To learn about the history of the Tamil national liberation struggle for self-determination under the Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist Sri Lankan government, check out this Liberation News article.
For the Tamil diaspora across the world and the Tamils in Eelam — the homeland of the Tamil people on the island of Sri Lanka — May 18 of every year is commemorated as Mullivaikkal Remembrance Day. It is a day to remember, mourn and seek justice for the tens of thousands of Tamil civilians and freedom fighters who lost their lives to the murderous military campaign by the Sri Lankan government in 2009. It is estimated that between 40,000 to 150,000 unarmed Tamil civilians in the town of Mullivaikkal were mercilessly shelled to death by government forces in the final days of the conflict.
The island of Sri Lanka has been populated by two distinct peoples for thousands of years — the majority Sinhalese population and the minority Tamil population. Centuries of divide-and-conquer policies pursued by European colonial powers greatly exacerbated tensions between the two communities. For decades, the country’s central government has been dominated by political organizations that have a Sinhala-chauvinist orientation.
Not only is the same day celebrated as Victory Day with military parades for Sinhala “War Heroes” by the Sri Lankan government, the government has also banned Tamils from commemorating the victims of the May 18 genocide. Tamils in Eelam who organize public or private commemoration events have been met with threats, violence and arrests by the occupying Sri Lankan military forces. This is a strategic maneuver by the Sri Lankan government to both avoid taking responsibility for its massacre of Tamil civilians in 2009, and to create a false memory for the world that no such atrocities ever took place.
The suppression of Mullivaikkal Remembrance Day activities in public spaces is nothing more than the Sinhala chauvinist state’s attempt to prevent the growth of a mass movement among Tamils in the post-genocide climate.
The Sinhala government equates the commemoration for the dead Tamil civilians as commemoration for the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) itself. The LTTE was an armed national liberation organization with a socialist orientation that had wide support among the Tamil people in Eelam prior to its 2009 defeat. Despite the restrictions by the government, Tamils in Eelam continue to resist by holding small events to mark May 18 as a day to memorialize the victims of genocide.
Leading up to the genocide in Mullivaikkal
Under Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2005 specifically on an anti-LTTE platform, a military campaign was launched in 2006 to completely crush the Tamil resistance for an independent homeland.
In 2006, in broad daylight, the Sri Lankan Air Force dropped 16 bombs, utilizing Isreali Kifr jets, on an orphanage that was established and run by the Liberation Tigers (LTTE) for war-affected children in Sencholai. 61 schoolgirls were killed, and 129 were injured in the airstrike. The LTTE Peace Secretariat urged representatives of international agencies in Kilinochchi, including UNICEF, to visit the site of the bombing for investigation. Instead, the United Nations, in the service of U.S. imperialism, did not condemn the bombing. The international corporate media falsely reported that the children killed were child soldiers of the LTTE, and later used this very claim to demonize the LTTE. This event would become the model for how the Sinhala government would silence its injustices against the Tamil people, and eventually set the stage for the Mullivaikal genocide in 2009.
Following the failure of the Norway-brokered ceasefire, and the Sinhala government’s withdrawal from the ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers in 2008, the committee of Nordic experts who were there to monitor the truce were made to leave the country by the government, along with most other humanitarian agencies.
By this time, the Sinhala government had seized control of the Eastern part of the country and established the Eastern Provincial Council using a pro-government splinter of the LTTE. After the town of Kilinochchi, the administrative center of the LTTE, was captured by the Sri Lankan military in December of 2008, the Tamil Tigers’ last stronghold Mullaitivu became the target.
Mullivaikkal is a village in the Mullaitivu district of Vanni, the northern region of Sri Lanka. It was here that the Sri Lankan army launched a brutal, all-out offensive against the Tamil Tigers with over 350,000 Tamil civilians trapped in what became a war-zone. Earlier, the Sri Lankan air force had dropped leaflets over the village urging Tamil civilians to come to government controlled “safe zones,” also known as “No Fire Zones.” When the civilians took heed and moved to “safety” as directed, the Sri Lankan forces indiscriminately shelled the civilians, including children, using artillery bombardment and aerial bombing. The Sri Lankan forces also bombed clearly marked hospitals and engaged in many extrajudicial killings. The so-called “No Fire Zones” were in reality open-air mass killing sites.
In the aftermath of the genocide, hours of video and mobile footage from the last 138 days of the Sri Lankan army’s military offensive emerged. This evidence was compiled into an investigative documentary, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Field of Sri Lanka,” that shocked the world. In director Callum Macrae’s own words:
“No Fire Zone shows the relentless horror of those final weeks. These are images so shocking that they changed votes when we showed a cut of the film at the UN Human Rights Council in March . In the last few days of the war, in May 2009, the massacre of the civilians was followed by another series of war crimes. Victorious government troops systematically executed bound, blindfolded prisoners. Women fighters were stripped, sexually assaulted, blindfolded and shot in the head. In one incident the 12-year-old son of the Tigers’ leader is seen first in captivity, eating a snack. Two hours later he lies dead, having been shot, five times, at point-blank range. These events were recorded by the perpetrators on mobile phones as grotesque war trophies.”
Although the footage has been checked and verified by independent sources as being legitimate, the Sri Lankan government maintains the lie that the footage is fake and manufactured.
Sinhala government denies its actions
The actions of the Sri Lankan military forces in Mullivaikkal are not to be mistaken simply for neglect or ignorance, because the facts sums up to a calculated, premeditated genocide. The fact that the Sri Lankan government prohibited independent media from entering the combat region and kicked out human rights organizations from the area prior to the offensive further exposes this.
