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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 > Black July 1983 - The Record Speaks

Black July 1983: the Charge is Genocide

Apology by Sri Lanka President Kumaratunga

25 July 2004

'We regard Sri Lanka's President Ms Chandrika Kumaratunge's public apology for the 1983 pogrom against the Tamils as a deceptive attempt, driven by political expediency rather than principles... It is politically convenient for Ms Kumaratunge to blame the United National Party (UNP) which was in power during that period. Has she forgotten that her father was in power when the first communal riot broke out in Sri Lanka in 1958? Why has Ms Kumaratunge failed to apologize for all ethnic riots and massacres of Tamils by government forces during her regime and when her father and mother ruled the country? Crimes were committed against Tamils under the chauvinistic politics of Sinhala leadership of both parties.". .S.Elilan, district political head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) speaking at the Welikada Martyrs Memorial Hall  ..21st anniversary of Black July in Trincomalee  25 July 2004   

The Word  - the Apology
The Deed - Father, Mother & the Daughter
Charles Sarvan on  Kumaratunga�s Apology
Sarath Kumara on the Empty Apology

The Apology

From the Report in the Sri Lanka State Controlled Sunday Observer, 25 July 2004 -

President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga tendering a national apology to the victims of July 1983 riots on behalf of the state, government and all citizens last Friday said that it is late but still not too late. Excerpts of the speech:

"As we know all nations have great achievements, which they are proud of, they also have moments in their history, which they need to be ashamed of. Only very few nations seem to have had the courage or the right leadership to accept the blame for their moments of shame.

"At least now I believe that we as a nation and especially the Sri Lankan State should come of age, look the truth in the face and make a national apology, first to all the victims of that day in Black July and then beyond them to the entire nation.

"Perhaps it is the responsibility of the State and the Government to engage in that exercise first and foremost, and then all of us as the Nation, every citizen in this country should collectively accept the blame and make that apology to all of you here who are the representatives or the direct victims of that violence and through you to all the other tens of thousands who suffered by those incidents.

"I would like to assign to myself the necessary task on behalf of the State of Sri Lanka, the Government and on behalf of all of us; all the citizens of Sri Lanka to extend that apology. It is late but I think it is still not too late.

"Maybe if all of us can collectively put behind us all the little pettiness that has bound us in shackles, free ourselves from those many and numerous hatreds, jealousies that make of us little men and women, then I am sure we could move forward towards working, living as one nation in harmony, in a search for that very necessary unity within the diversity that is Sri Lanka, the diverse ethnic communities, the diverse religious communities, and various other social groups that live together in this country.

"We cannot forget, we cannot blind ourselves to the mistakes we have made; we will have to accept collective guilt for the wrongs, and then move forward.

When I say collective guilt I mean first the State of Sri Lanka for the horrors they perpetrated upon one section of our peoples, 21 years ago and at other lesser moments, but I also mean all the others on the other side of the divide who have also used young children as suicide bombers, and killed hundreds of people and caused much suffering to other people.

"I hope on this day, and I know that all of you here would hope and pray with me that all those who call themselves leaders, amongst the Sinhalese, the Tamils, the Muslims, the Hindus and everybody else would be able to reach at least for a brief moment that level of greatness that is required of us mere humans, those of us who pretend to be leaders to reach that greatness in order that we resolve this problem for our peoples.

"We are willing to do that, I hope all the others are also ready to do that. I am sure the Government will receive the support from all the citizens of this country, irrespective of who they are, or to what community they belong, in this enterprise which is the most difficult, the most challenging and the most dangerous any Government of this country has undertaken."


the father...

