7 August, 2020

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30 Years On, Can We Claim To Have Come Very Far From Black July At All?

By M. A. Sumanthiran –

M A Sumanthiran

For  30 years, July 23, 1983 has been remembered in Sri Lanka as ‘Black July’. This date marks the tragedy of thousands of Tamil people beinge attacked by rioting  mobs. Hundreds of Tamils were killed and thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. Many of those  who survived fled the country, fearing they would never be able to see their homes again. The repercussions of these brutal actions are still felt by the Tamil people both in Sri Lanka and abroad. The ’83 pogrom is widely seen as a trigger to Sri Lanka’s civil war.

The importance of remembering this watershed atrocity  cannot be underestimated. It is only by remembering  such tragedy that  we hope to ensure that such horrors never again take place.

Unfortunately  we as Sri Lankans have not journeyed very far from ‘Black July’. Instead of dealing with, and eradicating the root causes of the conflict, we seem to be intent on exacerbating them. Today, more than 4 years after the end of a bloody war, reconciliation amongst Sri Lanka’s peoples is still very far away.  Sadly, 30 years later, not much has changed.

Black July was widely recognized as a genocidal act unleashed against the Tamil people; as Sri Lanka’s Holocaust. This was recognized as Genocide not merely because a large number of Tamil people were killed and injured, but also because assets and property owned by Tamils – Tamil homes and businesses – were attacked and demolished. 30 years later we are still seeing such genocidal acts being committed against the Tamil people. It is internationally recognized that the term Genocide includes acts that force a community of people to leave the land  traditionally occupied by them for several generations. This is taking place in our country today, with the mass land grabs by the government and the military in the North and East.

The horrendous killings of Tamils in July ’83, is largely believed to have been carried out with the support of the government of that day. In fact President J.R. Jayawardene’s first speech on the event made on 27 July 1983, offered little sympathy to what the Tamil people had faced.

Today, four years after the end of the civil war, the incumbent President has declared that Sri Lanka has ‘no minorities’. The reality however, is vastly different. The government turns a blind eye to the repeated attacks against various minority groups. Today, that includes not only the Tamil people, but the Muslim people as well. One of the recent incidents was an attack carried out against a Muslim owned business. Video footage taken during this attack clearly showed a Buddhist monk vandalizing the building in question while policemen look on, doing nothing. Other religious minorities also continue to come under attack, with threatening and violent acts being committed against  mosques and churches.. Following the events of Black July, despite rioting mobs openly attacking Tamil civilians for several days, no perpetrators were apprehended or held accountable. Today too, few, if any, of the individuals responsible for attacks against members of minority groups are ever apprehended. Hate speeches against minority groups are made, processions threatening minority groups are openly conducted, and the government does nothing.

The  government  turns a blind eye to violence in  other quarters as well. Scores of journalists have been attacked, seriously injured, killed or have  disappeared, but the perpetrators of these attacks are almost never apprehended and brought to justice. The crime rate in the country has risen dramatically over the past months and years. The riots in July 1983 were symptomatic of a complete breakdown in the Rule of Law. It is indeed disheartening to see that breakdown today as well.

The ‘83 pogrom is seen as a determined effort by a portion of the majority community, backed by the government of the day, to teach the Tamil people who had been for a long time calling for meaningful power sharing, a lesson. Until 1983, these calls had been for the most part, non violent. After 1983,  violence by Tamil youth increased significantly. It is this that led to the 26 year long conflict in our country. To date, the Sri Lankan state has been unable to address the Tamil question in a meaningful way. The only concession to power sharing in Sri Lanka’s Constitution is the 13th Amendment. Even this has to date not been fully implemented despite the government’s repeated promises to its people and to members of the international community that it will do so. In fact, the government now proposes to do away with it altogether! Instead of making a realistic effort to arriving at a meaningful power sharing arrangement through genuine, constructive political dialogue, the government now proposes to take away even the limited concession to power sharing in the Constitution. The Tamil National Alliance has repeatedly stated that the solution to the ethnic conflict is not a  military one,  but  a political one. However, 30 years on, the Sri Lankan government seems more unwilling than ever to either engage in any meaningful, genuine process to this end.

In 2004,  President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge acknowledged the role played by the government and made a public apology for the atrocities of ’83. Despite being seen by many as 21 years too late,  the gesture, in my opinion, was tremendously significant. For Sri Lanka and its peoples to move past ’83, this acknowledgment, and with it the accountability for the atrocities committed, was absolutely necessary. Today, 4 years after the war, despite assurances given to the international community and its own peoples, the government of Sri Lanka has yet to put in place any credible process for accountability for what occurred during the war. The tragedy of ‘83 should have taught us that in order for us to move past the tragedy of the civil war as a country, there must be accountability for atrocities committed on both sides.

