INDICTMENT AGAINST SRI LANKA:
The attack that was launched on the Tamil people on 24 July 1983
and the succeeding
days, was carefully planned...
Clearly, the attack that was launched on the Tamil people on 24 July 1983 and the
succeeding days, was carefully planned. This was no spontaneous outbreak of violence. This
was no emotional backlash to the ambush of 13 Sinhala soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam in Jaffna on the day before. Neither was it something that was planned within
twenty four hours in the immediate aftermath of the ambush.
Whilst those Tamils who were resident in predominantly Sinhala areas, in the island,
were set upon by Sinhala goondas, in the Tamil homeland in the North and East, the attack
was launched directly by the occupying Sri Lankan 'security' forces.
Whilst Tamil houses and shops were burnt in widely different places, the same distinct
method was adopted time and again. The attackers carried lists of names and addresses.
They knew exactly where to go. In many cases the homes of owners of shops were attacked at
the same time as their shops were burnt. Where shops were rented by Tamils from Sinhala
landlords, the building was spared, but the goods were taken out and destroyed. Where
Tamil shops were adjacent to Sinhala owned premises, care was taken to separate connected
The goondas demonstrated remarkable skills in destroying buildings. They smashed up
windows where they were closed, and thus ensured ventilation. They then broke the roof and
from the roof top poured in petrol followed by a lighted paper. The goondas engaged in
arson but did not take part in looting. The looting took place after the arsonists left.
There was a general pattern seen in the attacks which started in Colombo and then spread
to Kandy and the outstations.
The selection of the persons to be attacked, the preparation of the lists of names
and addresses, the selection of the goondas, the distribution of the lists to the leader
of each area goon squad, the distribution of white plastic petrol cans complete with
rubber tubing, to siphon petrol from cars, and the distribution of clubs and iron rods
made it self evident that the attack was the result of a plan that must have taken weeks
''The rioters seeking out Tamil homes and burning them had a particularly detailed
knowledge of who lived where and who owned what.'' (London Times, 8 August 1983)
'The violence was vicious and bloody. But what distinguished it from many other
communal Asian riots was the way that the mob singled out specific business premises. In
street after street in Colombo groups of rioters hit only at shops and factories, as well
as homes owned by Tamils. Their careful selectivity is apprarent now. In each street
individual business premises were burnt down while others alongside stand unscathed.
Troops and police (almost exclusively Sinhalese) either joined the rioters or stood idly
by.The events were so well organised no one doubts that there was a master list of
targets.'' (Financial Times, 12 August 1983)
''From the beginning of the disturbances, many people in the mobs in the streets
possessed election lists containing the names and addresses of all those who lived in
particular streets. The lists indicated the houses in occupation by Tamils and also
whether the owner of a house was Tamil, Sinhalese or Muslim. The possessions and houses of
Tamil people were then systematically attacked. If a Tamil family were living in a
house rented from Sinhalese owners, the house itself was not damaged but the furniture and
property of the Tamils within it would be destroyed. In many streets all the Tamil
owned shops were destroyed but those owned by Muslims or Sinhalese were spared. The same
thing happened with houses.
The destruction was repeatedly described as systematic and organised and similar
lists were used in all the towns throughout the country where violence occurred....
Throughout, the destruction of Tamil property was the apparent primary aim. The fact
that very little looting took place in the very early stages tended to confirm the
conviction about the level of organisation involved. It was observed that many people
in the gangs were extremly poor so that the temptation for them to loot must have been
very great, yet, on the whole, this temptation was resisted. Also, it was stressed that
the order which was apparent in the big gangs indicated that there was considerable
organisation behind their activities.'' (Patricia Hyndman, Senior Lecturer in Law,
University of New South Wales and Secretary, Lawasia Human Rights Standing Committee
Report -Democracy in Peril, June 1985)
''...the killing and the arson and the destruction and the looting were done with a
high professional expertise and diabolical sophistication. Rioting mobs? Blood thirsty
thugs? Certainly, but led by cold blooded arsonists and vandals who knew
exactly what they were doing, what they had to do, or had been asked to do. It was
deliberate, methodical and thorough, and entirely one sided... No, it was not an ethnic
riot: it was a pogrom, an organised massacre of an ethnic minority by the power wielding
majority...'' (An Indian Reader in the Madras Hindu, 3 September 1983)
''A 28 year old housewife, who returned from a Sri Lanka holiday with her husband and
two daughters said the huts Tamils lived had been 'cleanly burned out', the arsonists
evidently being anxious to ensure that no Sinhalese property was damaged.'' (Oslo
Report dateline 29 July 1983 in Madras Hindu)
''It was a horrifying nightmare - looting, burning, murder on an unimaginable scale.
