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Tamilnation > Tamilnation Library> Eelam Section > Democracy in Peril: Sri Lanka a Country in Crisis - Patricia Hyndman
TAMIL NATION LIBRARY: Eelam
I. Escalating Violence
II. Erosions of Democracy and The Rule of Law
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
II. The Circumstances of Displaced Persons and Their Treatment and Situation
III. Constitutional Justification for the State of Emergency in the Circumstances that Arose in Sri Lanka in July, 1983.
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.
V. Other Breaches of Human Rights
VI. Conclusions and Possible Courses of Action
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 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:
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.
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".