30 years on, the environment and circumstances that made Black July possible have not changed in any significant way. A war has ended, but we have failed to address, far less eradicate, the root causes of the conflict behind it. If anything, we have exacerbated them. 30 years on, can we claim to have come very far from Black July at all?

*The author, M. A. Sumanthiran (B.Sc, LL.M) is a Member of Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a senior practicing lawyer, prominent Constitutional and Public Law expert and civil rights advocate

 

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Bravo Mr. Sumanthiran, you have some guts to call a spade a spade! Keep up the struggle.

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      Excellent Mr. Sumanthiran!
      Tamils and concerned Sinhala citizens should get together and build a national monument to commemorate black July and remember its victims – in the heart of Colombo where the violence / pogrom which really was STATE TERRORISM happened. Remembering the dead and the beginning of war (not just the end) is necessary for RECONCILIATION.

      Since previous monuments to remember victims of State crimes have been later destroyed by the state as was the memorial to the JVP violence by Gota the Goon who is implicated in both State violence during the JVP and Tamil uprisings, a private citizen/s should be encouraged to donate land for a memorial for the atrocity of 1983 which was the beginning of 30 years war. Today the putrid State of Sri lanka celebrates its victory or the end of war, but forgets its crimes that launched the beginning.. It is upto decent private citizens to be proactive and take the lead of building a memorial to the VICTIMS OF the POGROM of 1983..

      • 0
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        Hey Don Stanley and Mr. S

        You are public liars

        War was declared nobody but Tamil politicians at Wadukkodei in 1976 and ended in 2009 after 33 years. So it is not 30 years but 33 years war they fought and lost. Ethnic in SL clashes go back to days of racist Chelvanagam who is also the grand father of the LTTE who stated real genocide since 1949 with tarring the letter ‘Sri’ of motor vehicle number plates and Sinhala names from road signs in Tamil areas.

        83 clashes erupted in Colombo and other city limits where Sinhala Buddhist were absolute minority, were a part of that war triggered by LTTE killing of 12 soldiers and the then President JRJ who is not a Sinhala Buddhist bears the total responsibility for all the killing and tragedies that took place in that unfortunate incident which later Tamils leaders exaggerated by several thousand times to get international sympathy for them to enter in EU and Western counties as asylum seekers. Mr. S has also joined them by adding it the so called 2009 genocide which is also a fabrication of the same old style.

        It is not only Tamils who were killed but Sinhalese live in North were also killed and chased away to south since 1977 when the ethnic cleansing was really started.

        The truth is that the Sinhalese who never mistreated their minorities saved millions of Tamils from the LTTE racism since 77 and millions of Tamils increasingly populated among the majority Sinhalese since than silently prove that fact today and you liars have no grounds to erect false monuments in this country even if you keep uttering the same old lie for billion of more times.

        So every citizen in this country should commemorate the heroes who sacrificed their lives in that historic effort of saving lives of all.

        • 0
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          What is racism sir?

        • 0
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          Good old Sinhala Buddhists have no capacity to do wrong; everything that has happened in Sri Lanka is instigated by non-Buddhist conspiracy!

          Costa is a Portuguese name; his ancestors must have betrayed Buddhism and converted to Christianity taking advantage of privileges offered. But the present Costa put things right by converting back to Buddhism not because of Buddhist ascendancy by the way! But the Costa name remains and it is big puzzle for me!

          • 0
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            Yes,

            Don Mahindapala, who is the enlightener.

    • 0
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      I have repeatedly been saying this – Sumanthiran will be the voice for tamil srilankens. I am a born sinhalese but now being on the west, I feel only the kind of politicians can be the saviour of the nation. No matter he is from the minority, he as an educated politician, always bring facts that right thinking would have no chance to oppose him. All the very best for him and his political future. I wish we the majority also had talented politicians to remove the most corrupted rulers from the power.

      • 0
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        Sumanthiran is more Sri Lankan than anyone in Sri Lanka. He advocates for ALL Sri Lankans. He is the one politician standing in the way of a banana clan run republic… Sumanthiran is Sri Lanka’s version of John F. Kennedy…

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          Wyatt, Sumanthiran is a liar

          If he, who could not open his mouth to condemn tens of thousands of killing of innocent civilians by the LTTE in which he also was an ally, thinks that bringing totally false accusations to the majority of the country he live with all the freedom today would bring any reconciliation, either he is totally blind or again misleading his community to pull them to an 83 type of clashes in which all the country was publically stripped.

          People of this country have never promised to hand over North and East to a group of liars like him and he can not grab it from the majority as they know the truth despite the above type compilation of lies he keeps flawing.

