State sponsored Sinhalization of North – East
People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) is a Tamil advocacy group, based in Washington
D.C. and registered as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in the United States. PEARL advocatesfor
human rights, justice and a political solution for Tamils in the North-East of Sri Lanka.
T: +1 (202) 471 0009
Copyright © 2022 People for Equality and Relief in Lanka. All rights reserved.
We would like to honor the resilience of the brave Tamil protestors and land defenders who have
continuously resisted the GoSL’s efforts to dismantle the communities and demographics of the
North-East. Through protests and acts of memorialization, Tamils in the North-East have always upheld
the existence of the Tamil nation, and demonstrated the power and potential of Tamils’ right to their land,
their culture, and theirself-determination.
We would like to express our gratitude to Open Society Foundations (OSF) for funding our independent
research and reporting on the ongoing state-sponsored Sinhalization occurring in the Tamil-speaking
North-East of Sri Lanka. In addition to this report, OSF supported us with the ‘Sinhalization of the
North-East’ series in which we published four case-study reports on the historical displacement of Tamils,
the growing militarization and Buddhisization of Pulmoaddai, Kokkilai, Seruwila-Verugal, and
PEARL would like to thank the many contributors to this report. In particular, we would like to thank:
Vivetha Thambinathan; V.S. Thanancheyan; S.F. Winslaw; Johnathan Subendran; Mario Arulthas; Archana
Ravichandradeva; Anji Manivannan; Tasha Manoranjan; and Dr. Vino Kanapathipillai. We would also like
to extend a special thank you to Jessica Boulet for her invaluable support in editing this report, and to all
the many contributors who remain unnamed due to ongoing security reasons. Thisreport would not have
been possible without yoursupport.
1 Please find infographics of all four reports attached as Appendix 1 copies of the ‘Sinhalization of the North-East’
Table of Contents
Executive Summary 6
Part I: Introduction 8
Purpose of this Report 8
Historical Context 9
Rise of Buddhist Nationalism 11
Geopolitical and Ethnographic Context 13
Three State Strategiesfor Sinhalization in the North-East 14
Part II: Irrigation-Settlement Schemes and the Mahaweli Authority 16
History of Irrigation-Settlement Schemesin Sri Lanka 16
The Legal Structure of Mahaweli Act and Mahaweli Authority 18
Lack of accessto justice 21
Part III: Militarization of the North-East 23
Historical Roots of Sri Lanka’s Military 23
Militarized Zonesin the Tamil Homeland Post-2009 23
Militarizing Civilian Life 27
Military Dominance in the Tourism Industry 28
Tourism as a Tool for Erasure of Tamil Narratives 30
Militarized Pandemic Response 31
Increasing Militarization of the GoSL 31
Part IV: Buddhisization of Tamil Lands and Religious Sites 33
Archaeological Heritage Management in Sri Lanka 33
The Destruction and Appropriation of Tamil Places of Worship 37
Buddhist Nationalism and the Merger of Buddhist and State Institutions 39
Part V: Repression of Tamil Memorialization 42
State-Sponsored History and Memorialization 42
The Politics of Memorialization in Sri Lanka 42
Part VI: Tamil Demands and Policy Recommendations 47
Tamil Protest Movements 47
Policy Recommendations 50
Black July – Anti-Tamil pogromsthat occurred from July 23 – July 27, 1983.
Buddhisization – The deliberate, state-sponsored efforts to change a traditionally non-Buddhist area to
make it more Buddhist, through the addition of Buddhist temples, statues and other structures and/or
settlement of Sinhala Buddhists.
Colonialism (European) – Imposition of governmental, political, and commercial rights over local
inhabitants, without their consent and sometimes without their knowledge, by an outside power, often
through violent repression and justified by religious, racial, and ethnocentric ideas. Settler colonialism is a
form of colonialism in which the outside group seeks not only to exploit local peoples, lands, and resources,
but also to erase and replace local inhabitants and culture by establishing themselves as the rightful
Eelam – A Tamil name for the entire island, used commonly in Tamil, including in historic artifacts, in the
names of several current Tamil political parties and in the Tamil version of Sri Lanka’s national anthem.
Tamil Eelam is the name for the North-East, the Tamil-majority region of Eelam and what istraditionally
referred to and claimed as the Tamil Homeland. Tamilsfrom the North-East are often referred to as “Eelam
GoSL – Government of Sri Lanka.
Heritagelands – Lands with significant cultural and historical value to a community.
High Security Zone (HSZ) – Territory occupied by government forces used to set up military camps, or bases, for operations, with restricted access to the local population. The designation of High Security Zones often seized private land belonging to Tamils, leading to their displacement.
LTTE – Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Maaveerar Naal – Annual remembrance day on November 27 for LTTE deaths.
Militarization – Refers to the process of militarizing and securitizing the traditional Tamil homeland,
through an overwhelming and disproportionate presence of the Sri Lankan military, which encroaches on
all facets of civilian life (economic, political and otherwise). The military has sought to normalize its
presence acrossthe North-East, making Tamils accept and internalize their presence in their everyday lives.
Mullivaikal Massacre – Final days of the armed conflict that occurred from April 5 – May 18, 2009, in which
tens of thousands of Tamils were killed.
Pogrom – The state-organized killings and destruction of property of a targeted group.
Sinhala-Buddhist Nationalism (SBN) – A political ideology, rooted in Sinhala mythology that holds Sri Lanka
as a place where Buddhism must flourish and be protected by the Sinhala people, as declared by the
Buddha himself. This ideology is predominant throughout the state, and assigns a Sinhala-Buddhist
character to the entire island. This ideology justifies the subjugation of non-Sinhalese and suggests that
others only live on the island because the Sinhala Buddhists allow it.
Sinhalization – A set of state-sponsored processes with the aim of elevating Sinhalese language, culture,
historical narratives, and land ownership at the expense of Tamil language, culture, history, and land
Sri Lankan Military – The Sri Lankan military is comprised of the ‘tri-forces’: Sri Lanka Army, the Sri Lanka
Navy, and the Sri Lanka Air Force. The Sri Lankan military is governed by the Ministry of Defense.
Tamil Homeland – The North-East of Sri Lanka, claimed by Eelam Tamils as the traditional territory of
Thuyilum Illam – LTTE cemeteries.
Vihara – Buddhist temple
This report outlines the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL)’s multi-pronged Sinhalization efforts in the
North-East through the use of state-aided Sinhala settlements and irrigation schemes, economic
marginalization and land appropriation by Sri Lankan state bodies, “Buddhisization,” and repression of
memorialization of important Tamil events. When considered against the broader context of decades of
state-driven demographic shifts, this report’s findings support the conclusion that the GoSL is
reengineering the demographics in the North-East of Sri Lanka with clear political implications. The
systematic and strategic alteration of the North-East’s demographics is designed to destroy the Tamil
concept of a homeland in the North-East and permanently diminish Tamil democratic representation from
Part I outlines the need for this report, and ominous warning signs that grave human rights violations
remain imminent given Sri Lanka’s current culture of impunity. It further defines Sinhalization as a
supremacist, settler-colonial enterprise that seeks to supplant the distinct Tamil character of the
North-East with that of a unitary Sinhala-Buddhist state. Finally, itsummarizesthe key historical context,
from the roots of Sinhalization after the British colonial era, through the armed conflict and into the
Part II analyzes the legal framework underpinning the GoSL’s irrigation-settlement schemes in the
North-East, which are currently chiefly carried out under the umbrella of the Mahaweli Development
Project at the direction of the Mahaweli Authority. The Mahaweli Authority in turn exercises a sweepingly
broad legal mandate to acquire and develop both privately-owned and public lands through irrigation
schemes. The Government then subsidizes the settlement of Sinhalese people into these historically Tamil
lands in order to farm the newly irrigated land, all while blocking Tamil efforts to have their land
ownership claims recognized. As a result, thousands of Tamils remain displaced, unable to re-enter their
lands or carry out their traditional livelihoods.
Part III highlights the role that the ongoing military occupation playsin the dispossession, displacement,
and economic marginalization of Tamils in the North-East. Through the continuing proliferation of
military-run High Security Zones (HSZs), the state has effectively blocked Tamils from rebuilding their
homes and livelihoods after the armed conflict. Meanwhile, the military-dominated tourism sector
promotes Buddhist-nationalist narratives while displacing and marginalizing the economic activitiesthat
Tamils traditionally carried out on their lands. Finally, the chapter briefly examines the militarization of
“community projects” and the appointment of various military-run Presidential Task Forces with sweeping
powers. Together, these activities aim to normalize a pervasive military presence and surveillance of
civilian life in the North-East.
Part IV turnsto the direct construction and reinforcement of the State’s ethnocentric, Buddhist-nationalist
narrative in its Buddhisization of Tamil lands and religioussites. In 2020, the GoSL appointed and invested
in a new Task Force for Archaeological Heritage in the Eastern Province with wide-ranging powers and no
accountability or Tamil representation. The Task Force, which has been staffed exclusively with Sinhala
military brass and Buddhist religious leaders, perhaps unsurprisingly focuses on the “discovery,” building,
and preservation of Buddhist monuments and religious sitesin the historically Muslim and Hindu Eastern
Province. As a result, Tamils have lost access to a number of their religious and cultural sites. At the same
time, such sites draw Buddhist pilgrims and create new spaces for Buddhist cultural activities and
Each of the strategies examined act as a means to not only occupy and dominate the physicalspace of the
Tamil homeland, but also displace the historical and cultural touchstones of Tamil community life in the
North-East. This serves the Sri Lankan nation-building vision of a unitary Sinhala- Buddhiststate. In each
case, the GoSL has created one or more governing bodies—from the Mahaweli Authority to a range of
executive Task Forces—that are designed to centralize power and remove local governance structures in
Tamil-dominated regions. In addition, these processes occur at the expense of the rule of law,since the Sri
Lankan courts have repeatedly shown themselvesto be unable or unwilling to enforce any meaningful legal
checks against government Sinhalization activities. The collective effect is an erosion of human rights and
democratic accountability throughout the country.
Part V examines the ways in which the GoSL attempts to override and repress Tamil narratives and
memories of the armed conflict. The GoSL has sought to Sinhalize the historical identity of the North-East
by promoting Sinhalese perspectives on memory and history, while simultaneously suppressing the
perspectives of Tamil-speaking communities. Tamils have resisted through acts of memorialization that
highlight the existence of the Tamil nation and honor the power and potential of the Tamil right to their
land, their culture, and theirself-determination.
In its final chapter, Part VI, the report highlights Tamil resistance in the face of the State’s efforts to
dismantle the communities and demographics of Tamil-speaking regions in the North-East, and offers
policy recommendations that protect and advance Tamils’ human rights. In particular, the broad
acknowledgement of the traditional Tamil homeland, addressing the root causes of the armed conflict,
empowering local governance over lands and resources in the North-East, and meaningful accountability
and justice are vital for countering the oppressive effects of Sinhalization.
Reversing these trends and ensuring that Tamils can realize their rights will require both international and
GoSL actorsto engage in constructive collaborationsto listen to and respect Tamil demandsfor justice.
Part I: Introduction
This report, which centers the perspectives of Tamil victim-survivor communities, chronicles Sri Lanka’s
Sinhalization process based on desk and field research conducted between July 2020 and August 2021.
PEARL researchers examined the online archives of GoSL bodies (Presidency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Ministry of Defense, and branches of the military), Tamil- and English-language media, academic articles,
gray literature, and parliamentary speeches and letters. They also conducted both informational and
formal qualitative research interviewsto research and analyze historical and present-day Sinhalization.
The authoritarian regime, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, presented difficulties in collecting
primary qualitative data for our final report. Nevertheless, PEARL researchers spoke to three Tamil
victim-survivors to discuss conditions in Sri Lanka (TM129; TM121; TF148). Our informational interviews
took place with Tamil community activists, journalists, victim-survivors, politicians, and other Tamil
organizations based in Sri Lanka. Our formal one-on-one qualitative research interviews were
comprehensive in nature and used a semi-structured approach to learn about Sinhalization and itsimpacts to individuals, communities, and their livelihoods. Interviews were conducted in Tamil, both virtually and in-person.
For the safety of our interviewees, this report does not include any identifying data. With the pandemic,
there was difficulty conducting more formal qualitative research interviews, asindividuals were hesitant to
candidly speak on Sinhalization issues due to restrictions on gathering and, more specifically, the
increasing harassment and surveillance of Tamil-speaking communities by the government.
Purpose of this Report
Over 12 years since the end of the war in Sri Lanka, human rights abusesin the country continue while the
Tamil people continue to demand justice, accountability, and self-determination as mandated repeatedly
through the continued election of Tamil nationalist parties. Our documentation contributes to the
collection and preservation of evidence of Sri Lanka’s “human rights abuses and related crimes” per UN
Human Rights Council Resolution 46/1 (2021).
Although numerousinstitutions and human rights advocates have already raised the “deepening impunity,
increasing militarization of governmental functions, ethno-nationalist rhetoric, and intimidation of civil
society” in Sri Lanka today, this report highlights the interconnected nature of these phenomena.
Specifically, the state tools of military occupation, land grabs, economic marginalization, and cultural
hegemony can only be fully grasped within the context of the overarching Buddhist-nationalist goal of
‘Sinhalizing’ the claimed Tamil homeland in the island’s North-East. Likewise, Tamil callsfor human rights
and justice are best understood as a response to this concerted campaign, as well as the ongoing human
rights violations, lack of accountability and repression in the country. A holistic examination of the internal
2 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/46/20 (2021),
https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/LK/Sri_LankaReportJan2021.docx (announced by the headline, “Sri
Lanka on alarming path towardsrecurrence of grave human rights violations”); see also,e.g., Human Rights Watch,
“Sri Lanka,” hrw.org/asia/sri-lanka; Amnesty Int’l, “Sri Lanka,”
https://www.amnesty.org/en/location/asia-and-the-pacific/south-asia/sri-lanka/; Minority RightsInt’l, “Sri Lanka
logic of the Sinhalization project is critical to a deeper understanding of what UN High Commissioner for
Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described as an “alarming path towardsrecurrence of grave human rights
These case studies, historical reviews, and present-day stories foreground Sinhalization as a root cause of
conflict and an ongoing source of Tamil, and also Muslim, grievances. Researchers and policymakers alike
should use the accounts in this report to critically examine hegemonic narratives and justifications from
the state, especially regarding seemingly benign issues such as development, climate adaptation, and
forestry protection, against the impact on non-Sinhalese groupsin the North-East.
What is the relationship between Sinhalization and Colonialism?
This report defines “Sinhalization” as the set of tools and processes that the GoSL uses in order to elevate
Sinhalese language, culture, historical narratives, and land ownership at the expense of Tamil language,
culture, history, and land claims, particularly in the historic Tamil homeland of the North-East. The report
seeks to highlight the inherently colonial nature of Sinhalization and calls on the international community
to condemn it accordingly. Colonialism is generally understood as the imposition of governmental,
political, and commercial rights over local inhabitants, without their consent and sometimes without their
knowledge, by an outside power, often through violent repression and justified by religious, racial, and
ethnocentric ideas. Settler colonialism goes further, in that the outside group seeks not only to exploit
local peoples, lands and resources, but to erase and replace local inhabitants and culture by establishing
themselves as the new rightful inhabitants. Traditionally, colonial conquest was justified through the use
of exploitative laws, cultural doctrines of religious and cultural superiority, and use of violent force to
establish control over desired territories. Each of these elements, which serve asthe GoSL’s primary toolsin
enacting its Sinhala nation-building agenda in the North-East, can be found in this report, from the legal
frameworks and politico-religious doctrinesto the imposition of military rule.
