On 18 May 2009, the war in Sri Lanka came to a bloody, murderous end on the beaches of Mullivaikkal, after months of brutal violence meted out by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Today, we remember the tens of thousands of Tamils who lost their lives in the final months of the war.
Civilians, forced to flee the advancing army, were shifted into ever-shrinking ‘No-Fire Zones’ which, contrary to their name, came under constant and deliberate fire from the Sri Lankan military. Tens of thousands were killed during this time, with estimates ranging from 70,000 to almost 170,000. Tens of thousands died due to a lack of essential supplies or the relentless shelling of civilian areas, including hospitals and food distribution hubs. In the following weeks and months, many died in overcrowded ‘rehabilitation’ centres established by the military; others were forcibly disappeared after surrendering to the armed forces.
As tens of thousands of Tamil civilians remained trapped on a 3 square-kilometre spit of land, the Sri Lankan government celebrated the ‘humanitarian operation’ that their army had just conducted. Knowing full well the terrible crimes they had committed, the military declared that there were ‘zero civilian casualties’ during the offensive. These lies have protected the commanders, planners, and organisers of the destructive offensive, who have totally evaded accountability. Indeed, whilst Tamils seeking to remember the dead can face severe consequences, those allegedly responsible for the massacres have been promoted, not prosecuted.
Sanction Shavendra Silva and other Sri Lankan Commanders
Since there is currently no prospect for accountability within Sri Lanka, the international community must step in to ensure some justice for the victims of Mullivaikkal, via universal jurisdiction and targeted sanctions. Whilst sanctions alone cannot replace real accountability, the UK, Canada, the EU and other governments should still send a powerful message to Sri Lanka that impunity for serious violations will not be tolerated. The use of sanctions may pave the way for stronger action by foreign countries in the future, including international prosecutions.
Shavendra Silva, the Chief of Staff for the Sri Lankan Army, was designated for sanctions by the USA in 2020 on the basis of extrajudicial killings committed by the 58th Division, which he commanded during the final stages of the war. Watch our video to learn more about Shavendra Silva:
14 years on, and we have seen no meaningful accountability for what happened at the end of the war in 2009. Sanctioning Shavendra Silva and other prominent commanders could be a small step towards greater justice.