          • 0
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            I could not disagree with you more. Sumanthiran is about healing, the rule of law and preserving democracy. Unlike the other so called leaders in Sri Lanka, Sumanthiran represents ALL Sri Lankans.

  • 0
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    Dear Dr RN , any comments to this article especially on the part of genocide?

    • 0
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      Rajasingham is busy helping and “lauding” the government in trying to win a few votes !

    • 0
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      I have read Rajan^s comments many a times.
      Is he a political scientist ? What is his background ? Can anybody please respond to this ?

      • 0
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        LOL he is not political scientist !

        He is (in)famous for his trip to the Vanni in 2009, he was part of the “Tamil Diaspora” group that came down to Sri Lanka (brought down) and were allowed to visit the Vanni.
        He lauded the government and thus was part of the “cover”, a fig leaf at most I might add to the government.

        Since then he claims to be “helping” the Tamils in the Vanni, though as a Tamil living and having lived through the atrocities of the LTTE (ably supported by the diaspora which he is a part of ) I would rather he left us to pick up our pieces and move on !

      • 0
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        Pinappu,

        Here is what Rajasingham himself declared, obviously deluded based on over-rated assumptions about the merits of his training: “I am a ‘ Tamil Balu Dostara’ ( A Tamil Dog doctor) … we Veterinarians are trained to observe our patients closely, because they cannot talk. This is great skill and asset in life.”

        In his defense, however, we must appreciate his rather recent, even if delayed, enlightenment with regard to MR’s intentions and credibility.

        On the other hand, now that he has seen the light, I do think he owes a rather sumptuous apology to the Diaspora for all the vilifying he has dished out over the post-war years, having seemingly indulged in some rather “cushy” Vanni luxury tours.

        For instance, his inability to mobilize Diaspora funds for a purported Northern development plans(not unlike the famous post-tsunami Hambantota Rising fund!) as a pay-back to the Regime, was quite an irritant for him, not realizing that any such funds would in fact have ended up supporting nothing but “Royal” inheritance.

        Now that he is more enlightened on MR’s deviousness (as he has conceded multiple times in the recent weeks), if he is sincere even if duped, it is high-time he apologized for his erroneous ways. Going silent, after all those unrelenting torrential propaganda work for weeks and months on end, doesn’t cut it!

  • 0
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    Only fools believe these Sinhala Buddhist regret their crime against Tamils.

  • 0
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    30 years ago, information moved very slowly and was not freely available. What I have observed is that still, some people from that era are disallusioned about what really happened and seem to think that Tamils brought it on them selves. I don’t know how wide spread this dillusion is but I believe that is part of the problem.

    30 years on, we have a completely new generation who are on the forefront and they are just learning their history. Hopefully in this age of information, truth will prevail.

    However, we can not take this for granted. We should have a concerted ‘WE SHALL NOT FORGET’ campaign which needs to take roots in civil society and propegate to the rest of society. We can not trust our leaders to carry this mantle. Ofcourse leaders like Mr Sumanthiran are an exception….

  • 0
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    MAS,
    I think you too never learnt any thing from black July or aftermath, LTTE terror killed thousands sinhala children, women, men in border villages & over 1200 in eastern province mosques & tens of thousands civilians in Bus/lorry/train Bombs / suicide bombs in south / colombo , at least thousand times more than Black July & you for last 03 years or TNA/TULF for last 30 years never condemned LTTE cold blooded killings , never tried to make peace with Sinhala people & still stand for separatist demand even after the war.

    So if you did / do not want to live with Sinhala people, how / why the hell you expect any better deal from Sinhala people.
    We don’t need any damn talk with you because we won war at a high price , you donkeys dancing to INGO/NGO mafia/western/Indian/outsiders/diaspora terrorists tune, so you dance til the cows come home & WE DON’T CARE YOU NOW, it’s we who decide, if you want RESTART WAR FROM NANDIKADAL lagoon AGAIN, we are ready to flush out what remains Ceylon Tamils for good.

    Suffocation is yours , not ours.

    • 0
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      Mr John,
      You must be having exact number of Sinhalese killed by LTTE? Can you give us the source of information and compare it with the numbers of Tamils killed by your brave sons of Buddha?
      Do you know how many of Sinhalese were killed by Sinhala military in 1970 and 1989? Have you sent them for good out of Ceylon?

  • 0
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    A path to healing is understanding the past and moving into the future. M.A. Sumanthiran has both and he is more Sri Lankan than any other Sri Lankan. I hope your future is bright in Sri Lankan politics. You deserve to be president of Sri Lanka if the best person for the job is to be elected. Keep advocating for the rule of law, democracy and freedom. M.A. Sumanthiran represents everything that Sri Lanka could be….

