Sri Lanka slams Canada over Trudeau’s ‘Tamil genocide day’ remarks

14 years after the civil war, memorialisation remains a sensitive issue 

May 20, 2023 05:58 pm | Updated May 21, 2023 12:06 am IST - Colombo

A commemorative event held in Mullivaikkal, in the northern Mullaitivu district in Sri Lanka on May 18.

A commemorative event held in Mullivaikkal, in the northern Mullaitivu district in Sri Lanka on May 18. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sri Lanka on Friday “condemned and rejected outright” the remarks made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on May 18, marked as ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day’ by the North American country.

According to a press release issued by Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry summoned Canadian High Commissioner Eric Walsh and stated that Mr. Trudeau’s “politically motivated statement was divisive and issued for domestic political consumption”.  “Sri Lanka vehemently rejects this unsubstantiated allegation of ‘genocide’ relating to the country’s almost 3 decades of terrorist conflict perpetuated by the LTTE,” the statement further said.

Mr. Trudeau had said that the stories of the Tamil-Canadians affected by the conflict “serve as an enduring reminder that human rights, peace, and democracy cannot be taken for granted. That’s why Parliament last year unanimously adopted the motion to make May 18 Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day.”

In January this year, Canada imposed sanctions on former Presidents Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, for committing “gross and systematic violations of human rights” during the civil war.

Deep divisions  

Fourteen years since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended claiming tens of thousands of Tamil civilians’ lives in the final battle in Mullivaikkal in the northern Mullaitivu district, the island remains deeply divided over the war and its end.

On May 18, the Tamils remember their loved ones, who were found dead or were disappeared around the final battle, even as they continue struggling for justice and accountability for alleged war crimes.

The Sri Lankan state vehemently denies the allegations, despite internationally acknowledged evidence of mass civilian deaths in an area that the military had assured was a “No Fire Zone”.  The UN’s estimates, widely considered conservative, point to some 40,000 civilian deaths.

Also Read | The Srilankan War: Chronicles of a carnage foretold

Claiming that the final battle was a “humanitarian operation”, the Sri Lankan state marks May 19 as “Victory Day” to celebrate its soldiers as “war heroes”, as it did on Friday in the presence of President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

Despite intimidation, periodic surveillance, and obstacles in the past — including the removal of war victims’ memorial by authorities — scores of Tamils gathered at Mullivaikkal on Thursday to pay respects to their loved ones. It is the site at the island’s north-eastern edge, where their relatives were last seen alive before succumbing to Army shelling. Remembrance events were organised in several other locations in the north and east, and by Tamil diaspora communities across the world.

A small group held a remembrance event in capital Colombo, in an attempt to continue last year’s effort during the massive sea-side protests. This time, it was held at a road junction near a popular cemetery and funeral parlours, in solidarity with victims’ families in the north and east.

Also Read | Near site of LTTE’s last stand, a victory memorial that Tamils don’t visit

However, a group of men from reactionary Sinhala nationalist groups, accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence in the past, disrupted the event. They carried banners and shouted, “Don’t commemorate terrorists”, as they sought to intimidate those paying homage to Tamil civilians. The practice of conflating Tamil civilians and the LTTE is not uncommon in Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority south.

A large contingent of police, riot police, Special Task Force members and the military rushed to the spot. Apparently unable to control the agitators disrupting the event, they urged the group holding the peaceful commemoration to vacate the area immediately.

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