The Tamil Genocide
Genocide occurs when there are genocidal acts and genocidal intent. International criminal law defines genocide as certain intentional acts committed to destroy a protected group—defined as an national, ethnic, racial, or religious group—in whole or in part. The Sri Lankan government has committed repeated genocides against the Tamil people.
This page aims to increase understanding of the Tamil genocides in 1983 and 2009 through educational and artistic resources. Civil society organizations and actors, please join our call for formal recognition of the Tamil genocide and for paths to international justice for Tamil victim-survivors.
In 1948, shortly after the Holocaust and mass atrocities of World War II, the United Nations codified its first human rights treaty, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). According to the Genocide Convention, states have erga omnes obligations (to all people) to prevent and punish genocide wherever it occurs.
The 1983 and 2009 genocides against the Tamil people have yet to receive recognition, let alone punishment, in spite of overwhelming evidence concluding the Sri Lanka state possessed the dolus specialis (specific intent) of genocide with which it committed acts of genocide.
Legal Analysis and Supporting Materials
The following resources are analyses conducted by independent legal experts that support the findings that the Sri Lankan state committed genocide against the Tamil people in 1983 and 2009. These findings could—and should— be used to promote legal determinations in courts of law as well as increase political recognition by UN, lower- and cabinet-level state, and civil society actors in accordance with Tamil demands.
PEARL’s Executive Director, Tasha Manoranjan, Esq., and Legal Intern, Meruba Sivaselvachandran, co-wrote an op-ed in Opinio Juris titled "Sri Lanka’s State Responsibility for Historical and Recent Tamil Genocides." They present legal arguments for understanding Black July as genocide and the significance of formal Tamil genocide recognition.
“State responsibility for genocide is an important form of legal accountability, especially if individual criminal responsibility for the same is unlikely due to a lack of political will to investigate and prosecute. Genocide recognition is multipurposed: it can mobilize international interventions, as well as provide a form of redress for victims and their descendants, the latter of which is also critical given the transgenerational cultural trauma transmitted by genocide survivors.”
Tamil Genocide 2009
PEARL’s Legal Director, Anjali Manivannan, Esq., wrote an op-ed in Opinio Juris titled “Sri Lanka’s Tamils Need Genocide Recognition and Innovative Justice Mechanisms.” In her piece, she presents a legal analysis of the Sri Lankan state’s 2009 genocide against Tamils and advocates for victim-centric justice.
“Tamils have finished their tenth year without a modicum of justice as a result of not only the Government of Sri Lanka’s lack of political will, but also an international reluctance to adequately prioritize Tamil asks and perspectives. Although the UN system acted relatively quickly to innovate the independent investigative mechanism model in Syria and then in Myanmar, it has yet to afford the same consideration to the Tamil people it systemically failed over a decade ago.”
In September 2014, American University’s UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic released a report titled “Justice for Genocide: Sri Lanka’s Genocide Against Tamils” and developed the legal case for Tamil genocide where they allege genocide against Sri Lanka along with other NGOs and individuals named here.
In September 2015, following the release of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, stressed the report’s findings do not necessarily signify the absence of genocide.
“At the moment, we can only say that the patterns we’ve examined are suggestive of war crimes and crimes against humanity; that is not to say that a court at a subsequent stage will not come up with the finding [of genocide].” Watch Video
Preventing Tamil Births
Help PEARL prove the case of Tamil genocide by sending PEARL any info about instances of forced abortions and/or sterilizations of Tamil women. Identifying information, including your own, will be kept confidential.
International Support of Tamil Genocide Recognition
In recent years, several federal, provincial, and city-level Canadian politicians and British Members of Parliament (MPs) as well as Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) have joined in labeling the 2009 atrocities by the Sri Lankan state genocide or calling for international investigations into allegations of Tamil genocide. The following is a growing list:
Leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh
Leader of the Official Opposition in Ontario and MPP, Andrea Horwath
Canadian MP,Peter Mackay
Toronto Mayor,John Tory
Mayor of Brampton,Patrick Brown
MPP for Scarborough South West, Doly Begum
MPP for Brampton East, Gurratan Singh
UK Conservative MP, Paul Scully
UK Conservative MP, Robert Halfon
Deputy Leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey
Documentaries on Sri Lanka’s Violence Against Tamils
Here are key documentaries that reveal the genocidal acts and intent of the Sri Lankan state. More recent films also illustrate Sri Lanka’s ongoing oppression of Tamils, which manifests in issues such as military occupation, land grabs, and Tamil mothers’ quest for answers about enforced disappearances. The common undercurrent is total impunity for Sri Lanka’s genocide.
