The recent presidential elections in Sri Lanka left many ethnic Tamil minorities in despair over the future of addressing human rights violations and their own safety in the country. Polling data from the northern part of the country indicates growing fears in the Tamil community of the impending governing of the Rajapakse family. The previous government of former president Maithripala Sirisena failed to implement measures intended to address war crime allegations. Although the office of missing persons was created, it has yet to report conclusive findings on the status of missing persons. Many questions remain unanswered about the last stages of the bitter 30-year civil war. While many Tamils in the country feel helpless, there is growing pressure among the international Tamil community for answers.
The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora worldwide is estimated to comprise more than 1.2 million people. Most of the community reside in North America. There are more Sri Lankan Tamils living outside their homeland compared to those who reside in Sri Lanka. At the time of migration, most of these individuals were between the ages of 20 and 30, a record of them left during the 1980’s and the early 1990’s. The children of these individuals are now adults, some of them transitioning or established. While often overlooked in reconciliation efforts, I believe that this generation can harness the power to implement transitional justice reforms in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil diasporic community has strong feelings of ethnonationalism and there is a strong sense of cultural identity among the various Tamil communities worldwide. The younger generation, commonly referred to as Millennials, have learned from their parents and family members the religion, language, cultural practices, political attitudes, and heritage; factors that build one’s cultural identity. Although the sense of ethnonationalism varies from region and country, the unifying force of belonging to a community that has been long been denied equal representation in a country that it belonged and arguably played an integral role in developing is a force that should be harnessed.
Transnational ethnonationalism among the millennial diasporic Tamil community is key to addressing transitional justice in Sri Lanka. The sense of ethnonationalism among the Millennial Tamil diasporic community holds a value and voice. To leverage this opportunity, a transnational coalition should be created with the aim of urging the government of Sri Lanka to implement much needed reforms and hold accountable the perpetrators of gross human rights violations.
It is imperative that the government of Sri Lanka be urged to confront the demons of the past as part of the transitional justice process. The question of “Why” and “What” led to the civil war is key to implementing reforms. Investigating alleged war crimes is the first step to comprehending the “What”. There are accusations against one another from both the Sri Lankan government and Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE). Sri Lanka is a signatory of the Geneva Convention which prohibits war crimes. In 2009 a report by the US State Department detailed allegations of the majority of shelling in Safe Zones conducted by the Sri Lankan government. In addition to reports by various entities, there are numerous photographs and videos that give credence to allegations of war crimes. These allegations must be investigated and those who are responsible should be punished. This would help heal many open wounds.
The present constitution of Sri Lanka is Sinhala only which makes the official language Sinhala and makes secondary provisions for Tamil speakers at a miniscule level. It gives preeminence into the Sinhala majority’s interests and dispels the concept of equality for all. This is blatantly discriminatory as it gives precedence to the Sinhalese and makes no provisions for other languages. The Constitution is the foundation of a country, it upholds the values and principles of how it is administered. Constitutional amelioration should be implemented to be inclusive of all ethnicities and religious groups in the country. Furthermore, changing the constitution for the better should result in preventing future conflict in the country.
The millennial generation of the diasporic community has yet to initiate such a movement. The most direct path to accomplishing these goals is by voting and participating directly in the electoral process. Our voices of change must be heard by the elected officials who represent us. Through these attempts transnationally, we can pressure the international community to intercede. The power in our voices can effectuate reform in a country that has yet to administer transitional justice and prioritize treating its citizens equally. As members of the diasporic community we have an obligation to our own community to fight for equity and equality. The future of our children is dependent upon how we correct the mistakes of the past and create a blueprint to move forward. Being a Tamilian I recognize the struggles of my forebears who fought for justice and encountered monumental battles in the fight for neutrality. The suffering of Tamils has been more than a 50-year battle which has resulted in slow progress and mass atrocities against us. It is our duty to carry on the movement towards progressive change. Our Motherland needs us.