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Genocide in Sri Lanka: an inconvenient finding

By Bruce Haigh - posted Tuesday, 11 February 2014


The previous Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, and the present Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, view the world as they want it to be rather than as it is. Bishop, like her predecessor, has engaged in transparent and clumsy denial in order to please and placate what she likes to term Australia's friends.

She recently claimed there was nothing illegal about the latest round of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory, only to be taken to task by four eminent Israeli lawyers, including a former attorney-general.


Similarly both she and Carr have described Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka as 'economic migrants', in order to send them back to Sri Lanka without processing their claims to be refugees; an illegal enterprise under Australian and international law. This ploy was contrived to act as deterrent to other Tamils who might be contemplating flight. To further assist in deterring Tamils from undertaking asylum seeking voyages to Australia, the Australian government recently donated two naval patrol vessels to Sri Lanka.

The Australian government has adopted the fiction that the minority Tamils were the aggressors in the civil war, that the majority Sinhalese won the war, peace has been restored and the surly defeated Tamils must now accept the status quo and get on with life, accepting their position as a minority within mainstream Sinhala society.

That is not the finding of the Peoples' Tribunal on Sri Lanka which met in Bremen from 7-10 December 2013. I attended the hearings as an expert witness on Australian treatment of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers. The full findings and decision of the Tribunal can be found at

It found, "On the strength of the evidence presented, the Tribunal reached the consensus ruling that the state of Sri Lanka is guilty of the crime of genocide against Eelam Tamils and that the consequences of the genocide continue to the present day with ongoing acts of genocide against Eelam Tamils."

The Tribunal identified Eelam Tamils as those living in the north and east of the country.

The Permanent Peoples' Tribunal is an international tribunal, independent of state authority in order to examine violations of human rights. It was founded in 1979 in Bologna, Italy, and now has a permanent secretariat in Rome. The founders included five Nobel Prize winners and experts drawn from 31 countries. It draws on the Russell Tribunals on Vietnam (1966-67).


The Tribunal identified that, "genocidal social practices are not only attempts to destroy individuals. Genocide is an attempt to destroy the identity of a group, alienating it from its experience and history, trying to strip it of the control over its own past, present and future...The recognition that the Tamil people of Sri Lanka were persecuted, harassed and killed not just as individuals but as a group with its own identity, is fundamental in any attempt to confront the genocidal objectives of identity destruction and it is also a way to ratify the right of self-determination of any people.

It is organisation, training, practice, legitimation and consensus that distinguish genocide as a social process from other more spontaneous or less intentional acts of killing and mass destruction....

The construction of the Tamil population as alien to a unitary Sri Lankan state was a long process, which included legal and political decisions...(and) armed conflict...the repressive and discriminatory practices to construct a unitary State in Sri Lanka reached an important turning point in 1956 when the Sinhala language was determined to be the only official language, after which anti-Tamil pogroms took place..."

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About the Author

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who served in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1972-73 and 1986-88, and in South Africa from 1976-1979

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