Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: TamilCanadian
| Date: 20000728

By: Dr.Nava

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing" - A brief Report

Concept of Genocide

Genocide is a motivated crime against humanity. There simply were no precedents concerning either the nature or the degree of the crime. According to Raphael Lemkin, a Polish-born adviser to the United States War Ministry, genocide signifies 'the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group' and it implies the existence of a coordinated plan, to be put into effect against individuals chosen as victims purely, simply and exclusively because they are members of the target group, to exterminate them completely. Genocide is not only a crime against the rules of war, but also a crime against humanity itself affecting not just the individual or nation in question, but humanity as a whole. Killing someone simply because he or she exists, is a crime against humanity; it is a crime against the very essence of what it is to be human. Genocide is therefore both the gravest and the greatest of the crimes against humanity. Genocide is a conspiracy aimed at the total destruction of a group and thus requires a concerted plan of action. The instigators and initiators of a genocide are cool-minded theorists first and barbarians only second. The specificity of genocide does not arise from the extent of the killings, nor their savagery or resulting infamy, but solely from the intention: the destruction of a group. The Convention for the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was voted into existence by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in 1948. After stating in Article 1 that genocide is a crime under international law, the Convention laid down the following definition: Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    a. Killing members of the group;

    b. causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

    c. deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

    d. imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

    e. forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.*

The final definition as it stands today is based on four constituent factors:

    (1) a criminal act,

    (2) with the intention of destroying,

    (3) an ethnic, national or religious group and

    (4) targeted as such.

Government Sponsored Genocide of Tamils

A civil war is in progress in Sri Lanka between the Sri Lankan government's armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Tamil armed liberation organisation. Since April this year, the government forces have intensified the attacks against the civilians by using multi-barrel artillery shelling and carpet bombings. They are doing this in retaliation to the defeats they suffered in the hands of the LTTE. The government forces are directing their attacks against the noncombatant civilian population. Civilians are used as human shields by the armed forces. Indiscriminate artillery shelling and bombings purposively damage properties of the civilian Tamil people. The government sponsored atrocities in north and east of Sri Lanka evoke a litany of horrific human tragedies - ethnic cleansing, starvation, murder of children; extrajudicial killings, rapes, shelling, arbitrary arrests and detention, running labour camps, ill-treatments, summary executions, collective punishment, and pillage. These atrocities are committed on a large scale; thus, they also constitute crime against humanity and genocide.

In July 2000, in a report on Sri Lanka by the human right organisation, Amnesty International, it has criticised the emergency regulations that were introduced in May by the Sri Lankan government. The report indicated that an increase in torture, disappearances and deaths in custody has been reported since the regulations were introduced. It also suggested that it is concerned that wider powers given to the security forces may have contributed to the increase.

On 29 June 2000, the Chairman of the Committee on International Relations of the Congress of the United States, Congressman Benjamin Gilman, claimed in his letter to US Secretary of State, Hon. Madeleine Albright, that the Sri Lankan government has a long history of repressing the human rights of the Tamil people. In addition, embargo on food, medicine and other essentials to the Tamil people has caused a humanitarian crisis. The letter further continued to indicate that the ban on access for the media to the war zones, could indicate that the Sri Lankan government is concerned that the outside world may learn things that may not reflect well on its image.

On 18 July 2000, two British members of European Parliament strongly criticised the Sri Lankan government's human rights record. They said that the government has not done enough to protect civilians caught up in the war against Tamil Tigers and is covering up their suffering. The two members accused authorities of implementing an oppressive press-censorship policy and of not allowing essential supplies, including baby food and medicine, to be distributed in areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers. They also said that the authorities were not doing enough to minimise civilian casualties. They claimed that the plight of displaced people in and around the conflict area was as bad as the suffering endured by civilians in Sierra Leon and Chechnya.

The heinous and massive crimes such as genocide, torture, rape and destruction committed by the Sri Lankan soldiers must be a concern to the international community. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, there is no judicial system capable of dealing with these types of crimes or providing a fair trial. Therefore, international community and media should take every endeavour to stop these atrocities by advocating for a war crime tribunal for Sri Lanka.

Negligence by International Community

On 21 July 2000, several scholars from all over the world gathered at the inaugural ceremony of "Genocide Research Institute" in Nottingham, United Kingdom. This institute will provide information to governments, politicians, and individuals/groups so trouble spots can be located early to do the needful in time. At the inaugural meeting, the participants talked about holocaust/genocide of Armenians, Gypsies, Jews and Ruwandans but not the recent genocide of Tamils of Sri Lanka. This suggests that the genocide of Tamils is not getting appropriate attention by the international community.

