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 

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Home >   Tamils - a Trans State Nation  > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Indictment against Sri Lanka > Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide - Preface, Prologue & Index  > Remembering Black July '83 - Anniversaries: 1984 todate


Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide

The Memory of July 1983 Anti-Tamil Pogrom Must Remain High
- a Response to "Using Black July to Score Political Points" by Jehan Perera

Statement by  Asian Human Rights Commission
27 August 2001

All attempts to diminish the importance of remembering the July 1983 colossal violence perpetrated by the then government of the United National Party (UNP), through the use of the political power and by the use of party cadres, are attempts to destroy democratic consciousness in Sri Lanka. Such attempts are acts of injustice against the victims of violence. The expected result of such attempts is to help perpetuate a tradition of unprincipled political compromise that is prevailing in the country. Such attempts are dangerous and anyone concerned with democracy, human rights, peace, justice and avoidance of re-occurrences of colossal and organized violence, must take special effort to be aware of such attempts and to prevent the spread of influence of views that promotes such attempts.

There had been some attempts in the past to play down Jewish Holocaust by modern pro-Fascist groups. Some of the arguments of such groups were that this is history, which must be buried; that Fascists were not the only people who have prosecuted Jews during the Second World War but that even before that Jews have been prosecuted. Recently, when the Khmer Rouge leaders were to be brought to justice, Cambodian leader Hun Sen argued that for the sake of present day peace, past must be forgotten. During the Pinochet�s case before the House of Lords in Britain, Margaret Thatcher argued that for present day democracy in Chile, it is important to let Pinochet go free. Similar arguments are made in every country where political leaders have committed massive crimes against the people and where justice has become a primary requirement for the return to normalcy.

However, the international jurisprudence is developing in the opposite direction. The decision of the House of Lords in Pinochet�s Case is a landmark judgement, which finally set out the principles of legal liability of the leaders regarding the crimes organised by the state. Several war crimes tribunals that are functioning now are also based on the same principle. The discussion on the International Criminal Court (ICC) is another international effort in this direction. There is a rich literature that has emerged on this subject. The link subject is reconciliation. On this theme too much thinking has developed in recent times.

In Asia one of the very rich examples of a positive development in this direction is the experience of Kwangju people who reacted to brutal military crackdown in Kwangju, south Korea. The struggle to return to democracy was made through a relentless struggle to find justice to the 241 people killed by the military during the Kwanju Uprising. At the end Korean people successfully defeated the military, returned to democratic government with an internationally reputed democrat, Kim Dae-Jung as the head of state. The two Presidents who ordered the coup were arrested, brought to trial and found guilty. The fact that they were later granted amnesty before expiry of the full term does not diminish the importance of the process through which people found their path to return to democracy and to undo the damage done by gross violations of people�s rights by brutal use of violence by the state. In Sri Lanka Presidential Commissions on Inquiry Into Involuntary Removal or Disappearances of Persons have concluded the responsibility of the State to the violence they inquired into.

An experience in opposite direction is the Indo-Pakistan relationship. The separation itself caused millions of deaths. The sub-continent is now famous only for its violence. The concept of leaders� liability is almost non-existent in most cultural traditions of the sub-continent. Over 230 million people remain as Dalits in India itself, subject often to worse conditions than slavery. The dominant ideas relating to reconciliation is to forgive the leaders regardless of whatever they do. The most that is expected of the leaders is to shed a little crocodile tears to appease the masses.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) make this statement as a response to a published article entitled: Using Black July to Score Political Points by Jehan Perera. In fact, the article is an attempt to play down grave violence used against Tamils in July 1983, which shocked the whole world. The means that are used for this purpose is subtle and deep.

"It is the duty of the people�s people to bring the victims of violence face to face with the political criminals who have used violence against them. It is people who can ensure that it Never Happens Again."

The article appears from its title and opening paragraph as a protest against misuse of the 1983 Black July events by the leaders of the present government who have given lot of publicity to the anniversary of this event this year. One would have thought the author will demand real actions to help the victims and to punish the perpetrators of the Black July event, to be accompanied by such publicity. The government must not just talk but must act. It must keep its promises and cure the country of the continuing ill effects following this violence. The abuse of power by the military and police during this event and the resultant loss of rule of law, remain a problem up to date. In fact, these hands that abused Tamils in 1983, touched the Sinhalese since 1988 causing over officially admitted over 30,000 disappearances. By now, this situation of lawlessness have sunk into civilian life threatening everyone. Sort of crime that takes place in Sri Lanka now is stupendous. Civil policing has virtually collapsed and the military has taken a greater grip over many aspects of life. If the government was challenged to take action on these matters, if they were honest about the publicity they give to 1983 Black July event, people would have found that a voice has been raised at least to point out to their plight. Instead, Perera�s plea is that giving such publicity to 1983 Black July is itself wrong.

According to the author, 1983 Black July is linked to other violence as in 1956, 1958 (he carefully leaves out 1978). So What? Since the political responsibility for earlier events is with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is the dominant partner in the ruling coalition at present, they also are responsible for July 1983. If the author said, let them be also held responsible, we would have agreed. That is not the logic behind the author�s argument, let earlier violence cancel the guilt for 1983 violence! Therefore he thinks it self-defeating to give publicity to 1983 Black July itself. He calls such publicity tragic. Why? Because, these politicians have played politics with the event. How to prevent politicians playing politics? Well, one would have thought it would have been the civic organisations, peace organisations, human rights organisations and concerned persons to raise the serious issues relating to moral and legal responsibility and to agitate for concrete actions to punish the political criminals on every side of the fence. It is the duty of the people�s people to bring the victims of violence face to face with the political criminals who have used violence against them. It is people who can ensure that it Never Happens Again. It is childish to expect the politicians to take the initiative to say never again. Unfortunately, the author does not seem to be people�s person. In fact, he put the whole blame for violence not on the politicians but on the people. He says "Riots on the scale of those that occurred in 1956,1958 and 1983 could not have been engineered by a handful of politicians from the top alone. They had to have a mass base of ethnic hatreds to work on."

