FEATURE: Untold War Stories

Damiano Raveenthiran | VP Social Media Promotions

Throughout my travels and the many stories I’ve been told, I realized how important human rights are to generations. Family histories can portray some of the struggles and hardships that people go through when their rights are not protected. They can also remind us to keep fighting to protect human rights. As a child, I often wondered about my family situation. However, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I began to understand how things turned out.

My family is originally from the island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has a history of a civil war that went on between the government and a rebel force called the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” or LTTE for short. The war started in 1983 and ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the assassination of their leader. From what my family and those around me have said, the war began due to government discriminating between two ethnic groups, the Sinhalese and the Tamils.  My own family is a part of the Tamils.

People also told me that the main issue was access to post secondary level education. My mother often said that on the university application itself, one of the questions being asked was whether one was of Tamil or Sinhalese descent. After a while, Tamils started noticing that less and less of their people were being accepted into universities. This created less future opportunities for them. Some even said that out of a town of one thousand applicants, none would be selected because of their Tamil heritage. This eventually led the Tamil Tigers to fight for the cause of an independent land for Tamils.

When the insurgencies began, nearly 30 years ago, the government of Sri Lanka sent troops into Tamil towns and villages. They wanted to eradicate anyone who was a supporter of the LTTE. When I was a child, I often asked my parents why Tamil people were  spread out around the world. My mother would always tell me the same story.

In 1984, the government came to her village in search of supporters of the LTTE. The government forces wanted to ensure that no one fought for an independent Tamil Land. They rushed into my mother’s neighboring house and kidnapped all the sons of the family. Before leaving, they showed the neighborhood what would happen if anyone was associated with the LTTEs. They took the older son to the streets, beat him nearly to death in front of his own family, then placed electric wires under his fingernails and electrocuted him to death. It was at this point that my grandparents chose to make the most difficult decision of their lives. Their youngest son at the time was a strong and reliable 16 year old. If the soldiers saw him, they would have definitely killed him. This is due to the fact that he would make a strong fighter. To protect his son, my grandfather paid a large amount of money and put him on a plane leaving the country.  His son (my uncle) made it to Norway with no money, no clothes and no knowledge of the language. He then became a refugee in the country, put himself through school, and eventually became a Norwegian citizen.

My uncle then moved to the United Kingdom, where he has been living for over 10 years as an entrepreneur.

Like a lot of Tamil families, we do not have many relatives left in Sri Lanka. The majority of Tamils have fled to other countries around the world. Today the Tamil community has spread out everywhere from the Middle East and Australia, to Europe and North America. Many of them lived in urban cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. They left Sri Lanka hoping for a better life away from discrimination. Their stories resemble mine.

In recent years, Tamil communities worldwide have tried to take action about these atrocities. Amnesty international have urged the United Nations to inquire about the violations of human rights that occurred in Sri Lanka. That full story is explained in
this video:

Before the Tamil communities started to take action, I was surprised at how little people knew about Sri Lanka. I did not understand why there had been limited media coverage in Sri Lanka for nearly 30 years. It appeared to me that Sri Lanka’s journalism industry was not able to get some of their stories out to the general public. This prompted me to do some research and read about the issue. I found out that the Sri Lankan government did not respect their constitution when it came to freedom of expression. Newseum.org states that in Sri Lanka:

“Journalists were subject to several forms of legal harassment and physical intimidation. Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, it and other laws and regulations place significant legal limits on the exercise of this right.” “Journalists throughout Sri Lanka, particularly those who cover human rights or military issues, face regular intimidation and pressure from government officials at all levels.” “Official rhetoric is markedly hostile toward critical or “unpatriotic” journalists and media outlets.” “State-controlled media and the Defense Ministry website have been used to smear and threaten individual journalists and other activists.” “As a result, levels of self-censorship have risen considerably.”

*http://www.newseum.org/exhibits-and-theaters/permanent-exhibits/world-news/press-freedom-map.html ]

So that was the issue, freedom of press was not tolerated in a war zone country. Most people are afraid to tell their war stories to the world. They do not want to be prosecuted by their government. Therefore those responsible for the war crimes are not held liable. Growing up, I saw firsthand the damages of a silenced voice. This is why I believe that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are essential in order to ensure that no violations of human rights occur. It will also help guarantee that the culprits behind these attacks on humanity are held accountable.