History and future generations will judge those of us in a position to act now as to how we respond today to the cycle of systematic genocide committed by the Sri Lankan government forced against the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Tamils living overseas should be under no illusion that the real victims are the Tamils. We must find ways to bring these atrocities to the attention of the international community. All people who are willing to work together on this matter must come forward and take leadership roles to dedicate themselves to tell the world the truth about the genocide. It is the responsibility of all Tamils. In the past, due to the lack of facilities, a piecemeal approach was used by several Tamils living in Sri Lankan and overseas. We have to build on their contributions to reap the benefits yet. We need to do more to attract the attention of the international community, including the other governments.

Recent War Crimes Committed in the Town of Kaithady

Kaithady is a medium size town in the Jaffna Peninsula. It came under the LTTE control on 17 May 2000. In April 2000, it had a population of approximately 10,000 Tamils. Kaithady was a focal point of conflict throughout the months of April, May and June this year. Unlike most towns and cities in north, it was the target for heavy artillery fire, bombing and shelling by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Consequently, deaths and the total destruction experienced by the civilians are beyond the norm of any civilised society. The Sri Lankan armed forces had control over the town since 1995, and the public buildings were frequently used as a detention centre for Tamils arrested from surrounding areas,

On 20 May 2000, multiple shells fell on an old people's home (an institutionalised home for aged people) at Kaithady killing over 15 elders and seriously wounding 24. While most of the killings in the town occurred as a result of shelling, artillery fire and bombings, at least 10 unsuspected civilians were shot dead by the heavily armed soldiers. The majority of the people claiming that they have witnessed killings of fleeing civilians by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Extensive shelling of Kaithady by Sri Lankan armed forces began on 16 May and people were fleeing from that moment. The displaced people described the situation as "a human tragedy of combination of deaths, destruction, injuries and distress". Eyewitness accounts indicate multiple violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Kaithady since early May 2000. The unarmed civilians suffered detentions, beatings, house-to-house searches, robbery, and extortion by the armed forces.

One displaced family from Kaithady wrote on 1 June 2000 that, they escaped death with their two children by moving from one place to another for several days and nights. They claimed that the Sri Lankan armed forces do not have any regards for the lives of the fleeing and unarmed civilians. The family said that they are afraid to death to describe the atrocities and their narrow escape from death. This family said that on 19 May 2000, the armed forces were shelling Kaithady. There were hands to hands fight between the LTTE and the armed forces close to their house. On the next day, shelling started at about 8:30 PM and it was continuing for about two hours without any break. In the meantime, they moved to another friend's place. However, they could not stay there. They had about 17 people in their group, including their relatives. The family said that everyone was crying and running here and there to save their lives. It was raining and at about 3: 00 AM they were running along the Neervelli beachside. At that point, the armed forces confronted them. The army was shooting on them and two people from their group were killed. They were shouting at the army claiming "civilians", "civilians". However, Sinhala army did not bother. They did not understand their language. Finally, the army let them flee. The family said that they do not know what happened to their sisters and parents. The family claimed that they saw several dead bodies on their way to Chunnakam. They also said that it was almost 15 days since they fled Kaithady and they did not have extra cloths to change into. The family said that shelling was splitting the people into pieces. This is the fate of the civilians. It is like a horror story. This must be stopped. The international community should take the initiative to investigate the atrocities and to decide whether the Sri Lankan government has a case to challenge.

Recommendation for International Community

The International community should make efforts to make known the laws of war to as wide audiences as possible, through journalistic analysis of the civil war in Sri Lanka. Tamil people do not have enough political power and they are intentionally limited to achieve this aim. We believe one of the best mechanisms for preventing war crimes and other atrocities--in the absence of an International Criminal Court and any deterrent effect such a court might have--is attention of the world. If the Sri Lankan government knows that the eyes of the international community are wide open, it may moderate their behavior in order to maintain some semblance of legitimacy about their reasons for fighting. Though this may seem small in comparison to a criminal tribunal, bear in mind that the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia would never have come about had it not been for the consistent media reports of war crimes and exposition of what was taking place. In the current international climate, no tribunal is likely without first an initial push by the media and the international community to bring the nature of the conflict and war crimes to the world's attention. Therefore, you will please, take some efforts to shed more light on the genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Thank you.

Courtesy : TamilCanadian