Asia Featured Global News Human Rights News

‘Grim reminder’: Sri Lanka’s Tamils mark 15 years since end of civil war

Ceremony held at memorial site in Mullivaikkal village despite reports of heavy surveillance and allegations of intimidation

Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil community is marking 15 years since the end of the island nation’s civil war in an emotional ceremony that proceeded despite fears that authorities could prevent its staging.

Public events celebrating the Tamil Tigers separatist group, which fought a no-holds-barred battle to establish an ethnic minority homeland, are illegal and authorities have blocked past memorials.

Over the years, Sri Lankan authorities have repeatedly disrupted similar memorials in the island’s former war zones and arrested participants, but Saturday’s ceremony went ahead despite reports of heavy surveillance and allegations of intimidation.

Tamils say the events are held to remember all victims of the decades-long war, which concluded in 2009 after a military offensive in the last Tigers stronghold, that saw at least 40,000 civilians killed in its final months, according to estimates by the United Nations.

The operation was condemned internationally for the indiscriminate bombardment of civilians.

“Thousands died here the day before the war ended,” a 41-year-old Tamil village official, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, told the AFP news agency at the memorial site in Mullivaikkal, on Saturday.

“There were lots of wounded people crying for help,” he added. “This will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

‘Collective failure’

Several thousand Tamils had travelled to the village for the remembrance, where they lit oil lamps to commemorate the dead.

This year, the commemoration was attended by Amnesty International’s global chief Agnes Callamard, the most senior foreign dignitary so far to attend a remembrance event in Sri Lanka’s battle-scarred north.

The rights watchdog has for years pressed Sri Lankan authorities, who have repeatedly refused to permit an international inquiry into wartime atrocities, to properly investigate and prosecute those responsible for abuses.

“Today’s anniversary is a grim reminder of the collective failure of the Sri Lankan authorities and the international community to deliver justice to the many victims of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long internal armed conflict,” Callamard said in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.

“It is sobering to stand in the same place where, 15 years ago, countless civilian lives were lost during the last days of the war.”

Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, which in 2022 voted to recognise May 18 as Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day, said on Saturday his country would “always advocate for justice and accountability for the crimes committed during the conflict”.

Tamil residents near the ceremony site told AFP that security forces had been noticeably more active in their communities as the anniversary neared.

“There is heavy surveillance of the people, and it is intimidation,” one Tamil resident said, asking not to be named for fear of harassment.

Saturday also marked 15 years since the killing of the Tamil Tigers’ charismatic but reclusive leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who had led the separatist group in open rebellion against Sri Lankan forces since 1972.

His death in Mullivaikkal was the culmination of the lightning military offensive that killed thousands of civilians in the final months of the fighting.

Sri Lankan forces were accused of indiscriminately shelling civilians after telling them to move to “no fire zones” to clear the path of their assault.

Source: Aljazeera