The Sri Lankan government saw the final offensive as an opportunity to not only completely decimate the LTTE, but to delegitimize armed struggle by deliberately killing civilians and creating a narrative in which all the loss of life in the conflict is attributed to the LTTE. It was also an opportunity to turn the Tamils who survived but lost family against the Tamil Tigers. Above all, the Sri Lankan state aimed to prove to the oppressed Tamil population that it, having the support of the imperialist West, would maintain a unitary government to the benefit of the Sinhala capitalist elite by any means necessary.
The fact that Sri Lankan government invited hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians to their deaths in the “No Fire Zone” like cattle about to be slaughtered, shows the Sri Lankan government’s utter disregard for Tamil lives, and that it would wipe out the entire Tamil population from the country if it could get away with it. If anything, the genocide only reaffirms the brutality of the national oppression faced by Tamils, and makes the case for a self- determining Tamil nation stronger.
Under the guise of “counter-insurgency” and fighting “terrorism,” the Sri Lankan government not only denies any responsibility for what it did in Mullivaikkal, it wouldn’t allow independent forensic investigations of the massacre sites. Moreover, in the aftermath of the genocide, only the Sri Lankan military had access to the sites to “clean up” the land, when really what was likely being cleaned up was the evidence of a massacre.
United Nations, U.S., and British complicity in genocide
In the months leading up to the Mullivaikkal genocide, the so-called “international community” and the international media fell silent. Throughout the period of killings of Tamils by the Sri Lankan Army, the United Nations under Ban Ki-moon adopted a position of neutrality. During the last months of the Sri Lankan army’s offensive, not a single meeting was held at the Security Council or any other top UN bodies to discuss the Sri Lankan military’s targeting of Tamil civilians.
A leaked draft of an United Nations internal report in 2012, also known as the Charles Petrie report, concluded that the “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN… a sustained and institutionalized reluctance to stand for the rights of people they were mandated to assist.” The report stated that the UN team abandoned the civilian population with no protection or witnesses by withdrawing UN staff from the war zone in 2008. It also revealed that many senior UN staff did not perceive the prevention of the killing of civilians their responsibility. It is detailed in the report that the United Nations failed to publicize that the large majority of deaths were caused by Sri Lankan government shelling.
The leaked report also revealed that in New York, “[the UN’s] engagement with member states regarding Sri Lanka was heavily influenced by what it perceived member states wanted to hear, rather than what member states needed to know.” This shows that, for the United Nations, the geo-strategic interests of the imperialist powers, United States and United Kingdom, and the stability of the chauvinist Sri Lankan government took precedence over the lives of tens of thousands of Eelam Tamils.
In December 2013, an international panel of academics and lawyers who are experts on genocide convened in Bremen, Germany, as the Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PTT) to hold the People’s Tribunal of Sri Lanka. The verdict of the panel not only found Sri Lanka guilty of perpetuating ongoing structural genocide towards the Eelam Tamils, but also found the United States and UK complicit in the genocide. Then in 2014, when the UN Commission of Human Rights finally voted to establish an independent international inquiry into the events covered in the No Fire Zone documentary, the Sri Lankan government denied UNCHR investigators entry into the country.
The Eelam Tamil nation’s struggle continues
After the 2009 Tamil genocide, the Sri Lankan government has continued to repress and limit freedom of speech for Eelam Tamils who demand accountability and answers for its war crimes. Using the 1979 Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) that gives the Sri Lankan police wide powers, Tamils who are merely suspected of any connection to or as being sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers are being subject to arbitrary imprisonment, disappearances and severe torture. Many survivors of the Mullivaikkal genocide who were taken prisoner are still not released. Tamils are held in detention for years without being charged, because of lack of evidence in the first place.
In recent years, students of Jaffna University have protested to repeal the PTA. Prisoners arrested under PTA have also engaged in hunger strike to bring attention to their unjustified detention.
Since 2009, there has also been a movement for missing persons primarily led by Tamil women relatives of victims with the support of university students, local organizations and trade unions. Having no confidence in any commission appointed by the Sri Lankan government, protesters demand international investigation into people missing after being arrested or abducted by Sri Lankan armed forces.
Since 2009, the northeastern region — the Tamil homeland — has also been turned into one of the heaviest militarized territories in the world. It is said that approximately one Sinhala soldier is present for every five civilians, which is about 198.5 occupying forces for every 1000 Tamil civilians. The occupation of Tamil Eelam by Sri Lankan armed forces is very much comparable to the situation of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Following in the footsteps of the apartheid Israeli state that implements a policy of “zoning” around military installments, the Sri Lankan state has established High Security Zones on large sections of lands occupied by the military in the northeastern region of Jaffna.
The militarization and occupation of the Tamil homeland upon the defeat of the Tamil Tigers is only a prelude to the larger agenda. It is becoming clearer by the day that the real intention of the Sri Lankan government is the colonization of Tamil Eelam by moving in non-local Buddhist-Sinhalese into the area. With the promises of land ownership and partnership in development projects, the government is attempting to pacify Sinhala workers and peasants who are dissatisfied by hardships under the capitalist Sinhala ruling-class. Already Eelam Tamils face second-class citizenship and lower quality of life in measures of wages, housing, healthcare, education and other areas. Colonization and dispossession of ancestral lands is a state-sponsored policy of structural genocide contributing to the further economic marginalization and imperialist exploitation of Eelam Tamils.
Over the years, some 800,000 Tamils have sought refuge in other countries and hundreds of thousands more have been internally displaced.
It is under these conditions that Eelam Tamils continue to organize and resist. While the form of the Tamil struggle has changed, at its core it still remains a struggle for self-determination and national liberation.
It is imperative for progressives and revolutionaries across the world to stand in active solidarity with the Eelam Tamil resistance movement. Without international solidarity among the oppressed peoples of the world, there will be no liberation!