Colonizing enterprises violate a broad spectrum of human rights as outlined in core international human
rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant
for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms
of Racial Discrimination. These include the right to be free from discrimination, the right to political
participation, and the right to property as well as other economic and social rights. The GoSL’s
Sinhalization project, and the often-violent means in which it is furthered, is in violation of many of Sri
Lanka’s human rights obligations.
The population in Sri Lanka consists of three main ethnic groups: the Sinhalese, who are mostly Buddhist
and concentrated in the South and central parts of the island; the Eelam Tamils, who primarily practice
Hinduism, as well as Christianity, and are concentrated in the North-East; and the Muslims, who are
5 Osterhammel, Jürgen, “Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview,” http://kops.uni-konstanz.de/handle/123456789/14450.
4 The Oakland Institute. Justice Denied, 2017.
3 UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/46/20 (2021),
mostly Tamil speaking and have a significant presence in the North-East. A significant number of Tamils
of Indian origin also live in several parts of the island but are concentrated in the central hill country. There
are also small populations of the Wanniyalaeto (Vedda) people, who are the indigenoustribes of Sri Lanka,
throughout the island.
The pre-colonial history of Sri Lanka is complex and contested, with wars between Tamils and Sinhalese
kingdoms, and peaceful coexistence between the groups occurring at various times. However the
chronicles of Sinhala history, the Mahavamsa, present a story of conflict, of Sinhala Buddhist kings
defending their sacred land from Tamils. It was not until British colonization that the Tamil and Sinhalese
communities were governed under one administration in the form of a unitary state. In 1948, when Sri
Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon until May 1972) gained independence, the post-colonial government
maintained the pre-existing colonialstructure of a unitary state.
After independence, the GoSL used discriminatory policies to promote Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism as a
key characteristic of the post-independence state. The Citizenship Act of 1948 politically disenfranchised
one million Indian-origin Tamil tea plantation laborers, declaring them “stateless.” The 1956 Sinhala Only
Act, made Sinhala the sole official language of the state, imposing significant barriers for Tamilsto obtain
government employment opportunities. In the 1970s, the implementation of the policy ofstandardization
required Tamil students to score higher than Sinhalese students to enroll into tertiary institutions. The
growing polarization between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities was a result of Sinhala political elites
utilizing “ethno-religious nationalism … to justify their dominance over the island’s ethnic and religious
minorities.” As Tamils consistently campaigned in response to the GoSL’s increasingly ethnocratic
structures for political rights and socio-economic prosperity, their democratic efforts were rejected and
met with violence. Nonviolent demonstrations by Tamils were counteracted with pogroms. Asit became
evident that the GoSL was unwilling to make any concessions to Tamil demands, “pressure grew on the
Tamil political leadership to … demand more radical solutions” amid rising anti-Tamil policies and
In 1972, the GoSL introduced a new constitution granted Buddhism “the foremost place, and accordingly it
shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster Buddhism.” The Constitution of 1978 further secured
16 “The Constitution of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) 1972, Article 6” The Parliament of Sri Lanka, 1972.
ticle%20105%20%E2%80%93134)%20Chapter%20XIII.pdf; Rasaratnam, Madurika. Tamils and the Nation: India and
Sri Lanka Compared. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017, pp.197
15 Cronin-Furman, Kate, and Mario Arulthas. “How the Tigers Got Their Stripes: A Case Study of the LTTE’s Rise to
Power.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism ahead-of-print, no. ahead-of-print (n.d.): 1–20, pp.5
14 Balasundaram, Nirmanusan. “Sri Lanka: An Ethnocratic State Endangering Positive Peace in the Island.”
Cosmopolitan Civil Societies 8, no. 3 (2016): 38–58.
13 Seoighe, Rachel. War, Denial and Nation-Building in Sri Lanka After the End. Cham: Springer International Publishing,
12 Ibid. pp.147
11 Stone, Jason G. “Sri Lanka’s Postwar Descent.” Journal of Democracy 25, no. 2 (2014): 146–57.
8 Seoighe, Rachel. War, Denial and Nation-Building in Sri Lanka After the End. Cham: Springer International Publishing,
6 Cronin-Furman, Kate, and Mario Arulthas. “How the Tigers Got Their Stripes: A Case Study of the LTTE’s Rise to
Power.” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism ahead-of-print, no. ahead-of-print (n.d.): 1–20.
Sinhala-Buddhist supremacy by introducing a powerful executive presidency that weakened local
government structures and produced a centralized system of governance. The Constitution was further
amended in 1983 to constitutionally prohibited Tamil demands for self-determination and territorial
Violence against Tamils and the GoSL’s rejection of Tamil political demands gave rise to a separatist
movement and groups, including the LTTE, and instigated the armed conflict against the GoSL in 1983. The
vast majority of the armed conflict took place in the Northern and Eastern provinces and came to an end on
May 18, 2009, after the defeat of the LTTE.
Rise of Buddhist Nationalism
Leading up to Sri Lanka’s independence, “Buddhism and Sinhalese were so closely intertwined that it
became impossible to treat either in isolation.” The GoSL “constantly and deliberately targeted the Tamil
language, land, culture, education, economy, history and identity, while promoting and protecting Sinhala
language, land, culture, education, economy, history and identity.” Though this section does not delve
into the origins of Sinhala Buddhist ideology, it demonstrates the way Buddhism informs the basis for
Sinhalization while also functioning as a powerful working strategy in the state-sponsored Sinhalization of
The revival of the Buddhist culture, religion, and ideology was seen as a “return to Sinhala.” The Sinhalese
stressed their belief that Buddhism’s sacred place was in Sri Lanka and glorified their origins, claiming
unique descendance from a superior Aryan race and the true inhabitants of Sri Lanka’s ancient civilization.
Anagarika Dharmapala, a lead voice in the Sinhalese revival of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist thought,
promoted the glorification of Sinhala-Buddhist heritage, partially as a response to the British’s
marginalization of Buddhism. However, his teachings were replete with racist views that created deep
division within the country. “Buddhism was one identity marker that defined ‘Sinhala-ness,’ the other
two being Sinhalese ethnicity and Sinhalese language.” Since Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948,
27 Lehr, Peter. Militant Buddhism: the Rise of Religious Violencein Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand, 116. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.
26 DeVotta, Neil. Rep. Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Ideology: Implications for Politics and Conflict Resolution in Sri Lanka,
25 Nuhman, M. A. (2016). Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism and Muslim Identity in Sri Lanka. Buddhist Extremists and Muslim Minorities: Religious Conflict in Contemporary Sri Lanka, 18-53., p.4
24 “Anagarika Dharmapala and Sinhala Buddhist Ideology.” Sunday Times, September 17, 2006.
23 DeVotta, Neil. Rep. Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Ideology: Implications for Politics and Conflict Resolution in Sri Lanka.
East-West Center Washington, 2007.
22 See also DeVotta, Neil. “Buddhist Majoritarianism and Ethnocracy in Sri Lanka.” Sociological Bulletin 70, no. 4
(October 2021): 453–66. https://doi.org/10.1177/00380229211052143
21 Balasundaram, N. (2016). Sri Lanka: An ethnocratic state preventing positive peace. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An
Interdisciplinary Journal, 8(3), 38-58, p.43.
20 De Silva, K. M. Ethnic Conflict in Buddhist Societies: Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Burma. London: Pinter, 1988.
19 Seoighe, Rachel. War, Denial and Nation-Building in Sri Lanka After the End. Cham: Springer International Publishing,
17 Rampton, David. “Deeper Hegemony’: The Politics of Sinhala Nationalist Authenticity and the Failures of
Power-Sharing in Sri Lanka.” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 49, no. 2 (2011): 245–73.
placing the majority political power in the hands of Sinhalese, the nation showcased a trend of “growing
fundamentalism and an increasingly reactionary bond of religion, ethnicity, and state power.””
According to the Sri Lankan Constitution of 1972, “The Republic of Sri Lanka shall give to Buddhism the
foremost place and accordingly it shall be the duty of the state to protect and foster the Buddha Sasana.”
This article remains unchanged to this day. Neil DeVotta describes the state’s nationalist ideology as one
that “privileges Sinhala-Buddhist superordination, justifies subjugation of minorities and suggests that
those belonging to other ethno-religious communities live in Sri Lanka only due to Sinhalese Buddhist
sufferance.” This idea of tolerance for the Tamil nation as well as for other minority communities, isstill
the prevailing feeling of the government today despite the deep historical ties Tamils have to their
The first Executive President of Sri Lanka, the late J.R. Jayawardena, said publicly that “seventy percent of
our country are Buddhists. Therefore, we shall lead our lives according to the sacred words of Buddha… We
have a duty to protect the Buddha sasana and to pledge that every possible action would be taken to
This sentiment prevails. At a religious ceremony on January 2, 2022, the current president, Gotabaya
On the day I was sworn-in as the country’s President at the Ruwanweli Seya, I declared
that I was a President elected by the majority of Sinhalese. I firmly believe that the
protection of Sinhala Buddhists, who have made so many sacrificesto elect me asthe first
citizen of this country and that heritage is my foremost responsibility.
Notably, President Rajapaksa, who himself is accused of participating in war crimes, crimes against
humanity, and genocide when he served as Defense Minister during the end of the armed conflict in Sri
Lanka, further strengthened the powers of the executive presidency in his first year in office. On October
22, 2020, the Sri Lankan Cabinet passed the 20
th Amendment to the Constitution, which concentrated powers with the President and provided him with the power to make important political appointments without checks and balances. As will be seen throughout this report, the President uses his extensive
powersto harden Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism in Sri Lanka and to promote the process of Sinhalization.
32 “Sri Lanka Parliament Votesto Strengthen Presidential Power.” Al Jazeera, October 22, 2020.
31 Balasundaram, N. (2016). Sri Lanka: An ethnocratic state preventing positive peace. Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An
Interdisciplinary Journal, 8(3), 38-58.
30 DeVotta, Neil. Rep. Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalist Ideology: Implications for Politics and Conflict Resolution in Sri Lanka.
East-West Center Washington, 2007.
29 Publication. The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka – Revised Edition 2021. Parliament
Secretariat , n.d. http://www.parliament.lk/files/pdf/constitution.pdf.
28 Hillier, Ben. Essay. In Losing Santhia: Life and Loss in the Strugglefor Tamil Eelam, 23. Carlton, Vic.: Interventions,
Geopolitical and Ethnographic Context
Climate and Geography of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a tropical island in the Indian Ocean with three climatic zones: dry, intermediate, and wet. The
northeast areas of the island, alongside some interior hill country, comprise the dry zone. The dry zone,
which features fertile soil suited to agriculture, covers 60% of the island’s landmass and is central to the
country’s rice paddy cultivation and historical economic activity. Historically, its agricultural
communities were among the most productive in the country.
Post-2009 Economic Situation in the North-East
Structural discrimination, unequal wealth distribution, and economic and educational marginalization
impacting Tamil people were among many factors in the post-independence era that led to Sri Lanka’s
armed conflict. After the armed conflict ended in 2009, state-led efforts to rebuild have failed to address
these inequities. The North-East continues to be among the poorest regionsin Sri Lanka and the structural
conditions of poverty persist.
Although a review of the GoSL’s economic development of the North-East is outside the scope of this
report, several concerns should be mentioned due to their relationship to the Sinhalization project: the
presence of the military in development activitiesin the North-East; the focus on large-scale infrastructure
projects without local input; the continued lack of viable livelihoods in the North-East; and the lack of
macro-vision for enabling a business environment in the North-East that prioritizeslocal agency over land
and development opportunities. The lack of a locally controlled airport and seaport facilities in the
North-East also prevent economic growth.
Moreover, despite over ten years of the GoSL’s strategy of large infrastructure projects in the North-East,
there is no evidence that the government’s programs have worked. While there has been rapid
infrastructure development in conflict-affected districts, it is unclear whether the slight reduction in
poverty seen in the North-East, still the most impoverished region in the country, is related to or
38 Moramudali, Umesh. “Sri Lanka’s Uneven Reconstruction.” The Diplomat, November 7, 2019.
International Labour Organization. Rep. Assessment of the Key Bottlenecks for Private Sector Investments in the Northern Province, March 2020.
36 Najab, Nadhiya, Anupama Ranawana, and Kulasabanathan Romeshun. “The Gates of Paradise Are Open…but Who Benefits? Experiencesfrom Post-War Sri Lanka.” United Nations Chronicle, November 29, 2017.
35 “Climate of Sri Lanka.” Department of Meteorology, June 20, 2019.
Amerasinghe, Nihal “An Overview of Settlement Schemesin Sri Lanka,” Asian Survey 16, no. 7 (1976): 620–36; Shand,
Ric T. Irrigation and Agriculturein Sri Lanka. Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, Colombo: Institute of Policy Studies,
34 See Appendix 2: Map of rainfall trendsin Sri Lanka between 1987–2017; Nisansala, W. D. S, N. S Abeysingha, Adlul
Islam, and A. M. K. R Bandara. “Recent Rainfall Trend over Sri Lanka (1987–2017).” International Journal of
Climatology 40, no. 7 (2020): 3417–35. https://doi.org/10.1002/joc.6405.
proportional to the amount of money invested in infrastructure development, and whether communities
more broadly in the North-East are benefiting from the fruits of development.
Sri Lanka is currently mired in a dire economic situation, with significantly depleted foreign reserves,
increased inflation, and looming debt payments. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly exacerbated
existing inequities and weaknesses in the Sri Lankan economy and financial regime, and the economy contracted by 3.6% in 2020–the worst growth performance on record. Sri Lanka’s credit worthiness has degraded and the country is also facing a food emergency at time of writing. There are fears that the country may go into default in 2022.
Further research must be conducted to analyze the GoSL’s economic policies within the context of
Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism and to chart how such policies affect or restrict development and growth in the North-East.
Even before independence in 1948, government-backed development efforts in Sri Lanka relied heavily on multi-pronged irrigation schemes that coupled new irrigation infrastructure with settlement and economic development projects such as reservoir restoration, the creation of new settlements, and the development of irrigation canals. The colonial administration carried out numeroussettlement processes
that moved Sinhalese populations into the drier North-East regions, including under the Land
Development Ordinance of 1935. Certain Tamil populations were also settled under the Land
Development Ordinance. This irrigation-and-settlement policy was a major contributing factor to the root
causes of the armed conflict.
Three State Strategies for Sinhalization in the North-East
This report reviews both historical and contemporary patterns of land acquisition, militarization and
Buddhisization as three strategies through which an ongoing process of Sinhalization is occurring in the
Sinhalization is an ethnonationalist, settler-colonial enterprise that seeks to supplant the Tamil character
of the North-East of Sri Lanka with that of a unitary Sinhala-Buddhist state. Since before the advent of
colonialism on the island, the North-East has been considered the traditional homeland of the Tamil
people, although it was not exclusively inhabited by Tamils, with significant Muslim and small Vedda
42 Amerasinghe, Nihal. “An Overview of Settlement Schemesin Sri Lanka.” Asian Survey 16, no. 7 (1976): 620–36.
41 Shand, Ric T. Irrigation and Agriculturein Sri Lanka. Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Institute of Policy
Studies, 2002. https://www.ips.lk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/04_Irrigration-and-Agriculture-in-sri-lanka-ips.pdf.