AHRC disagrees with this view both on the basis of facts and also theoretically. We consider this view as extremely dangerous as the only hope for peace lies only in the faith in the good sense, good humour and the humanity of the ordinary Sri Lankans, be they Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. The blame for the crisis must be shared by the politicians and some intellectuals who have prepared the ideological backbone to criminal politicians. Whether these intellectuals do so deliberately or simply because they are disoriented, or because of both we do not know. However, it is a fact that many intellectuals have added fuel, often in the name of peace, to the fire burning in Sri Lanka.

All the interventions of the Asian Human Rights Commission on the situation of Sri Lanka and other conflict situations as well, have been on the basis, that the ordinary people of whatever gender, race or nationality, given the chance live peacefully with each other. It is the political elite who saw the seeds of conflicts and this they do for their own purposes. The ordinary people, if they are left to themselves are not haters. They are generally lovers of each other and they enjoy each other despite differences. (A classic example of this are Veddhas of Sri Lanka, who despite of all the historical slanders against them have a better record of civilised and humane behaviour than the Sri Lankan elite who created such things as caste and race discrimination).

The problems are created at the top, nurtured at the top, intensified at the top and maintained at the top. It is true that the people become victims of manipulations which comes down to them. Those who are at the top have vast machinery of manipulation both by way of violence and propaganda. Coercion and propaganda have some effects on the people. The level of people�s resistance to such coercion depend on many factors, most important of which is the level of intimidation used on them. Long-term pressures some time creates habits which requires better conditionings to overcome. The truth of all that does not alter the fundamental fact that the ordinary people are NOT the originators of violence. They are primarily seekers of peace. The people are the primary peace lobby.

Intellectuals who associate mainly with their own, often mistake middle class gossip with people�s talk. The middle class often tends to create talks leading to hatred. This often happens due to the needs of middle class itself, which are sometimes linked to economic or social factors. Sometimes the reasons are purely psychological. The middle class often refers to themselves as the people. They make their problems appear as "our problems," meaning people�s problems. In fact, it is this middle class that builds links with some politicians and also derive some benefits from the conflicts.

"This tradition of history-re-writing will have to continue, if people who did worse crimes in Sri Lankan history is to be portrayed as necessary peace makers. That is the main argument in Jehan Perera�s paper."

In Perera�s article, people are blamed to exonerate the politicians. If "there was no mass base to work on," the politicians would not have created the 1983 Black July, they would not have caused thousands of disappearances a little later, and they would not have displaced the machinery of the rule of law! What a horrible mass base, this must be! So the great task of a modern Don Quixote is to save the politicians from the terrible mass base. How should the politicians be saved from the mass base in the Sri Lankan situation? Jehan Perera states, "By heaping blame on the United National Party (UNP), and alienating its leadership, the government is effectively closing the door on the prospects of People's Alliance and United National Party (PA-UNP) collaboration in the national interest. It also undermines the peace process by over-simplifying the ethnic conflict as being largely a creation of UNP goons. But this is a caricature of reality." To prove this point of view Mr. Perera will have to rewrite a good part of the history of Sri Lanka. Again, he will not be the first do so? Rewriting history is particularly a United National Party pre-occupation. Just take those historians who wrote biographies of J.R. Jayawardene. This man, whose doings makes what Pinochet did just peanuts, was portrayed as a genius and the best brain that any Sri Lankan politician ever had! He was also portrayed as an honest politician. This tradition of history-re-writing will have to continue, if people who did worse crimes in Sri Lankan history is to be portrayed as necessary peace makers. That is the main argument in Jehan Perera�s paper.

Now what must the politicians of both sides do? The author tells us, "The ethnic conflict has a long history and includes other watersheds in addition to the July 1983 riots. There is a need on the part of all sectors of society, north and south, and especially their leaderships, to act in a spirit of penitence and reform themselves and the country." All that politicians must do is to be penitent. What does being penitent means in political rhetoric? It means to cry a little bit in public. The truth is that United National Party has never regretted 1983 Black July or other havoc they have caused to the country. Not a single party resolution to that effect or any other statement to that effect. Admitting faults is not a part of Sri Lankan political culture.

It is only the people and who make the people�s interest come first that can make a change in this culture. People have ousted many bad politicians. However, beyond elections, no system of accountability has been created. It is these that peace movement, human rights movement and democratic movement must help to create.

Peace Plan Basics

We suggest the following as basic elements of any peace plan:

1. Trust the ordinary people and create conditions for ordinary people to participate in the process of deciding their own fate.

2. Make establishment of political and moral responsibility an indispensable component of any peace plan.

3. Keep the victims of violence in the spotlight always.

4. Do not get trapped in middle class gossip and middle class prejudices.

5. Let the international community know the full truth of all politicians
- be they government, opposition or the rebels.

6. Do not de-link ethnicity related human rights abuses from other gross abuses of human rights that have been taking place in the country;

7. Do not create masks for political criminals. They will use these masks to hurt the people again.

8. Create a culture of open discussion.

9. Bring the issues of rule of law - demilitarisation and rebuilding of civil policing to the center of the debate.

10. Make no exception to international laws relating to conduct in war and use of emergency regulations.

11. Commemorate all violations and never let their memory die. Help the victims in every possible way.


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