they call Eelam, within Sri Lanka for the Tamil people, and they see violence as the only means by which to redress Tamil grievances.

The targets of the terrorists have been military personnel or police stationed in the north, those who inform the authorities against them, and moderate Tamil politicians who seen as co-operating with the present government. Many Tam:
people have been attacked or killed by the terrorists, but this occasion the thirteen soliers killed in the ambush were all Sinhalese. Since the composition of the army is predominantly Sinhalese, it is of course likely that any soldiers attacked and killed will be Sinhalese, though in the past Tamil soldiers also have been singled out and killed by the terrorists.

The army truck in which the thirteen soldiers were travelling on the evening of July 23rd drove into explosives. an interview with General Attiyagale now Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, we were told that the army patrol question had changed its route at the last minute and that no one knew why this had happened. The patrol had lost radio contact with other army personnel and had driven straight into ambush.

All reports indicated a great deal of on-going hostilities  between the armed forces and the civilian population of northern province. This is documented in more detail, in the sub-section, 'Relationship between the security forces and the civilian population in Jaffna'.

The ambush of the thirteen soldiers was carried out in the climate of tense hostility. Quite apart from the general animosity which was reported, there were allegations that the ambush was in retaliation to a very recent raping of several girls by soldiers.

Events in Jaffna, following the ambush

On the morning following the ambush, from very early in the morning, (4.30 a.m. or so) according to lawyers, doctors, politicians, government employees, students and citizens in Jaffna, the army went on a rampage and shot, killed and injured civilians, starting with small boys going to tutory classes early in the morning, and the violence continued throughout the day.

Soldiers travelling in an army truck were said to have struck a cyclist and run over him. The truck overturned, the soldiers then took over a private minibus, having ordered the twelve or thirteen people inside to get down. The soldiers then drove to Manipay where they stopped a civilian bus, ordered the passengers to get out, separating youths and schoolboys from the women and old people, and shooting at the males. Several died on the spot and one person died later in hospital.

These same soldiers are then reported to have stopped another minibus. This time they did not order people to get out but fired into the bus, reportedly killing three people instantly and wounding several others. Two of the wounded persons were reported to have died later at Chankani Hospital. One of them was said to be a journalist and newspaper editor. Another of those shot, Mr. A. Vimalathasan, was a full-time working member of MIRJE, (The Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality).

Shots were fired indiscriminately as the army truck was driven along and people standing near the doors of their houses were killed and wounded. One person was killed at Chandilipai and another at Pandatherupu. Some soldiers were reported to have gone into houses and to have shot people inside at point blank range. We met the families of several victims who had been killed in this way, and were left in no doubt that in their cases that this had happened. Most of those selected to be shot were boys.

We heard allegations by many people, including two doctors, that following this violence fifty-one bodies were taken to Jaffna hospital and that more people were killed in fact, that in some cases the relatives and friends of those killed were too frightened to report the deaths and take the bodies hospital. They feared further reprisals as a consequence of attracting attention to themselves. Also families without cars needed to hire a car in order to transport a body to hospital, and it appears that the people who hired out cars we reluctant to perform this service, so that this was a further reason for the private disposal of bodies.

We were told that sixty or more people in total were killed in and around Jaffna by the army immediately after the ambush and that many more were wounded. Also we were told that yet more people were killed on subsequent days.

Although it was not possible to ascertain the precise number of people killed and injured by soldiers on July 24th, it is clear that many unarmed and innocent civilians were shot killed or wounded on that day.

We met people with personal knowledge of killings which took place on July 24th within their immediate neighbourhood. As many as twelve were known to have been killed within one very small neighbourhood and we met several people with direct knowledge of the deaths which took place in this area. One of the people interviewed gave us a list of the names of some of those killed who had been known personally to him. (See Appendix IV).

No inquest was carried out on most of the bodies of those killed in Jaffna during these episodes. Members of the security forces said that under Regulation 15A of the emergency regulations (discussed later, in the Section, Assessment of Governmental and Non-Governmental Activities), inquests were not necessary, so the bodies, after being taken to the morgue, were handed over to relatives for burial, or were cremated or buried by the police or armed forces, without inquest. This, of course, makes the collection of reliable evidence much more difficult.

However, one inquest was being carried out by Judge Wigneswaran on the ground that Regulation 15A only applies to deaths. which occur as a result of activities performed by the army in the course of duty, and that, since the soldiers were travelling in a civilian van they must first prove that their actions fell under the emergency regulations, otherwise an inquest is necessary. This inquest was into the death of one of the men shot while alighting from a bus on July 24th and who died later from his injuries in a nearby nursing home. The nursing home was in Judge Wigneswaran's jurisdiction. The Jaffna morgue is in a different jurisdiction.

The killing of the thirteen soldiers was immediately reported by the media, and the names of the soldiers were published, but the killing of the civilians by the soldiers on the following day was not reported. Had the deaths of civilians in Jaffna on July 24th been reported events might have turned out very differently.

Two weeks later the President in answer to a question asked at a press conference is reported to have said that he had heart that some twenty civilians in Jaffna had been killed by troops on a rampage, and indicated at that time that he had then only just been informed of the killings. Even then that information was not made public in Sri Lanka. it was, however, published in the British newspaper, The Guardian, and in other foreign newspapers, and several people whom we met had learned of it from those sources.

Speaking of another incident which had involved the stopping of a bus in search of terrorists, and the killing of persons inside, a government spokesman was reported, in the international media, to have said that the victims probably had no connection with terrorism.

On August 22nd, in a statement to the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Ambassador Tissa Jayakody said that there had been no mass killings by the armed forces as alleged, but that "the armed forces have killed thirty-seven persons in the Northern Province in the course of operations following the ambush of July 23rd".



Mail Us Copyright 1998/2009 All Rights Reserved Home