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11 thoughts on “FEATURE: Untold War Stories

  1. While this is all true. This does not mean that the LTTE were the “good guys”. The LTTE killed many innocent people and especially kids. Used babies as suicide mission by attaching explosives to them. The cause of the war was effective at the very beginning. But it later became just for greed and power.
    If there is one thing we sri lankan should be happy about is that the war is over.

    • I completely agree with you trish! There is no right side to the story. Both sides are to blame but what is important to understand is that there are still inequalities in Sri Lanka and the civilians are caught in the middle of this war, regardless of their political views.

  2. Yo ***** don’t talk about SL when you don’t even step a foot in it. Tamils are a deseace to our coutry using babies to bomb our capital and hospitals. Stay in your white donkey country we don’t need your Tamil germs here. Sinhalese have a birth right to live because we been in SL for over 2500 years. Muslims accept that they are guests in our country so why Tamils like you want independence and to steal our land? The SL government is a good government only protecting the citizens. All Tamils that left SL should not talk about SL. You are all **************************** so we may live in peace and health.

    [*Edited due to threatening content-Administrator]

    • I tip my hat at your courage to speak of your beliefs so strongly Maneez, however I do not agree with what you have stated. I believe that there should be a peaceful resolution to the issue. I do respect your right to speak up regardless of how you feel.

      • Respect his right to speak? Screw that. First of all he has no maturity or what-so-ever, sure he’s hating or trolling on Tamils but using the word “Donkey” over and over… Makes his argument/comment look like a complete waste and laugh. How childish. And for the other part; it’s safe to say he’s a soulless *****. As another tamil sri lankan, I’ve always respected every other people from various cultures and religion from sri lanka but for you, Maneez, I wish deep down from my heart that you rot in hell.

        [* Edited due to profanity-Administrator]

  3. Well I think both sides are bad because first of Tamils who live in foreign countried dont know nothing about whats going on in SL..They think oh Tamil eealam Brap brap and stuff. But they don’t even know a signle thing about it im sure! I went to sri lanka last summer and I visited my cousins who live in jaffna and they told me their story what happend to them. Tigers forced their son to join the army and he had to he had no choice to go but after he escaped from them and his friends helped him to hide and stuff.. The tigers came to my aunts house and asked where is your son and they said you guys took him with you and now your asking where is he. My cousin saw his friend getting shot by the tigers because he sacrifised his life for my cousin! Why couldn’t they fight like everyone use to do, by fighting face to face. Sinhalese people are soo nice I don’t get why do tamils hate them, they din’t even get to know them and they hate them like I heard that in Toronto they killed a sinhalese boy just because he was sinhalese. Why can’t tamils make Sri Lanka more modern, by building nice places in jaffna and keeping it clean. Sri Lanka is a wonderful place, it would so amazing to see the tamils and sinhalese live together in one country and make it more urban and build new places. I seriously think it all started because of the tigers they force innocent peoples to join them so that they will be protected because they know if they had to fight face to face they would of lost!

    • It all started because the government was oppressing the tamil population of Sri Lanka. They were limiting their rights and opportunities. Tamils were given limited access to education and employment. The Tamils were being discriminated just because they were Tamil. That is why the war started.
      The LTTE may have done what you say they have, however do you know of the injustices the Sri Lankan government has done to the Tamils? You probably haven’t because that is what the Sri Lankan government is trying to hide, by not allowing journalists to show the truth. This is propoganda-showing only what they want you to see, to put themselves in a positive light and the others as the villains.

  4. What we advocate as an organization that believes in Human Rights, and the mobilization of media to raise awareness on violations, is the necessary relationship that victims of war (regardless of which side they are on) should have with accountability. This was a war and like in every war there is no right or wrong for the families of the victims. The issue here is the limited access to uncontrolled media which resulted in the families not being able to get their stories across. This is regardless of which side of the war wronged them. We need to hold the persecutors accountable for their actions whether they were the LTTEs or the Sri Lankan government. Accountability and freedom of press are the key issues that must be resolved in order to move forward to a peaceful resolution in Sri Lanka.

    • Thats’ whats I’m saying Its both sides seriously but who started it was the Tigers why counldn’t they be happy with what they had and make Sri Lanka a beautiful place for people to go visit and stuff..Like make the upper side of Sri lanka more modern!

      • I admire your dedication to find out more regarding the subject. This article was written using oral accounts of what happened as well as research that can be found in public records. I invite you to look deeper into the underpinnings of this war if it is what you wish to do as I am in no way an expert on the matter. If you ever wish to share the results of your research with us, feel free to email me at socialmedia@jhrconcordia.com 🙂

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