40 “Sri Lanka Could Go Bankrupt This Year.” The Economic Times, January 3, 2022.
eshow/88659320.cms; de Soyza, Minoli, and Hannah Ellis-Peterson. “There Is No Money Left’: Covid Crisis Leaves Sri
Lanka on Brink of Bankruptcy.” The Guardian, January 2, 2022.
39 Weerakoon, Dushni. “The Tangled Diplomacy of Sri Lanka’s Currency Crisis.” East Asia Forum, December 30, 2020.
Since independence in 1948, the GoSL has tried to weaken (or outright deny) the concept of the “Tamil
homeland” by engaging in processes of demographic change and repression through the three strategies
that advance Sinhalization: land acquisition, militarization, and Buddhisization. Using these methods, the
GoSL also seeksto strengthen a Sri Lankan identity, rooted in Sinhala-Buddhism (with a foremost place for
Sinhala-Buddhists), including by assimilating Tamils and minority groupsinto this monolithic identity.
This does not reflect how Tamils understand themselves as a unique people or the ties that Tamils and Muslims have to their land in the North-East. It also is not aligned with the GoSL’s tacit and explicit acknowledgment of the Tamil homeland in agreements such as the 1957 Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact or the 1980 Indo-Lanka accord.
In addition to buttressing the GoSL’s efforts to weaken the distinct Tamil character of the North-East, the three mutually reinforcing Sinhalization methods aim to suppress Tamil political identity and neutralize Tamil claims for self-determination or devolution of power on the basis of a uniquely Tamil homeland and their character as a Tamil people. In particular, the post-war “development” scene in the North-East consists of military intervention in the socio-economic lives of Tamil survivor communities through militarization. This militarization is a particularly potent form of the Sinhalization process, and the
pervasive military presence in the North-East has facilitated the appropriation of Tamil lands for
military-run enterprises, including farms, hotels, and resorts under the pretext of national security.
Internally displaced Tamils who tried to return to their land or village have had to live under emergency rule by cooperating with the military, police, and the local administration in order to access wages, land, housing, and identity cards. The slow pace at which lands were released after being appropriated by the
GoSL and inadequate provision of settlement assistance prompted various resistance movements to
emerge acrossthe North-East, which are described in Part IV below.
47 Society for Threatened Peoples. Rep. The Vanni – Civilian Land under Military Occupation, February 2018.
45 Davies, Sara E, and Jacqui True. “When There Is No Justice: Gendered Violence and Harm in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka.”
The International Journal of Human Rights 21, no. 9 (2017): 1320–36.
44 Fernando, Jude Lal. “The Political Economy of Post-War Reconstruction in Sri Lanka: Development-Security Nexus
Vs. Tamil Right to Self-Determination.” Asian Journal of Peacebuilding 5, no. 1 (2017): 21–48.
43For example, in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed in July 1987 between the GoSL and India, the GoSL recognized that
“Northern and the Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamilspeaking peoples”.
“Indo-Lanka Accord.” United Nations Peacemaker, July 29, 1987.
“Bandaranaike – Chelvanayagam Agreement 1957.” Tamil Nation, n.d.
Part II: Irrigation-Settlement Schemes and the Mahaweli Authority
History of Irrigation-Settlement Schemes in Sri Lanka
Land issues were a key driver of the conflict between the GoSL and the Tamil people. Long before
independence, Tamils have called the North-East region of the island their homeland, and they have
continuously asserted their right to self-determination in thisland.
Even pre-independence government-backed development efforts in Sri Lanka relied heavily on
multi-pronged irrigation schemes, with special focus on the climatic dry zones of the North-East region.
State-sponsored irrigation-settlement processes dating back to the British colonial era have consistently
relocated Sinhalese people into that region. Upon independence from the British, the GoSL continued this approach to development. This irrigation-and-settlement policy significantly contributed to the rising
tensionsthat eventually led to the Sri Lankan armed conflict.
Case Study: The Gal Oya Project and Sinhalese Settlement Strategy in the North-East
In the 1940s and 1950s, under Sri Lanka’s then-Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, the Gal Oya Left BankIrrigation System became the first large-scale irrigation scheme to set the blueprint for future
development. The Gal Oya project involved building a dam in the southeast of the island to channel 52
water toward the dry region and settle colonists from the wet zones to cultivate the newly irrigated
land. The GoSL determined that in order to provide the needed labor to operationalize the scheme, it
would need to settle at least 50,000 families in newly cleared land with housing and irrigation within
five years. Accordingly, some 250,000 Sinhalese persons were settled in the Eastern region of the 53
Tamil homeland, in areas that the Government misrepresented as uninhabited.54
The Gal Oya Left Bank Irrigation System was completed between 1948 and 1952, with an estimated 70%
of new Sinhalese settlement occurring by 1957. These settlement projects violently displaced Tamils 55
and Muslims to the lower region of the Gal Oya basin to make way for incoming settlers. There were
also incidents where the military forced Tamils out and subsequently burned their homes for this
56 “Lest We Forget: The Anti-Tamil Pogroms.” Daily FT, July 22, 2017.
55 Thuppahi. “Looking Back at DS Senanayake and the Gal Oya Project.” Thuppahi’s Blog, January 13, 2017.
54 “D. S. Senanayake.” Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d.
53 Thuppahi. “Looking Back at DS Senanayake and the Gal Oya Project.” Thuppahi’s Blog, January 13, 2017.
52 Thangavelu, V. “At Manal Aru (Weli Oya) Sinhalese State Ethnically Cleansed Tamils,” Nakkeran (2002),
51 Also known asthe Senanayake Samudraya
50 Peebles, Patrick. “Colonization and Ethnic Conflict in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka.” TheJournal of Asian Studies 49, no. 1
(1990): 30–55. https://doi.org/10.2307/2058432.
49 As codified under the Land Development Ordinance of 1935. Amerasinghe, Nihal. “An Overview of Settlement
Schemesin Sri Lanka.” Asian Survey 16, no. 7 (1976): 620–36.
48 Shand, Ric T. Irrigation and Agriculturein Sri Lanka. Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka. Colombo: Institute of Policy
Studies, 2002. https://www.ips.lk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/04_Irrigration-and-Agriculture-in-sri-lanka-ips.pdf.
purpose. The GoSL provided the colonists with the necessary resources to cultivate these lands,
including the provision of LKR 10,000 per family.
Ajit Kanagasundram, the son of the Chairman of the Gal Oya Board, described Prime Minister
Senanayake’s vision of settling the dry zone with Sinhalese people as a means of “redress” for the
historical British expropriation of Sinhalese ancestral lands, which had involved clearing the lands and
installing Tamil laborers to cultivate coffee and tea. The Tamil-speaking people within the region saw
these schemes as a discriminatory project of the state, and the Tamil Federal Party also publicly raised concerns regarding what they viewed as the colonization of the East. Likewise, a Tamil geographer described these irrigation and land development projects as “designed to improve the economic conditions of the Sinhalese districts and Sinhalese peasantry” while neglecting “the economic onditions of the people in the predominantly Tamil areas.”
Tension between the communities culminated in the 1956 Anti-Tamil Pogrom, or the Gal Oya Riots,
resulting in approximately 150 deaths. The Gal Oya project, which was eventually deemed ineffective
and disorganized, proved unable to meet the demands of the region, thereby contributing to further 63
water conflicts and the exacerbation of tensions overall.64
Following a series of land-related policies favoring the Sinhalese ethnic group, in 1979 the Mahaweli
Authority of Sri Lanka Act No. 23 (hereinafter “MASA”) established the Mahaweli Authority to implement
the Mahaweli Ganga Development Scheme. MASA has in practice been used to expropriate lands
traditionally belonging to Tamils in those areas. Maps of the various areas under the Mahaweli authority
are set out in Appendix 3 of thisreport.
65 “Mahaweli Authority Of Sri Lanka Act (No. 23 of 1979) – Long Title,s.1.” Sri Lanka Consolidated Acts, n.d.
64 Sirimewan, D.C., N.H.C. Manjula, A. Samaraweera, and A.P.K.D. Mendis. Issues in Sustainable Water Management of
Irrigation Systems in Sri Lanka. Colombo, 2019.
63 Uphoff, N., and C.M. Wijayaratna. Publication. Demonstrated Benefits from Social Capital: the Productivity of Farmer
Organizations in Gal Oya, Sri Lanka. Cornell University Press, January 1, 2000.
62 “Lest We Forget: The Anti-Tamil Pogroms.” Daily FT, July 22, 2017.
61 Peebles, Patrick. “Colonization and Ethnic Conflict in the Dry Zone of Sri Lanka.” TheJournal of Asian Studies 49, no. 1
(1990): 30–55. https://doi.org/10.2307/2058432.
60 Short, Damien. Redefining Genocide : Settler Colonialism, Social Death and Ecocide. London, UK: Zed Books Ltd, 2016.
57 LTTE Peace Secretariat. Rep. Demographic Changesin the Tamil Homeland in the Island of Sri Lanka over the Last
Century, April 2008. https://www.sangam.org/2008/05/Demographic_Changes.pdf.
Case Study: Land and Violent Conflict
The Mahaweli Project’s attempts to acquire and convert Tamil-owned pasture lands for agricultural
uses has precipitated violent clashes between the original Tamil inhabitants and new Sinhalese settlers.
Settlers in the Mahaweli System B region, for example, have frequently aimed violent attacks at Tamil
farmers and their cattle while seeking to expand their farming operations. For example, between
November 2015 and March 2016, approximately 100 Tamil-owned cows in the System B region were
either shot or strangled during settler attacks. On Christmas Eve of 2020, the Tamil National People’s 66
Front reported that Sinhalese settlers slaughtered more Tamil-owned cattle in Maathavanai on
The Legal Structure of Mahaweli Act and Mahaweli Authority
The MASA created the Mahaweli Authority, headed by a State Minister, to plan and implement the
Mahaweli Ganga Development Scheme and also invested it with extensive powers over the development
and administration of lands designated as “special areas” under the Act’s exceptionally broad terms.
Because the Act does not define the criteria forselecting lands as “special areas,” the Authority has nearly
unchecked discretion in choosing the lands over which it will exercise authority. Once brought under the MASA’s mandate as special areas, the Mahaweli Authority exercises extraordinarily wide-ranging powers ver them. Several key features of the MASA, highlighted below, have been systematically operationalized n the North-East to the detriment of Tamil residents.The State Minister heading the Authority has broad discretion to designate “special areas.” The ASA’s broad language renders almost any land in the country susceptible to acquisition by the government via the Mahaweli Authority. Under Section 3 of the MASA, the State Minister may designate
any area with the potential to be “developed” through water resources sourced from any “major” river in the country. In practice, the law has been used to acquire extensive landsthroughout Sri Lanka in the name
of ‘special areas’. In the absence of meaningful textual limitations, the government has not provided its
own rationale: for example, it has neither attempted to explain what qualifies as a “major” river” nor
assessed an area’s proximity to such rivers when designating special areas.
70 Formally, the President and Parliament mustsign off on the Minister’s designation. However, Tamils are severely
underrepresented in these branches of government, leaving them with limited ability to prevent takeovers of their
68 Ibid.s. 12
67 “Sinhalese Settlers Slaughter Tamil Livestock in Batticaloa.” Tamil Guardian, December 26, 2020.
https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/sinhalese-settlers-slaughter-tamil-livestock-batticaloa; Tamil National
People’s Front. Twitter, December 25, 2020. https://twitter.com/TnpfOrg/status/1342410952155787264?s=20.
66 “Maithiripala Accelerates Structural Genocide against Tamilsin Batticaloa,” TamilNet, March 16, 2016,
https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=38189; Tamil National People’s Front. Twitter, December 25,
Case Study: Systematic Designation of Tamil Lands as Special Areas
Projects titled A, B-RB, I, J, K, L, and M under the Mahaweli Development Programme either fully or
partially fall inside the Tamil homeland. Project L (the Welioya Integrated Development Project), which
is already complete, illustrates how the MASA has been used to effect Sinhalization throughout the
North-East in lands previously inhabited or owned by Tamils. Project L is located where Mullaitivu
District joins Trincomalee District, an important juncture that linksthe North and East Provincesto one
another. Thus, when it transferred Sinhalese people into the area, the Mahaweli Authority not only
displaced local Tamil residents, but also divided the Tamil homeland. Reports suggest the Sinhalese
population of Welioya has grown to more than 4,800 families, with more expansion planned.72
Mullaitivu District, which was mainly Tamil prior to being designated as a special area, now hoststhe
second-highest concentration of Sinhalese in the Northern Province.
Projects I, J, K, and L have no obvious connection to the Mahaweli River or its tributaries, and the
government has not offered any explanation of those Projects’ connection to any major river, as
required under the MASA. Indeed, many development-related goals cited pursued by the Mahaweli
Authority for these projects could have instead been undertaken by the Northern Provincial Council,
which would have empowered local Tamil authorities to develop the areas. Notably, unlike the
Provincial Councils in the areas covered by Projects I, J, K, and L, the Mahaweli Authority has
demonstrated its intent and its power to accelerate Sinhala migration into the areas.
The Authority has extensive powers over special areas, including for “cultural projects.” The
Mahaweli Authority may exercise nearly complete authority over any special area’s use and development.
For instance, Section 13 of the MASA lists 36 categories of powers the Authority can exercise over any pecial area. These are sweeping in scope, ranging from the maintenance of waterworks; “development” ctivities; the promotion of agricultural, economic, recreational, or research activities; land settlement; to inancial matters. Moreover, the Authority’s powersinclude the right to lease, purchase,sell, or otherwise
deal with all or any part of the land. This includes the power “to promote, assist in, and secure the
settlement of persons on lands, farms and properties in any special area” and “to take allsuch steps as are ecessary for the general welfare of the community in any special area.”
73 Fonseka, Bhavani, and Dharsha Jegatheeswaran. Rep. Politics, Policies And Practices With Land Acquisitions And Related ssues In The North And East Of Sri Lanka. Centre for Policy Alternatives, November 2013; Narendran, Rajasingham.
“Post-War Northern Province: Some Facts and Fallacies.” Sri Lanka Guardian, March 27, 2012.
72 Women’s Action Network. “Fact Finding Report on the Recent Tensions between Muslims and Tamilsin
Mulliyawalai,” April 28, 2013. https://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/20724.
71 Fonseka, Bhavani, and Dharsha Jegatheeswaran. Rep. Politics, Policies And Practices With Land Acquisitions And Related
Issues In The North And East Of Sri Lanka. Centre for Policy Alternatives, November 2013.
Section 12 of MASA further authorizes the Authority to act for the “cultural progress” of communities in
special areas. This is particularly notable in light of the fact that in many special areas designated by the
Authority, previously established ministries had been empowered to promote cultural progress for these
communities. The MASA therefore overrode these pre-established local ministries in favor of a
national-level Authority that lacks local oversight.
The Authority has the power to distribute land permits for use of special areas without meaningful
oversight. The Act concentrates a huge range of pre-existing state powers under the Mahaweli Authority.
In particular, the Authority assumes powers under the Land Development Ordinance No. 19 of 1935 (LDO),
which provides for the use, distribution, development, and alienation ofstate land through specific permit
systems, as well as under the Land Acquisition Act. These terms grant the MahaweliAuthority the power
to acquire any land compulsorily,so long asit can be related to the development purposes of the MASA.
