Sri Lanka: Discrimination against Tamils continues after the war

Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority continues to suffer discrimination despite the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebel group, activists say.

Government forces in 2009 overwhelmed the Tamil Tigers, or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), ended a bloody war in which the rebel group fought to secure a separate state.

Human rights activists and civil society groups say the end of the conflict has opened the door for the government to put in place policies aimed at ending institutional and social discrimination against Tamils. But some claim the government continues employ discriminatory tactics against the minority, which makes up about 9.4 percent of the population.

The current ruling government is aligned with Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) with Jathika Nidahas Peramuna. Both parties have been accused of campaigning against rights of Tamil minority. Activists claim that JHU is an extreme Buddhist fundamental organization that advocates denying Tamil demands for equal rights and opposes the devolution of political power, which many see as key to empowering the Tamil minority. 

JHU is campaigning against international human rights organizations that highlight human rights violations against Tamil. Wimal Weerawansa, leader of Jathika Nidahas Peramuna, has protested against an initiative for the United Nations to appoint a panel on Sri Lanka. He has also spoken out against International human rights organizations. 

International Crisis Group has highlighted the failure of the government to address legitimate grievances from the Tamil community. “Nor has the government pursued policies to reconcile the country’s ethnic communities after decades of political violence and conflict. Instead, its post-war agenda has been to further centralize power,” the group said in Sept. 13 report.

Many historians trace the root of the conflict back to the government’s 1956 decision to make Sinhalese the country’s official language, thereby disenfranchising its Tamil-speaking minority. In 1987 Tamil was also recognized as an official language in the constitution, but the move failed to end the conflict that saw about 1 million Tamils flee the country.

Sri Lanka is party to all seven core human rights treaties. It ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1982 while in the midst of war against the LTTE. Article 1 of ICERD defines "racial discrimination" as meaning any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. Yet, the Tamil minority has to struggled to achieve equal opportunities.

Article 2 (a) of ICERD says that each state party must not to sponsor, defend or support racial discrimination by any persons or organizations. But this is also meaningless with the context of Sri Lanka.

Successive governments have continually violated ICERD and the current government has continued the trend. The present government has detained numerous Tamil civilians without filing cause under the Emergency law and Prevention against Terrorism Act even after the removed of emergency law. But the article 5 (a) of ICERD requires “the right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs administering justice.”

The same article of refers to “the right to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State”. But the current regime has declared many areas as High Security Zone in north and east part in Sri Lanka where the military fought the LTTE. Since 1990, thousands of people in Myladdy, Palali, Madagal, Sunnagam, Masyappidy, Velvetithurai and Kuranagar - areas that fall within the High Security Zone - have been living as internally diplaced persons.

The zones were created by the government in order to stop attacks by Liberation Tigers LTTE. But the governments has maintained similar zones, despite the defeat of the rebel movement.

Mr.Manoharan, a senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, examined the government’s strategy during the war:

“Having learnt about the relative success of such 'zones' in Israel, the Sri Lankan government started using the same strategy more extensively against the Tamil militancy since the late 1980s. There are four categories of zones declared from time to time through regulations either under the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) or Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA): 'prohibited zones,' 'surveillance zones,' 'security zones' and 'high security zones.' While 'surveillance zones' and 'prohibited zones' are marked at sea and the adjoining coasts, the 'security zones' and 'high security zones' are demarcated on land. The 'surveillance' and 'prohibited' zones usually fall around coasts and territorial waters of northeast of Sri Lanka dominated by Tamils and Muslims. The main objective behind enforcing these zones is to prevent the LTTE from getting arms and other supplies through sea from its international network. The most affected due to such enforcements are, however, the fishermen. The 'security' and 'high security' zones are the most controversial.”

The war has ended but many Tamils are still living under oppressive conditions in areas that were declared High Security Zones.

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Date: 03/09/2011


Sri Lanka


Culture and Tradition
Racism/Discrimination/Hate speech
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