Colombo resembles a bombed city in places - charred and blackened, roofless gaping
buildings where prosperous houses, shops and factories once stood. What is dreadful
to realise is that the whole operation was planned and carried out with virtually military
precision. Tamil... houses, shops and factories had quite clearly been marked out
earlier. And although everything took place so quickly and over such a large area, giving
the idea of spontaneity, everywhere the pattern was the same... Some one seemed to have
planned the whole thing and waited only for an opportunity...'' (Eye witness
account, Sri Lanka: Racism and the Authoritarian State - Race and Class, Volume XXVI,
A.Sivanandan and Hazel Waters, Institute of Race Relations)
These were the facts which led Paul Sieghart Q.C., Chairman of Justice, to write in
March 1984 :
"... One thing is quite clear: they (the attacks) did not start spontaneously. On
the morning of the 24th of July, many people apparently went about their ordinary business
in Colombo, with no forebodings and no expectations of anything untoward. And then
suddenly, the streets were full of goondas, Tamil houses and shops were on fire, Tamil
possessions were being destroyed, and Tamils were being killed... Clearly this was not a
spontaneous upsurge of communal hatred among the Sinhala people - nor was it, as has been
suggested in some quarters, a popular response to the killing of 13 soldiers in an ambush
by Tamil Tigers on the previous day, which was not even reported in the newspapers until
after the riots began. It was a series of deliberate acts, executed in accordance with
a concerted plan, conceived and organised well in advance. But who were the planners?"
(Paul Sieghart: Sri Lanka-A Mounting Tragedy of Errors - Report of a Mission to Sri
Lanka in January 1984 on behalf of the International Commission of Jurists and its British
Section, Justice, March 1984)
The government of Sri Lanka faced with these self evident facts was, disarmingly frank.
The Sinhala Minister of Information, Dr. Ananda Tissa de Alwis, announced on 29 July 1983
(see also Full text of Speech)
"Look at some of the facts that you know yourself. As I told the press briefing on
Wednesday after the cabinet meeting, there was a pattern about this, wherever the rioting
took place. You may recall that His Excellency the President, when he addressed the
nation, also referred to this general pattern of events, from place to place. The
similarity of the action of those who took part in it. How can there be a pattern if there
was no leadership?
Pre planning, instruction about what each group was to do - you saw for yourself, for
example, that although riots took place, burning of houses and shops took place in widely
different parts of the city and its suburbs, there was a distinct method in every case...
Now, if this happened in Borella and did not happen in Nugegoda, then there is no pattern;
then there was no unity of design; there was no instruction. But where it happened, it was
exactly in the same way. This was the pattern...
Another thing that everybody noticed, or most people noticed if they were looking, was
that the looters or the people who came to burn and pillage, carried lists of names and
addresses. They knew exactly where to go. They did not search. They looked at a piece of
paper, looked at a number and there they were. Therefore there was pre planning. We now
understand from the information in the hands of the government, that these names and
addresses were taken from the Register of Electors, from the Parliamentary Voters Lists,
and were prepared very much in advance for an occasion such as this, the timing of which
was left for various events which might or might not have happened, or might or might not
have been engineered."