In addition, policies toward state lands have proven susceptible to political pressure from variousinterest
groups in the past, including pro-capitalist and Sinhala nationalist lobbies, and have been
instrumentalized as a means of political patronage. This has impacted Tamils in the past, since
considerable tracts of land in the claimed Tamil homeland, most notably those in Jaffna District, are
considered state land by the government and therefore fall under the potential purview of the Mahaweli
The Mahaweli Authority can also acquire private properties in any special areas extraordinarily—in other
words, properties that would normally fall outside of the purview of the Land Acquisition Act. The
Authority can require every person who claims rights over any portion of land in the special area to submit their claim in writing. However, if the government decides that these claims are not substantiated, the uthority can take possession of that land directly, which bypasses the steps that are otherwise required nder the Land Acquisition Act.
Though any person may file a petition in the court to vindicate their title or interest over land, the lack of roper documents has prevented substantial lawsuits. Many Tamils lost their land titles and documents ue to years of internal displacement and war. And those who have held and inhabited their lands raditionally may never have had access to government documentation and thus no means to assert their laims in court. Women are additionally affected by discriminatory laws and practicesin land inheritance, hich has prevented women-headed families from accessing their lands without proof of the husband’s eath. With many families in the North-East being headed by war widows whose husbands were either
killed or disappeared during the armed conflict without documentation, death records are not always vailable or accessible.
79 Davies, Sara E, and Jacqui True. “When There Is No Justice: Gendered Violence and Harm in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka.”
TheInternational Journal of Human Rights 21, no. 9 (2017): 1320–36. https://doi.org/10.1080/13642987.2017.1360025
78 Under the terms of the MASA, the Authority takes absolute possession, free of any encumbrance. “Mahaweli
Authority Of Sri Lanka Act (No. 23 of 1979) – Long Title,s.24 (1), (2), (3) ,s. 25 (1).” Sri Lanka Consolidated Acts, n.d.
77 DeVotta, Neil. “Buddhist Majoritarianism and Ethnocracy in Sri Lanka.” Sociological Bulletin 70, no. 4 (October
2021): 453–66. https://doi.org/10.1177/00380229211052143.
76 Bastian, Sunil. “Sri Lanka: Land, Class And Ethnicity.” Colombo Telegraph, August 8, 2012.
Furthermore, woman-headed households who wish to assert their land rights must submit the request in
person at relevant military headquarters, where they face increased risk of sexual harassment and/or
violence. The inflexible legal framework for proving ownership and access rights leaves many Tamil’
lands in the North-East extremely vulnerable to acquisition by the Mahaweli Authority, which hassought
to designate their properties as special areas. As a result, many such Tamil lands have been converted to
state land subject to the Mahaweli Authority. The Authority then utilizes or disposes of the land asitsees
fit, including for Sinhalization.
The MASA is unconstitutional in application. The MASA has been interpreted and implemented in ways
that contravene the constitutional protections afforded to Tamil lands under the 13
th Amendment, which
specifies that certain lands, including state-owned lands, are enumerated in the Provincial List and put
under the purview of Provincial Councils. This measure was originally intended to reserve certain, limited
rights to land and self-governance for Tamilsin the North-East. Under the MASA, however, once a parcel of
land is designated as a special area, the associated Provincial Council cedes its powers to the Mahaweli
Authority. Thus, the MASA effectively erases the protections afforded by the devolution of power outlined
in the 13
th Amendment and reallocates power back to the central government by way of the Mahaweli
To sum, the MASA authorizes colonization schemesin any area designated as a special area. While land use
is essential to develop communities, the GoSL’s processes of colonizing lands negatively and systematically
deprives one community (the Tamils) and entitles another (the Sinhalese).
Lack of access to justice
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka (the Court) affirmed the Mahaweli Authority’s overarching power
in the landmark case Environmental Foundation Ltd v. Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka and others. In this
case, although the Court found the Mahaweli Authority liable for violating a number of procedural and
legal requirements under the MASA as well as the National Environmental Act, the Court neither acted to
stop or reverse the project in question nor granted any relief to the affected occupants of the land. In fact,
the Mahaweli Authority continued to move forward with its plans even as the case was under
consideration by the Supreme Court without remark or censure from the Court. The Court ultimately ruled
that the sole limitation on the Mahaweli Authority’s power was that it must act in accordance with its
statutory purpose—a purpose whose terms have repeatedly been interpreted as exceptionally extensive.
This outcome effectively discouraged future court challenges to the Authority’s actions and exacerbated
the trend of impunity for rights violations committed by the Authority or as a direct result of its actions.
81 Environmental Foundation Ltd and Others Vs. Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka and Others(2010) 1 Sri LR.
Case Study: Expropriation of Private Land in Special Areas
Even in the rare instances where a lawsuit was filed and won, the court’s decisions have not been
uniformly implemented, if they are implemented at all. For instance, Tamil farmers who fled their
lands in Odhiyamalai due to the armed conflict in 2006 were blocked from cultivating their paddy
lands despite having valid permits when they returned after the war. Instead, their fields are now
cultivated by Sinhalese who maintain that the land belonged to them. The national army has
intervened on behalf of Sinhalese claims.
Kokkilai, a village located in Mullaitivu District, provides a similar example. The areas in and
surrounding Kokkilai have been a focal point for Sinhala settlements since the 1970s. Encouraged
by government policies, Sinhalese fishermen from other areas of the country relocated, displacing
local Tamil fishing communities. Tamils were further displaced during the armed conflict. By the
close of the war, the Mukaththuvaram area of Kokkilai was occupied entirely by Sinhalese people,
and returning Tamils faced harassment by the Sinhalese migrants, Buddhist monks, and police.
When the Fisheries and Aquatics Department filed suit on behalf of the newly settled Sinhalese
people in, the district court vindicated the Tamil claims to their lands in 2018. Nonetheless, the
judgment has yet to be enforced, and the Mahaweli Authority continues to issue new permits to
Sinhalese people to occupy and use the disputed land.
86 “Mullaitivu Court Rules against Fisheries Department and Declares Contested Coastal Land Belongsto Tamil Fishermen.” Tamil Guardian, April 7, 2018.
84 “Sinhalization of the North East: Kankesanthurai (KKS).” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, September 21,
82 Rep. Sri Lanka’s North I: The Denial of Minority Rights. International Crisis Group, March 16, 2012.
Part III: Militarization of the North-East
Historical Roots of Sri Lanka’s Military
In 1949, following independence from the British Commonwealth, the newly sovereign state established
the Ceylon Army. In the early stages, the primary role of this new army, composed of former crown
members with new recruits, consisted of participation in ceremonial events.
The military took on an increasingly Sinhala Buddhist ethosin the 1960s and transformed it into a virtually
all-Sinhala military, while incorporating Buddhist symbols and rituals into the every-day operations of
the military. (cite Bartholomeusz and Kent)
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the GoSL used the armed forcesto advance its goal of unifying the island and
preventing the movement of Tamil militant forces. The military established HSZs during the armed conflict
in order to monitor anti-government forces in the Tamil homeland. The installation of these HSZs
forced many Tamils to flee. The HSZs across the Tamil homeland also cut off accessto temples, curtailed
economic life, and stopped displaced personsfrom re-establishing farms and transportation routes.
Militarized Zones in the Tamil
Since the war ended, high-level Sri
Lankan officials have claimed that the
government was reducing its military
presence in the North-East. However,
human rights observers have
93 Malarvan, War Journey By Malarvan: Diary of a Tamil Tiger, translation of Por Ula by N. Malathy (2013), India
Penguin, pp. 28-29.
92 “Satellite Images Show That the High Security Zone Is Not Being Used asIntended.” Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace
and Justice, August 21, 2014.
91 Jaffna alone has hosted 18 HSZssince the 1980s, while approximately 16,800 acres of Mullaitivu District i.
Manoharan, N. “High Security Zonesin Sri Lanka,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies(2007),
http://www.ipcs.org/comm_select.php?articleNo=2321; Chandran, Rina. “Nine Years after War’s End, Sri Lankans
Wait for Government to Return Property,” Thomson Reuters, Oct. 9, 2018,
https://ca.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN1MJ0DB; “Human Cost of High Security Zones,” TamilNet (2006),
90 United Kingdom Home Office. Rep. Country Information and Guidance- Sri Lanka: Tamil Separatism, August 2016.
pdf; “2021 Sri Lanka Military Strength.” Global Fire Power, n.d.
89 Bartholomeusz, Tessa J. In Defense of Dharma : Just-War Ideology in Buddhist Sri Lanka. London ;: RoutledgeCurzon,
- https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203994801; Kent, Daniel W. “Onward Buddhist Soldiers: The Sri Lankan Civil War hrough the Eyes of Buddhist Military Personnel.” International Conference on Sri Lanka Studies, 2005.
88 De Silva, K.M. Working paper. Sri Lanka: Political-Military Relations, November 2001.
87 “Old Memories.” Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment, n.d. https://alt.army.lk/slsr/old-memories2
documented the exact opposite: an ongoing and even expanding military presence that has also overtaken ivil administrative duties. As of 2020, rights groups claim that there was an estimated one military
personnel per six civilians in the North-East. Likewise, 16 of the 20 Defense Ministry divisions and four
out ofsix Defense Headquarters are fully or partly located in the Tamil homeland.
Ongoing and expanding military occupation has permanently displaced many Tamils with no
recourse to justice. Government policies have
largely expanded these HSZs, despite government promises and claims to the contrary. Military
forces have continued to build security-related infrastructure, station military personnel throughout the Tamil homeland, and implement new commercial projects, often without adequate
consultation, due process, or reparations to the displaced. In addition, the government has built
numerous new military and police facilities in Tamil lands.
In other cases, internally displaced persons have been haphazardly and non-consensually relocated
by the Government onto lands that are not their 100 See, for example, “Sri Lanka to Build 190 New Police Stations Starting in the North-East.” Tamil Guardian, March
30, 2021. https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/sri-lanka-build-190-new-police-stations-starting-north-east.
99 Chandran, Rina. “Nine Years after War’s End, Sri Lankans Wait for Government to Return Property.” Reuters.
Thomson Reuters, October 9, 2018. https://ca.reuters.com/article/idUSKCN1MJ0DB.
98 Although former president Maithiripala Sirisena called for the release of all land belonging to Tamils by the end of
2018, legal frameworks continue to hindersettlement processes. Amnesty International, “Hope flickers as civilian
owners await the release of their land,” 18 March 2019,
Thambu Kanagasabai.” Unfulfilled Commitments & Unending Promises,” Colombo Telegraph, 16 Dec. 2021,
97 Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, and People for Equality and Relief in Lanka. Rep. Normalising the Abnormal:
The Militarisation of Mullaitivu, October 2017.
df; Oakland Institute. The Long Shadow of War, 2015.
96 “Sri Lanka Army Establishment.” Sri Lanka Army, n.d. https://www.army.lk/establishment. The four locations are
divided into Jaffna, East, Vanni and Kilinochchi. “Security ForcesJaffna.” Civil Military Cooperation, n.d.
http://cimicjaffna.lk/profile-of-sfhq-j; Security Forces Headquarters East, n.d. https://alt.army.lk/sfhqeast/; Security
Forces Headquarters Wanni, n.d. https://alt.army.lk/sfhqwanni/; Security Forces Headquarters Kilinochchi, n.d.
95 Oakland Institute. The Long Shadow of War, 2015.
94 Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, and People for Equality and Relief in Lanka. Rep. Normalising the Abnormal:
The Militarisation of Mullaitivu, October 2017.
original homes. These settled populations have been removed from official counts of internally displaced
persons, yet they remain displaced. Tamils who fled abroad also continue to face significant barriersto
claiming and accessing their lands.
Even when lands have been returned partially or fully to citizens, the occupying military often destroys
property. For example, numerous religious sites during the post-war period were destroyed, including Hindu temples, a mosque, a Buddhist temple, and a church. In addition, the continued military presence
in close proximity to returned lands has affected accessto nearby natural resources, transportation routes,
and basic infrastructure, including water and sanitation facilities. These problems, coupled with attacks
by violent extremist Sinhala Buddhist groups, have caused significant challenges to Tamil communities,
especially women-headed households, in re-establishing their lives and livelihoods.
Officially, the GoSL reports that significant portions of land have been returned to civilians over the past
few years. However, data provided by the government lackstransparentsources, and the government has
not made public any information that explains the official processfor land return, making it impossible to
verify these claims and casting doubt on the accessibility of any such processesto those looking to reclaim
their lands. There have also been concerns that released land retains existing military infrastructures.
As to the land currently under military control, as recently as late 2020, government figures have publicly
asserted that military-occupied lands in the North-East are considered to have economic and
security-related importance and thus will not be returned.
110 “Military Occupied Lands with Tactical Importance Will Never Be given: Weerasekara.” Daily Mirror, September 10,
109 The Maatram Foundation. Rep. Understanding Post-War Land Issues in Northern Sri Lanka. The Maatram Foundation,
108 OHCHR, Sri Lanka on Alarming Path towards Recurrence of Grave Human Rights Violations, January 2021.
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26695&LangID=E; Sri Lanka Campaign.
Publication. Reversing Progress: Threats to Human Rights and Reinforced Impunity in Sri Lanka, February 2021.
107 The Oakland Institute,. Endless War (2021),
https://www.oaklandinstitute.org/sites/oaklandinstitute.org/files/endless-war-web.pdf; Vithanage, Athula. “Sri
Lanka Refusesto Hand Back Military Occupied Land.” JDS Lanka, March 22, 2019.
106 Human Rights Watch, Why Can’t We Go Home? Military Occupation of Land in Sri Lanka (2018),
105 Society for Threatened Peoples. Rep. The Vanni – Civilian Land under Military Occupation, February 2018.
104 Human Rights Watch, Why Can’t We Go Home? Military Occupation of Land in Sri Lanka (2018),
103 Aneez, Shihar. “Sri Lankan Tamils Living Abroad Struggle to Reclaim Land from Afar.” Reuters, April 21, 2020.
101 Human Rights Watch, Why Can’t We Go Home? Military Occupation of Land in Sri Lanka (2018),
Map 1.0: Mapping Militarization of Tamil Lands in the North-East (PEARL 2021, Subendran 2021). This
map only highlights major camps, and there are many smaller military outpostsin the North-East.
Militarizing Civilian Life
Since the end of the armed conflict, the Sri Lankan military has become heavily involved in
community-oriented development projects that should more appropriately be run by civilian institutions.
For example, as part of its role running rehabilitation centers to reintegrate former LTTE fighters into
civilian life, the military conducted a mass religious wedding ceremony for 53 former fighters in 2010,
provided direct aid to the newlywed couplesto help them become established, and supported education,
vocational training, spiritual, recreation, and psychological programs. Other projectsinclude the creation
of a “Harmony Centre” as well as major cashew plantation projects, such as the one in Kankesanthurai
(KKS), run by the Valikamam North HSZs. Security forces promote lectures, participate in religious
festivities, and distribute cashew saplings through programming that targets elementary schools in
particular. Civilians are also offered employment opportunities under the military, since they cannot
access their lands and associated economic activities. This normalizes the militarization of all aspects of
life in the North-East.
117 “The Forever War?: Military Control in Sri Lanka’s North.” International Crisis Group, March 25, 2014.
Jegatheeswaran, Dharsha. Rep. Civil Security Department – The Deep Militarisation of the Vanni. Adayaalam Centre for
Policy Research, September 2017.
116 “233 Brigade-Organized A/L Seminar Attendees Gifted with Cashew Plants.” Sri Lanka Army, July 31, 2019.
https://www.army.lk/news/233-brigade-organized-al-seminar-attendees-gifted-cashew-plants; “651 Brigade Distributes Cashew Saplings among Civilians.” Sri Lanka Army, October 25, 2019.
https://www.army.lk/news/651-brigade-distributes-cashew-saplings-among-civilians; “East-Based Troops Distribute Cashew Plants Sponsored by ‘Dilmah’ Conservation.” Sri Lanka Army, December 25, 2016.