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields (2011)
This Channel 4 documentary details the atrocities committed in the Vanni during the final phase of the armed conflict.
Sri Lanka's Killing Fields (2011)
This Emmy-nominated documentary by Callum Macrae reveals rare footage from the last 3-months of the armed conflict.
Sri Lanka’s Disappeared (2018)
This 47 Roots documentary describes the plight of the Tamil families of the disappeared through heart-rending interviews with protesting mothers.
The Ongoing Search for Sri Lanka’s Disappeared (2019)
This 47 Roots and PEARL documentary describes the continued plight of the Tamil families of the disappeared living under the Rajapaksa regime.
The True Cost of Your Trip To Sri Lanka (2019)
This 47 Roots documentary poses ethical questions to consider before travelling to Sri Lanka, where the North-East remains severely militarized.
This documentary by Kannan Arunasalam follows Tamil families from Sampur who have been protesting against military land grabs of their village.
Literature on the Tamil Experience
There are poignant literary works that explore the weight of Sri Lanka’s genocide from the perspective of Tamil people on the island.
Originally published on Split This Rock’s The Quarry, “A Message of the Emergency Broadcasting System” by PEARL Senior Legal Officer, Gowri Koneswaran, powerfully weaves the violence of the Mullivakkal Massacre with the horrible failure of the international community to prevent Tamil genocide in 2009 and the indelible scar it has left on the Tami psyche.
You can take action:
Demand formal Tamil genocide recognition and criminal justice from your representatives.
FIND YOUR REPRESENTATIVE BELOW:
I am writing to call on you to recognize the Sri Lankan government’s genocide against the Tamil people and to demand the creation of alternative, parallel criminal justice mechanisms to ensure legal accountability for mass atrocities.There is substantial evidence of the Sri Lankan government’s special intent to commit genocide, as seen through its targeting of Tamils in the Vanni region in 2009 and in Colombo in 1983. During the more recent genocide, with genocidal intent, the Sri Lankan government (1) killed approximately 70,000–140,000 Tamils by shelling; (2) caused serious bodily and/or mental harm to Tamils by shelling, which maimed 25,000–30,000 of them, and through sexual violence; and (3) inflicted conditions to bring about the Tamil people’s physical destruction by limiting necessary supplies and by systematically displacing Tamils. The acts of genocide committed by the Sri Lankan government against the Tamil people in 2009 are detailed here and those in 1983 are outlined here.
A court finding is not necessary for the political recognition of genocide or for your office to refer to genocide allegations in state communications. We urge you to take a strong stance against Sri Lanka’s state-sponsored genocide against the Tamil people by recognizing it as genocide. Eleven years after the Mullivaikkal Massacre of 2009, the Sri Lankan government has taken no steps to deliver criminal justice for atrocity crimes. The present Rajapaksa regime has predictably withdrawn from the transitional justice process outlined in UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1. Importantly, both the previous and present governments have completely refused to pursue investigations and prosecutions of atrocity crimes, especially the involvement of foreign judges, lawyers, and investigators. Such is the consequence of decades of impunity following Black July and the Mullivaikkal Massacre.
I am calling for you to hold Sri Lankan perpetrators and the state accountable through international justice mechanisms. I urge your government to investigate and prosecute Sri Lankan perpetrators under universal jurisdiction laws and to call for a UN Security Council referral of the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC). I also hope that your country heeds your Tamil constituency and files a case against Sri Lanka at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for violating international human rights law. Finally, I ask you to release statements concerning Sri Lanka’s human rights record that call for a prompt international investigation into the mass atrocities against the Tamil people, including genocide.
Organizational Support and Solidarity
We encourage civil society organizations and actors to demonstrate solidarity with the Tamil community by joining our call for formal recognition of the Tamil genocide and for paths to international justice for Tamil victim-survivors.