Black July: A Tamil Genocide

1983 rioters fire (1)_0

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, provided by the Government, Sinhalese mobs took at least 3,000 Tamils lives, destroyed 18,000 homes, destroyed 5,000 businesses, and displaced 90,000-150,000 Tamils. Many 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 events resulted in US $300 million in property damage.


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.

This information was collected from and who have archived many, many documents that are impossible to find otherwise, including copies of the Saturday Review.

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.

Genocidal Acts

Killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, inflicting conditions of life to bring about the groups physical destruction, preventing births, or forcibly transferring children.1 The Sri Lankan Goverment enables three genocidal acts:


    • 3,000+ Tamils killed2
    • some Tamils burned alive3
    • some Tamil patients killed in hospitals4

Causing bodily or mental harm

    • Some Tamils beaten, burned, or stripped naked5
    • Many Tamil women raped6
    • Tamils suffered long-lasting negative mental health impacts7

Deliberately inflicting conditions of life to destroy the group

    • 18,000 Tamil homes8
    • 5,000 Tamil businesses destroyed9
    • 90,000 - 150,000 Tamils displaced10
    • $300M in property damage11

Genocidal Intent

The intent to physically destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such.12 The Sri Lankan government enabled the three genocidal acts with:

Intent to destroy

    • Government gave mobs voter registration lists identifying Tamils13
    • Government gave mobs addresses of Tamil houses and businesses14
    • Government-owned vehicles transported mobs around Colombo15
    • President made anti-Tamil statements16

In whole or in part

    • A substantial part of all Tamils were targeted
    • Violence mainly in Colombo in areas with large Tamil populations17
    • Violence also in towns in the south with large Tamil populations18
    • The elimination of Tamils in the south aimed to strengthen Sinhala-Buddhist ethnocracy

A protected group, as such

    • The Tamil people are an ethnic group sharing a common language and culture Victims were targeted because of their Tamil ethnicity

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."⁣ ⁣


1Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), opened for signature Dec. 9, 1948, art. II (entered into force Jan. 12, 1951).

2Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL Report), ¶ 48, UN Doc. A/HRC/30/CP.2 (Sept. 16, 2015).

3N. Sanmugathasan, “Sri Lanka: The Story of the Holocaust,” Race & Class Vol. 26 (1984): 65-66,; “Remembering Sri Lanka’s Black July,” BBC News (July 23, 2013),

4Sanmugathasan, 66.

5Ian Ward, “Colombo Mobs on Race Hate Rampage,” Daily Telegraph (July 26, 1983); “Remembering Sri Lanka’s Black July,” BBC News (July 23, 2013),

6“Sri Lanka’s Pogrom,” New Internationalist (Oct. 1, 1983),; Sarath Kumara, “Sri Lankan President Offers Empty Apology for 1983 Pogrom,” (Aug. 6, 2004),; “Remembering Sri Lanka’s Black July.”

7Daya Somasundaram, “Collective Trauma in Northern Sri Lanka: A Qualitative Psychosocial-Ecological Study,” International Journal of Mental Health Systems Vol. 1 (2007), See generally Valli Kanapathipillai, “July 1983: The Survivor’s Experience,” in July ’83 and After, ed. Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham (Colombo: International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2003); Valli Kanapathipillai, “July 1983: The Survivors and their Narratives: Ten Years After” in July ’83 and After.

8 Court Robinson, “Sri Lanka: ‘Isle of Refuge,’ and of Refugees,” The Christian Science Monitor (Sept. 17, 1991),

9Court Robinson, “Sri Lanka: ‘Isle of Refuge,’ and of Refugees,” The Christian Science Monitor (Sept. 17, 1991),

10International Commission of Jurists, The Review (Dec. 1983), 23-24,; Robinson.

11William Claiborne, “Rioting Shatters Sri Lanka's Hopes for Economic Development,” The Washington Post (Aug. 2, 1983),

12Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention), art. II.

13Chaltanya Kalbag, “Enmity between Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese and Tamils Explodes into an Orgy of Bloodletting,” India Today (Aug. 31, 1983),; Sanmugathasan, 67.

14Kalbag; Sanmugathasan.

15L. Piyadasa, Sri Lanka: The Holocaust and After (London: Marram Books, 1984), 81; Jagath P. Seneratne, Political Violence in Sri Lanka, 1977-1990: Riots, Insurrections, Counter-insurgencies, Foreign Intervention (Amsterdam: VU University Press, 1997), cited by Eleanor Pavey, “The Massacres in Sri Lanka during the Black July Riots of 1983,” Mass Violence and Resistance (May 13, 2008),

16E.g., Ian Ward, The Daily Telegraph (UK) (July 11, 1983).

17Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 21.

18Tambiah, 22.