In the words of Minister de Alwis, "How can there be a
pattern, if there were no leaders? " How, indeed? Who, then, were the leaders ?
were the planners of this contingent plan which was "prepared very much in
advance" and the "timing of which was left for various events which might or
might not have happened " or which "might or might not have been
Full text of speech by the Minister of State & Information, Anandatissa
De Alwis on TV on 29 July 1983 as issued by the Sri Lanka Government Printer and
quoted in Lawasia
Report 'Democracy in Peril - Sri Lanka, a Country in Crisis' by Patricia
Hyndman, 7 June 1985 -
" Everyone knows the extent of damage done to our country by the riots of the
last few days. People are beginning to realise the extent of the unemployment
which is a direct result. Even a small boutique employed two or three
persons, and some of the larger shops twenty or thirty persons. And some of the
factories that have been burned down employed thousands of people. Ninety
persons of the employees in all these establishments were Sinhalese. But I am
not going to talk to you about those disasters. I want to talk to you about some
other aspect of this situation, which is even more dangerous.
Tonight I want to tell you that this is not a mere Sinhala - Tamil riot. It
is much more than that. It is a deeper conspiracy that merely set one set of
people against another. This is part of a very deep plot to overthrow the
Look at some of the facts that you know for yourself. As I told the Press
briefing on Wednesday after the cabinet meeting, there was a pattern about this,
wherever the rioting took place. You may recall that His Excellency the
President, when he addressed the nation
also referred to this general pattern of events, from place to place. The
similarity of the action of those who took part in it. How can there be a
pattern if there was no leadership? Pre-planning, instruction about what each
group was to do. You saw for yourself, for example, that although riots took
place, burnings of houses and shops took place in widely different parts the
city and its suburbs.
There was a distinct method in each case. The rioters came
along, took out the people from their homes, or the employees and proprietors
from the shops, put them on the road, then carried some of the goods on to the
road and set fire to them. Then they proceeded
inside the workshop, or factory or house, to set fire to the rest. Now, if this
happened in Borella and didn’t. happen in Nugegoda, then there is no pattern.
Then there is no unity of design. There was no instruction. But wherever it
happened, exactly in the same way. This was the pattern.
Of course there was
looting, but there were — according to information now in the
hands of the government — definite
instructions not to loot. This instruction was given apparently in order not to
attract public disapproval and resistance to what they were doing, or the people
doing it. Further, the looting that took place was an activity in which the
locals took part. (As you know the thugs and hooligans you find in every street
junction were happy to do the looting once the job had been done).
So to that degree, there was a pattern. Another thing that everybody noticed,
or most people noticed if they were looking, was that the looters, or the people
who came to burn and pillage, carried lists of names and addresses. They know
exactly where to go. They didn’t search. They looked at a piece of
paper, looked at a number and there they were. Therefore, there was
pre-planning. We now understand from the information in the hands of the
Government, that these names and addresses were taken from the Register of
Electors, from the parliamentary voting Lists, and were prepared very much in
advance for an occasion such as this, the timing of which was left for various
events which might or might not have happened, or might or might not have been
The Government also has information that there were three stages in the
operation, plotted against it to bring it down. Stage
one was to start a Sinhala - Tamil riot by exploiting the prevailing tension
between the two races and the tension created by the unceasing activity of
terrorists and terrorism in the North. The second stage was to begin later with
a riot between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. In point of fact, one of our
Ministers said that some such thing was attempted in one area, but fortunately
he was present on the spot and was able to calm feelings of people who might
otherwise have been at each other’s throats.
This shows that there was a pre plan and an incitement ready, provocation
ready, to create such a series of actions throughout the country. Now that was
the second stage of this plan. The third stage of the plan was to create a
division among the Sinhalese themselves. Sinhalese-Buddhists and
Sinhalese-Christians. This would have followed the same pattern of rumour, or
provocation, of some assault on some Priest or Church or Temple, and a highly
exaggerated version of what really happened, and then the people who were
planning it, would have witnessed the kind of mayhem we witnessed in the last
It was believed by these people that if all these changes were successfully
launched, the Police and the armed services would themselves be divided. (After
all if there were conflicts between Sinhala and Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims,
Buddhists and Christians, then the men serving in the Armed Forces and Police
are themselves Buddhists, Christians, Sinhalese or Tamils, or Muslims as
the case may be.)
The people who were plotting all this hoped that that would lead to a
collapse of the military arm of Government, and that Government would not be
able to keep the peace, and a Government that cannot keep the peace has ended
its authority. That was the objective of the people who planned this thing in
this country. Certain reports show that advice on local conditions and the kind
of persons to be involved, persons to be isolated for criticism or attack or
whatever. That kind of advice came from certain University lecturers in the
Campuses of this country. I am not free to talk of names and people, I am only
indicating the background to what has happened.