9-conservation; “East-Based 233 Brigade Distributes Cashew Plants Among Students.” Sri Lanka Army, February 18,
- https://www.army.lk/news/east-based-233-brigade-distributes-cashew-plants-among-students; “Nursery Run by 233 Brigade Distributes Cashew Plants among Students.” Sri Lanka Army, March 9, 2018. “East-Based Troops
Distribute Cashew Plants Sponsored by ‘Dilmah’ Conservation.” Sri Lanka Army, December 25, 2016.
115 “Harmony Centre’ for Utility Community-Oriented ProjectsInaugurated in KKS, Jaffna.” Sri Lanka Army, May 12,
“Sinhalization of the North East: Kankesanthurai (KKS).” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, October 26, 2020.
114 Malkanthi Hettiarachchi. “Sri Lanka’s Rehabilitation Program: A New Frontier in Counter Terrorism and Counter
Insurgency.” Prism (Washington, D.C.) 4, no. 2 (2013): 105–21.
113 Sameera, Gayan. “Sri Lanka Stages Mass Wedding for Former Rebels.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, June 13, 2010.
112 Reddy, Muralidhar. “Mass Wedding at Vavuniya.” The Hindu, June 14, 2010.
111 IRIN. “Sri Lanka: Former Tiger Fighters Battle for a Normal Life.” Refworld, May 28, 2012.
This approach of combining military might with
community-level initiatives recalls the military strategy
widely known as “Winning Hearts and Minds” (WHAM).
“WHAM” strategies aim to not only normalize the
presence of the military among civilians, but also to
create a sense of dependency on such forces. Indeed,
local residents in the North-East, who remain restricted
from accessing their traditional lands, are suspicious of
such military efforts, which occur in the absence of
accountability and alongside continued occupation,
displacement, and pervasive military surveillance. The
GoSL’s apparent goal is to normalize the military
presence in the Tamil homeland.
Military Dominance in the Tourism Industry
State-sponsored land acquisition in the North-East often
serves to bolster the burgeoning tourism industry in Sri
Lanka. New and existing militarized infrastructure
projects continue to expand, and residential areas are frequently converted into military-run tourism sites,
such as the Thalsevana Army Resort and Restaurant in the Valikamam HSZ. The military development of
the Valikamam HSZ is paradigmatic of the GoSL’s approach to militarizing historically Tamil areas. This
and other tourist spaces are almost exclusively controlled by the military while locals—usually, historic
Tamil communities—are wholly excluded from the tourism economy.
When new resorts and businesses are built in the North-East, they are often on lands where Tamils lived
prior to their wartime displacement. Many Tamils have found, upon returning to their old homes, that
their land has since been occupied, developed, or rezoned by the military. For example, in 2013, the Sri
Lankan military seized approximately 25,000 acres of Tamil pastureland as designated forest reserves.
123 The military siezed more than 25,000 acres of pasture landsfrom Koara’laip-pattu North (Vaakarai),
Koara’laip-pattu (Vaazhaich-cheanai), Koara’laip-pattu South (Kiraan) and Ea’raavoor-pattu (Chengkaladi), which
had been in use for over 50 years as Tamil pastureland. “Sirisena’s Ministry, SL Military Seize More Pasturelandsfrom
Tamilsin Batticaloa.” TamilNet, October 5, 2015. https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=37958. Though
not covered in thisreport, the Forestry Department and the Wildlife Department are other key institutions deeply
involved in the Sinhalization process. There have been instances where the Forestry Department has actively taken
over privately owned Tamil lands, or directly acquired land from the military which had originally been taken away
from farmers. There have also been instances where privately owned Tamil land has been demarcated for various
122 “Under the Radar: Tourism in Sri Lanka at risk from military” (2016), Global Risk Insights,
121 “Sinhalization of the North East: Kankesanthurai (KKS).” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, September 21,
120 See more Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, and People for Equality and Relief in Lanka. Rep. Normalising the
Abnormal: The Militarisation of Mullaitivu, October 2017.
119 “The Forever War?: Military Control in Sri Lanka’s North.” International Crisis Group, March 25, 2014.
118 Douglas Porch, “Bugeaud, Gallieni, Lyautey: The Development of French Colonial Warfare,” in Makers of Modern
Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed Peter Paret (Princeton University Press, USA, 1986), 394
Another example is the Tamil town of Pasikudah, where the military promised local fishing communities
that planned tourist infrastructure on the town’s customary lands would preserve the community’s access
to four acres of coastal land, which were needed for anchoring their boats; provide huts for sleeping at
night; and extend benefits from renovating the harbor. Instead, these promises were broken, and the 368
fishermen and their families living in the area were eventually warned to either vacate their lands or be forcibly evicted by police. Now, an estimated 90% of the beachfront property around Passikudah is
privately run as tourist ventures, forcing hundreds of fishermen to share the severely diminished public coastline to sustain their livelihoods.
Case Study: Legal Routes to State Land Acquisition in the North-East
The Land Acquisition Act creates a key framework through which the GoSL has converted Tamil
heritage lands into state-owned projects. While the Land Acquisition Act limits the State’s land
acquisition powers to projects for a “public purpose,” this has been defined extremely broadly to
include military camps, military-run resorts, luxury condominiums,shopping malls, reservoir projects,
roads, infrastructure projects, and police stations. Moreover, the legally mandated gazette
announcements for the projects do not disclose the public purpose for which lands are acquired.127
These developments are chiefly populated by and employ almost exclusively military personnel, who
themselves are newly settled Sinhalese people.
Due to Tamil people being forcibly displaced from their land, the permitsthey were once issued under the Land Development Ordinance and State Lands Ordinance were found to be canceled, or reissued to other Sinhalese people. Tamilssometimesfound Sinhalese people occupying the land without a permit or license. In many cases, where Tamils displaced by the war returned to their land, they found that 129
new occupants who had arrived during the war now held prescriptive rightsto the land under what is
129 Wickramaratne, Pubudini. Rep. Securing Land Rights of Displaced and Evicted Communitiesin Northern and
Eastern Sri Lanka. Oxfam, November 2020.
128 Fonseka, Bhavani, and Dharsha Jegatheeswaran. Rep. Politics, Policies And Practices With Land Acquisitions AndRelated Issues In The North And East Of Sri Lanka. Centre for Policy Alternatives, November 2013.
126 Perera, Iromi. Rep. Land Acquisitions for Public Purposein Post-War Sri Lanka. Law & Society Trust and People’s
Alliance for Right to Land, 2020.
125 CNS/Ecosocialist Horizons. (2014). Behind the Brochures: Tourists, Fishermen, and Land Grabsin Sri Lanka.
Capitalism Nature Socialism, 25(4), 54-64.
124 Pasikudah is located in the Batticaloa District
wildlife reserves. In the Mullaitivu District, the Forest Department has expropriated 32,110 acres of land and the
Wildlife Department claimed 23,515 acres. For more in-depth research on thisissue, please see Perera, Iromi. Rep.
Land Acquisitions for Public Purposein Post-War Sri Lanka. Law & Society Trust and People’s Alliance for Right to Land,
nglish.pdf; he Oakland Institute,. Endless War (2021),
known as the Prescription Ordinance, which recognizes land rights for those who occupy land for at
least 10 years. This has permanently displaced those who had originally been forced off of their lands
due to conflict from their historical lands.
Tourism as a Tool for Erasure of Tamil Narratives
Sri Lanka is a popular destination for international tourists,
with Lonely Planet ranking Sri Lanka as the number one
destination to visit in 2019. Tourism is the third largest
source of export revenue in Sri Lanka, contributing
approximately 11% of the national GDP over the five years
prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, the
tourism industry has been significantly affected since the
Easter Bombings of 2019 as well asthe COVID-19 pandemic.
The tourism sector is one way the State perpetuates
structural discrimination against Tamils. By seizing private
land owned by Tamils in the North-East and transforming
them into tourist “hot spots,” thus denying Tamils the right
to their lands, livelihoods, and self-governed economic development, the GoSL demonstratesits disregard
for redressing Tamil grievances. Most of the island’s tourist hotspots, with their resorts, hotels, and
restaurants, are wholly run by the military.
Since the war, the GoSL instrumentalized war tourism as an intricate way of commodifying the armed
conflict while simultaneously enforcing the state’s control over the national narrative. Soldiers guide
Sinhalese visitors (often from the South) on “terrorism tours” featuring a state-sponsored narration of
events that showcased, for example, LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s home and LTTE-run administrative offices.
LTTE sites, artifacts, and monuments were selectively chosen by the State and thus, selectively
represented and remembered.
Despite outstanding credible accusations of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the GoSL and its officials, composed of alleged war criminals and genocidaires, have buried its past under the disguise of an “island paradise,” effectively erasing the Tamil experience and suffering.
134 Hyndman, Jennifer, and Amarnath Amarasingam. “Touring ‘Terrorism’: Landscapes of Memory in Post-War Sri Lanka.” Geography Compass 8, no. 8 (2014): 560–75. https://doi.org/10.1111/gec3.12149.
133 Seoighe, R. (2016). Inscribing the victor’sland: nationalistic authorship in Sri Lanka’s post-war Northeast. Conflict,ecurity & Development, 16(5), 443-471.
132 “Sri Lankan Army Commander and Accused War Criminal Speaks at Tourism Summit.” Tamil Guardian, November
131 Munasinghe, Lasika Madhawa, W.H.T. Gunawardhana, and RG Ariyawansa. Issue brief. Sri Lankan Travel and ourism Industry: Recent Trends and Future Outlook towards Real Estate Development. Social Science Research Network,anuary 1, 2019. https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3614984.
Militarized Pandemic Response
The GoSL’s COVID-19 response, headed by the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19
Outbreak and the Presidential Task Force , is managed, in large part, by military personnel without public
health experience. The Operation Centre is headed by General Shavendra Silva, the commander of the Sri
Lankan Armed Forces who was banned from travel to the United States just a month prior to his
appointment due to his alleged involvement in extrajudicial executions.
Under the guise of preventing the spread of COVID-19, Sri Lankan security forces have increased the
oppression of Tamil and Muslim communities, including by using the pandemic to justify preventing
Tamils from gathering or protesting enforced disappearances, land grabs, and the detention of political
Increasing Militarization of the GoSL
In June 2020, President Rajapaksa announced the formation of a 13-member Presidential Task Force to
build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society. The said Task Force composed ofsolely
Sinhalese military, intelligence, and police personnel, many of whom have been implicated in war
crimes. The Task Force was given a vague and broad mandate “to build a Secure Country, Disciplined,
Virtuous and Lawful Society,” including being empowered to “curb illegal activities of social groups” and
“take legal action against persons responsible for … anti-social activities.” This has enabled the GoSL to
intensify existing restrictions on human rights organizations, Tamil civil society groups, and political
actors, including by extending its reach to interfere with such groups even outside Sri Lanka’s borders.
These sanctions have already increased targeting and surveillance of Tamilsin the diaspora. For example,
in February 2021, GoSL designated Tamil organizations and individuals across the globe for their alleged
141 PEARL (People for Equality and Relief in Lanka), “Sri Lankan Presidential Task Forces Signal Deepening
Militarization,” June 3, 2020,
140 “Sri Lanka: Newly Constituted Presidential Task Force Threatens Rule of Law,” International Commission of Jurists,
June 5, 2020. https://www.icj.org/sri-lanka-newly-constituted-presidential-task-force-threatens-rule-of-law
139 PEARL. “Sri Lankan Presidential Task Forces Signal Deepening Militarization.” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, June 3, 2020.
138 Ibid. See also “Sri Lanka: Newly Constituted Presidential Task Force Threatens Rule of Law.” International Commission of Jurists, June 5, 2020,
137 “Sri Lanka Gazette No. 2178/18.” Department of Government Printing, June 2, 2020.
136 “Public Designation, Due to Gross Violations of Human Rights, of Shavendra Silva of Sri Lanka.” U.S. Department of State, February 14, 2020.
ndex.html; Nandakumar, Thusiyan. “Sri Lanka’s Militarised Coronavirus Containment Has Grave Consequences.”
Medact, October 16, 2020. https://www.medact.org/2020/blogs/sri-lanka-coronavirus/.
135 “Sri Lanka Gazette No. 2168/8.” Department of Government Printing, March 26, 2020.
engagement in “terrorist activities” and designated dozens of individuals as LTTE members. In October
2021, the Sri Lankan cabinet approved the proposalsto draft two cybersecurity lawsrelating to “terrorism”
and “anti-social activities,” which human rights activists fear will give the government the broad remit to
surveil Tamil human rights advocacy efforts even outside of the state.
The Presidential Task Force reflects a larger trend within President Rajapaska’s administration of
appointing retired military officials and accused war criminals to positions of power. The steady and
accelerating empowerment of Sinhalese military leaders, including at least 28 serving or former military
and intelligence personnel implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity,suggeststhe GoSL’slack
of commitment to human rights, peace, and justice, particularly for Tamilsin the North-East.
145 For example, the Task Force is headed by the unelected Basil Rajapaksa, President Rajapaksa’s younger brother,
who was allegedly involved in the extrajudicial executions of Tamil LTTE surrenderees. See also UN Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights, “Sri Lanka on alarming path towardsrecurrence of grave human rights violations –
UN report,” 27 Jan. 2021,
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26695&LangID=E; Brad Adams, “Sri
Lanka’s UN Effortsto Stave Off Justice for War Crimes,” Just Security 3 Feb. 2021,
https://www.justsecurity.org/74447/sri-lankas-un-efforts-to-stave-off-justice-for-war-crimes/; Karen McVeigh, “Sri Lanka at ‘tipping point’ with risk of return to past atrocities, activists warn,” The Guardian, 24 Feb. 2021,
144 “Sri Lanka’s Militarisation of COVID-19 Response.” International Truth and Justice Project, April 8, 2020.
143 Farzan, Zulfick. “Cabinet Approves Proposalsfor Cyber Security Laws.” News First, October 12, 2021.
https://www.newsfirst.lk/2021/10/12/cabinet-approves-proposals-for-cyber-security-laws/; “Sri Lanka’s Cabinet Approves Cyber Security Proposalsto Combat ‘Terrorist Groups’.” Tamil Guardian, October 12, 2021.
142 Sri Lanka Gazette No. 2216/37.” Department of Government Printing, February 25, 2021.
Part IV: Buddhisization of Tamil Lands and Religious Sites
The governance, management and use of “heritage lands” are at the heart of many intergroup tensionsin
Sri Lanka. While the GoSL has designated several bodies to oversee the designation, use, and protection of
such lands, these mechanisms are largely headed and captured by Sinhalese-Buddhist interests, with little
representation or consultation with Tamil and minority groups. As a result, Tamils and Muslims in the
Northern and Eastern Provinces have been systematically marginalized while their religious sites are
co-opted or destroyed.
Sinhala Buddhist nationalism is currently utilized by the state to justify Buddhisization across the
North-East. The GoSL undertakes this Buddhisization by: destroying and appropriating non-Buddhist
places of worship (such as Hindu temples and Muslim mosques), constructing Buddhist viharas and
statues in majority Tamil-speaking areas with military sponsorship, providing space and authority for
Buddhist monks to influence the agenda of GoSL, and using the archaeological department and
Presidential Task Force as instruments to selectively uncover new areas with Buddhist history and
legitimize state-sponsored Sinhalization in the North-East.
