This week marks the fortieth anniversary of the single most cataclysmic event in our post –
independence history – the anti -Tamil pogrom of July 1983. It is very sad and regrettable
that there are few, if any, public commemorations of the event and that the security forces
and the Police were deployed in large and disproportionate numbers and that at least in one
instance, force was used to disperse those at these meetings.
July 1983 led to the full -blown armed phase of the civil war, which lasted almost three
decades. Thousands of Tamils were killed, displaced and forced to flee abroad. We salute
the courage of the Sinhalese who gave them refuge. The country lost millions in terms of
foreign investment and tourism. Whilst a military victory against the LTTE was won in May
2009, forty years after the initial carnage and thirteen years after this military victory, a
political settlement of the conflict is yet to happen. The proposed Truth and Reconciliation
Commission has been met with skepticism and downright rejection from the families of the
victims; the cruelty of disappearances persists; the Prevention of Terrorism Act is yet to be
repealed and replaced; the Anti-Terrorism Act has been put on the back burner in response
to domestic and international pressure; the Thirteenth Amendment has yet to be
implemented in full anywhere in the country; police powers to the provinces provided in the
amendment may never be granted. The issue of accountability in respect of allegations of
war crimes and crimes against humanity is yet to be addressed. In addition, there are the
issues of land in the possession of the security forces to be resolved, the issue of the
archeological heritage of the land and security forces engagement in the civilian economy.
The citizens of Sri Lanka, especially our Tamil citizens and those that make up the diaspora
are deeply scarred by the events of July 1983 and their consequences. Sri Lanka needs to
heal, to reconcile, to unite, not least to come together to meet the deep and grave
challenge of governance that has spawned the current economic crisis and the issues of the
legitimacy, transparency and accountability of and in our governance and government. The
curse of impunity has to be comprehensively expunged from our public affairs.
We cannot allow any of this to happen to us ever again. We have to seize the opportunity
of building our future based on the principle of Unity in Diversity. To do this we cannot
forget. The state has to publicly acknowledge its crimes and misdemeanoures, even if
through the generosity in our hearts, we can begin to forgive.
Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
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