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Commemorating July 1983: Bridges that Continue to Hold

Statement by National Peace Council of Sri Lanka

On July 23, 1983 law and order in Sri Lanka virtually collapsed as mobs went on a rampage, inciting anarchy and fear, uprooting Tamil people, looting and burning their property and killing many of them. These mobs backed by sections of the then Government claimed they were motivated by the desire to avenge the killing of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers by the LTTE in the northern city of Jaffna. The large scale violence that engulfed the people, primarily victimizing those of Tamil identity twenty five years ago in July 1983, discredited Sri Lanka internationally and signaled the brain-drain that would impact the future economic and political trajectory of the country.


[Oil color on canvas ~ Courtesy: Sundaram Art Gallery]

Underlying the anti-Tamil pogrom was, and remains, an exacerbated ethnic conflict. Instead of approaching this conflict through a concrete political framework, the Government at that time sought an immediate military solution to a problem that it narrowly described as being a 'terrorist problem'. The failure of the State to protect the Tamil civilian population from the mobs, and its decision to escalate its military efforts, fueled Tamil aspirations for a separate State where their grievances could be resolved. Even to this day, the memory of the July 1983 pogrom remains the single most powerful legitimizing factor of support and inspiration for the Tamil militancy.

It is tragic that 25 years later, the Sri Lankan State continues to give its primary attention to militarily resolving the long-standing question of political rights and autonomy, with the result that mass human suffering continues. July 1983 has testified to the fact that violence knows no territorial delimitations or fundamental concepts of civil society - we are all victims of war, with our human rights and civil liberties threatened.

On the other hand, our work with the people convinces us that our fellow citizens are prepared to accept, and commit themselves to, a political solution that ensures justice and security to all. The people of Sri Lanka continue to believe in credible concepts of power sharing and peaceful coexistence. What was lacking then, and remains lacking now, is the preparedness of the country’s decision making leadership, both political and militant, to give leadership to the quest for a substantial political solution- one that can be effectively transferred from paper to the grassroots - and to actively construct the necessary power sharing accommodations to implement this political solution.

On the 25th Anniversary of what has been termed Black July, the National Peace Council also seeks to honour the memory of those who were victims of ethnic violence. But most importantly, we pay homage to those who, in times of heightened danger, risked their own security and well being to provide assistance to these victims, without any regard to ethnic differences or cultural identity. It is in moments like these that we have observed that the courage and empathy of humanity grows stronger.

During black spots of history, like 1983 or 1990, with the mass scale eviction of Muslims from the North by the LTTE, and the natural disaster of the tsunami of December 2004, a sense of an integrated national identity came to light; where fragmented communities realized that there is a sense of solidarity from the 'other side'. These bridges of human cooperation and co-existence have continued to hold. Even in the bleakest of times there has remained an unfading hope that the interconnected social and cultural ties that have bound the country’s different ethnic communities will not be severed, but instead finally emerge strengthened.

The National Peace Council remains steadfast to its conviction that peace must come through non-violent, political means, and that peace needs to be negotiated with those categorized as 'enemies'. In this time of commemoration of Black July we also affirm that we will work by the side of those who stand committed to these values and ensure that the State shall not be the oppressor but will be the protector and reconciler of the interests of all its ethnic and social groups.

Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

1 Comments

Anti Tamil violence of 1958 and 1983 should have served as a history lesson, teaching the Sinhala citizens of the evil of unleashing venomous violence against Tamils.

However, to the Tamils, 1958 and 1983 incidents underlined the utmost importance of a Tamil homeland, with the ability to protect themselves, into which the Tamils could run and seek shelter whenever the " Sinhala snake" started to pour out venom.

From the year 1958, the political parties in the South had an obligation to educate their children, the future leaders of their country, to respect the legitimate right of Tamils in the North East (NE) to rule themselves, to live together, build up the island and dvelop its economy jointly to benefit all the citizens.

The policos were not concerned at all of citizen life imbued with tranquility, stability and peace. Their aim was to get into power and become "monarchs" and treat citizens like subjects.

Though governments have changed since 1958, there was no change in lack of determination to grant the legitimate rights of Tamils in the NE. Instead, a competitive "anti Tamil software" not to grant Tamil rights grew rapidly within UNP and SLFP; the major political parties in the south, inspite of decades of losing precious lives and properties. The island has turned out to be a "paradise in decay".

The hallmark of a good democracy is to include all the people. But the people of NE were excluded from governance by their inability to decide on their own matters at grass root level.

It would be correct to say that political leadership in the South became extinct in 1956. Since then, the South had political Managers and not Political Leaders. No party would have been elected to power if their stance on anti Tamilism was not better than the opposing party. No real leadership was coming up from any of them to carve out a peaceful future.

A writer once said " Leaders inspire people and believe in the future while managers control people to behave. This definition exactly fits the political mangers in the island from 1956, whom we erroneously call as "Political Leaders". Mangers fear the future. They dread the possibilities and fear the success of others.

Political Sub managers play "Politics of belly", where they regard themselves as accountable to the appointing authority and disregard the good of all the citizens. Presently, President Rajapakse and his cabinet sub managers are playing exactly this role.

Therefore, what is needed now in Sri Lanka is real leadership from capable leaders who would boldly stand up distinctly to entail a more open culture towards the legitimate rights of people in the NE and take the island and all the citizens to a "digital level": inspiring people to a future for all. - Sam Thambipillai

Posted by: Sam Thambipillai | July 28, 2008 10:47 AM

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