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 Sri Lanka’s ethnocratic political structures and history of atrocities, and thereby the root causes that ultimately led to the present crisis. This will only lead to further instability, violence and economic collapse.

There have been many moments in Sri Lanka’s history when governments have had the opportunity to change course and address the root causes of the island’s conflict, but each time they have fallen short.

Sri Lanka is in an economic crisis, and the blame is being laid squarely at the door of its president Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Last weekend, tens of thousands of protesters tore that door down and stormed his official residence. Since the beginning of this economic crisis, Sri Lankans have been quick to denounce his corruption and amassing of personal wealth. They picked apart his policies ranging from his tax cuts to his pledge to ban chemical fertilizers. Sri Lanka’s protestors, however, have been conspicuously silent about one of the state’s most significant policies that have brought the country to this predicament in the first place – the Sri Lankan military occupation of the Tamil North-East.

Although more than 13 years have passed since the end of the armed conflict, Sri Lanka’s military presence remains one of the largest per capita in the world, with military personnel as a percentage of the population estimated to be at 1.46% in 2018 alone. This military presence is most concentrated in the Tamil North-East, where a reported 14 of 21 army divisions are located. In March of 2021, the Oakland Institute detailed that for every six civilians, there was one military soldier. In 2017, a report released by the Adayalam Centre for Policy Research (ACPR) details that at least 60,000 Sri Lankan Army troops are currently stationed in the Mullaitivu District, which has 130,322 or approximately 0.6% of the Sri Lankan population. This means that there is one soldier for every two civilians in the district – in essence, a military occupation.

For the Tamil Nation, the Rajapaksas are much more than economically incapable and corrupt – Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the war criminal who oversaw the Sri Lankan military’s atrocity crimes, including genocide, at the end of the war. The cycles of violence Sri Lanka has experienced since independence are perpetuated by the same Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism that elected Rajapaksa with an overwhelming majority of Sinhala votes in 2019 – a war hero rather than a war criminal in the eyes of the South. Rajapaksa’s continuation of policies oppressing Tamil and Muslim communities was ignored or condoned by the majority electorate, and he was valorised as a protector of the Sinhala-Buddhist nation.

While the entire island is suffering from a scarcity of medicine, food and fuel, the state continues to prioritize structural violence against Tamils by allocating a substantial amount of its GDP to militarily occupying the Tamil-populated North-East. The military budget alone, according to Janes, accounts for 15% of total government expenditure for 2022, a 14% increase from the allocation of the state’s GDP in 2021. When compared to similar nations, Sri Lanka is spending an inordinate amount, with Sri Lanka (10.29%) being second to Israel (12.08%) with respect to military expenditure as a % of its government expenditure in 2020.

Since the culmination of the Tamil genocide in 2009, when the Sri Lankan military massacred as many as 169,796 Tamil civilians, the Sri Lankan military has systemically entrenched itself in every facet of civil society in the north-east, thereby being a constant source of trauma for Tamil genocide victim-survivors. Military-run schools, businesses, tourist resorts, farms and factories are ever-present across the North-East. Tamil survivors have consequently had to learn to live alongside the very perpetrators of mass atrocities and war crimes against their missing and dead loved ones. Amidst this deep sense of insecurity, fear, mistrust and trauma associated with the Sri Lankan military, the military nonetheless claims altruistic intentions behind its increasing penetration of Tamil-run civil institutions.

Eliminating and averting future economic crises on the island involves demilitarizing the North-East, defunding the military and ending state occupation of the Tamil homeland. It involves taking a critical look at the ethnocratic state’s policies and institutions that have been used to wage genocide on Tamils and dismantling every single one of them. The military as a state institution has been vital for the Rajapaksa regime to carry out genocidal atrocities against Tamils to protect their Sinhala Buddhist nation-building project: Sri Lanka. This has inevitably set the foundation for the island’s worst economic crisis to brew. Only with a return to some semblance of normalcy, where Tamils in the North-East are no longer forced to live amongst military personnel and under the state’s military occupation, can the island truly ever conceive of achieving economic stability.

The undersigned organizations, put forward this statement in good faith, in the hope that this time could be different.

Signatories:

Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research

Tamil Civil Society Forum

People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) Tamil Heritage Forum Puzhuthi (Organization for Social Rights) Center for Justice and Change Priests and Religious for Justice and Peace, North-East.

  1. Draft a new constitution that genuinely restructures the state in a way that respects the secular and pluri-national nature of the island and the right to self-determination, and meaningfully devolves political, economic, land and security powers.
  2. Ratify the Rome Statute with retroactive effect, and support international prosecutions of atrocity crimes committed during and after the war.
  3. Demilitarize the North-East to support restructuring the economy by cutting the inflated defense budget, and reallocating spending for economic development.
  4. Address demands of long-standing protests by families of the disappeared and political prisoners from across the North-East including as a starting point by repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
  5. Immediately cease land acquisitions by national authorities and security forces in the North-East.

 Kumarathasan Rasingam, Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org.


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