Anti-Tamil riots break out in parts of Colombo, and later spread to other areas, lasting one week. The riots are in response to the killing of 13 soldiers by the Tamil Tigers in Jaffna. The event is later remembered as ‘Black July’. Estimates of Tamil deaths vary from 387 (official figures) to 3,000 Tamils; 18,000 Tamil homes and 5,000 shops were destroyed. Over 100,000 Tamils fled to India. A state of emergency is imposed.
Sources and quotations
“Eye witnesses and victims reported that on the streets cars were stopped by gangs and the people inside were asked whether they were Sinhalese or Tamil. Some Sinhalese words are extremely difficult for people who do not speak the language fluently to pronounce, people were tested by being made to pronounce these words. The mobs were also demanding to see identity cards to establish whether or not people were Tamils… People identified as Tamils as a result of the questioning were told to get out of their cars and their cars were set alight… In cases where any resistance was offered, killings were likely to take place… It was reported by many people that in some instances students from Buddhist schools followed on behind the first rioters and that some Buddhist monks were seen amongst the gangs.” Patricia Hyndman, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of New South Wales and Secretary, Lawasia Human Rights Standing Committee Report – Democracy in Peril, June 1985.
“A tourist told yesterday how she watched in horror as a Sinhala mob deliberately burned alive a bus load of Tamils… Mrs. Eli Skarstein, back home in Stavanger, Norway, told how she and her 15 year old daughter, Kristin, witnessed one massacre. “A mini bus full of Tamils were forced to stop in front of us in Colombo” she said. A Sinhalese mob poured petrol over the bus and set it on fire. They blocked the car door and prevented the Tamils from leaving the vehicle. “Hundreds of spectators watched as about 20 Tamils were burned to death”. Mrs. Skarstein added: “We cannot believe the official casualty figures. Hundreds may be thousands must have been killed already.” London Daily Express, 29th August 1983.
“Considerably more people died during the recent violence in Sri Lanka than the 380 deaths the government there has admitted to, according to an aid organisation. Dr. Sjef Teuns, General Secretary of Novib, the leading private development aid organisation in the Netherlands, said between 1000 and 2000 people lost their lives. He returned to Netherland on Saturday. He accused the Sri Lanka government of serious human rights violations against the Tamil population and called the Dutch government to reconsider its development aid policy towards the country.” The Times of London, 22 August 1983.
“Our view is that the July holocaust was a pre-planned, well-orchestrated genocidal pogrom against the Tamils, carried out by the racial elements of the ruling party. Initially, these racist elements did attempt to put the whole blame on the LTTE. Then, suddenly, they blamed the left parties for the riots. But in fact, it is the racist leaders of the present government who should take responsibility for this tragic loss of life.” Velupillai Pirapaharan, Leader of Tamil Eelam in an interview with Anita Pratap, March 1984.
“It is relevant to mention the gruesome massacre of 53 Tamil prisoners in the Welikade jail in Colombo on July 25 and 27 last year. Many of them were only detainees on suspicion and not convicted prisoners. After they were brutally murdered, their wives, sisters, children and parents came to know about their death only through the radio. Much more terrible was the fact that the bodies of these detainees were buried or cremated without any member of the families knowing or being present. They were not even given the chance of having a last look at the body. No amount of sanctimonious expressions of sorrow or statements made before the Commission that the Sri Lankan Government was not proud of what happened at the Colombo jail would be acceptable to the civilised world, when up to date, the government has failed or neglected or refused to order an independent judicial inquiry into this unprecedented slaughter of those who were in the custody of the Government.” Statement by All India Womens Conference at UN Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, 24 August 1984.
“Three weeks ago, the people of Sri Lanka passed through experiences which they have rarely had in this country since Independence. Hundreds of people lost their lives, thousands lost their jobs, houses were burned, factories destroyed. These events applied equally to all citizens of Sri Lanka – Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims…. I had been advised that I should say this or something else, but I thought that I should speak from the depth of my conscience…” President Jayawardene, 22nd of August 1983.
“This was part of an international conspiracy to destabilise us. We know who are behind it at all. I have even told the nation this… These people are jealous of the success of our experiments with a free economy. That is why they are trying their best to set us in flames. Behind all this is the foreign hand: the KGB, to be precise. I am not afraid of saying this openly.” Anandatissa de Alwis, Minister of State, Interview by Pritish Nandy, Illustrated Weekly of India, 18 December 1983.
Interview by Anita Pratap with Velupillai Pirabakaran, leader of the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam, March 1984, Sunday Magazine, India 11-17 March 1984:
Q: “The Liberation Tiger for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) staged the 23 July 1983 ambush in which 13 Sinhalese soldiers were killed. The ambush was allegedly the reason for the Sinhalese retaliation on innocent Tamils. Did you expect such a massive retaliation?”
A:”The July violence should not be assessed simply as a Sinhala retaliation for the guerrilla ambush. This view is a gross oversimplification of the event. The island has been plagued with anti-Tamil racial violence which erupts periodically over the years. There were violent racial holocausts even before the emergence of our movement. Violent riots erupted in Trincomalee a couple of weeks before the ambush. Therefore, the phenomenon of anti-Tamil racial violence cannot be traced to a single event. We are engaged in a protracted guerrilla warfare. There has been several guerrilla raids, several ambushes,, and we have killed several Sinhala soldiers and policemen The July ambush was only a part of the warfare we are engaged in. It is incorrect to assume that one particular military operation has precipitated the entire violence. The July riots, you would have certainly observed, was not aimed at the physical extermination of our people but it was also aimed the destruction of the economic power base of the Tamils in Colombo. Our view is that the July holocaust was a pre-planned, well- orchestrated genocidal pogrom against the Tamils, carried out by the racial elements of the ruling party. Initially, these racist elements did attempt to put the whole blame on the Tiger. Then, suddenly they blamed the left parties for the riots. But in actual fact, it is the racist leaders of the present government who should be the responsibility for this tragic loss of life and property of our people.”
Tigers kill 13 soldiers in armed ambush
Anti-Tamil violence spreads around the country
Anti-Tamil riots causes civilian deaths and displacement
31 May 1981
Tigers attack international airport