Archaeological Heritage Management in Sri Lanka
The purview, composition, and powers of the main government bodies that are responsible for religious
sites in Sri Lanka are described and analyzed below. The two mechanisms—the Department of
Archaeology and the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management—function as
powerful instrumentsto dispossess Tamil and Muslim populationsin the North-East of their lands.
The Sri Lankan Department of Archaeology
The Department of Archaeology is charged with preserving and allocating all heritage lands. The
Department exercises wide-ranging authority over more than 250,000 archaeological sites as well as
plenary power over the preservation of antiquities in the country. It is also responsible for related public
education, photo and video permits, archeological impact assessments, and Requests for Architectural
Conservation of Monuments. Unfortunately, the Department is not representative of different groups’
interests. It has always been criticized for being Sinhala-majoritarian in nature, has faced long-standing
accusations ofstealing artifacts, and itsleadership has been plagued by accusations of discrimination.
Even dating back to the end of the armed conflict, the Director General of Archaeology has ordered
excavations and instructed district authoritiesto put up Buddhiststructures on pre-existing Tamil worship sites and private Tamil lands, regardless of any opposition to it. A distinguished historian and
archeologist recalled that when he was a professor at Peradeniya University in, archaeological projects with the potential to display ancient Tamil presence in Sri Lanka were not approved, but archaeological projects
148 Balachandran, P.K. “Sinhalization of Tamil Areas by Building Buddhist Shrines over Hindu Temples,” The Citizen,July 20, 2019,
146 Antiquities Ordinance, No. 9 of 1940 and its Amendment No. 24 of 1998; “Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka –
Overview.” Department of Archaeology, n.d. http://www.archaeology.gov.lk/index.php/about/overview.
with a Buddhist focus were. In addition, certain scholars have claimed that the National Archives
decision to store Tamil recordsin a unit in Kandy makes accessto records more difficult for researchers who
visit the main archivesin Colombo.
In 2010, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency, the Department coordinated with the Police Department
and the Attorney General’s Department to orchestrate 342 arrests of Tamils and Muslimsfor violating the
provision of the Antiquities Ordinance. The majority of those cases(171 of the 342) were brought to court
and fines were levied totaling to 10 million rupees. “We cannot even dig a hole in our land to plant a tree
as we may discover some archaeological object that will evoke an intervention by the Archaeology people,”
described a Muslim individual from Devanagala. In general, the selective enforcement of the Antiquities
Ordinance targets Tamil and Muslim populations and isfrequently used to harass or dispossess Tamils and
Muslims? in the North-East of their lands. Many of them are farmers or fishermen who depend on accessto
these lands for their livelihood. No compensation is provided; indeed, farmers are often fined for the
misfortune of discovering an object deemed important by the Department of Archaeology.
The veracity of archeological record is biased and impacted by: the loss of Tamil Brahmi inscriptionsfrom
this Department, the formation of new Sinhala villages around archaeological sites in majority
Tamil-speaking regions, the GoSL’s seizure of traditional Tamil lands as “archaeological reserves” under
the Antiquities Ordinance Act, the re-classification of Tamil archaeologist-led discoveries, and the
Department’srefusal to acknowledge remnants of ancient Tamil temple sites during excavations.
In contrast, Buddhist archeology continues to benefit from government support and resources. In 2020,
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered the Department of Archaeology to addressthe requests made by the
160 “Buddhist Advisory Council Commends President for Heeding Advice.” Adaderana, September 19, 2020.
159 “Archaeological Excavation Recovers Remnants of a Shiva Lingam at Ancient Tamil Temple Site.” Tamil Guardian,
February 13, 2021.
158 “Ancient Pandyan Coins Bring Intrigue and Dispute in Sri Lanka.” Tamil Guardian, October 2, 2020.
157 “Sri Lanka’s Archaeology Department Acquires’Ancient Monastery Site’ in Jaffna.” Tamil Guardian, December 1,
156 “Sinhalization of the North East: Seruwila-Verugal.” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, March 1, 2020.
155 “Tissamaharama Tamil Brahmi Inscription ‘Missing.'” TamilNet, October 21, 2010.
https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=32843; “Archaeology Sparks New Conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese.” Buddhist Art News, April 14, 2020.
154 Silva, Kalinga Tudor, Afrah Niwas, and W.M.K.B. Wickramasinghe. Publication. Religious Interface and Contestations Between Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka. International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2016.
152 “Division of Law.” Department of Archaeology, n.d.
150 Balachandran, P.K. “Sinhalization of Tamil Areas by Building Buddhist Shrines over Hindu Temples,” The Citizen,
July 20, 2019,
Buddhist Advisory Council about the protection of archaeological and historical sites. The President also
discussed the possibility of using the Civil Defense Forces as part of this conservation program, giving even
broader resources and remit to the excavation and protection of Buddhist archaeologicalsites.
The Department is currently headed by Dr. Senarath Dissanayake who, since assuming this role in
January 2020, has been accused of destroying valuable artifacts in order to build tourism infrastructure.
Since assuming the chairmanship of the Department, Dissanayake has carried out a number of sweeping initiatives in support of Buddhist-Sinhalese heritage claims. In 2020, the Department of Archaeology
announced its acquisition of over an acre of land in Neduntheevu (Delft Island) in the Northern Province, citing its authority under the Antiquities Ordinance No. 9 of 1940 because of claims that they had discovered the existence of a ruined Buddhist monastery complex. In addition, a week prior to the
announcement, President Gotabaya Rajapaksaordered the distribution of 700 Buddha statues across the island of Sri Lanka with distribution to be overseen by Sri Lanka’s military. This isn’t limited to the
Rajapaksa government. The previous government also pledged to build a thousand Buddhist templesin the Tamil homeland .
Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management
The Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province was
established in June 2020, at the same time as the Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country,
Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society. The Task Force was assigned to identify sites of archaeological
importance, devise and implement programming, identify land to be allocated for cultural promotion, and preserve the cultural value of identified sites. At the time it was established, it was staffed solely with
Sinhalese members, including two Buddhist monks, despite its exclusive jurisdiction over traditional Tamil lands in the East. A number of Buddhist monks also sit on the Task Force, one of whom had threatened
169 Since the Archaeological Heritage Task Force was created, President Rajapaksa has added four additional members,who are also all Buddhist monks. Sri Lanka Gazette No. 2190/17, August 24, 2020,
168 “Sri Lanka Gazette No. 2178/17.” Department of Government Printing, June 2, 2020.
167 See pp. 28 of thisreport.
166 Directive No. 2178/17 – Tuesday, June 02, 2020, Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,
http://documents.gov.lk/files/egz/2020/6/2178-17_E.pdf; “Two Separate Presidential Task Forcesto Ensure a Secure
Country and for Archaeological Heritage Management;” President of Sri Lanka, June 3, 2020.
gical-heritage-management/; Centre for Policy Alternatives. Publication. The Appointment of the Two Presidential Task
Forces, June 2020.
163 “Sri Lanka’s Archaeology Department Acquires’Ancient Monastery Site’ in Jaffna,” Tamil Guardian, December 1,
Ibid. See also “Dr. Senarath Dissnayake Reappointed as Archeology Director-General,” News First, January 15, 2020,
161 “President Focuses on Amending Antiquities Ordinance.” News First, July 25, 2020.
farmers with arrest and blocked them from accessing their lands in September 2020. On November 29,
2021, the GoSL appointed one Tamil and one Muslim alongside four additional Buddhist monksto the Task
Force. The Task Force is chaired by the current Secretary of Defense, Kamal Gunaratne, who has been
credibly accused of war crimes.
The Task Force has acted aggressively since its inception: within a month of its creation, the Task Force
publicly announced that over 2,000 sites in the Eastern Province had been identified for archaeological
investigation. By the end of 2020, the Task Force had reported the discovery of 650 archaeological
monuments in Batticaloa District, where Tamils make up over 70% of the population (the highest
concentration of Tamils in the Province). In January 2021, Gunaratne announced hisintention to restore
the Buddhist “Deegawapiya Stupa” in the Eastern Province and to create a new funding account
dedicated to the Deegawapiya restoration project. Despite the extensive ambit of its powers, the Task
Force itself reports only to the President, with no direct democratic or local oversight.
Locals have subsequently feared the encroachment on traditional lands due to archeological projects as
well asthe erasure of the historical Tamil presence resulting from the construction of Buddhist temples and
statues, many of which are erected on tops of former Hindu temples. Tamil civilsociety groupsin the East
published an open letter expressing their numerous concerns with the Task Force, namely, the Task Force’s
174 “Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Vowsto Restore Buddhist Stupa to ‘Former Glory’ in East.” Tamil Guardian, January
21, 2021. “President Focuses on Amending Antiquities Ordinance.” News First, July 25, 2020.
173 Hapuarachchi, Pavani. “650 Archaeological Monuments Excavated from Batticaloa.” News First , December 2, 2020.
172″2,000 Sitesin Eastern Province Subject to ‘Archaeological Examination’ Says Task Force Member,” Tamil Guardian,
July 10, 2020,
171 Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human, Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human
rightsin Sri Lanka, 46
th Session Human Rights Council, UN Doc. A/HRC/46/20, 9 Feb. 2021,
See,e.g., U.S. Dept. of State Office of Interreligious Freedom, 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Sri Lanka
(May 2021), https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/sri-lanka/; “USCIRF
Releases New Report about Religious Freedom in Sri Lanka,” Oct. 2021,
ka; See also: Human Rights Watch, “Sri Lanka: Human Rights Gainsin Grave Peril,” 14 Jan. 2021,
https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/01/14/sri-lanka-human-rights-gains-grave-peril#; Human Rights Watch, “Sri
Lanka: UN Rights Chief Decries Mounting Abuses,” 29 Jan. 2021,
https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/01/29/sri-lanka-un-rights-chief-decries-mounting-abuses#; International Truth
and Justice Project, “Sri Lanka: Briefing Note 4” (2021), https://itjpsl.com/assets/ITJP_briefing_note4_v3.pdf; Sonra
Anton and Tyler Giannini, “When War Criminals Run the Government: Not Too Late for the International Community
to Vet Sri Lankan Officials,” 16 March 2021,
170 “Buddhist Monk from Arisimalai Threatens a Group of Farmersin the Trincomalee District and Prohibits Them
from Engaging in Cultivation,” DBS Jeyaraj, September 8, 2020, https://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/70220; “TNA
Leader Alleges Presidential Task Force for EP Archaeology Member Threatened Kuchchaveli Area Farmers.” Daily FT,
September 8, 2020.
discriminatory composition and efforts in an area characterized by heterogeneous religious and cultural
groups—most predominantly Hindus and Muslims who, despite being a historic and current majority in
the region, are not adequately represented on the Task Force. In the same letter, these Tamil groups also
expressed concerns about the concurrent development schemes under the Mahaweli Authority as well as
high and increasing militarization of the North-East. Muslim leaders have expressed similar concerns.
Government officials at the Batticaloa District Secretariat have also been ordered to inform the Presidential
Secretariat about organizations and individuals that fail to cooperate with the Department of Archaeology
and the Presidential Task Force for this “Archaeological Heritage Management.”
The Destruction and Appropriation of Tamil Places of Worship
The erection of Buddhist viharas in areas that are not
historically Sinhalese and the destruction of Tamil places of
worship are not new. During the armed conflict, more than
500 Hindu temples in the country’s North-East were
destroyed. In 2013, the state-sponsored establishment of
463 new Buddhist temples took place across the majority
Tamil-speaking North-East regions, with hundreds more
planned Buddhist sites identified. The GoSL is actively
engaged in the construction of a Buddhist landscape
throughout the North-East. The GoSL encourages Buddhism
and its places of worship to take precedence over other
religions on the island.
This isn’t limited to places of worship in the North-East.
Adam’s Peak in Ratnapura district (also known as
“Sivanolipatha Malai” in Tamil or “Sri Pada” in Sinhalese) is a
holy site held to be sacred by Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims,
and Christians. Historically, ethnic and religious diversity was
protected at the site. In the 1970s, however, the site’s name
was changed to be exclusively Sinhalese (“Sri Pada”) and the
location was officially listed by the state as a Buddhist holy
183 De Silva, Premakumara. “Reordering of Postcolonial Sri Pāda Temple in Sri Lanka: Buddhism, State and
Nationalism.” History and Sociology of South Asia 7, no. 2 (2013): 155-176.
182 For example,since the Archaeological Heritage Task Force’sformation in mid-2020, over 600 sites have been
identified for heritage occupation in just one Batticaloa district. “Sinhala ‘Army & Archaeology’ Target 600 Sitesfor
Heritage Occupation in Batticaloa,” TamilNet, July 22, 2020,
181 “Colombo Constructed 463 Buddhist Viharasin 2013 in North-East: TNA MP.” TamilNet, November 20, 2016.
180 “500 Hindu Temples Damaged in North during War with LTTE.” Hindustan Times, July 6, 2010.
179 “Sinhala ‘Army & Archaeology’ Target 600 Sitesfor Heritage Occupation in Batticaloa.” TamilNet, July 22, 2020.
178 Dharshini, Loga. Virakesari, November 23, 2020, https://www.virakesari.lk/article/95079.
177 “Sinhala ‘Army & Archaeology’ Target 600 Sitesfor Heritage Occupation in Batticaloa.” TamilNet, July 22, 2020,
site. The temple’s administrative system, religious reordering, and Sinhala Buddhist-only ideology
allowed for the appropriation of this site as exclusively Buddhist. Presently, Buddhist monks lead the
site’s administration, and non-Buddhists rarely participate in the “official” or “public” religiousrituals and
do not engage with the temple proceedings.
In April of 2021, the Sri Lankan Army erected sign boards at private family-owned properties in KKS with
the message “unnecessary intrusions into this army-controlled area are prohibited.” The army is now
attempting to reoccupy and claim ownership over these private lands, which were just “released” (though
inaccessible to locals) in 2018 after 27 years of occupation. Temples within the state’s occupied HSZs,
such as Maviddapuram Pillayar Kovil (a Hindu temple), are currently being appropriated for the
construction of Buddhist viharas. A community membersaid that along with three Buddha statues and a
Bodhi tree, which have a great significance in Buddhist history, “a toilet had been built on the site,
making it impure for Hindus” in the new Gamunu Vihara build on the occupied land of Maviddapuram
Pillayar Kovil.” In response, community members filed a complaint at the KKS police station and wrote to
then-President Maithripala Sirisena in 2017 demanding the return of the land and the rebuilding of their
temple. To date, there has been no progress on this matter.
For instance, in Kumalamunai, 420 acres of Tamil lands, which included a Hindu temple, were repurposed
for the ancient vihara of Kurunthur Malai by a team that included the Department of Archaeology staff,
military personnel, and the Minister for National Heritage. The Department destroyed the symbolic
trident of the historical Aadi Adayyar temple and erected a Buddha statue on the site. Despite numerous
court orders in favor of the local Tamil population, the foundation stone for the Vihara was laid in June
- While other temples have as of yet not been destroyed, they remain inaccessible to the local
populations as they are within HSZs to which access is denied. For example, Kankesanthurai is one of the
regions in the North-East that fell under the Sri Lankan Navy’s Valikamam HSZ. Though the GoSL revoked
the emergency regulations governing the island’s HSZs back in 2011, many areas within the Valikamam
region, including KKS, remain inaccessible to the majority Tamil former residents.