Tamil Parliamentarians attacked by Sinhala Mobs & 150 Tamils killed in 1956   "What happened on 6 June 1956 when the Sinhala Only Bill was being debated in Parliament? The members of the Federal Party, exercising their undoubted constitutional right, wanted to protest against the imposition of (the Sinhala Only) Bill. The Members of the Federal Party said that they would sit in silence on the Galle Face Green... It was a silent protest which they were entitled to make...What happened? Hooligans, in the very precincts of Parliament House, under the very nose of the Prime Minister of this country, set upon those innocent men seated there, bit their ears and beat them up mercilessly....Thereafter on that day, 6 June, every Tamil man was set upon and robbed. He was beaten up. ..He was thrashed mercilessly, humiliated and sent home. The police were looking on while all this was happening before their very eyes. Shops were looted... but the police did nothing... Why did that happen? All that happened because specific instructions had been given to the police that they .. should not arrest, should not deal with the lawlessness and disorder that was let loose... That was the attitude taken up by a Cabinet composed of Sinhalese Ministers.(including Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike)..." Senator S.Nadesan , Sri Lanka Senate Hansard, 4 June 1958

From Genocide'58 - Tarzie Vittachi: Emergency 1958 - The Story of the Ceylon Race Riots"...If there had been any chance whatever at this stage of keeping Sinhalese tempers under control it vanished completely following the Prime Minister's (S.W.R.Bandaranaike)broadcast call to the nation of May 26� By a strangely inexplicable perversion of logic, Mr Bandaranaike tried to explain away a situation by substituting the effect for the cause. The relevant portion of the speech was:

"An unfortunate situation has arisen resulting in communal tension. Certain incidents in, the. Batticaloa District where some people lost their lives, including Mr D.A. Seneviratne, a former Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, have resulted in various acts of violence and lawlessness in other areas-for example Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Galawela, Kuliyapitiya and even Colombo."

"The killing of Seneviratne on May 25 was thus officially declared to be the cause of the uprising, although the communal riots had begun on May 22 with the attack on the Polonnaruwa Station and the wrecking of the Batticalos-Colombo trail and several other minor incidents. No explanation was offered by the Prime Minister for singling out (the Sinhala sounding) Seneviratne's name for particular mention from the scores of people who had lost their lives during those critical days.�Colombo was on fire. The goondas burnt fifteen shops in the Pettah and a row of kiosks in Mariakaday. Looting on a massive scale took place in Pettah, Maradana, Wellawatte Ratmalana, Kurunegala, Panadura, Kalutara, Badulla, Galle, Matara and Weligama. The cry everywhere in the Sinhalese districts was 'avenge the murder of Seneviratne�. Even the many Sinhalese who had been appalled by the goonda attacks on Tamils and Tamil owned kiosks, now began to feel that the Tamils had put themselves beyond the pale. Across the country, this new mood of deep-seated racism surged. The Prime Minister's peace call to the nation had turned into a war cry..."

the mother...

From Sinhala Army attacks Tamil Satygrahis, 1961 "...The voice of the representatives of the Tamil people has been virtually silenced. The military have been let loose on the Northern and Eastern Provinces and from all accounts are behaving - at any rate so far as the Jaffna Peninsula is concerned - as if they were a conquering army in occupation of enemy territory....(In) the early hours of the 18th (of April) the military, without any warning and without informing the satyagrahis assembled at the Jaffna Kachcheri that an emergency had been declared, assaulted the men satyagrahis mercilessly, bundled the women satyagrahis into trucks and transported them... Immediately the "Battle of Jaffna" was over, the army proceeded to waylay and hit all and sundry on t he roads of Jaffna on the ground that they were breaking a curfew order, of which most of them were unaware."

& the daughter...

From Genocide'95 - Under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, acts of murder committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such are considered as acts of genocide. The evidence presented here serves to prove that during the period commencing May 1995 and continuing 2001, the actions of the Sri Lanka authorities in their war on the Tamil people in the North-East of the island of Sri Lanka constitute genocide...The record shows that under cover of this refusal to acknowledge the law, the Sri Lanka security forces (acting on the implicit or explicit authorisation of its commander in chief, President Chandrika Kumaratunga) have with impunity committed gross violations of the international humanitarian law relating to armed conflict which law demands that - The genocidal intent of the Sri Lanka government is proved by -

- the 'broad front steamrollering' attack launched on the Jaffna peninsula;

- the deliberation with which the Sri Lanka security forces have killed Tamil non combatants, shelled densely populated Tamil villages, destroyed Tamil homes and cultivable land, bombed Tamil schools and places of worship, and blocked the supply of essential food and medicine to the Tamil homeland;

- the persistent and frequent breaches by Sri Lanka authorities of the laws and regulations relating to arrest and detention and the unprecedented number of "disappearances";

- the systematic use of torture and rape as instruments of state terrorism;

- the mass graves;

- the use of Tamil civilians as human mine detectors and as forced labour;

- the murder of Tamil prisoners whilst in the custody of Sri Lanka authorities;

-the imposition of a press censorship which went beyond any needs of 'national security';

- by calculated resort to disinformation and war mongering;

- the public pronouncements of President Kumaratunga and her ministers, together with the 'victory' ceremony on establishing 'Sinhala rule' of Jaffna; and

- the failure of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her government to condemn the gross and systematic violations of humanitarian law by the forces under their command and the impunity afforded to the offenders.

