Black July: A Tamil Genocide
The 1983 Anti-Tamil pogroms in Sri Lanka, commonly referred to as Black July, was a brutal state-sponsored genocide lasting from July 23rd to July 30th. Armed with voter registration lists, Sinhalese mobs took at least 3,000 Tamils lives, destroyed 5,000 shops, and displaced over 150,000 Tamils. At least 500 Tamil women were raped and many families were burned alive. It also prompted the first large exodus of Tamils: 500,000 fled the island, giving seed to a global Tamil diaspora.
The following is a collection of our efforts to remember the massacre, redefine our history, and uncover the truth.
The Months Preceding Black July
An often repeated myth is that the 1983 Black July pogroms, were a response to the killing of 13 soldiers by the LTTE on July 23, 1983. This is false. Violence from state actors had been increasing in the months ahead of Black July. Tamils were being killed at will. Human rights activists, political activists and militants were being detained and tortured. Local newspapers, including the Saturday Review, documented the violence.
SA David and Dr Rajasundaram of the Gandhiyam Movement were arrested and held. They were severely tortured throughout. The Gandhiyam Movement was a non-violent movement, which assisted refugees, by setting up farms and distributing food.
"The evidence points clearly to the conclusion that the violence of the Sinhala rioters on the Tamils amounted to acts of genocide."
- The International Commission of Jurists (December 1983)
Black July Was A Genocide
Black July carried all the hallmarks of genocide according to the legal definition provided by the UN. For the Tamil people, genocide recognition is important because Black July was neither the first, not the last instance of an ethnic pogrom - even a genocide - against the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
The perpetrator must possess the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.
Intent to destroy...
- Government provided voter registration lists identifying Tamils to Sinhala mobs
- Government-owened vehicles transported Sinhala mobs around Colombo
...in whole or in part...
- Occured mainly in Colombo in areas with large Tamil populations
- Destruction of Tamils in the south was necessary to maintain the Sinhala Buddhist ethnocracy
...a protected group.
- Eelam Tamils are part of an ethnic group that shares a common language, culture, and nation
Killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life to bring about the groups physical destruction, preventing births, or forcibly transferring children.
- 3,000+ Tamils killed
- some Tamils burned alive
- some Tamil patients killed in a hospital
...causing bodily or mental harm...
- 500 Tamil women raped
...deliberately inflicting conditions of life to destroy the group.
- 8,000 homes and 5,000 shops destroyed
- 150,000 Tamils displaced
The Geography of Black July
It is commonly believed that the horrific violence of Black July was confined to Colombo alone. This is not true. This map shows many of the other towns and villages that suffered anti-Tamil violence during Black July. While it is not exhaustive of all of the affected areas, it serves to expand knowledge of the pogroms and honour the victims everywhere.
The Welikada Prison Massacre
During Black July, 53 Tamil political prisoners were violently murdered by Sinhala prisoners under the supervision of Sinhala prison guards. Amongst the dead, was TELO militants, Sellarasa "Kuttimani" Yogachandiran, Ganeshanathan Jeganathan, and N. Thangathurai. Kuttimani and Jeganthan are famously remembered for asking for their eyes to be grafted onto the Tamils who would see the birth of Tamil Eelam. In their torture, they were forced to kneel and their eyes gouged out with iron bars before they were killed.
"I request that my eyes be donated to some blind person, so that Kuttimani will be able to see through those eyes the reality of Tamil Eelam."
- Sellarasa "Kuttimani" Yogachandiran
Sri Lanka's Lasting Impunity
These are quotations from political leaders, journalists, and witnesses in the aftermath of the brutal violence. Most notably, President J.R. Jayewardene's first address to the public following the riots, expressed no accountability or sympathy for the Tamil population that had been massacred. Instead, he condemned the Tamil liberation struggle and outlawed Tamil demands for self-rule. This emboldened Sinhala mobs and reignited further violence. Following a report conducted by the International Commission of Jurists in December of 1983, they concluded, "the violence of the Sinhala rioters on the Tamils amounted to acts of genocide."