Similarly, in the majority Tamil-speaking Muslim town Pulmoaddai, Buddhist temples are being
constructed under the protection of military camps. Many of these camps are located near Buddhist
structures. In the case of the navy camp Ranweli, navy personnel built the Buddhist vihara on the land
192 Cynthia Caron, “The subject of return: land and livelihood strugglesfor place and citizenship,” Contemporary
South Asia 24, no. 4 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1080/09584935.2015.1098589.
191 “Encroaching Tamils’ Lands: Sri Lanka’s Buddhisation amid Pandemic.” The Quest, June 17, 2021.
190 Human Rights Watch. Rep. “Why Can’t We Go Home?” Military Occupation of Land in Sri Lanka, October 9, 2018.
189 Bodhi trees, also known as Bo trees, are said to be the “tree of awakening.” “Bodhi Tree.” Oxford Reference, n.d.
188 “Sinhalization of the North East: Kankesanthurai (KKS).” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, September 21,
187 “Sri Lankan Army Attemptsto Reoccupy Released Land in Jaffna.” Tamil Guardian, April 26, 2021.
185 De Silva, Premakumara. “Reordering of Postcolonial Sri Pāda Temple in Sri Lanka: Buddhism, State and
Nationalism.” History and Sociology of South Asia 7, no. 2 (2013): 155-176.
184 The Social Architects. Publication. Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill
Country, March 2012.
opposite their camp and the vihara itself is named after the navy camp. Both the navy camp and the
vihara are occupying private land originally owned by Pulmoaddai residents.
Within the North-East, it is also common that whenever a Bodhi tree isfound, a Buddhistshrine is erected.
Reports have also detailed that trees are planted by state agents and subsequently a shrine is built.
Sometimes, signs written in Sinhala accompany these Bodhi trees, detailing past narratives of an
exclusively Sinhala-Buddhist landscape.
Buddhist Nationalism and the Merger of Buddhist and State Institutions
In 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa created the Buddhist Advisory Council to seek advice from the
“Maha Sangha,” which means ‘Great Community,’ about governmental policies. This council put forward
several proposals to protect historical places with archaeological value, provide deedsto Vihara lands, and
prioritize national security, among others. It not only reinforcesthe GoSL’s current Sinhalization agenda,
but also provides special authority and space to Buddhist monks who influence and direct parliamentary
and national issues.
The Council has even been involved in so-called COVID-19 containment efforts. Pahala Vitiyela
Jananandabidana Thero (Chief Incumbent at the Sri Kalyani Yogashrma monastic temple in Bauddhaloka
Mawatha) provided guidelines for the GoSL to conduct 21 days of chanting to invoke blessingsto eradicate
coronavirus from the country. Working with the Sri Lankan Army and the Police, the President ordered the
distribution of 700 Buddha statues acrossthe country for this event.
Furthermore, the GoSL ignored the World Health Organization’s guidelines permitting both burials and
cremations. Instead, it mandated cremation for individuals who died or are suspected to have died from
COVID-19. Several Muslims in Sri Lanka, including a 20-day-old baby, have been cremated against their
family’s wishes and religious funeral rites. On November 4, 2020, the government appointed an expert
committee to reassess this mandatory cremation policy; however, this policy was reaffirmed over two
199 Qazi, Shereena, and Munza Mushtaq. “Outrage in Sri Lanka over Cremation of Muslim COVID Victims.” Al Jazeera ,
December 18, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/12/18/i-had-no-stre.
198 “Special 21-Day Long ‘Pirith’ Chanting Commences at Independence Square to Invoke Blessingsto Eradicate
COVID-19 from the Country.” Sri Lanka Army, November 20, 2020.
197 “Buddhist Advisory Council Commends President for Walking the Talk.” Daily FT, September 21, 2020.
196 The Social Architects. Publication. Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill
Country, March 2012.
195 Minority Rights Group International, No War, No Peace: the Denial of Minority Rights and Justicein Sri Lanka, (2011).
194 Rep. No War, No Peace: the Denial of Minority Rights and Justicein Sri Lanka. Minority Rights Group International,
193 “Sinhalization of the North East: Pulmoaddai.” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, March 11, 2019.
weeks later, without citing any valid reasons. Twenty-four human rights and advocacy groupssigned a
statement condemning these forced cremations and the resulting culture of fear for Muslims.”
The institutionalization of Buddhism enables state
departments to work with Buddhist monks to achieve the
GoSL’s Sinhalization agenda. For example, in the
Chemmmalai area of Mullaitivu in 2018, a Buddhist monk built a large Buddha statue encroaching on the Neeraviyadi Pillayar Kovil, destroyed an existing Tamil ign marking this Hindu temple, and replaced it with a Sinhala one. The Neeraviyadi Pillayar Kovil is in the
middle of an army camp, and worship activities had not resumed following wartime displacement in 2009 due to the locals’ fear of the army camps. Although the
Mullaitivu Magistrate Court ruled in favor of the Neeraviyadi Pillayar Kovil in May 2019 and validated its historical existence in the region, the Army set up an archaeological museum opposite to the Neeraviyadi temple in October that same year, claiming artifacts were derived from the area and rightfully belonged to the disputed new Buddhist vihara. The Army paid no heed
to the court’s ruling that placed an injunction on the expansion and development of either places of worship.he temple administration echoed the concerns of Tamil opulations across the North-East: “It is clear that after ailing to destroy the Tamil temple, the Buddhist monks nd Sri Lankan Army are laying the groundwork for the epartment of Archaeology to take over.” A group of
Buddhist monks further defied the Mullaitivu Magistrate Court’s order and Tamil religious sensibilities by 206 Ibid.
205 “Neeraviyadi: Sri Lankan Army Sets up ‘Sham’ Archaeological Museum next to Hindu Temple.” Tamil Guardian,
October 29, 2019.
204 Ibid. Please also see PEARL’sfactsheet on Sinhalization in Kokkilai, found in Appendix 1B of thisreport.
203 “Large Buddha Statue Built at Mullaitivu Hindu Temple Site despite Local Opposition.” Tamil Guardian, December 17, 2018.
202 See more DeVotta, Neil. “Buddhist Majoritarianism and Ethnocracy in Sri Lanka.” Sociological Bulletin 70, no. 4 (October 2021): 453–66. https://doi.org/10.1177/00380229211052143.
201 Ellis-Petersen, Hannah. “Muslimsin Sri Lanka ‘Denied Justice’ over Forced Cremations of Covid Victims This Article
Is More than 10 m.” The Guardian, December 4, 2020.
cremating the body of a Buddhist monk, who had long campaigned for the temple site to become a
Buddhistsite, in the field next to the Neeraviyadi temple in Mullaitivu District.
More recently, the GoSL has attempted to engage in Sinhalization through legislative reform as well. In October 2021, the GoSL appointed a Task Force on “One Country, One Law,” which aims to harmonize Sri
Lanka’s current pluralistic legal system and abolish Tamil and Muslim legal orders. President Rajapaksa
appointed Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, a notoriously incendiary Buddhist monk, as the chair of the
13-member Task Force, and tasked him with studying the concept of “one country, one law” and drafting legislation to further this aim.
209 Gnanasara has been accused of fanning the flames of anti-Muslim
sentiments in Sri Lanka, including two deadly anti-Muslim pogroms in 2014 and 2018. As human rights
activistsstate, his appointment demonstratesthe virulent Sinhala-Buddhist nature of the GoSL’s proposed
legal reform projects, which are purposefully to the detriment of Tamil and Muslim communities.
210 Ibid. See also Keenan, Alan. “Buddhist Militancy Rises Again in Sri Lanka.” International Crisis Group, March 7, 2018.
208 Keenan, Alan. “One Country, One Law’: The Sri Lankan State’s Hostility toward Muslims Grows Deeper.”
International Crisis Group, December 23, 2021.
207 Rep. 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom: Sri Lanka. U.S. State of Department, 2019.
Part V: Repression of Tamil Memorialization
The State has sought to Sinhalize the identity of the North-East by promoting Sinhalese perspectives on
memory and history while suppressing the perspectives of Tamil-speaking communities. Ifsuccessful, this
would effectively erase part of the historical Tamil identity of the North-East, especially relating to Tamil
memories and perspectives of the armed conflict. Nevertheless, Tamils have resisted erasure through acts
of memorialization that highlight Tamil nationalist practices and honor their right to self-determination.
State-Sponsored History and Memorialization
“They’ve built army camps where our kin are buried, walking on their graves.” (Kilinochchi)
“They’ve destroyed all our monuments. We want them rebuilt.” (Kilinochchi)
“They’ve erased us and are celebrating.” (Amparai)
The Politics of Memorialization in Sri Lanka
Memory is political. For Tamils, the act of remembrance
has always been an act of resistance. The GoSL currently
wields authoritarian power that enables them to
(re)write the public narrative regarding the armed
conflict, denying Tamils any modicum of recognition of
the atrocitiesthey endured.
Memorialization in post-conflict settings serves a variety
of interrelated purposes, including reconciliation,
recognition for victims and survivors, the inclusion or
correction of previously censored or suppressed events
within the state’s collective memory, healing for
survivors, and documentation of human rights violations
that can contribute to future truth, justice, and accountability, and justice processes. Collective
remembering creates a time and space for people to safely engage in constructive discussion and reflection
213 See, e.g., Sondra Anton and Tyler Giannini, “When War Criminals Run the Government: Not Too Late for the
International Community to Vet Sri Lankan Officials,” Just Security, 16 Mar. 2021,
ommunity-to-vet-sri-lankan-officials/; Brad Adams, “Sri Lanka’s UN Effortsto Stave Off Justice for War Crimes,” Just
Security 3 Feb. 2021, https://www.justsecurity.org/74447/sri-lankas-un-efforts-to-stave-off-justice-for-war-crimes/.
212 These quotes were retrieved from PEARL’s 2016 Memorialization Report, from conversations between PEARL
researchers and war-affected individualsin the North-East. These wordsstill resonate deeply today, as the contentiousissue of memorialization is no different 5 yearslater.
in order to address root causes of past conflicts. Public memorialization often plays an integral role in 214
truth, justice, and reparations, all of which help the people to come to terms with the nation’s past.
Although memorials should serve to remember and connect the past, present, and future, “some memorial designs in some political contexts can have the paradoxical purpose of forgetting the past.” This “forgetting” erases the important perspectives of those who were not “victors” in the armed conflict. GoSL
war memorials in the North-East do just that by promoting state narratives while excluding Tamil
perspectives. For example, many state-sponsored statues and memorials that honor Sinhalese military leaders have been built in the lands where those leaders were responsible for thousands of deaths, and where their military exploits are remembered as sources of
horror and suffering. For instance, the Puthukkudiyiruppu Victory Monument, built by the
GoSL and accompanied by an Army announcement that “war heroes annihilated world’s most ruthless cycle of terrorism and its megalomaniac monster,” was
installed in the Tamil heartland of the Vanni alongside other military monuments in Kilinochchi and
Mullaithivu. Interviewees from communities in the North-East described seeing the monuments daily as
painful and re-traumatizing. Through these triumphalist monuments, the State hasreified the Sinhalese
experience of the conflict while erasing and denigrating Tamils’ experiences.
Tamils have also been denied the right to hold public remembrances that contradict the state’s official narrative, including thorough legal injunctions and prohibitions. Cemeteries have been destroyed across the North-East, including 27 in the cemeteries for fallen LTTE cadres (known as the Maaveerar Thuyilum Illams) that were destroyed by the Sri Lankan Army during and after the armed conflict. In recent years,
local Tamil communities have rebuiltsome of the destroyed cemeteries.
217 People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, “Erasing the Past” (2016),
216 “Puthukkudiyiruppu Victory Monument Unveiled.” Sri Lanka Army, n.d.
https://www.army.lk/news/puthukkudiyiruppu-victory-monument-unveiled. Thisrefersto the LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran 215 Brett, Sebastian, Louis Bickford, Liz Ševčenko, and Marcela Rios. Rep. Memorialization and Democracy: State Policy and Civic Action, 2007.
214 Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, and People for Equality and Relief in Lanka. Rep. Normalising the Abnormal:
The Militarisation of Mullaitivu, October 2017.
https://pearlaction.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Normalising-the-Abnormal-The-Militarisation-of-Mullaitivu.pdf; Naidu, Ereshnee. Publication. From Memory to Action. International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, n.d.
To date, significant military surveillance and intimidation continues in public and private spaces where
Tamil remembrance activities take place, including during Thileepan’s hunger strike anniversary ; on
Maaveerar Naal; at the Mullivaikal memorial at Jaffna University; and at demonstrations by families whose
loved ones are suspected to have been disappeared by the State. Interference with commemorationsis a
clear violation of the state’s duty to remember. The first UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth,
justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence clearly detailed this duty is not just about the past,
but also about a present-day obligation to remember what the country’s citizens cannot forget. The
failure to acknowledge a history of widespread abuse—the injustice, war crimes, and those who died
resisting state oppression—is, on its own, a human rights violation. Thisrefusal to acknowledge the pain of survivorsignorestheir rights and adds new injuriesto their pre-existing pain.
Since the armed conflict’s end, the government has claims to pursue reconciliation, yet those who
committed war crimes, including perpetrators of the Tamil genocide, have yet to be held accountable. Instead, they continue to hold positions of great power over the same groupsthat they targeted during the
armed conflict. Questions about the whereabouts of thousands who were disappeared by the government remain unanswered.. The government’s failure to recognize victim-survivor’s memories has only served to “generate anger, resentment and a sense of disenfranchisement amongst the Tamil people, which in the short-term will make reconciliation impossible, and in the long-term form the catalyst for another conflict.” Her point
underscores the fact that memorialization does not impede reconciliation; rather, what impedes
reconciliation is the State’s dismissal of victim-survivor’s memories and the State’s refusal to hold
accountable those responsible for war crimes and injustices, including members of the present
The following maps illustrate the extent and patterns of surveillance and repression of Tamil
remembrance. The maps reflect the close proximity of the heavy presence of military activity with
Maaveerar Thuyilum Illams in the North-East. Additionally, the map suggests how communities have
mobilized through counter-practices such as protests and rallies. However, the disproportionate
occupation and surveillance of the Sri Lankan military across Eelam hasseverely threatened and restricted
the basic right of Tamilsto remember and resist.
223 Satkunanathan, Ambika. “Jaffna and the Vanni Today: The Reality beneath the Rhetoric.” Groundviews, March 17,
- https://groundviews.org/2011/03/17/jaffna-and-the-vanni-today-the-reality-beneath-the-rhetoric/; See also
Stockwell, J. (2019). Doesindividual and collective remembrance of past violence impede or foster reconciliation?
From Argentina to Sri Lanka. International Review of the Red Cross, 101(910), 97-124, p. 119
222 “Director of CHRGJ’s Program on Transitional Justice, Pablo De Greiff, AssertsImportance of Collective
Remembrance on Reconciliation.” CHRGJ, May 23, 2016.
221 “Does Collective Remembrance of a Troubled Past Impede Reconciliation?” International Center for Transitional
Justice, May 2, 2016. https://www.ictj.org/debate/article/remember-or-forget.
220 “Human Rightsin Sri Lanka in 2021.” Sri Lanka Campaign, December 21, 2021.
https://www.srilankacampaign.org/human-rights-in-sri-lanka-in-2021/; Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research, and
People for Equality and Relief in Lanka. Rep. Normalising the Abnormal: The Militarisation of Mullaitivu, October 2017.
219 Thileepan was an LTTE cadre who died due to a hungerstrike on September 26, 1987.
Map 2.0: Mapping Sites of Remembrance (Thuyilam Illam) and State-Sponsored War
Monuments/Memorials (PEARL 2021, Subendran 2021).
