The National Peace Council in a statement yesterday emphasised the need for equality as the country marks 37 years since Black July. Following is NPC’s full statement.
The week from 23 July marks the 37th year of one of the darkest periods of Sri Lanka’s history.
Beginning on this day and continuing for a week, there were riots that targeted the Tamils living in the capital city of Colombo and elsewhere where they lived as a minority that led to death and destruction.
The Sri Lankan State failed in its duty to protect its citizens. At the personal level the events of that day changed the course of life of many irreversibly, and also the history of Sri Lanka. The loss spanned life, property, memories and material treasures that constitute personal histories in the lives of families.
In national terms, the communal divide became further entrenched, which may have been the cause for the rise of Tamil armed struggle to a mass scale, with systematic international intervention soon following.
In the months leading up to July 1983, we saw a narrative being built up that would be used to justify the attacks that were to take place. It is an element of extremist violence that it is preceded by a justifying narrative. There were strident voices claiming, among others, that Tamils needed to be taught a lesson as they were too assertive, supporting militancy, and needed to be taught a lesson.
This was epitomised in the words of then-President J.R. Jayewardene who said to the world at large and to Tamil people in particular, “If you want a fight, let there be a fight; if it is peace, let there be peace...It is not what I am saying. The people of Sri Lanka say this.” We need to carefully consider our thoughts and words which are the precursors of deeds.
This can be a time for rethinking and recalibration. With General Elections being less than two weeks away, the National Peace Council urges all political parties, candidates for election and the electorate to consider obtaining national reconciliation based on mutual understanding, trust and justice as their primary task.
Our country has suffered far too long from our inability to unify and connect all citizens within one framework of governance that all can agree is reasonable and just. Irrespective of which party wins the forthcoming election, the country has to be united otherwise we will all lose. This is a challenge that continues to stand before us 37 years after Black July 1983 as we have still to define our national path to reconciliation. This month of July needs to become a time of introspection where the Sri Lankan nation reflects on our divided past and how to achieve a shared future and peaceful coexistence. The National Peace Council believes the values that must permeate all structures of governance are those that ensure equal rights, equal opportunities and equal protection before the law.
It is significant to note that during and after the July 1983 riots the Government sent the riot-affected and displaced Tamil people from the south to the Tamil-majority areas in the north, especially to Jaffna, for safety.
This is indicative of the need to also continue to seek a solution in which the devolution of power gives to the ethnic and religious minorities the confidence in their security and future in a manner that would hold our pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society together.