Charles Sarvan from Berlin, Germany 
on Chandrika Kumaratunga�s Apology, 27 July 2004

President Kumaratunga in her words and actions has the advantage of being completely free of any sense of embarrassment or shame.

Many who experienced Black July 1983 at the receiving end are either dead or, if alive, still find it so terrible that they are unwilling to verbalise to others. On the other hand, the guilty or the complicit either still gloat, minimise (�It was not that bad�) or blame the victims: �They asked for it.�

It would be difficult to exaggerate the horrors of that day: human beings, including children, burnt alive while jeering groups danced gleefully around in �patriotic� and pious frenzy; women gang-raped, the eyes of at least one prisoner gouged out; bodies dragged and placed before a Buddha statue, as if the Compassionate One were an atavistic god who demanded human sacrifice.

Now the President thinks the past can be wiped out and the present healed simply by saying sorry for those �incidents� (sic). She does not seem to realize that such an apology is an insult to the dead, and a painful affront to those who suffered directly or indirectly. Such an apology is much worse than silence, which at least can be variously interpreted. There is no declaration of an annual National Day of Reflection and Sorrow; no mention of an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission; no mention of prosecution.

Simply waving the magic wand of �Sorry� brings about a wonderful change of scene and situation. If only life were so simple, and rectification so easy. She blurs and confuses matters by mentioning those who send children as suicide bombers. While not condoning such actions, one must point out that these unfortunate developments are both after and, more importantly, because of 1983. (At that time, the number of those active in the LTTE is estimated to have been between fifteen and twenty-five. The Tigers are the creation of chauvinism, and of the intolerance and violence that flow from it.)

But to return to the President�s utter lack of morality and, therefore, of any sense of shame, she exploits the issuing of an apology to reflect credit on herself. By implication, she says, I have the �courage� and offer �the right leadership�. At root, it is not an apology so much as preening self-praise: See how honest, courageous and just I am.

And one asks, �What took you so long, Madam? Being late, why so little?� Is the apology to be seen as one of the �great achievements� (of the President) that the nation can be �proud of�? It might seem boorish of me to cavil at an apology, but (a) the nature and (b) the motives of this verbal gesture need to be recognised, exposed and condemned.

Sarath Kumara on an Empty Apology,  6 August 2004

Speaking at a meeting to mark the 21st anniversary of the pogrom, Kumaratunga declared: �Every citizen in this country should collectively accept the blame and make an apology to the tens of thousands who suffered. I would like to assign to myself that task on behalf of the State of Sri Lanka, the government and on behalf of all of us; all the citizens of Sri Lanka to extend that apology.�

The �apology� was accompanied by nominal compensation to some of the victims. Just 72.3 million rupees [$US702,000] will be paid to 937 people or an average of 77,000 rupees [$750] for the injuries and destruction they suffered. Leaving aside the cost in lives, the loss of property alone in 1983 has been estimated to run into billions of rupees.

Kumaratunga�s sweeping declaration that �every citizen� was to blame is to consciously obscure the role played by the ruling elites in Colombo not only for the pogrom itself but their deliberate resort to anti-Tamil chauvinism over the preceding decades and since...While the president now offers an empty apology for the events of 1983, her Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was responsible for institutionalising the anti-Tamil discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s that paved the way for the pogrom and the war. Along with the United National Party (UNP), she and the SLFP ruthlessly prosecuted the racialist war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to ensure the predominance of the Sinhala elite over their Tamil counterparts. ...�Every citizen� was not to blame for the tragic events. It is open secret that this violence was instigated and organised by then UNP government of President J.R. Jayewardene. .." more


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