Map 3.0: Mapping Repression and Resistance on Tamil Remembrance & Counter-Practices by Tamil
people (PEARL 2021, Subendran 2021).
Part VI: Tamil Demands and Policy Recommendations
Tamil victim-survivors have long recognized patterns of Sinhalization and have struggled to retain their home. The process of Sinhalization has the intent of diluting Tamil political, legal and historical claims to their lands and livelihoods while also reinforcing the central role of the state over Tamil affairs. Through
Buddhisization, militarization, land grabs, and repression, the GoSL attempts to rewrite Tamil history,
disrupt historical relationships with land, and assimilate Tamil aspirations under the oppressive structure of the state while also denying the role of the state in furthering the oppression of Tamils historically and in the modern day. Despite efforts to dismantle the communities and demographics of Tamil-speaking regionsin the North-East, Tamils have resisted and risen to tell Sri Lanka and the international community: the Tamil homeland can never be erased.
In order to ensure victim-centric transitional justice, members of the international community must echo victim-survivors’ calls for international justice and accountability mechanisms, which center the
Tamil experience, as well as counter the historical and ongoing Sinhala-Buddhist nation-building project.
If members of the international community do not heed the calls of Tamil victim-survivors and take action, e GoSL’s quest for a unitary, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalstate will thrive–at the expense of the stability of nd and Tamil rights.
Tamil Protest Movements
Displaced Tamil victim-survivor communities, who have been forced to live outside of their villages and ncestral homes due to militarization and Buddhisization, have relentlessly continued to mobilize for the lease of their lands despite threats and obstruction from state officials. In 2017, a number of collective
resistance movements emerged as Tamil families in Mullikulam, Keppapilavu, and Iranaitivu staged
ongoing roadside land grabs protests.
Numerous cases of continuous collective action, mainly led by Tamil women, have occurred since then. For xample, the Keppapilavu land grab protests began in January 2017 and is one of the longest protestsin Sri anka’s history.
226 Mullikulam, the Sri Lankan Navy agreed to release land in May 2017 to Mullikulam
villagers who had been displaced for ten years and protested continuously for 38 days. However, upon
their return, the navy prohibited access to the area and villagers were left with no choice but to set up huts a nearby jungle. In the case of Iranaithivu, 300 villagerssailed back to their land after being displaced
for more than 25 yearsin April 2018, following 359 days of continuousroadside protests.
229 “Iranaitivu Villagers Sail Back to Their Occupied Land in Daring Protest.” Tamil Guardian, April 25, 2018.
228 “Tensions between Sri Lanka Navy and Mullikulam Villagers over Unreleased Land.” Tamil Guardian, October 15,
227 “10 Years of Displacement, 38 Days of Protest: Mullikulam Villagers Return Home.” Tamil Guardian, April 30, 2017.
226 “Sri Lankan Tamil Women Fighting for Land 10 Years after War Ended.” Al Jazeera , March 11, 2020.
225 “Delayed or Denied?” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, May 2018.
Tamils also continue to commemorate the armed struggle for self-determination. In defiance of the
Sinhalese victory narrative, Tamils continue to organize memorialsrecognizing Tamil victims of the armed
conflict. For example, an estimated 25,000 people from the North-East participated in remembrance
rituals in 2019, namely by eating “kanchi,”
in a way to “transform the memorialization from
politicization to peoplization.”
Other civilsociety actions,such asthose undertaken by the relatives of those who were disappeared toward
and at the end of the armed conflict, are both an act of remembrance and a direct call for government action. In an impressive demonstration of fortitude and dedication, the women-led Families of the Disappeared in Kilinochchi have conducted a continuous roadside protest since early 2017, demanding information and accountability for their loved ones. The mobilization of Tamil Families of the
Disappeared sparked sister protests in Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Mullaitivu and Marunthankerny. Some of
these protests are still ongoing, under extreme weather conditions, including heat waves and monsoons
while also incurring immense economic losses as well as physical and mentalstress.
Moreover, these families, as well as civil society actors who work closely with the protestors, have faced onstant surveillance, harassment, intimidation and interrogation by Sri Lankan security forces,
sometimes leading to physical attacks. The police are not responsive to such complaints from activists,
and the GoSL has yet to take any meaningful action to meet the protestors’ demands. Government-led nitiatives that have purported to address the protestors’ demands, including the Office of the Missing ersons and the Office for Reparations, have been rejected by protestors for failing to even minimally ddresstheir concerns.
In the face of pervasive militarization across the Tamil homeland, Families of the Disappeared endure
further marginalization from their communities who are afraid that associating with protestors could risk arassment and surveillance.
To date, over 100 family members have died while campaigning for truth and justice regarding their
disappeared loved ones.
238 “More than 100 relatives of forcibly disappeared Tamils have passed away.” Tamil Guardian, November 29, 2021.
Issue brief. Surveillance, Harassment and Intimidation of Disappearances’ Activists in the North-East. Adayaalam Centre
for Policy Research, August 30, 2018.
236 “Families of Enforced Disappeared Vehemently Oppose OMP Sittingsin North.” TamilNet, July 15, 2018.
235 “Disappearance Activist and Daughter Attacked in Batticaloa.” Tamil Guardian, August 4, 2019.
233 “Tamil Families of the Disappeared.” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, n.d. https://pearlaction.org/tamilfod/.
232 “Families of Missing Protest in Kilinochchi.” Tamil Guardian, February 20, 2017.
231 “Memorialisation on May 18th: From Politicisation to Peoplisation.” Groundview, May 19, 2019.
230 Kanchi (rice porridge) wasthe only food available for people to eat in Mullivaikkal during the finalstages of the
Seized Our Island Back from the Navy’.” BBC News, February 11, 2019.
Since the start of the pandemic, Tamil protests for the release of political prisoners have reinvigorated as
well. Following the UN Commissioner’s urging governments to release prisoners for health reasons,
protestsincreased acrossthe North-East to call on the GoSL to release Tamil political prisoners.
In perhaps the largest collective action on the island in recent years, in February 2021, thousands of Tamils across the North-East mobilized en masse in a five-day peaceful march for justice named “Pottuvil to Polikandy” (P2P). The P2P protest, which started from Pottuvil in Amparai District in the south-east, to 241 Polikandy in Point Pedro, Jaffna District, at the northernmost point of the island, aimed to “raise awareness of the ongoing plight of Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka and to stress the need for international accountability and justice.” During these marches, “Families of the Disappeared went on hunger strike
demanding that the international community take action toward justice for atrocities.” Tamil civil
society organizations acrossthe North-East outlined the demands of the P2P protestersin a letter to the UN igh Commissioner and to the UN Human Rights Council Member States. Their demands called for the 44 protection of the rights of Tamil and Muslim peoples on the island in the face of Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism; an end to militarization and Sinhalization of the Tamil homeland; and justice for Sri Lanka’s crimes against Tamils.
244 Ibid. See also
241 “From Pottuvil to Polikandy: Why Are Tamils Marching?” Tamil Guardian, February 8, 2021.
240 “Protests across North-East Call for Release of Tamil Political Prisoners.” Tamil Guardian, January 12, 2021.
https://www.tamilguardian.com/content/protests-across-north-east-call-release-tamil-political-prisoners; “TNPF Stage Protest Demanding Release of Detained Tamil Political Prisoners.” Tamil Guardian, August 30, 2020.
239 “Urgent Action Needed to Prevent Covid-19 ‘Rampaging through Places of Detention’ – Bachelet.” OHCHR, March 25, 2020. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25745&LangID=E.
This report details PEARL’s findings that the GoSL is engaged in a continuous and historical process of “Sinhalizing” the traditional Tamil homeland in the North-East of Sri Lanka in an attempt to change the political and demographic makeup of the North-East. This Sinhalization predates the armed conflict and has been occurring since the time of independence. Coupled with the systematic oppression of the Tamil people and minority groups, such as the Muslim community, and the complete lack of accountability for past and ongoing crimes, the report shows that the root causes of conflict remain unaddressed well after the end of the armed conflict in 2009.
Our evidence-based recommendations below require significant engagement from the GoSL, members of the international community, Tamil political leaders, international NGOs, civil society, and Sinhala civil society to address the root causes of the conflict and grievances, as well as ensure that there is a durable political solution in Sri Lanka that respects Tamils’ human rights and offers them justice, accountability, and control over their own land and affairs. To the Sri Lankan Government: On The Mahaweli Authority and Other Irrigation-Settlement Policies
● Create a transparent, accessible, and flexible processfor conflict-affected Tamilsto have their land
claims adjudicated and recognized, even if formal documentation is unavailable, in line with
international best practices.
○ Immediately suspend the powers of the Mahaweli Authority pending the creation of said
process for resolving land claims and providing land restoration, which is accessible to
affected Tamil and Muslim populationsin proposed land areas.
○ Ensure the immediate implementation of existing judgments against the Mahaweli
○ Cease providing subsidiesto new settlersin “unclaimed” land.
○ Suspend all new settlement activities until existing Tamil and Muslim claims to land are
fully and transparently adjudicated.
● Publicly commit to releasing all private and public lands that are currently occupied by the
military, unless consent for the ongoing military presence is obtained from the local community.
● Cease grabbing traditional Tamil lands in the North-East through other government-appointed
departments, including but not limited to the Department of Archeology Department.
● Ensure pledges on land return are time bound, transparent, adequately reviewed and recorded, and
● As per the Dudley-Chelva pact of 1965 , settlement land in the North-Eastshould be allocated in
the first instance to landless persons in the district. secondly, to Tamil-speaking persons resident
246 “Dudley Senanayake – Chelvanayagam Agreement 1965.” Tamil Nation, n.d.
in the Northern and Eastern provinces, thirdly, to other citizens, preference being given to Tamil
residentsin the rest of the island.
Security Sector Reform
● Immediately undertake a genuine security sector reform process to demilitarize the North-East,
including the removal of members implicated in atrocity crimes or ongoing human rights
● Reallocate the military throughout the island in proportion to provinces’ population, rather than
continue the overwhelmingly disproportionate militarisation of the North-East.
● Return all private lands held by the military to their rightful owners, and ensure lands are in
comparable condition to when the military initially acquired the land.
● End the entrenchment of victors’ narratives and the practice of war tourism, including by
removing and ceasing to construct ‘victory monuments’ and other visible references to the
● End the surveillance and harassment of Tamilsfor exercising their democratic freedoms.
● Remove Buddhist statues and viharas that were established by the State and security sector. Issue
directives to the military that, despite Article 9 of the constitution, the security sector must be
divorced from all matters of religion. Any future construction of religious sites in the NorthEast
must follow proper legal procedures governing the construction of religious buildings.
● End the entrenchment of victors’ narratives and the practice of war tourism, including by
removing and ceasing to construct ‘victory monuments’ and other visible references to the
● Respect Tamils’ right to memorialize their dead in accordance with the victims and families’
wishes and cultural practices, and allow them to commemorate significant dates and eventsin the
Tamil national consciousness without government obstruction or harassment.
● Adopt and enforce a no-tolerance policy for harassment and gender-based violence by security
personnel who violate this policy, with prompt investigations and prosecutions by an
independent, civilian entity.
Religious Freedom and Cultural Heritage
● Disband the Archaeological Heritage Task Force.
● Ensure that any and all archeological and cultural development are not directly or indirectly in
furtherance of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism, and instead such development should be done in
consultation with all ethnic and religious groups, with particular mind to groups that have been
● Respect Tamils’ right to memorialize their dead in accordance with the victims and families’
wishes and cultural practices, and allow them to commemorate significant dates and eventsin the
Tamil national consciousness without government obstruction or harassment.
○ Immediately cease the banning of memorial activities through injunctions, legal filings,
police orders, or other legal/civil means.
To Other States
● Evaluate the GoSL’s progress on its pledgesregarding accountability, justice, demilitarization, and
human rights against the range of available independent evidence, especially from victim-survivor
groups and communitiesin the North-East and diaspora.
● Support international initiatives, including through multilateral mechanisms such asthe Office of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to establish field offices in the North-East and to
monitor ongoing violations, colonization schemes and land grabs with the support of local
● Acknowledge that the Tamil community in the North-East, who were and remain the most
conflict-affected and who are most at risk of ongoing human rights violations, has consistently
rejected any form of domestic justice mechanism due to the lack of political will by Sri Lanka to
meaningfully addressthe root causes of the conflict.
● Ensure bi-lateral trade relations and concessions are tied to security sector reform and meaningful
progress on land issues.
● Ensure any dialogue with the GoSL is transparent, publicly available to Tamils, bears tangible
progress, and remains accountable to the Tamil people.
To International NGOs and Sri Lankan/Sinhala Civil Society
- Collaborate with Tamil politicians, civil society, and Tamil diaspora groups to pursue avenues for
justice for ongoing Sinhalization that centersthe demands and experiences of Tamils.
- Engage the Sinhala public on the importance of a meaningful politicalsolution for lasting peace in
the country, including by challenging the government’s narrative of the war and roots of the
- Consider and support legal challenges to confront the ongoing processes of Sinhalization,
including through research and legislative reform initiatives.
- Challenge the Sri Lankan state to pursue a meaningful and durable politicalsolution in Sri Lanka.
A PLOT OF LAND
On this plot of land my story began.
There the sea-swept giant treesstand the subsoil now exposed. It was a land in which
under a blazing sun kind people walked; in a few days itslanguage islost. On this plot of land
no coconut trees no huts.
Even the stories are now captive; yet a voice insists: thisis a tale that does not end.
247 Cheran, R., and Chelva Kanaganayakam. “A Plot of Land.” Essay. In You Cannot Turn Away: Poems in Tamil, 164–65. Toronto, Ontario: Mawenzi House Publishers, 2011.
Appendix 1A: Sinhalization of the North-East: Pulmoaddai248
248 See full case-study report: “Sinhalization of the North-East: Pulmoaddai.” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, March 2019. https://pearlaction.org/sinhalization-of-the-north-east-pulmoaddai/;
Appendix 1B: Sinhalization of the North-East: Kokkilai249
249 See full case-study report: “Sinhalization of the North East: Kokkilai.” People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, September, 2019, https://pearlaction.org/sinhalization-of-the-north-east-kokkilai/;
Appendix 1C: Sinhalization of the North-East: Seruwila-Verugal250
250 See full case-study report: “Sinhalization of the North-East: Seruwila-Verugal.” People for Equality and Relief in
Lanka, March 2020. https://pearlaction.org/sinhalization-of-the-north-east-seruwila-verugal/;
Appendix 1D: Sinhalization of the North-East: Kankesanthurai251
251 See full case-study report: “Sinhalization of the North-East: Kankesanthurai.” People for Equality and Relief in
Lanka, October 2020. https://pearlaction.org/sinhalization-of-the-north-east-kankesanthurai/.
Appendix 2: Map of rainfall trends in Sri Lanka between 1987–2017252
252 Nisansala, W. D. S, N. S Abeysingha, Adlul Islam, and A. M. K. R Bandara. “Recent Rainfall Trend over Sri Lanka
(1987–2017).” International Journal of Climatology 40, no. 7 (2020): 3417–35. https://doi.org/10.1002/joc.6405.
Appendix 3A: Map of Mahaweli Development Area under Master plan253
253 Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka . Rep. Socio–Economic Statistics 2018, 2018, p. 128.
Appendix 3B: Map of Existing Mahaweli Development Area254
254 Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka . Rep. Socio–Economic Statistics 2018, 2018, p. 129.