- Jonathan Wijayaratne
Sowing seeds of recognition to harvest the peace of tomorrow
Trigger warning: This article discusses war, ethnic cleansing and sexual assault. Its contents may be harmful or traumatising to some readers.
On this 18 May 2023, hundreds of delegates from around Europe and the world were gathered to attend the opening of this year’s edition of EuroMUN, Maastricht’s very own Model United Nations conference. The slogan of this edition is “Sowing seeds of stability to harvest the solutions of tomorrow”, setting the tone for the hopefully fruitful discussions of this weekend. At the end of the opening ceremony, Secretary General Krithik Rock took the floor. In his speech, Krithik, who has a Tamil background, acknowledged the Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day, which is commemorated every 18th of May.
“It's one of the foremost examples of, despite pleas to the international community, an ongoing and delayed search for justice and peace-building, as well as a transition away from one of the worst manifestations of human nature — discrimination.”
The island of Sri Lanka, formerly called Ceylon, was scarred by a civil war opposing the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebel groups, the largest one being the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The war broke out in 1983 as decades of state-sponsored systemic oppression on the Lankan Tamil minority — power being held by the Sinhalese majority since independence in 1948 — culminated in the Black July pogrom, where Sinhalese mobs killed an estimated 3,000 Tamil people. The most intense conflicts took place in the North and East of the island, a Tamil-majority area. The LTTE’s agenda was indeed to secure a separate state for the Tamil nation, after demands for a federal solution were not met.
On 18 May 2009, the killing of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran by the Sri Lankan armed forces signalled the end of the war, which effectively happened the following day. The same day, the Mullivaikkal massacre became the last instance of slaughtering of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan state. The small coastal village of Mullivaikkal had been declared as a no-fire zone by the government. However, as innocent civilians were trapped, notably due to the LTTE’s strategy to protect their soldiers, tens of thousands were killed in the Sri Lankan military’s shelling of the area.
Over 26 years, at least 100,000 people died. In Tamil-speaking regions, civilians were abandoned to the crossfire between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE, the latter forcefully drafting men and boys of all ages, and the former using rape as one of many war weapons. Thousands of Tamil fathers, husbands, brothers and sons were disappeared. To this day, whether they are alive is still uncertain, and Tamil mothers have been protesting and demanding answers from the state.
The Sri Lankan government has still not responded to allegations of human rights violations and genocide. Thanks to their partnership with China, which enjoys a large network of (soon-to-be) client states, they have managed to defeat almost every attempt by the United Nations to pass resolutions condemning Sri Lanka. This is much to the despair of the Tamil community, in Sri Lanka as well as around the world through the diasporas, that has been striving for justice and recognition of the atrocities inflicted on their people.
Last year, Sri Lanka was marked by a revolution that ousted the ruling Rajapaksa family. The wave of protests came in response to the worst economic crisis the country ever went through. The Rajapaksas were also in power in the last years of the war and oversaw the war crimes carried out in that period. The ‘Aragalaya’ (Sinhala for ‘struggle’) put forward a call for system change, and opened a conversation for inter-ethnic justice. The revolution was eventually silenced, but the memory of it is still very fresh in the memory of Lankans. The economy might be on an upward slope again, but Sri Lanka won’t be able to move forward as a nation unless there is a comprehensive acknowledgement of its past. It is only by sowing seeds of recognition that Lankans will be able to begin a true process of reconciliation, and eventually harvest the peace of tomorrow.
More info on Sri Lanka’s history and the 2022 protests in this podcast episode: https://www.maastrichtdiplomat.org/podcast/episode/1d285c0a/crisis-in-sri-lanka-aragalaya-lankan-democracy-at-a-crossroads
Photo taken from Twitter: https://twitter.com/TamilGuardian/status/1659106975467044864?s=20