The master plan had in it the minds of certain foreign elements. These
foreign elements are the Master Planners, who plotted the course of actions one
by one. The operation was based on local political parties. Sometimes in certain
areas combinations of political parties totally opposed to the Government. Some
of these parties have also had talks with terrorists in the North, and there had
been secret meetings at which the Sinhala parties in the South and the Tamil
parties in the North had got together to help each other, both using terrorist
means to achieve ends for different reasons, one from the other.
The plotters also hoped to create later, or simultaneously, a run on food. A
food shortage, leading to a food riot. And there,
regardless of party, regardless of race or religion, everybody would join or so
they hoped. If this plan succeeded, our country’s progress would have been
doomed. All the developnent which means jobs, food, money, land, homes,
health, education for the people, peaceful living for the people, all these
would have been gone. All the efforts of development would have been in vain.
Once again Sri Lanka would have gone back to being yet another basket case among
the poorer nations of the world. Our people would have lived in terror and fear
of their own shadows. But fortunately the Police and the Armed services, working
under very severe difficulties, under great strain and the large mass of our
disciplined people in the country, helped the Government to deal with this
situation. The danger is not yet over. There are still groups using every means
they can, particularly of rumour to start new riots all over again. There were
looters waiting to take advantage of this situation. They are not concerned with
Sinhala or Tamil or any other race or issue. They
are neither patriotic nor one bit worried about the future. They are worried
about tomorrow’s loot. They exist only when there is disorder. They are
Everyone’s family is now in danger and the remedy now is in your hands. The
Government has a right to ask you to help the Government to protect you. You
have a right to demand of the Government that the Government
protects you. But both these things have one common feature. A togetherness
between the people and the Government. The Government by itself cannot protect
anybody. The people cannot by itself ask the Government to protect them if they
do not help. Now can you help? We are not asking you to fight in the streets.
You can help by giving your support and confident to President Jayewardena. He
is the Head of State, and if this crisis is to be overcome, he and he alone can
help us all, without help to overcome it, and to bring back peace and order in
this country. You can help by keeping calm, even if the people round you get
excited and angry. All of us are going through a terrible strain. Most of us are
anxious for someone or another, some parts of one family. This is natural. It is
natural to be irritated and angry under the circumstances. Trying to find
someone to blame. Nobody blames himself or herself. We always try to find
someone to blame. Therefore, in this crisis if we can keep calm and not trying
to find people to blame (we can do that later) we can help.
We can help by forming vigilance Committees, in our streets, in our gardens, in our
cities and towns. We can help by helping those who have formed these Societies.
We can help by not passing on rumour, tots of these rumours are passed on the
telephone. ‘Did you hear’, somebody says. ‘I heard from a very reliable
friend’, and these reliable friends have heard from other reliable friends,
and if only these ‘reliable friends’ WILL KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT, many of
the trouble we had would not have occurred. For example, somebody
invented a rumour that there were terrorists on the roofs of tall buildings in
the Fort and that they were shooting at our troops. THERE WAS NO SUCH THING. But
it became so believable, people described them. They said they were in uniform.
There were some who invented a beautiful story that some of these people were
white people, from some other country. And one was a magnificent invention. The
person said he saw one of them dead and his body was white.
This is what imagination, fevered imagination can create, out of nothing.
What really happened you have read in the daily Press. Some people from a roof
(some Sri Lankan people, some Sinhalese people) threw some explosive at our
troops. Our troops fired back and these people on the roof, some of them died.
That is how these rumours began. But see, what you heard was not what happened.
What you heard was a fantastic story, a deadly story. It caused panic. People
ran for their lives. That is what rumour can do. So, you can stop it. It’s you. If you do not repeat it to somebody else the rumour stops at
your door. You can help in that way. You can help by not helping thugs and
looters. This is no time to show your sympathy for the man in the next gardens
of whom some people are afraid.
Therefore, my friends, in this hour of shame and misery for Sri Lanka let us
get back together in groups to save our little country so that we shall ensure
for the future once again a free society for us and for our children."