They say your childhood memories mould you into the person you’ll eventually become. My very first memory is of my mother whispering in my ear why I needed to keep quiet- it was so the rioting mob outside wouldn’t know they’d missed us during their rampage through the streets of Sri Lanka. They were using voter registration lists obtained from government officials to target Tamil families. As visitors from Australia we weren’t on those lists, however some of our family and friends weren’t so lucky. By the time “Black July” was over 3000 people were dead, 8000 homes were destroyed and 150,000 people were left homeless. The police stood by and watched. Prison guards let the keys to Tamil prisoners’ cells fall into the hands of the other inmates. It was brutal and it’s something I’ve never shared before. However while writing for our next album I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the current plight of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. And by extension, the suffering of so many around the world at the hands of governments that have no concept of human rights.
For more than 25 years the Tamil Tigers fought for the creation of an independent state in northern Sri Lanka. They saw it as the only answer to decades of this sometimes violent discrimination against the minority Tamil population. The reality, as in most civil wars, is that both sides acted shamefully. In 2009 the Sri Lankan army launched a full-scale assault to retake the Tiger-held cities in the north and wipe out the group once and for all.
This Channel 4 news video is a damning account of the actions of Sri Lankan forces in a war that the government still insists was conducted with a policy of Zero Civilian Casualties. Captured on mobile phones by both Tamils under attack and government soldiers as war trophies, the disturbing footage shows executions of captured POWs, the targeted shelling of hospitals and civilian camps, Tamil women who were raped or sexually assaulted, abused and murdered. It’s not for the faint hearted. But it’s also one of the most eye opening videos you’ll ever see.
I’m leaving for Sri Lanka on Monday. Now that the war is over civilians are once again being allowed to travel to the north of the country. I’m not sure how I’ll react to revisiting the site of that very first memory. Journalists aren’t allowed there so I may have to leave my camera behind. But whatever it is that I find, I’ll share with you when I can.