  • 0
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    Two ex TNA MPs are among the 12 candidates who made the cut for the NP election.

    There were over 350 applicants who are fairdinkum Northern Tamils who lived there all along and went through a hard time to create this opportnity for the TNA.

    Besides this one off pogrom, how much hardships did Mr Sumnathiran gone through for the last three decades.?.

    He has been to Uni and Law School,got a double degree.

    Made big moolay in Hultsdorf and perhaps got a big dowrey too..

    And doing pro bono work now even to challenge the CJ on behalf of an ex Judge who is soon to be docked for bribery.

    In contrast the non Vellalas who were confined to the Praba territory couldn’t send their kids to school even, let alone getting a single degree.

    Besides they had to do National service as well.

  • 0
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    John, can’t you see the difference?

    The crimes of the LTTE were the actions of terrorists. They did what terrorists do. That is what we expect from terrorists the world over.

    The crimes of July 83 were the crimes of thugs, politicians and the military & police, the very people who were supposed to defend citizens.

    How would you feel about these matters if you were Tamil?

  • 0
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    Taraki

    “How would you feel about these matters if you were Tamil?”

    It is too early to forget the suffering of Sinhalese in 1971 and between 1987 and 1991.

  • 0
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    Sumanthiran, Sri Lanka has only taken a “HOP”, it still has to take a “STEP” and a “JUMP” to achieve equal rights, democracy, freedom of speech and above all Justice to all. The biggest hurdle today in taking the “STEP” is the militant Buddhist Clergy, who claim to be protecting Buddhism with a bottle of Scotch and taking money from divisive groups. This will change only when the constitution is amended removing the special status given to Buddhism and all religions and languages are provided equal status. The constitution should also stipulate that every one who is a citizen should be officially called “Sri Lankan”, not Sinhalese, Muslim, Tamil, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim etc…. Has the President got the guts to do this?>

  • 0
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    Native Veddah, I’m not sure I understand the point you are making. However, the suffering of the Sinhalese in 1971 and 1987-89 was also due to the crimes of thugs, politicians and the military & police.

    • 0
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      Taraki

      “the suffering of the Sinhalese in 1971 and 1987-89 was also due to the crimes of thugs, politicians and the military & police.”

      That is why I have been campaigning to abolish the state together its bureaucracy, armed forces, police, …………..

      Once the state monopoly on violence is removed then the violence would be between people. They will find a way to deal with it.

  • 0
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    Sumanthiran, great writing.

    I agree with most of what you say.

    Do not be disheartened by those who discredit your writing. They are pure and simple racist fascists.

    I agree that Sri Lanka has degressed. The rule of law is non existent. Thuggery and intimidation and police brutality is all pervading. Even the Saffron robed monks have joined the thuggery party.

    Sri Lanka must brace itself for the inevitable. The hydra of racial hatred has been let loose again. This time it will be Muslim genocide. Unlike Tamils the Muslims have no Jaffna or Batticoloa to take refuge in. As such the pogrom in the making against Muslims when unleashed soon will pale in horror what occurred in July 83.

    It will take only one Muslim to retaliate or a mad saffron robed thug to blame a Muslim for a self inflicted injury for the cauldron of hate to boil over.

    The blood lust of the Sinhala people was never sated during Black July or with so many such events prior to that. They are all getting ready for the second blood bath. None were punished for the pogrom of July 83. In the contrary many became rich from the plunder of Tamil homes and businesses, with rape of Tamil women as a bonus. The saffron robed army with its monstrous coterie of blood thirsty minions are all set and ready for another grotesque harvest.

    In the meantime the so called moderate Sinhalese along with the malevolent leadership of Sri Lanka, the backboneless oposition, the police and the judiciary, stand up with shut eyes and keep singing ‘Loke uthum rata lankawai, lankawai siri lankawai.’

  • 0
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    Just great. Keep it up Sir. I Hope one day, I could be your help to do some good to Sri Lanka.
    There should be lot more like me who honor you and looking to do some meaningful things in our lives with a credible person like you. Just call us if you think we can be any help…
    Anura

  • 0
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    Do you want to wallow in this your own excreta or move on? You are like the Jews who keep banging on and on about the six million sent to the gas chambers. Why don’t you ever talk about the atrocities committed by the Tamils and the LTTE during the thirty years. Black July was a three day mob ruled riot and there were as many Tamil involved in that as there were Muslims. It was about looting and why don’t you mention the thousand of Tamil people who were saved by their Sinhalese neighbours?
    People have run out of sympathy for your moaning. Why don’t you just shut up and get on with it or get on a boat and bugger off to where-ever you want.

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