53rd Session of the Human Rights Council, Parallel Event on Human Rights in Sri Lanka

53rd Session of the Human Rights Council, Parallel Event on Human Rights in Sri Lanka
Photo taken by GHRD Staff


Reva Kulkarni 

Team UN Geneva Researchers,

Global Human Rights Defence.

On the 11th of July, 2023, Stichting Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) in association with the British Tamils Forum (BTF) hosted a parallel event regarding human rights in Sri Lanka. The event included a special of the documentary film “Continuing Cycles of Violence and Genocide against Tamils in Sri Lanka”, which was followed by a panel discussion about the issue. The moderator of the event - CLLR Sarmila Varatharaj - opened the event, highlighting how although Sri Lanka had established an office of missing persons a few years ago, and has not yet found a single person (also pointed out during their Universal Periodic Review). Ms. Varatharaj went on to note the shortcomings of the current and previous presidents of Sri Lanka, such as President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who she said was guilty of “covering up skeletons of innocent Tamilians in the north east” of Sri Lanka, and it was still deemed constitutional in the country. The only true form of justice which the moderator saw forward was through international judicial proceedings, thus holding the Sri Lankan government accountable for their actions against Tamils.


Ms. Varatharaj’s opening statements were followed by the screening of the documentary film, which highlighted the government sanctioned violence and genocide in Sri Lanka against the native Tamil population, since post-indpenendence to present day. The film was vital in increasing the audience’s awareness of this issue. The screening was followed by statements made by the rest of the panellists present at the event. Mr. Ravi Kumar, general secretary of the BTF spoke of the severe economic plunge and destruction of assets belonging to Tamils in Sri Lanka due to the ongoing violence. He highlighted the subjugation of violence against Tamils in the northeast  through looting and pillaging. Moreover, he noted that since 1948, over 150  massacres had been reported against Tamils. The Citizenship Act of 1948 also played a role in making Tamil plantation workers stateless, and thus the government chose a path of hatred and destruction rather than accepting the country’s identity as a pluralist state. 


Followed by Mr. Kumar, Ms. Anuradha Mittal - the executive director of the Oakland Institute -  gave an online statement, opening with the controversy around the use of the word ‘genocide’ regarding the violence against Tamils, even though there is enough evidence to prove that it is in fact a genocide. She noted the recent trend in land grabs, built on decades of suppression of Tamils in Sri Lanka. She went on to iterate the beginning rounds of colonisation by the government, which displaced over 20,000 Tamils. This displacement was in order to change the demographics of regions on purpose to increase Sinhalese colonisation and replace Tamils. Mr. J. David Whaley OBE - an advisor on Sri Lanka Peace Process (2002-2006) - then took the floor, proclaiming that out of 75 years of Sri Lanka’s independence, no less than 65 were marked by cycles of violence. The government acted with total impunity, protecting perpetrators of crimes against Tamils, and even instigating further violence. In the 2002-2006 peace process that he witnessed, he noted key highlights including the use of the supreme court to rehabilitate those in the northeast, exclusion of representatives from the northeast Tamil community on the redevelopment of Sri Lanka in a 2003 conference, and in 2005, a supreme court veto that led to diversion of resources away from Tamils. Thus, he concluded his statement with a bold statement, that “in Sri Lanka, even peace is unconstitutional”. 


The last panellist - Martin Sturzinger - was not present at the event, however, a student gave a testimony on his behalf. Mr. Sturzinger was a witness to protests in Sri Lanka, giving examples such as seeing Sinhalese homes untouched while Tamil homes were burnt down and destroyed. Moreover, he called for the international community to do everything they could to help the Tamils. Ms. Varatharaj closed the event, talking about future steps to be taken, including calls for genuine accountability by the Sinhalese, giving good practice examples such as the United States and Canada imposing sanctions on Sri Lanka, which others should also join. Lastly, the need for a socio-economic political contract between the Tamil nation and the Sinhalese was urged, thus highlighting the urgency of the issue at hand.